Wilma “Billie” Garlett Provonsha
Interview by Detta Dahl
Q: What is your full name?
A: Wilma Lorene Garlett Provonsha but I’ve been “Billie” all my life.
Q: When and where were you born?
A: I was born January 3, 1929, at home, on a farm in southern Missouri, in the Ozarks not far from the Arkansas line.
Q: When you were born, what were your parents doing?
A: My father was a farmer; my mother was taking care of kids. I was the fifth child in a family of nine. When I was two years old I had spinal meningitis. I had to learn how to talk and walk all over again; I lost all my hair.
Q: You were two years old, do you remember this?
A: No, I don’t; I’ve been told. My mother used to dress me in my brother’s clothes. He was two years older than I and made me into a boy until I got enough hair so she could put a dress back on me. My father had made a tomboy out of me since I was born because he wanted a boy. I was supposed to have been “William” after his brother, Will and my mother had a brother, Will. Since I wasn’t a boy, I became Wilma and was Billie all my life. When I was born, my father only had one son and three other daughters, so I became a tomboy. He taught me to hunt.
Q: Did you help on the farm, and what did you raise on the farm?
A: Yes, there was hay, but mostly I just worked in the large garden. We raised our own vegetables and fruit trees and that sort of stuff. I did a lot of work taking care of that.
Q: Where did you go to school?
A: In a two room schoolhouse we walked to. There really weren’t too many kids in either room. I remember spending quite a few days down in the cyclone cellar during cyclone season. We had a complete classroom set up in this big cellar that had a cement dome over the top. So when the skies were right, all of us kids would go down in there and we’d have our lessons there while we waited for the storm to pass.
Q: Did you have that kind of protection at home?
A: No, we didn’t. We just went down in the cellar at home. We had a cellar and everyone had a cellar. We had lanterns and stuff down there.
Q: Do you remember seeing a cyclone? Did it ever hit your house?
A: Yes, but not when we lived in it. We moved to one house; our house burned down and I can remember that; then we moved to another farm house. It had been hit by a cyclone and one of the back rooms and the back porch had been taken off. I never lived in a house that was actually hit while we lived in it, thank goodness.
Q: When did you come to Moab and why?
A: My father’s brother came to Moab because his two son-in-laws lived here. They were in the mining business and he told my father to come and he could get him a better job working in a mine. And so we moved in 1942 in the summer. I started school here in September of 1942.
Q: Where did you live when you first came here?
A: We rented a house from Amy Allred, which is up on 4th East and the corner of 1st North (399 E. 100 No.). The house has been all remodeled and changed around so it doesn’t look the house I used to live in when we came.
Q: The original house is still in there?
A: I think so, from the way that it looks, but I haven’t stopped and talked to the people since we moved back.
Q: How long did you stay there?
A: We lived there just a year or so and then we moved into the house down on 3rd East (280 S. 300 E.) that Mildred Campbell has now on the corner. It is still there. When we lived there, there was a big irrigation ditch that ran down across the front of the place. We had a footbridge to get across it. That’s been covered in as have all the irrigation ditches in town.
Q: Did your father get a good job when he came?
A: Yes, he did. He worked in mining, different jobs; he worked in the copper mill in Lisbon, the old one for awhile; he worked in the uranium mill in Monticello for several years and he also did mining on his own with two partners.
Q: When he was a mill hand, do you know what he actually did?
A: No, I really don’t. At that time we were only kids.
Q: Do you know the name of the mines he worked?
A: They were just small mines. He and these two partners would mine out the ore and haul it to the mill and sell it. Grover Cleaveland was one of the partners; Harry is one of his sons and I think he still lives here. Gay Brown was the third partner. The three of them worked together.
Q: Did they do well at this?
A: They did all right. My mother always worked, too and all of us kids always worked to make our own money. Nobody was rich but we had enough to eat. During the Second World War everything was scarce, we didn’t know if we were (rich or poor).
Q: Was it hard to get supplies then in Moab?
A: Things were rationed; sugar was rationed and you were only allowed so many pairs of shoes and gasoline, you had to have coupons to buy gas. Sugar, flour and shortening and stuff you had to have coupons.
Q: When they were in mining were they selling uranium to the government?
A: They were selling to the mill and I guess the mill was selling the product to the government then.
Q: Was there any special gasoline allotment for working in uranium?