Finding Meaning

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The Meaning of Family

By Skip Hellewell
By Skip Hellewell

The Beautiful Wife is half Swiss, which explains her height (5 foot 2 inches) and love of chocolate. Her immigrating Swiss ancestors were farmers who settled the mountain village of Midway, Utah back in the 1860s. I’m writing this from the parlor of the ancestral home, a Victorian farmhouse started in 1890. Arising early, I’ve watched the rising sun announce the birth of another wondrous day in the Wasatch Range of the Rocky Mountains. Park City, celebrity ski mecca and home to the Sundance Film Festival, is just over the hill. Midway, as old-timers say, is a horse of a different color.

Do you remember Thornton Wilder’s play “Our Town,” how it lovingly explored the tight-knit fabric of village life? America is dotted with thousands of such towns; they constitute the warp and woof of our nation. Time brings change, but the reckless race of modernity is tempered by the traditions of these towns. Here’s the story of one, from the viewpoint of one family.

A century or so ago, four siblings settled on the corner that includes our Midway home. Farming families tended to be large and each had 11 children. The place became known as ‘cousin’s corner.’ I estimate the BW, though California-born, has several hundred cousins in tiny Midway. Just the other night, visiting on a walk, she was delighted to find yet another relative.

Skip Hellewell finds himself writing this week from his wife’s family’s 1890 Victorian farmhouse in Midway, Utah. Photo by Skip Hellewell

Her ancestors lived like farmers everywhere, with the added challenge of feeding a family all year on what could be raised in the short growing season at 6,000-foot elevation. The girls tended a kitchen garden behind the house, cared for chickens, saved leftovers for the hogs, and baked twice a week. The men worked their land up on Snake Creek, raising oats, wheat, potatoes, onions and apples, the latter a tradition brought from Switzerland. They also milked cows and built a cooperative creamery cooled by the creek. In the fall, they stored their harvest in a root cellar attached to the house. Midway followed the tradition of a fall harvest festival that has crazily grown into Swiss Days, a subject for a future column.

The BW has a memory from childhood visits of an uncle yodeling to his cows as he brought them home for milking. Two aunts who never married became schoolteachers, and lifetime fans of their nieces and nephews. The BW remembers them by making bratselis, Swiss cookies cooked in a waffle iron-like grill she inherited. The aunts had a calendar with a daily scripture, now kept on the day the last one passed. Through the backyard is the home of her uncle, a dairyman I remember for his saintly demeanor, and filling our trunk with meat from his freezer when we were newlyweds struggling to finish college. I sit under framed portraits of her grandparents. Our grandchildren come here on visits and the girls hide messages for their cousins to find when they come. Six generations have been in this home, each shaped by the one before. The meaning of family is everywhere.

Karl Marx denounced the family and the communist governments he inspired worked to destroy the institution, considering it an obstacle to the people’s total obedience to the state.  Marx and communism have passed, consigned to the “ash heap of history.” The family, though a bit battered, stands triumphant as a central source of meaning in our lives. Shouldn’t we give it our best effort?

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach. Email: [email protected].


Places to worship (all on Sunday, unless noted):

Baha’i’s of Laguna Beach—contact [email protected] for events and meetings.

Calvary Chapel Seaside, 21540 Wesley Drive (Lang Park Community Center), 10:30 a.m.

Chabad Jewish Center, 30804 S. Coast Hwy, Fri. 6 p.m., Sat. 10:30 a.m., Sun. 8 a.m.

Church by the Sea, 468 Legion St., 9 & 10:45 a.m.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), 682 Park Ave., 10 a.m.

First Church of Christ, Scientist, 635 High Dr., 10 a.m.

ISKCON (Hare Krishna), 285 Legion St., 5 p.m., with 6:45 feast.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, 20912 Laguna Canyon Rd., 1:00 p.m.

Laguna Beach Net-Works, 286 St. Ann’s Dr., 10 a.m.

Laguna Presbyterian, 415 Forest Ave., 8:30 & 10 a.m.

Neighborhood Congregational Church (UCC), 340 St. Ann’s Drive, 10 a.m.

United Methodist Church, 21632 Wesley, 10 a.m.

Salt Chrch, 8681 N. Coast Hwy, 10:00 a.m.

St. Catherine of Siena (Catholic), 1042 Temple Terrace, 7:30, 9, 11, 1:30 p.m. (Spanish), 5:30 p.m.  There are 8 a.m. masses on other days and Saturday 5:30 p.m. vigils.

St. Francis by the Sea (American Catholic), 430 Park, 9:30 a.m.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 428 Park Ave., 9:30 a.m. (summer schedule)

Unitarian Universalist, 429 Cypress St., 10:30 a.m.


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  1. Skip,
    I loved your article about Midway’s history, and family life in old Midway. We were there this last July and we try to go every year for day or two.
    I will look for more articles by you.
    Warm regards,


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