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.