One of my cousins asked me to write down some of my memories of my Uncle Al and Aunt Norma for their 50th wedding anniversary.  It was a surprise gift for my Aunt and Uncle in August, so I delayed posting the stories here until now:

Story 1: A Day in the Life of a Cherry-Picking Cragun Boy
It was early morning. The sun had yet to peek over the mountains. Buried deep within the recesses of a house overlooking Ogden Valley were several brothers, the Cragun Boys, slumbering soundly in borrowed beds. Down the hall in the basement of the house whisked a strong woman, Aunt Norma. As she opened the doors to their rooms, her gentle, motherly voice crept into their sleep, “It’s time.” What followed was an initially sluggish dragging of bodies out of bed and into work clothes. A splash or two of water on the face helped speed things along. The brothers eventually worked themselves upstairs to the kitchen where Norma had breakfast waiting at the kitchen counter or on the table.

Following a quick breakfast, the boys would tumble into the back of one of two pickup trucks, usually a beat up green one, and either doze or chat in the darkness as Norma jovially drove the truck on its circuitous path around Pleasant View, gathering the day’s workers from the town’s stock of teenagers. Just as the sun was beginning to show the first hints of life over the mountains the truck would reach the canal road and begin its slow trip to the orchard.

Stopping near the end of the row of sweet cherry trees, Norma would let everyone out and tell the brothers that she’d be back in a few hours with their lunch. Wiping the last of the sleep from their eyes, the brothers would gather their cherry-picking tools, choose a tree, and set to work filling their metal buckets.

Several hours later, just when the brothers felt they needed a break, Norma would dutifully arrive with lunch. Every day was a surprise. It may be tuna fish or peanut butter or bologna, but it always included the obligatory potato chips, which inevitably ended up on the sandwich as one more layer of goodness. Norma would often sit and chat with the boys until they had finished their lunches then she would head off to do whatever she did until it was time to tally the day’s haul.

Come twelve-thirty or one o’clock, a tractor pulling a trailer would saunter down the row of trees, beckoning the workers to bring their harvest. Sometimes Norma would drive the tractor; sometimes it was Uncle Al. But Norma always carried the money purse and doled out the just rewards from the days’ labor. With everyone’s account settled, back into the truck the gaggle of workers would pile to be dropped off back around town. Once home, the Cragun Boys would hit the showers then consider their options. Some days included trips to the convenience store on Pleasant View Avenue. Other days were spent casually playing Uno with the monstrous deck of cards stored in the basement of Al and Norma’s home. Aside from the occasional late night joy ride with their cousin Jill and her friends, the boys’ evenings were usually filled with large dinners and long talks with Aunt Norma as they rested and prepared to repeat everything the next day.

Story 2: Family Feasts and Soft Drinks
They didn’t happen too often, but a couple of times a year, family gatherings at the Cragun home in Pleasant View brought together the collective offspring of Earl Budge and Mildred Rhees Cragun. Each family brought a smattering of different food dishes, providing a smörgåsbord of options: potato salads, Jello salads, chicken, beans, chips, dip, vegetable trays, brownies, cakes, and cookies, including enormous “Otch” cookies, which were a meal unto themselves.

At the end of the line of food were always several cases of assorted soft drinks. Even though we often had two-liter bottles of soda at home because of my Dad’s job, it was never of name-brand flavors. So the cans of name-brand soda pop were a treat. But there was always a lingering question in my mind, “Why doesn’t Uncle Al drink the soda since he’s the one who brought it?”

Every time we drove out to Pleasant View we passed the large green bottling plant where the soda was prepared and bottled. And every time we would pass it in our enormous blue “battle van” I would think, “My Uncle works there.” Still, to this day, I wonder what it was like to work at the bottling plant in Pleasant View.

And that’s when I remember hearing what is probably an apocryphal story about why Uncle Al never did drink the soda he brought to the family gatherings… According to my perhaps uninformed sources (my brothers, of course!), Al observed the enormous vats of acid that were used in the preparation of the soda. Having inside knowledge of what went into the soda, it was clear to him that he wanted nothing to do with it, even if working there paid the bills. He was even willing to bring cases of it home to share with his extended family because there was demand for it, but it didn’t mean he would drink it himself. I tell people this story on occasion whenever the topic of soda comes up. I’m not sure if it’s true, but it makes for a good story.

Story 3: Walking with GPS Across Florida (revised from my blog from 5/15/2008)
Uncle Ray and Uncle Al seem very knowledgeable in their respective areas of expertise (Ray as an electrician, Al building homes and growing cherries), but they don’t seem particularly tech savvy regarding new technology (I could be wrong). While in Florida on a mission for the LDS Church, Al and Norma bought a GPS unit for their trip home driving across the U.S. from Florida to Utah with Ray and Helen. It was a Mio unit and was very nice. But, they weren’t exactly sure how to work it. They plugged it in, figured out how to put in an address and used it to get from their place, literally just miles from the east coast of Florida, to mine, just miles from the west coast. They called about 10 minutes before they arrived and told me that they were on Martin Luther King Blvd. at about 22nd street. That wouldn’t be unusual except I-4, the freeway they should have been on, would have taken them right passed that area. It sounded to me like they got off the freeway early, but I didn’t really think much of it.

Once they arrived at our place we decided to take them to the beach. The best beach we know of in the area is Fort de Soto, one of the best beaches in the US. Having only been to Fort de Soto once, I wasn’t 100% positive of how to get there, but I was positive that we could take the freeway most of the way. So, I directed Uncle Al, who was driving, to get on the freeway then pulled out their GPS unit and plugged in the address for Fort de Soto. It took me a minute to get used to the new unit, but I figured it out and told it to plot us a course to the beach. Right away it told us to get off the freeway. That seemed really odd to me as I knew the fastest way to get there was on the freeway – my GPS unit (a Garmin) told me so the last time we went. I figured maybe it was trying to route me a different way, but I wasn’t convinced, so I ignored the unit and told them where to go. Even so, I left the unit on and it continued to tell us to get off the freeway at every possible exit. After about 15 prompts to get off the freeway it dawned on me that maybe there was something wrong with the settings of the GPS. I started flipping through the screens and eventually found the setting that I was looking for. Apparently the Mio allows you to choose your method of travel: taxi, car, big rig… and walking! The default setting on their GPS was “pedestrian.” The reason it was telling us to get off the freeway was because pedestrians are not allowed on the freeway and it thought we were pedestrians. Apparently it’s pretty common for pedestrians to do 65 mph! I was glad I figured it out, but then it dawned on me what had happened earlier: Al, Norma, Ray, and Helen had driven all the way across the state of Florida (over 100 miles) on back roads because their GPS unit thought they were pedestrians. That’s why they were not on the freeway when they called. That also explained why they said they kept seeing the freeway in the distance but they always stayed parallel to it rather than the GPS unit telling them to get on the freeway. They wondered why, but said they enjoyed seeing all of the small towns in Central Florida.

I felt kind of bad telling them, but they were cool about it and we all had a good laugh!

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