Thursday, August 27, 2009

Ila's house

Tom and I were in Provo today to do a short spiel on study abroad in the Freshmen Honors meeting. When we were done, we drove up to Oak Hills where we lived for ten years. To our surprise Ila Wheelwright's house was for sale. I think her family has kept it since she died, but now it's up for grabs.

"I would like to live in Ila's house," I told Tom. "Not because I like the house--I always thought it was rather ugly (despite the gorgeous views), but because I'd like to live with Ila's ghost."

Ila was the old lady who wore purple. She also wore wigs. She owned a wardrobe of wigs including a red one and a blonde one. She wore lots of makeup with bright red lipstick and nail polish. She sang soprano with a vibrato that could knock you sideways. She spoke her mind. She was always herself. She was very tall for a short woman.

Once the Relief Society had all the older women bring clothes and aritifacts from when they were young to display in the cultural hall. Ila had a flapper dress, but even more interesting was a photograph in a baroque frame of her at nineteen in a mountain pool of water. "That's me," she said when I picked it up.

"What I want to know is what are you wearing?" I said.

"Nothing!" And she laughed her horsey laugh.

"Really?" I said. "Who took the picture?"

More laughing. "My boyfriend," she said. "I told him to take it."

That was Ila: the closest thing to a Mormon bohemian I can think of. I know that after she was widowed, she stayed up all hours of the night reading and looking through magazines and slept through the morning. Her yard was completely fenced in, but sometimes the gate was open and she'd be in a house dress smelling the roses in her chaotic garden. "Smell this one," she would say. "And this one." She always cut a rose or two for me to take home.

I would like to have Ila as my guide into old age.


Jason M said...

I love this post. If Ila were a fictional character in my book, her name would be Mary Katherine and she'd be the Dutch or Danish child of pioneer parents who's moved to Ciudad Juarez during the Mormon migration to Mexico. Her boyfriend would be the son of Juarez' future drug lord, Pedro, and the young pair would run off, kicking up the dust and diving into a lake somewhere above the desert. He'd have dropped his pre-D700 camera in the grass at water's edge, of course, and later have trudged out to turn and clip some pics of his lusty Dane. Ila shared all of this with you but you kept the details out. Her smiles in the telling told you it was still something real. Like a ghost.

I hope your old age is real and filled with adventure, love, and naked lake photos, Louise.

Robin said...

I had to try the horsey laugh to see how it sounds on me and I think I will use it when I am feeling proud of something rebellious I have done. If you buy the house will you rent a room to my BYU daughter?

ann cannon said...

Oh Ila. The first time we ever met her was in the church parking lot. She looked at my dad and said, "Are you in my ward?" My dad said yes. So she said, "Then here. Take this." She stuffed a Christmas card in his hand.

We've never forgotten that.