Saturday, April 1, 2000

Autobiography of Dianna Solmes (2000)


I was born in Palm Beach, Florida, on August 13, 1943. My father was in the Air Force stationed in South America most of the time during Mother's pregnancy, but he managed to be with Mother before she left the hospital with me. I was born in the Breakers hotel(1) which was requisitioned as a hospital during these war years. I was the second daughter and the second child of my parents. My sister, Suzanna, was a year and a half older than I. We were great friends all of our youth

I had a brother, Brian, born three years later in West Palm Beach, Florida, but I don't remember him until later when my last brother, Jeffrey, was born in 1950. By then, we lived in Montgomery, Alabama

>Dad never stayed in one place for long. We moved from Florida to Texas, to California, to Florida, to Arizona, to Alabama, to Maryland, to Virginia, to New Mexico, to Germany, to Morocco, to Virginia, to Ohio, to California, to Florida. I'm not even sure about the order in the earlier years

My grandmother lived with us for a few years from 1951 to 1953. She was a wonderful influence in my life. She talked to me about God and encouraged me to go to church with our neighbors in Clovis, New Mexico, the Huttons. Reverend Hutton was the pastor for a Baptist Church in Clovis and Suzanna and I went with them every Sunday. They had five sons all of whom were grown and married except Jimmy, who was two years older than Suzanna. He was neat

Suzanna and I were baptized the summer of 1953. Then Dad received orders to go to Hahn Air Force Base in Germany as the Fiftieth Fighter Bomber Wing commander. He left in August and we followed in December. We flew to New York and waited for several days. We met Mother's cousin, Will (Bill) Pahlman, and his friend, Margaret Cousins, who was the author of several biographies for young people. She gave me a copy of her biography of Benjamin Franklin and autographed it for me. They took us to the ice capades in Times Square. Then, we flew to Frankfurt, Germany. On the airplane we read horror comics. I had some bad nightmares because of one in particular. I was afraid the ceiling was going to fall on me in my sleep and puncture me with a thousand spears! Dad met us at the airport. It was nighttime and very dark. We drove for a long time before we got to the base. Dad entertained us with stories of bears and wolves in the German woods along side of the road. He laughed and laughed when we shrieked in fear! He didn't know about the comic books

We lived on post in a double apartment and we had a German housekeeper. It was great. We didn't even have to make our beds! But we got spoiled. If our beds weren't made we had a fit. We even learned to do it ourselves the German way. That resembled the military way (tight corners -- tight everything!). We had every base privilege which included free shuttle bus service anywhere on base, a movie theater, a commissary, a gymnasium, school, everything we could want. We had the freedom to explore the nearby German woods, go to summer camp in the black forest, and shop in quaint little German towns. Frau Zeiler, our first German housekeeper, would go on picnics in the woods with us. She would warn us about the mines that were still buried there. We felt immortal, I guess, because we never let that stop us from exploring and having fun. Some people weren't so lucky. They got blown up!

The following year, Dad was transferred to Ramstein Air Force Base, which was more of the same, it was great. We loved playing in the woods. Then he received orders to go to Rabat, French Morocco. This was different. We had to live on the economy, which meant no military housing. It took three months to get a house fixed up for us in Rabat. The house was French and had black marble floors upstairs and down with a curved marble staircase and three balconies. In the meantime we rented a tenant house on a fruit farm in Salé, a small place outside the city. We spent a lot of time at the beach on the Atlantic Ocean swimming, body surfing, and picnicking. We rode a bus for an hour to get to our American school in Quonset huts in the middle of a cork forest. We even had basketball courts and baseball diamonds. In the spring we had a caterpillar epidemic. The trees and buildings were totally covered with them. They had to be burned off with torches.

During a softball game that I played in, I lost my temper with the coach/teacher and threw the ball at him as he turned around and walked away from me. I hit him in the back of the head. I was more shocked at my actions even than he was! When he turned around to see who had hit him, the fear on my face tempered his anger, and he let me off with a warning. I never did anything like that again.

