Tuesday, January 6, 2009
It's Good To Laugh
Nephi Hurley Pratt was born on June 8, 1918 at 6:45 a.m. His mother wrote, “You weighed 10 ½ pounds, have got blue eyes, light wavy hair, the least of any of my babies. Mother came to welcome you into sunny Arizona. So did lots of flies and mosquitoes. We had a lumber home with an east porch, but as yet no screen doors. So for several days Mother fanned the insects and heat off you and wiped off the perspiration. Through it all you was the quietest baby I ever had. I hardly knew I had you.”
Hurley’s love of music started at an early age. His mother had contracted the flu, and while still recovering, she bought him a Victor Phonograph. Then Aunt Lottie got him a little plaster dog. “How you loved that phonograph. Setting the dog alongside, you would listen as long as I would wind it. So as I ironed or sewed I would also wind and listen. Many days you and I spent in this way together.”
At two and a half years of age, his mother tells him,” It was your delight to imitate our ward chorister. You couldn’t quite say your Rs yet. With a pencil to beat time, you would say, ‘Alright let’s do this one, Hing ahound a hosy, now Mother you dy alone, now dy altogether,’ and so on.
At five years old, his mother wrote, “Your love for music increases. You come home and sing the songs that you learn at school, then finger them out on the organ. I got you six new records, some of our Mormon hymns. How you do love them, you put on a record, then get a pencil and paper, draw a staff and make notes meant for the piece being played. You do this also with your school songs, sometimes you print the name of piece on and illustrate it with pictures. In this way you keep occupied for hours and have quite a collection of sheet music. Mother will try and give you opportunities to learn music, and try and give you a new record occasionally.”
When he was 9 his mother notes that he was playing the violin in the orchestra and was also in the Mouth Organ band. “Keep up with music you will always be glad if you do.”
When he was 6 years old, he fell off a see-saw and broke his thigh bone near the hip. He was in traction for six weeks. During that time he received many visitors and get well gifts. His bishop told him to sing or whistle every day for his leg to get well. He did that no matter what. One day the doctor whistled “Put Your Shoulder to the Wheel” and he sang along. One day his mother heard him singing Count Your Blessings, so she quizzed him as to its meaning and if he had any. He replied, “Yes, I have only one broken leg instead of two, and I have 60 friends and over 100 presents.”
When he was 7, his sister let him develop a photo and that’s when his love for photography began. When he was 12, the Eastman Kodak company celebrated its 50th anniversary by giving away special edition Brownie cameras. Anyone turning 12 that year was eligible to receive one. When he was 15, he started learning more about photography from his Scout leader.
Hurley served in the Central States Mission from 1937 – 1939. After he returned home from his mission he went to live in Tucson. He got a job as an apprentice Kodak finisher at a local photo studio. He learned how to print, develop, and how to operate an enlarger. In time, he learned how to do photo engraving and started work for the Mesa Tribune. At about that time, offset printing was making inroads on conventional letter-press printing. The boss bought an offset duplicator – multi-lith. Since the plates had to be made photographically, making the plates fell to Hurley. And since other employees didn’t consider offset to be legitimate printing, the operation of the press also fell to Hurley.
Meanwhile, Hurley was serving as the secretary in the Young Men’s (what we would now call the single adult) program. Elaine McBride was serving as the secretary in the Young Women’s program. Her first Sunday there, she noticed a handsome young man singing in the choir. He didn’t notice her immediately, but some other young women he was friends with introduced him to her. Elaine was also working in the Mesa temple as secretary to the President. When they got married on July 17, 1946, the temple was closed for the hot Mesa summer. Since Elaine knew the “owners,” so to speak, they opened the temple for just that one ceremony that one day and were sealed.
Their three oldest children, Sandra, Louise and Reo, were born in Mesa. Hurley was still working at the Tribune. He got back in touch with a former classmate who worked for Kaiser Graphic Arts in California. Several months later a spot became available there for him and he started learning the finer points of things he was already doing for the Tribune – plate making for real lithographic presses. He moved with his family in 1955 to Walnut Creek, California.
Two years later, Neva started off the California part of the family, followed by Ellen then Laura. Hurley continued work as a lithographer, and retired from that career in 1990 at 72 years of age. Elaine and Hurley served a mission in the Montana Billings Mission from 1991 – 1993. In 1999 they moved to Salem to be closer to children and grandchildren. In January 2008 Elaine passed away after a long battle with heart disease. After 62 years of togetherness, it was only logical that he would soon follow her to the next step in their great adventure together. They share a legacy of 6 children, 27 grandchildren, and 30-- possibly 31 by the end of today – great-grandchildren.
