Monday, March 14, 2011

Life Story of Christiania May Bickley


Written by her son, LaMont, July 1966.

My mother, Christiania May Bickley was born in Minersville, Utah as the second daughter of William Green Bickley and Jane Dyson Walton. She was born under the covenant and was a faithful member of the Church all the days of her life. She was a teacher by profession and a prominent musician and composer having studied under such famous men as Dr. Frank Asper in Salt Lake City, Utah and Dr. Elmer Tidmarsh in Schenectady, New York. She was a master of the pipe organ and memorized the entire works of Bach in one winter. She taught music for thirty years. She was a great humanitarian and worked earnestly to help those who were ill or distressed and gave freely of her time and means because she loved people. I believe her favorite saying was, "If you have ten cents, use five to buy bread and with five buy a lily." I think this very well summed up her attitude.

While at the Brigham Young Academy she fell in love with Joseph Nielsen and when they were married she became a devoted wife and mother. Of her nine children four died in infancy and five grew to maturity and became fine citizens who gave joy to their mother. One day when my father was telling me of their courtship he said, "She was a charmer you just could not resist, as much fun as a circus and yet as serious as a judge." This also expressed her character all her life. Her husband died quite suddenly in the prime of his life and she carried on faithfully for another thirty years and was then laid to rest in the robes of the Holy Priesthood by the side of the man she loved so much.

We are led to believe that her childhood was quite normal for the time in which she lived. Luxuries were few but love in the home largely made up for the lack of the finer physical things of life. Many times I have heard her tell of playing in the fields with her older brother, Will, and of the things they used to do together. One day Will caught a mouse and bet that it would not bite. May stuck out her finger and won the bet. She also said the fields were filled with rocks and that she somehow couldn't help kicking them which meant that each month she had to have new soles on her shoes. One time her father said he would fix that and when he put new soles on her shoes he added copper toes, but by the end of the month the soles were gone, copper toes and all.

Her mother, Jane Walton, was constantly away from home doing church work, taking care of the sick and helping the needy and unfortunate which left little May at home to be a second mother to her younger sisters, Agnes and Bessie. She told me that every night she read a story to them as she put them to bed. The country at that time was filled with Indians who would raid the homes of the white people usually to beg but sometimes to steal and molest. Mother told me that when she saw Indians coming she would hide with her sisters under the bed until the Indians went away. She said that one time when Indians came she stayed under the bed until it was quiet outside and when she came out she saw the face of an old Indian squaw pressed against the window pane. She opened the door and gave the squaw a loaf of bread. This was when she was about eight years old and her sisters about two and four.

Her father, William Green Bickley, was a fine musician and taught May her deep love for music which she developed until she was one of the better musicians of her day. She used to go regularly with her father to play for dances in Beaver and in the surrounding villages. He played the bass fiddle to set the rhythm while she played the organ or piano. I believe that mother thoroughly loved people, she certainly did in her later life. She told me that she used to go with her parents to public functions which included what was called house warming. When a new house was completed the friends and neighbors would gather there for a party. At one of these house warming parties May found she was the only child present and she felt she was being neglected by the older folks. She tried to find a way to get in on the party and seeing two holes in the sawed pine floor she said to her mother, "Mother, what are these holes for?", and with scarcely a glance her mother replied, "They are knot holes." May sat around quite bewildered the rest of the evening, her mother had said they were not holes when they were holes, you could even put your fingers through them.

As she grew to womanhood she was active in the church and very early in life she developed a strong testimony of the truth and a love for the gospel which remained with her. The gospel was the guiding light of all her activities. She was a beautiful girl and had a clear, strong soprano voice and she was constantly in demand as a singer. She also told me of many plays and dramas she had been in. Later in life when she was with me in New York, I was amazed at the intimate knowledge she had of the famous plays and the Broadway actors. It was my pleasure to take her to Broadway plays in New York because she enjoyed them so much.