Mother played softball on an Officer's wives' softball team. I don't remember who they played, but it was probably the non-commissioned officers' wives. They lost I was a cheerleader for mother's team. I lost heart and couldn't cheer much toward the end of the game. But mother never lost heart. She was dynamite! And she was a gracious and generous loser. I really admired her that day.

Just before we came home to America, the Moroccans won their independence from France. There was a showy procession into the city by the King and his mounted army on their day of independence. We stood at the top of the hill watching them. They were colorful and proud and happy. Even though the Americans were under curfew for several weeks prior, I heard of no blood being spilled.

We returned to the U.S. on the USS Hodges, a military ship converted into a passenger ship. It was the pits. Everyone was seasick, but the food was great. I was the only one well enough to do the laundry.

We moved to Annandale, Virginia, near enough to the Pentagon for Dad to commute. Our neighbor had two horses and didn't have time to exercise them both so she let Suzanna and I take turns exercising one of them. Suzanna had always loved horses, so we made a pact with each other to save every penny we could get our hands on until we could buy our own horse. We talked Dad into paying us per job rather than a flat rate for chores. It worked out great for both of us. For a year and a half, the house, car, and yard never looked so good, and we got enough money to buy our first horse!

The next time we moved, to Columbus, Ohio, Dad purchased a place with enough land to keep a horse. This time the Air Force didn't move him, because he retired and went to work for Space and Systems Information Division of North American. We bought our first horse from a riding stable that was going out of business. We were amazingly lucky, because she still had a soft mouth and was still willing to go. In fact she could go very fast. I won a race on her with a farm boy that my best friend, Mary Ann Sumption, had a crush on. Merry Frolic was her name, but we changed it to Reveille, a good military name. In the winter, we boarded her at a nearby farm. The second winter, Suzanna could drive, so we boarded her at a stable. John Dean Phillips, also know as Jack, was hired to run the stable. I was fifteen and he was twenty-one. He was ready to get married and we were in love, My parents decided to move to California. They really didn't like the way things were going with me and Jack! Jack was going to come to California and bring Reveille to me, but after three months' separation, we broke up and he sold our horse and sent us the money. He sold her for twice as much as we had paid. Now we had money to buy a horse in California. In fact, we ended up getting two. But horses sort of lost my interest after my junior year in High School and we finally sold them both. Suzanna went to Stephens college in Springfield, Missouri. I bought a car. I started hanging around kids who drank and smoked and I started doing the same. Up until this time, I was known as Miss Goody-Goody, but I soon lost that status. I could never admit how much I missed it.

Mother and I had been at odds for years, but now things became very volatile. She wanted me to be good and study hard to make something of myself and I wanted to goof off and be popular with my bad friends! As soon as I graduated from high school, I got a job with the Redondo Beach Telephone Company and two weeks before my eighteenth birthday, I moved out of my parents' house into my own apartment on the beach. It took one month for all my friends to take advantage of me, and get me evicted from my apartment. I found another one and Pat Berrin, one of my girlfriends moved in with me. She didn't have a job, but enjoyed spending my money for groceries. She loved cheese and crackers. I hated them.

I quit my job and moved back home! I started working for the Downey plant of Space and Information Systems Division of North American as a clerk. When I had enough money, I found myself another apartment, but this time I stayed away from my old friends. Then I was transferred to the Seal Beach Facility and my Dad was transferred to Satellite Beach, Florida, and I elected to go with him and help take care of my brothers, because he wasn't taking Mother with him. I started going to college at Brevard Junior college, but by now my habits of drinking and not studying were so entrenched, that I did poorly in school. I was not a good influence on my brothers and I wasn't much help in any respect. One day I just left without a word to anyone and returned to California. I found a job working with Pat Berrin. I moved in with her and her mother-in-law. Pat had married Bob Corbin just before he was sent to Okinawa with the Marines. The day President Kennedy was shot, I was sitting at a bar in some town in Redondo Beach, California watching it all on TV. I was devastated. I sat there for the rest of the day, drinking.