So that’s an overview of Nephi Hurley Pratt – it tells you the chronological timeline of his life, but it doesn’t tell you about Hurley Pratt the man. We all have our different memories of him. Attending Salem 12th ward this past Sunday I heard many different ward members offer their own fond recollections of him. My brother and one of my sisters were talking about him since I asked them to clarify a story about him I had heard from him many times. It was a story they had never heard and Reo made the observation that even though all six of us have the same parents, we all have different family experiences, based on the many years spread between us, being reared in different areas, different ward experiences and leaders, and parents who change over the years as well. So the next few stories I’ll share are possibly unique to me. I recognize that you all have your own personal experiences as well.
Two things that my dad taught me both directly and indirectly are a love of music and a sense of humor. You’ve already heard much about his musical interests. Besides playing the violin as a child, he eventually specialized in brass instruments, especially the trumpet. He played in many productions of the Oakland Temple Pageant. He played the French horn, flute, and harmonica. He could figure out how to play just about any instrument that was handed to him, including the banjo one time. He of course participated in every ward choir and had his own unique way of leading the singing in sacrament meetings.
We grew up in a house filled with music. We were all encouraged to learn at least one, usually two musical instruments. My dad had a ton of phonograph records and cassette tapes all of classical music. He never tired of directing the Boston Pops or the London Philharmonic, all from the comfort of his own home. When CDs started coming out in the early 80s, my dad was the first person I knew to own a CD player and start transferring his substantial music collection to that media. He had an appreciation of every type of good music. He helped a dear friend and one of my piano teachers transfer some of her college piano recitals from reel to reel to cassette. She recently was able to transfer those recordings to CDs so that her own family can appreciate music. None of that would have been possible if my dad hadn’t had such an interest in good music and different types of media.
He also knew the value of hard work. Sleeping in was never really an option in our house. We were always getting up early either for seminary or if it was the weekend, there was plenty to do around the house. My dad had a way of ensuring that sleep past 7 a.m. was impossible. My bedroom was directly behind the living room. Against the living room wall were the speakers from his rather powerful stereo system. He would put on some of his favorite music and if we didn’t come stumbling out at a decent time, then he turned the speakers around so they faced the bedroom and then cranked the volume up. That might not seem so bad, especially since it was usually classical music. But his favorite symphony to do that with was Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. When it was time for the cannons to blast, it was time to get up. And if he was feeling particularly precocious then he would just get out his trumpet, open the bedroom door and blast Reveille at us.
My dad taught me that having a good sense of humor could get you through just about any situation. One day he was driving home from a day of serving in the Oakland temple. A large wooden spool containing electrical wiring … wires … had come off the back of a truck and was rolling across the freeway. To avoid it, Hurley braked then swerved to the right – right up an inclined embankment. The speed combined with the angle caused the car to roll on its side, shattering the windshield. My dad kicked the windshield out, crawled out of the car that way and was sitting on the hood of the car when emergency crews arrived. A fireman came up to see how he was doing and do a bit of a medical check -up. My dad had a gash across his forehead from where some windshield glass had caught him on the way out of the car. The fireman asked my dad how he was, and Hurley replied, “Well, I’m okay but I think the car’s going to need an alignment job.” That response combined with the cut on his head made the fireman assume that my dad had sustained a serious head injury, but that dry sense of humor was just how he dealt with stressful situations.
One of his last days in the hospital, they brought him his dinner and Ellen tried to get him to eat some. He picked up a jar of cashews and started eating those instead. Ellen said, “Daddy, you need to eat some dinner.”
Oh,” he said, “I thought he was.” Then he turned to Reo and said, “You know, I don’t think those are even peanuts.”
Reo said, “They’re not; they’re cashews.”
“Gesundheit,” he said.
The night that my brother called me with the news of my dad’s passing, I called a friend of mine and we ended up laughing about something else completely. A part of me wondered if it was wrong of me to be laughing and enjoying myself so much within minutes of my father dying. But then I remembered how much he had loved to laugh and make jokes and I knew it was okay to be that happy, even in a moment of extreme sorrow.
Life, according to Hurley Pratt, was meant to be lived to the fullest and be enjoyed. He did that for all of his 90 and a half years. He was the embodiment of 2 Nephi 2:25: “Men are that they might have joy.” Hurley also knew the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is true. He found joy in its teachings and in the atonement. It’s that gospel that teaches us that though Hurley’s life in this mortality is finished, it is really only the next step. Hurley could say the same thing that Adam did: “Blessed be the name of God, …, and in this life I shall have joy, and again in the flesh I shall see God." (Moses 5:10)
Nephi Hurley Pratt
b. June 6, 1918
d. January 2, 2009