Monday, June 23, 2008

My 64th Birthday - An Autobiographical Sketch

Come, Come Ye Saints   my favorite hymn!

I was born on June 23, 1944 in Reno, Nevada. During the first few years we lived in Berkeley, California, in Portland, Oregon, and in St. George, Utah. But I started school back in Reno and graduated from Reno High School in 1962. This is a picture of me with my dad in the snow.

Probably Idlewild Park - about 1947

Here I am in my Cub Scout uniform. I was never athletic, and the other boys in my den, who were just naturally more agressive, seemed like bullies to me. I remember Cub Scouts as more of an ordeal than anything else.

Probably the back yard at 845 Bates Ave in about 1953

In a future post I'll tell the story of my great-great grandfather Thomas Cottam. Here are photos of Floyd Mac Spencer and Mae Listman, my mother's parents.

I suppose this was his WWI uniform - I still have his pistol

I think my grandma was a babe!

My parents, Grant and Virginia, both grew up during the Great Depression, and were very poor during most of that time. Here's a picture of my mother when she was just a little girl.

This must have been about 1923-25 - How could you say no to so dramatic a petition?

And here's another picture of her mother that I treasure.

Mae Listman as a young girl

My mom was getting a degree in chemistry and my dad was a carpenter when they met during WWII. My mom was very popular and was a sorority girl and involved in a lot of "extra-curricular" activities. Here she is dancing with a friend named Kathryn.

Virginia Shirley Spencer in about 1942-44

My mother and father only had eleven days together after they were married. Then my dad went off to war, wound up in Pakistan building a railroad, and they were separated for twenty-seven months. Here are photos of my dad in his uniform and my mom at Gabbs, Nevada. She worked there at the magnesium mine until shortly before I was born. I was eighteen months old when my dad came home.

Grant Evan Cottam - Northern India or Pakistan during WWII

Virginia Shirley Spencer overlooking the mine at Gabbs, Nevada - She worked as a secretary instead of as a chemist so none of the men there would risk losing his deferment

Later on my mom taught sixth grade science. After the war my father worked as a carpenter for many years. He eventually got a degree and was a college professor until he retired. My dad's mother, Sarah Ellen Manwaring, died when he was only ten years old. He was raised by his sister Verda, who was only two years older, and wild as a march hare - at least for Utah in the 1930s. Here is a picture of "Sadie" on her wedding day.

Sarah Ellen Manwaring - 'Sadie' - on her wedding day - September 14, 1910 - She died February 10, 1932

Here are my dad and his two younger brothers, Alvin and Donald, taken around the time their mother died. They look like a handful.

My father had 8 brothers and sisters - Ellen died before she was a year old - Rulon, Mildred, LaVell, Raymond and Verda were older, and Alvin and Donald were younger

My father's father, Charles Walter Cottam, remarried and had a second family. His second wife, Ruth Shepherd, had also died when this picture was taken.

The children are Emily, Mary Alice, Catherine and William, from left to right - I'm in between Emily and William in age

I think not having a mother during his teenage years made it difficult for my dad to be a husband and father. But he was raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I'm certain the Church helped fill in some of the gaps left by the death of his mother. My mom was a Methodist. She was later baptised into the LDS Church. The year I graduated from high school my parents were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple. We always attended church as I was growing up. My parents worked at many different callings in the Church. My brother and sister and I are all "active" in the Church today as a result. "Train up a child in the way he should go ..." That word "active" may not mean the same thing to someone who isn't LDS, and who only attends church for weddings, funerals and holidays.

Family traditions - childhood.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of our road trips. I especially remember one trip up the Oregon and Washington coasts, on a boat up into Canada, across Canada to some of the beautiful parks, and down through Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. We drove to San Francisco or to Los Angeles to see relatives. In those days it took seven hours to drive from Reno to San Francisco. I loved going to Golden Gate Park, Fleishacker Zoo, the beaches, Fisherman's Wharf, Disneyland, Knott's Berry Farm, the San Diego Zoo and Balboa Park, the La Brea Tar Pits, Griffith Park and especially the Planetarium and many other great places in sunny California.

We often went camping. I learned to love the outdoors. I grew up when Westerns were popular and loved the history of the wild wild West with its cowboys and Indians and History. We went to Lake Tahoe, Yosemite and Dog Valley to camp. I got to see Firefall in Yosemite many times. We went out to eat together when we could afford it. I remember a fast food drive-in that sold barbecued beef sandwiches - something like Arby's. I loved to go to A&W Rootbeer drive-ins. There was a Chinese restaurant in Sparks that had a big bronze Buddha in the entry. Thanksgiving and Christmas both bring back many wonderful memories.

Family Traditions - adulthood.

I tried to do these same things when I got married. Unfortunately, traveling by car is impossible for my wife, so there have been very few camping trips with her along. I've taken a few trips by myself when the call of the road becomes too strong to resist. Eating out is something we enjoy. I like to try ethnic food more then the others, but I've tried to broaden their appreciation for things culinary. Since the kids have grown up the holidays aren't quite the same - Susan does most of the work for these things and probably resents it.