I went to San Luis Obispo, where Suzanna and her husband, Mohammed Al-Bakhit lived with their son, Eyad. There was nothing for me there so I went east. I stopped to see a few friends on the way but I ended up in New York. It was big and unfriendly. I went to the Army Recruiters Station and tried to enlist in the WACS.(2) The Sergeant put me on a plane and sent me home, telling me to enlist from my home in Florida. To my amazement, I was greeted at Dad's door by my mother. I didn't even know that she had left California and come to Florida. My parents didn't try to stop me from joining the Army, so I joined up in March 1964.

I hated basic training. It was just like home. Somebody was always yelling at me. I tried to keep up so I wouldn't be yelled at and I was made the platoon leader. That wasn't too bad except when the other girls would bring me their problems and expect me to solve them. My sergeant didn't like what I told one girl, so I was demoted and the girl I had chastised took my place. I was humiliated of course, but still glad to be out of the focus of leadership.

After nine weeks of basic, I was assigned to flight simulator operator school at Fort Rucker, Alabama. It wasn't much of a move from Fort McClelland, Alabama. I had been there several weeks when I sort of encountered Russell Solmes. He offered me a ride one evening as I was on my way to the movie theater (actually he "picked me up"). He decided to go to the movie too. Afterwards he went with me to the Little Wheels Club, and finally left since I had joined up with some other friends. However, the next day he came around and every day thereafter. He would pick me up right from school in his pink Cadillac convertible until his windshield was broken by a kid with a tomato and had to park the car off post. Then we started marching all over post.

I went off post a few times. But I didn't like it. The townspeople didn't like the military much, except for their money, and if you had a black or Hispanic friend with you they didn't even want your money! That was such a shock to me that I preferred to stay on post.

Russ and I decided to get married when he received orders go to Vietnam. We made hasty plans, and were married by the base chaplain with a few of our friends present. My parents came out from Florida, and Mother brought me a white dress with blue cummerbund and white shoes. I was very grateful, because I was prepared to get married in my WAC uniform. The amazing thing was that it fit me perfectly. Mother just knew that I would be thin again after gaining so much weight in basic training. Actually, I think she didn't think anyone would marry me unless I was thin, so she bought a size 10 dress. I requested a discharge and it was granted, so when Russ was allowed to go home just prior to shipping out to Vietnam, I was free to go with him.

I lived with Russ's parents while he was gone. I got a job at White Products in Middleville, When he came home, we went to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. There I worked as a typist and property researcher for an abstractor in town. Russ worked an odd shift and we didn't see each other much. We came close to getting divorced then. When his time to reenlist came around he refused. He was discharged and we went home to Hastings, Michigan, where he immediately started working for his father in the auto body repair business. WE came close to getting divorced again. Guess what saved the marriage? Procrastination! Now, how many people can say that?

On June 8, 1970, our first daughter was born. I named her Erin Elizabeth. Erin was just a favorite name of mine, but I named her Elizabeth after my favorite grandmother whom I loved dearly because she was always so kind to me. She never spoke harshly ever. I wish I had emulated her on that so my kids could say that too. They can't. I used a lot of rather inventive language.

Russ and I had been renting a house on Center Street in Hastings up until Erin was about a year old, and because Russ's brother, David, was getting divorced, we took over his house payments. This was our first house, at 628 Colfax Street, and the only way we could afford it was because we didn't have to put anything down on it. All of our savings were always borrowed to invest in the business and we would get it back in commodities rather than cash, but it all worked out very well for us.

On October 12, 1972, Anna Mae was born. She wasn't as easy to take care of as Erin had been and it took me five months to figure out what her problem was. She didn't like nursing. It took too much effort or something. But when I finally gave her a bottle, she became a model baby.

