The Empty Nest

  • Since the previous chapter brought mention of Steve’s marriage, this is a good place to note the marriages of the other kids:
  • Susan finished one year at Westmont before she met and married Les Torok, Jr.
  • David finished Modesto Junior College and was in the middle of his three years at Biola when he married Lynda Hampton. She worked to help him finish his college education;
  • Steve was next, already covered;
  • Janet started college at Columbia College, moved to Bethel Bible College where she met and married Emil Swift. They alternated working and college until they both graduated from Bethel;
  • Ralph Olson married Yolanda Sesma (foster son married foster daughter);
  • Ruth Roque married Willard Benning;
  • Happy Sumner married Jerry Dean;
  • Carolyn Koons, a later “foster daughter,” though she never lived with us, remained a bachelor gal, but adopted Tony, a young Mexican boy she discovered in a prison in Mexicali. Alva was thoroughly involved in both Carolyn’s life and later, Tony’s life. Read Carolyn’s book, “Tony,” to get an idea of Alva’s involvement.
  • A tragic note. Ralph and Yolanda were blessed with Roxanne and Jeremy in the early years of their marriage, after which Ralph contracted leukemia and went to be with Jesus-the first death in our immediate family. Ralph’s death was especially hard on Steve and Alva, as they were so heavily engaged with him for ten years.


Your narrator has made several serious omissions. Blame it on my age (almost 94 as I write this). So I will insert the omissions at this point.

Way back when I was talking about Vivian Baker and the Chapel’s nursery, I should have mentioned Alva’s involvement with the infants in our church family. It would usually begin with the parents bringing their new child to a Baby Dedication Service on a Sunday morning. Alva would frequently get a prophecy from the Lord about the baby’s future. She would write this down and give it to the parents, where it would no doubt be included in a baby book. But for every baby she would make a little quilt. She would go to the yardage store, get guidance from the Lord as to the very pattern to select for the infant in question, the correct gender color, and would assemble the quilt, praying with every stitch, and sewing in the baby’s name. These “blankies” became the baby’s most prized possession. Given the Chapel’s birth rate, she always had one or more under construction. Over the years she made hundreds of baby quilts.

In a similar vein, she spent her spare time doing crafts. Her mother set the stage, doing every craft you can imagine, and Alva followed her example. She always had this or that craft going.

Alva was pretty healthy, not quite as healthy as I was, but healthier than most. But at annual checkups the doctors noted that she was somewhat anemic. They addressed the problem with diet and what not but the condition persisted. How she could do so much in the face of this handicap is hard to imagine. Dr. Faris told her that the only remaining solution to her excessive bleeding was surgery. Her ovaries were healthy, so she consented to a partial hysterectomy. Because the bleeding was stopped completely, the anemia was soon gone. She had a whole new level of energy.

Later on Alva went for her annual checkup and Dr. Faris found a lump in her left breast. He suggested that he have a doctor friend on hand who could do a frozen section analysis of the lump on the spot. If it was benign, he would jut sew her up. If it was malignant, he would do a mastectomy. This was serious business, but that certainly made good sense. The procedure began, with me waiting outside, praying earnestly as you can imagine. In just a short time the doctor who had come to do the frozen section emerged and left. Just a short time later Dr. Faris came out, said the biopsy showed the lump to be benign, he had closed and Alva was in the recovery room. Glory, and thank you Jesus!

Dr. Faris finished his post op duties, changed his clothes, checked in with Alva who was awake and alert, and on his way back to his office told me I could go in and see her. After a little mushy stiff she was laughing, so I wanted to know what was so funny. She said Dr. Faris had just been bragging to her about how careful he was to conceal the surgery scar by making the incision along the margin of the nipple, while her abdomen was covered with stretch marks. Might as well make a party out of a surgery!

Maelstrom II

While the two elements of Maelstrom I were still going strong, Maelstrom II began. It was a phenomenon that somehow got the title, “Little Mothers.” It sounds innocuous enough, but had an enormous effect on Alva’s time and energy. So what was it all about?

A few years back there was a reunion of all the Little Mothers that could be found and were able to attend. One of them wrote an essay with the simple title, What is a “Little Mother?” She typed it up neatly on a on a vellum-like piece of paper, and put it in an attractive frame. She brought it and presented it to Alva as a token of her love and appreciation for being one of the Little Mothers. It was a little earthy, and I wanted to deep six it, but Alva wouldn’t let me, contending that it fairly represented what went on. So I’m going to take a chance and include a copy. My few editorial remarks or alterations are in italics.

