I didn’t. But if you read “The Skeleton in Grandpa’s Barn” and Other Stories of Growing Up in Utah (Signature, 2008) you’ll get an informative glimpse of what it was like.
The book is a collection of 18 articles previously published in the Utah Historical Quarterly and is edited by Stanford J. Layton, a historian who was managing editor of the journal for 29 years.
Some of the articles are essays or reminiscenses of events recalled by the author, such as “The Gypsies Are Coming!” by David A. Hales. Those of you who served European missions may have seen real live gypsies (I did), but I didn’t know they ever made it to Utah. “Glimpses of Ice Skating and Coasting” is all about the various winter sports kids engaged in before the age of television. “Coasting” was what we now call sledding, which was revolutionized by the introduction of a retail sled with steel runners in 1889. Then there was “hitching” in the 1940s and 50s, in which young daredevils with a stout pair of shoes would grab bumpers of passing cars and zip along behind (unseen by the driver) for a block or two. This book might be the perfect gift for that hard-to-shop-for Utah great-grandparent in your family tree.
There are also serious scholarly articles the average T&S reader would likely enjoy. In “Childhood in Gunnison,” William G. Hartley gives a detailed sketch of the life of an “everyday, garden variety, plural LDS family” of the 19th century, a welcome contrast to the stereotyped or emotionally hyped allusions one generally encounters. “‘Redeeming the Indian’: Enslavement of Children in New Mexico and Utah” by Sondra Jones covers a touchy topic I guarantee you haven’t heard about in Sunday School or Institute. The Utes were energetic participants in the Indian slave trade, and Utah was “a rendezvous area for the Utes and their Mexican trading partners” well before the Mormons ever showed up. Early Mormons — who had to deal with this established practice — often bought Indian children out of slavery, but the post-liberation details of such a transaction could get a little messy. “Topaz, City of Dust” gives the vivid descriptions of a young Japanese American who spent time in one of the harsh WWII relocation camps situated in Utah.
Note: There are three previous books in this series, the prior volumes focusing on Utah’s minorities, sports in Utah, and frontier lawlessness.