I became pregnant again about two years later, but I miscarried, and it was another two years almost before I had Gabrielle Elaine on November 14, 1976.

In April, when Gabby was about five months old, I met my first Mormon missionaries. I had seen them walking around our neighborhood several times, but they had never ever knocked on my door before. We had been going to the Nashville Baptist Church for about three yeas and Pastor De Groote had preached a sermon once about the dangers of talking to them because they belonged to a cult and they could deceive you and take you to hell with them. When I found out that he had been talking about those clean cut, handsome, well-dressed, young men who were walking about my neighborhood, I thought it a terrible shame that they were going to hell, and why didn't someone help them? After all, the only thing it would take to save them, would be to tell them about Jesus Christ, that he died for their sins, and if they would only believe in Him, they could be saved like the rest of us!

There was only one problem with this. As a parent, I could feel that this was misleading and over simplified. I loved my children more than anything I had ever loved in all my life, but I certainly expected and desired more from them and for them than just to trust me and go about their self-centered way. I knew they had many things to learn and conform to if they were to become independent, successful, productive and happy.

Finally, one Saturday afternoon, two of these young men did come to my door. Russ was home and I was afraid he wouldn't support, understand, or tolerate my efforts at straightening out these doomed young men. I told them I couldn't talk to them now, but if they would come back on Monday, I would listen to their strange notion that Jesus had visited the Americas after his resurrection. I couldn't imagine where they got such a bizarre idea.

I never even had the chance to argue with them, because everything they said was true. They did believe in Jesus Christ, so how could they be doomed? Not only that, but they knew things that I had never been taught, but when they spoke, I knew they were speaking the truth. I knew that I had lived in heaven with heavenly Father before I was born, and wonder of wonders, I even knew that I had a mother there! Never had I heard this concept verbalized before, yet it was as clear as spotless glass.

Then, they began to teach me about Joseph Smith. This was harder for me to swallow. There are so many self proclaimed prophets and men called by God to do this, to go here or there, to teach and preach, to build this church or that church or whatever. The idea wasn't exactly original. They told me to read the Book of Mormon and pray. I didn't do it.

The next time they came back, I was willing to listen to more, even though now there was a different missionary with Elder Johnson. Elder Brown had gone home, I was told, and Elder Todd had replaced him. Elder Brown had done all the talking. Elder Johnson was very quiet and shy. Fortunately, Elder Todd had no trouble picking up where Elder Brown had left off. He told me that he had joined the church while he was in the Air Force, and after serving his term of enlistment, he began to serve his mission. I was very impressed.

He talked more about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. They left too soon, but they wanted me to read and pray about the Book of Mormon. That night I started reading after I prayed to know if the Book was true, or if it was the work of the devil, as I had been taught by Pastor DeGroote. I read 1 Nephi chapters 1, 2, and 3. I prayed between chapters. After a few more, I said to myself, what in the world was Pastor DeGroote talking about? If this was of the devil, then so was the Bible. I knew that if one was true, the other was true, too.

I became very excited. I called the missionaries. We had set another appointment for the following week. There was no way that I could wait a whole week for more information. I told them that I had read the first five or six chapters of the Book of Mormon, and I knew it was true. Could they please come over sooner than next week? They asked me when, and I said how about tomorrow morning? They came and they kept coming. I couldn't get enough. I talked to Russ incessantly about the things I was learning. He seemed interested but in no way willing to do any studying himself. The missionaries were very reluctant to teach me any more until Russ became involved. He finally agreed. The first night that he listened to the missionaries and watched a film, I was frightened to death. Later the missionaries asked me if I could feel the Spirit, and I told them I felt a terrible spirit the whole time they were there that night, but I never felt it again. I wanted to be baptized, but I didn't know if I was worthy . I had already quit drinking and smoking. Russ had actually quit smoking two years before me. Russ had made it clear to me that if I wanted to keep my children, I had to stop drinking. I couldn't smoke without wanting a drink so I quit that too. It was really hard. That was when I spent all my days reading the Old Testament and telling Russ everything I had discovered that day and each day when he came home from work.