What is a “Little Mother?”

Little Mothers inhabited Tuolumne County in and around Twain Harte and Sonora in the late 1960’s and throughout the 1970’s. There are those who say that they were still around in the 1980’s and they could be found in the flat lands of Modesto. There are even rumors that they had members in Los Angeles near Azusa Pacific College and living on ships in Hawaii. However, they predominantly settled in the mountainous regions of central California and attended the Chapel in the Pines.

Although uniformly Christian in their faith there was some diversity in their politics. They held weekly meetings ostensibly for Bible study, but spent much of the time in loud discussion riotous laughter. Their much-revered “Big Mama,” Alva Peters, led these meetings. Prior to gaining admission to the meetings, new members were required to assent to the Little Mother’s Creed which in paraphrased form reads as follows: (don’t take this literally)

“I am a Little Mother.” Soon after getting married I was shocked to discover that I inhabit a conceptual and emotional world different from the one my husband lives in. In spite of this unexpected difficulty, I want to have a happy marriage and raise healthy children. I have found that most of my peers are burning their bras instead of procreating, and that there are few role models and little encouragement for my life choices. I confess that much of the time I don’t really know what I am doing!! I am a “Little Mother.”

Thus Little Mothers humbly admitted their own limitations and eagerly embraced the opportunity to learn from a seasoned domestic practitioner in the person of Alva Peters. While Alva was, to all outward appearances, as traditional as it was possible for a woman to be, she obviously broke the mold when it came to attitude. And Little Mothers definitely needed attitude to endure the many trials and tribulations that came their way. Each week a veritable litany of the many challenges faced by the Little Mothers was greeted by tears, prayers, laughter and sheer attitude.

In addition to attitude, Alva had a sense of humor about EVERYTHING!! Were you uncomfortable with pelvic exams??? Just use creative visualization to pretend that your body below the neck belonged to someone else. Having trouble with orgasms?

It was OK to discuss this in Alva’s living room, land and Little Mother XXX YYY would explain exactly how one was achieved. Although topics of discussion were closely guarded secrets, sources indicate that they included breastfeeding, home birthing, kegal exercises, preferred positions for intercourse, potty training, how to tell your children about sex, the need to be attractive when your husband comes home, and the identification of spiritual gifts. No one has identified a single topic that was off limits, although there were a few that were a bit uncouth!!

Mostly it is reported that the Little Mothers shared tremendous laughter as Alva talked about her own strategies for coping with the demands of being a pastor’s wife, raising four particularly high-maintenance children and managing what amounted to a no-cost bed and breakfast any and all travelers come to stay. “Big Mama” Peters took in other people’s children, couples, singles for extended periods of time, and the Little Mothers were calmed and comforted by the drone of her washer and dryer as she prepared sheets for the newest guests. Like the Little Mothers, they came to be nurtured by Alva.

In spite of its unparalleled success, Little Mothers eventually either died away or went underground. No one seems to know exactly when the meetings stopped, and there are no confirmed reports of why. In recent years there have been a few sightings of middle-aged women who claim to be the original Little Mothers. They may well be. Even now, if you listen closely, you can hear them invoke the name of Alva Peters and express their gratitude as they laugh together.

Little Mothers proved to be another source of growth for the Chapel because of Alva. The first batch got blessed and told their friends. The next batch got blessed, brought their families into the Chapel and told their friends. The next batch ditto ad infinitum.

Space Problem

During the maelstroms more space was provided by tacking an addition onto the east wall of the sanctuary. It provided a nice Pastor’s Office and two small offices for our secretaries on the upper story and a nice big classroom on the basement story. That helped, but not enough.
Alva and I offered to build a small house for ourselves off North Tuolumne Road so we could vacate the Parsonage and the whole building could be used for Sunday School space. The Trustees approved and by late 1979 we were again in our own home, off site.

We were OK for classes, but really hurting for sanctuary space. The parsonage change didn’t cost the Chapel anything, so we began a study to see if it was feasible to add 18 feet of space off the west wall of the sanctuary. By some creative engineering and Gary Egger’s Professional Engineer stamp it was pronounced feasible. It was built and proved to be very helpful, but there was no practical way to increase our capacity on the original site.