I think we've neglected some of the things that would have helped us to grow spiritually. If I were to regret anything about my life it would be this. Our church urges us to have regular family prayer, to read the scriptures together often and to set aside one evening a week to get together to make plans, solve problems, play games, sing together, share a lesson about Jesus and have a little fun as a family. We certainly could have done these things more regularly over the years. I think we've all suffered because of our rebelliousness.

If I could start married life over, I think I'd spend more time working in the home. I think I'd try to control my kids less and to love them more. I think I'd try to reason things out less and to laugh more. Someone said if we could live our lives over we'd probably not make the same mistakes. We'd just make different ones. So maybe I should be content with the way things are.

How faith has affected my life.

I grew up in my church. My parents participated in the organizations as teachers, youth leaders, and in the work of fellowshipping. I resisted. I ran around with a bunch of kids who smoked and drank. There was some "midnight auto". Years later I learned that some of them had done "hard" time for armed robberies. There was even a murder in there. The summer I graduated from High School we moved to Walnut Creek, California. That got me into a different group of friends. They weren't as vicious as my Reno buddies, but they were still interested in trying everything on for size. That winter several of us planned to go to a cabin in the mountains with a veterinarian from Lafayette to try LSD. Right before we were about to leave for the mountains a doctor crashed his car on the Bay Bridge after taking LSD. Suddenly LSD was front page news and a controlled substance. Luckily for me, our veterinarian friend got cold feet. We, of course, had even hotter feet!

In Walnut Creek I realized that I wasn't very happy. I saw some of my peers in the church youth group who seemed to have their act together and who seemed to be self-confident and to have purpose in their lives. I decided I wanted that. I was paired with a man, Armand Mauss, to visit some of the families in our church. This program is called Home Teaching. Brother Mauss was a faithful home teacher and took me with him every month. I was also blessed with a gifted youth leader, Stanley Gold. He got me to start attending church and to participate in the youth activities.One of the smartest things I ever did was to put in my papers to go on a mission for the church. Here's our family about the time I went on my mission.

My brother's name is Spencer and my sister is Lynda

I went into the missionary training center in Provo in March, 1964. In June I flew to Uruguay, where I was a missionary for two years. After I came home I went to Brigham Young University. My grandmother Mae left me an inheritance and I blew it going to school, driving a Corvette and taking flying lessons. The first summer after I returned I took out more than one hundred different girls. It is a little unsettling to realize that if I had invested that money in some real estate I might be a wealthy man today. But I sure wouldn't have had as much fun...

Well, that's a little sample of the first twenty-two years of my life. Maybe in a future post I'll tell you about the forty-two years that followed.

This is a good place to explain what it means to be "active" in the Church. It means you go to church every Sunday. It means you accept "callings" to serve in the organizations. It means you actively seek to "magnify" your callings by learning what is required and then doing it - and by trying to go the extra mile. It means you try to keep God's commandments and pray to know what He wants you to do with your life. I've had many different church callings. I've been Sunday school president, Elders quorum president, Scoutmaster, Ward Clerk, Executive Secretary to the bishop, Membership Clerk, Gospel Doctrine teacher, Seminary teacher, Ward Mission leader, Primary teacher, High Priest Group leader and had other jobs. For six years my wife and I were on a stake service mission in the Richmond III Spanish branch. We are now serving another stake service mission in the Addiction Recovery Program and I'm the ward financial secretary.

I believe you have to live a balanced life. You have to put your career, your family, your hobbies and your religion into perspective. You need to take care of all the aspects of your life and not let one of them push out the others. I think I've probably neglected my career and my family to pursue things that seemed more satisfying at the time. As I look back over my life now, I can see a lot I'd do different if I could start over again. When I'm tempted to ask, "Why me?", I'm reminded of those wonderful words of color sergeant Bourne from the movie Zulu. "Because we're here, lad. Nobody else. Just us."


At 4/13/09, 4:49 PM, Blogger JSLindgren said...

Please write about the next 42 years. Reading about the first 22 years is a little like looking through the windows into my own house--there are plenty of things I recognize and know well, but also several things that look different from a new perspective, or just plain foreign!

At 5/31/13, 12:18 PM, Blogger Sarita said...

So today I was reading in the Book of Mormon about how Helaman named his sons Lehi and Nephi, after their remarkable ancestors. He told them to live up to their names.I was thinking about that and wondering if I am living up so my own name, Sarah. I realized that I knew very little about the woman I am named after, my maternal great grand-mother, Sarah Ellen Manwaring Cottam, so I looked up her name in google to see if I could find out more information. I know a little about who she is, but no personal stories. That is when I came across this blog. And guess what! We're related. I am the grand-daughter of W. Raymond Cottam, your uncle. He married Laura Van Cott in the Salt Lake temple, lived in Los Angeles, and had two children Kenneth Raymond and Helen Ruth. Helen married Arno Trefflich and I am their eighth child. Anyway, it's so fun finding relatives out on the internet. Thank you for posting such a beautiful blog!


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