Russ simply didn't want to be committed for the longest time. The missionaries kept working with us patiently. They invited us to come to church. The first time I went, I rode my bicycle and carried Gabby on my back while Russ stubbornly went to Nashville with the older girls.

At that time, the Saints were meeting in a small wooden church in the south quadrant of town. I was sure that Russ would hate it, but I loved it. It sort of reminded me of the Blacklick, Ohio Church that I used to attend with my friend Mary Ann Sumption because it was so small. Everyone was so friendly. The missionaries sat beside me, took me to classes and stayed with me, gave me a hymn book, helped me find the page, helped me with Gabby, and really made me feel at home. I never went back to the Nashville Baptist Church. Russ and the girls came the following Sunday, and every Sunday thereafter. The Gibson family fellowshipped us and we became very close friends. Their youngest son, Grant, was born the day before Gabrielle. Dawne Gibson knew Russ in high school. The Gregorys, the McMillans, Lucy Karcher, Sandy Gillum (now Wilkins), Bee Fuller (now Dunham), and others, all contributed to our sense of feeling at home. We finally were baptized, on September 1, 1977, in Grand Rapids at the old stake center with almost the entire branch present.

When Elder Todd confirmed me a member of the Church by laying his hands upon my head after my baptism, he gave me a blessing. I heard him say that if I was obedient and faithful, as Laiya was, I would receive the same blessings that she did. I thought I had misunderstood him, because I had no idea who Laiya was. Before the blessing was finished, he repeated the same words a second time. Later, I asked him what he had meant. He had no recollection of having said that, and he had no idea who Laiya was either. I know I heard it, because I was planning to ask him about it after the first time. When he repeated it, I was extremely curious. I still do not know who Laiya was, or is, or will be, but I do know that someday I will know. And I will be very disappointed if I fall short, because I was specifically promised the same blessing that she obviously was, is, or will be worthy of.

The day that Elder Todd left us was the saddest day I had ever lived. Fortunately, we have kept in touch and visited with each other over the years. He went to college, married, rejoined the Air Force as an officer in public relations and now has five children.

Elder Johnson's family came to Michigan to take him home when his mission was finished, and they spent a day with us. They were the sweetest people I had ever met. The following Christmas, Sister Johnson sent each one of us a gift, including our newest and yet unborn child . . . a baby quilt that she had made herself! He now has five or six children and is living in Wickenberg, Arizona.

Jessica was born February 1, 1979. She is the only one born in an odd-numbered year. She is also the only one who has rebelled against the church. However, I am comforted to know that her rebellion is not unlike my own, and it will go away someday and she will come back, if only for her own children?s sakes.

By now we lived on a forty acre farm south of Hastings. I loved it there. I thought I never wanted to move again. I wanted to raise goats and drink their milk and raise chickens and vegetables and be self sufficient. That lasted seven years and two sons later.

Levi Daniel was born November 13, 1980, When he first appeared to me in the doctor?s arms, I wondered where in the world this little slanteyed baby came from. I had watched him come from me, and he never left my sight so I knew he was mine and Russ?s. But he definitely looked Oriental to me and though he lost some of that look, he could always tip those eyes and make his "wolf-look". Dr. McAlvey thought I was nuts to give him the initials LDS. I just let him laugh at me. What did I care?

>Isaac was born August 13, 1982. I actually planned it that way. My mother had her last child, a boy, on her birthday. It so happened to be on her thirtieth birthday. I was slower than she was, and Isaac was born on my thirty-ninth birthday. Also, he was born at home, on the farm in my very own bedroom. I had wanted each one of my children at home after my first, but my husband wouldn't hear of it; too risky and dangerous. But I finally convinced him that I knew what I was doing by now, and besides, I would keep on having them until I had one at home. He finally relented. He didn't want to watch, but Lorna Adams, my friend, and a member of the church, pulled him into the room to see, and then he couldn't tear himself away. He was as eager as we women were about what was happening. I had one midwife and two support sisters to help me. The week before, I had made and decorated a beautiful birthday cake for him and put it in the freezer. When I started labor hard, I went down into the basement and got the cake out so it could thaw and be ready for the celebration that would soon follow.

