Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Love’s Banner: Memories of the Life of Elaine Cannon.
The wag of a puppy dog’s tail
Is a dead give away
Of his pleasure at being noticed.
Take the hint
People are like puppy dogs
And they’ll respond.
~ Elaine Cannon
The fourth decade of Elaine’s life had a focus on youth. Her primary attention was, of course, on the youth within the walls of her own home—her own children. But it also expanded to include the youth of Utah, eventually the Church, and even the nation during the late 1940s and through the 1950s. Her aim was to help young people improve themselves—to look, behave, and actually be, better. The poem above represents some of what Elaine tried to teach youth. A carefully cultivated habit of noticing people was something she practiced because she enjoyed the flowering of friendships and was convinced the world would be a better place if everyone, teenagers included, learned to take notice of others.
Before the Six O’Clock Feeding
While the family was growing, their wallets were emptying. Elaine wrote: I had these two little tiny babies—I had to pray when I went through the grocery check stand. We had nothing. She knew she had to come to grips with the situation or fall apart. Elaine knew she could contribute financially by working. It was a challenge to think what she could do to find the balance between work she was willing to do and taking care of what was most important—her little children and supporting her husband.
The idea came to her to continue her writing, but to be more efficient in how she did it. She made the early morning hour her time to write. Before the six o’clock feeding was the time she settled on. It worked for her then and became the pattern for her the rest of her life.
When she was tired, she would remind herself that she would rather get up and type to earn a little money than sleep an extra hour. The practice of rising early to work was something her children vividly recalled. Tony said, “Some of my earliest memories are of sitting on Mom’s lap while she was typing. I remember watching her hands fly over the keyboard. And I loved drawing with her dark number two pencils while she was working. In spite of the fact that she was very involved with things like that, she was good about making time for us. I never felt slighted.”
She also became more efficient and organized during the day so that she could accomplish the things she desired to do for her husband and children.
The Time Was Right
As a teenager Elaine had written a little column on teens for the Tribune, then her assignment changed to the society page, reporting mainly on the activities of adults. One day, Wendell Ashton, of The Deseret News, called her to come in for an appointment. He had an idea: he wanted the paper to have a column for youth. He wanted her to write it, giving her an opportunity that changed her life. Elaine agreed The time was right for teenage stuff.
The time was indeed right, and Elaine was the right person. Her daily column ran for twenty-five years and was read faithfully by thousands of teenagers (and adult readers). Young people had their pictures taken for the paper, and that generated even more interest. Elaine’s sister, Nadine (who was eight years younger than Elaine, and still a teenager), remembers that time fondly. “Many times Elaine would use me and my friends for photos to go in the paper. She gave me a lot of opportunities and included me in many of her activities.”
At about the same time, Wendell suggested they do a fashion show for teens. Wendell, Elaine said many years later, was responsible for putting her on the map: he arranged for her to travel to New York City to meet with Seventeen magazine, sent off some of her work to national publishers, and arranged for her to speak at a couple of large functions. She was able to do something for teens and women because Wendell opened the door for her.
The Seminar for Sallies (later the Seminar for Sallies and Sams) was born—in between Elaine’s next two children. Her column started soon after Christine was born in 1947. The first fashion show was held in August 1948. Susan Elaine was born in April, 1949.
Speaker—in Constant Demand
From the 1950s on, until the last year of her life, Elaine gave several talks a month—often several talks a week. She spoke at various book clubs or civic clubs, sacrament meetings or Relief Society programs, mutual and youth gatherings, as well as conferences, conventions, and workshops. When she spoke to groups of young people she often brought along props, which she would use to engage the youth in the message. For example, she had a collection of painted wooden faces, which she would use to involve young people in discovering which attitudes were most appealing and charming, and which were unpleasant or obnoxious.
Young people were invited to the stand to help in demonstrations: how a young man could help a young woman into a coat or a car; how young women could sit gracefully and modestly; all were taught how to shake hands and make introductions; and how to show appropriate interest while listening to others. Her talks were amply illustrated with captivating stories and humor. These methods were intended to motivate her audience, to cause them to desire to be more appealing and gracious.
An oft-repeated story was intended to help young women learn how to encourage young men to do a thoughtful or generous thing. When visiting Lagoon, a local amusement park, Elaine observed a young couple wandering through the park prior to a concert. A little boy carrying a messy ice cream cone came running towards the couple. He crashed right into the young woman, smearing ice cream all over her dress. For a moment, all three stood there in shock. Then, as Elaine described it, the young woman bent down to the little boy and said “Don’t worry, Bill will buy you a new ice cream cone,” and then looking up appealingly at her date she continued “Won’t you, Bill?” And of course, Bill couldn’t help buying the cone because he felt like a million dollars. This was classic Elaine, the type of story Elaine loved to tell.