When she had finished schools in Beaver her parents sent her to Provo to attend the Brigham Young Academy. Her father said he chose this school because he wanted her to be in an atmosphere the same as she had in her own home. This was not only a tribute to the school but also to the Bickley home. She entered the school of education and trained to be a teacher. Being such a beautiful and charming girl she made many friends which friendship remained all her life. It was in this school that she met Joseph Nielsen and their friendship soon ripened into love. I have been told that they were a favorite couple at school and loved by everyone. After graduation she taught school for two or three years while Joseph was seeking his fortune. However, before the fortune was made he met with an accident which nearly severed his one foot and as soon as May heard about it she insisted that they get married so she could take care of him. She had saved a little money and bought their first furniture. They were married in Beaver and then sealed in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City. She took such good care of him that scarcely a scar was left of the accident. Joseph and May had been raised in similar homes and each had similar ideals and beliefs and were so very much in love. She became a devoted wife and mother. They made their home in Draper and lived in a beautiful ten-room red brick home Joseph built while in the sheep raising business. The depression of 1903 took all he had except the home and he then went to teaching school. My father told me he would never permit his home to be mortgaged. The loss put a financial strain on the family and yet somehow they made out and we never lacked for food or clothing and love filled the home so that we children never missed a thing. Both father and mother had a good sense of humor and our life was a happy one. If there was anxiety we never knew of it. Never did I hear my father or mother say an unkind word to each other or hear them engage in damaging gossip.

My mother used to take us children to lie on a big quilt on the lawn in front of our house while she told us stories and showed us pictures in the passing clouds in the sky. To her housework seemed to be a necessary evil but her children were important and precious. Many times she said to us, "Always remember that you are a Bickley and it will help you keep out of trouble. But if you do ever get into trouble, always remember this is your home."

Father and mother were always active in the Church and took us with them. Mother was active in the Relief Society meetings and it was there with my mother that I learned many of the Church doctrines. I used to look at her and know that she was the kindest and most able person to be found.

In 1914, while some work was being done on our house, she fell through a hole in the upstairs floor and hurt her leg badly and never did completely recover from the hurt and suffered much pain thereafter.

I was fortunate to know my grandpa and grandma Bickley quite well and I am sure their teachings had great influence for good. When I was small they would come to Conference twice a year and stay at our home for a week each time. As children we always looked forward to their coming and it was always a ritual. When grandma arrived she would have a nap for an hour, while we were entertained by grandpa. We used to walk with him as he sang, "March to the battlefield, March, March Away." Then grandma would call for us one at a time. When it was my turn I would go in by her bed and she would say, "Monty have you been a good boy?" "Yes, grandma." "Do you go to Sunday School?" "Yes, grandma." "Do you always tell the truth?" "Yes, grandma;" "Do you ever tell lies?" "No grandma." "Are you dependable and do you help your mother?" "Yes grandma." "Do you say your prayers?" "Yes grandma." "Well then you must be a good boy. Come and give grandma a kiss and then open the trunk and get you a present." Then I would open the little brown steamer trunk she always brought filled with toys and select a gift, usually not expensive but very exciting. I now have that little trunk and never look at it without remembering the dear lady who brought us toys in it.

Tragedy struck in the fall of 1925. My father was hurt in a mine accident and died two days later. The children, except Jane and I, were married and away from home. I was in the Senior year at the University of Utah. My mother said to me, "You are the senior member of the Priesthood in our home and you are in charge." I became very close to my mother and shared in almost her every thought. Father returned to speak to each of us during the year following his death. Mother buried her grief in an accelerated study of music and wrote many songs. I think one expressed her grief beautifully.

"Things are bright all around me tonight, I greet my friends with a smile.

But I, sweetheart, am just playing the part I long for you all the while."

A year. Later I took her to Schenectady, New York to live with me and we had such a good time together. We went to many of the Broadway plays and recitals in New York City and I took her on many of the trips I took for the General Electric Company. Later, when I was married she came back for a few months when our first child was born and we traveled through the New England States and along the ocean. She loved the Atlantic Ocean. In her diary she made note of hearing the whip-poor-wills north of Boston, singing "beautifully mournful. I am sure she was then thinking of her lover.

In the closing years of her life she was quite crippled with arthritis and had much pain in walking but she never complained. One day she fell and broke her hip and was bedfast for a long time. She was at our home on her 83rd birthday and we wheeled her to the piano where she sat in the wheelchair and played and sang many of the songs she had composed. We have the tape recording of this. About a year later she passed away at her daughter, Olivia's, home in Salt Lake City and was buried beside Joseph in the Draper Cemetery.

At the funeral an old time friend who had known her for 60 years said, "It seems to me that one of the beatitudes could have been written for her. 'Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.' The meek are those who are gentle, and kind and obedient and who are helpful and who listen to council. It is wonderful that a woman could do all these things and yet have the time and energy to be a devoted mother for that is what May was. None of us will ever forget her gentleness and devotion."

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