The evening of Aug. 12, 1980, Russ and I went to the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel for dinner and dancing with our Amway Group. I was huge and many people asked me when I was due to have my baby. I always told them tomorrow, because I knew that I would have him on my birthday. It was the plan. My contractions started on our way home after the dance. (I danced with exuberance. I figured it would help move the baby, and besides, I always danced with exuberance.

He was born very conveniently at 8:45, Friday morning. I was a Friday the thirteenth baby, too. I was so happy and so proud. Heavenly Father blessed me with my heart's desire. Not only did I have a perfect baby, but it was a son, so that Levi wouldn't be the only boy in a family of all girls. I am still trying to convince Levi that it was a good gift. I hope their rivalry will be completely resolved by the time they both complete their missions.

I was blessed to stay home with my children until Isaac was three years old. Then I had to go to work to help with the family finances. Also, I wanted to go to school and learn computer programming so that I could do something that I liked that would pay me a decent wage and compensate me for being away from my children.

I worked for Rodees, Inc. During the day as a secretary, and went to school three nights a week and Saturday mornings. It took me ten months to get through the course, and when I did I confidently quit my job and started looking for a job as a computer programmer. It took me three months to find one but to my utter surprise, and it was only temporary. However it temporarily lasted twenty-two months , and I loved it. I was an operator and programmer for the IBM System 34 at the E.W. Bliss company right here in town. We had sold the fame and moved back to town for convenience sake and I couldn't take care of all my animals while I worked and went to school and the kids needed to be closer to school and activities.

When that job phased out, I learned that I was not qualified for a job as a programmer because I had no degree and not enough experience. Erin went to college at BYU and I wasn't helping with the finances. Finally when she got home after her first year, we went together to get factory work. I worked in the factory three weeks and found another job in town as a secretary for a realtor and a land surveyor. Also, I started working nights as a waitress. Finally, I went to work for Russ in the Body Shop as his secretary, and eventually quit the waitress job, too because I was always so tired on Sunday mornings after no sleep for twenty-four hours that usually dragged out to forty hours before going to bed Sunday night and starting over Monday morning.

I am so proud of all my children. Erin became a missionary who served 18 months in Venezuela Caracas East, and then returned to finish college at BYU with a major in History and a Minor in Spanish. She then taught Enlace as a second language to Spanish speaking people, and then she taught Spanish to high school students for two years. Anna graduated from BYU with a Major in Family Science. She is the best mom! Gabrielle is grooming dogs at the present and managing a Petsmart Grooming Department. Jessica worked for Dewey's body shop until after her second son was born. Now she stays home to take care of her little family. I am so proud of her and she is a very good mom.

Levi has entered the MTC to prepare for his 2 year mission to Hiroshima Japan. This was his heart's desire. Could there be a premortal connection? I don't know, but I wonder.

Isaac is still in High School He loves sports. He hasn't decided what he will do yet, but he plans on serving a mission too.

I am so proud of all my children. Maybe this is the blessing that Laiya has. I really want to meet her. I wonder if it will be in this life?

Time is flying by so fast. This short autobiography tells so little really, yet is seems as though my life has gone as fast as these words. I hope that I can learn to take advantage of the time I have left, and accomplish more of the tasks mentioned in my patriarchal blessing so that I may experience the blessings that I was promised.   1. See photo on page two.   2. Women's Army Corp

File uploaded to 20 Sep 1999.
Updated 09 Mar 2005
(c) 2005 Dianna Ford Solmes

transferred to 01 Aug 2009.

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