Wharton: Nothing better than a lifelong friend

By Tom Wharton

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: June 6, 2013 10:55AM
Updated: June 6, 2013 11:22AM
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Tom Wharton

“In the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures. For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.”

— Khalil Gibran

Little things like swimming in a creek, sharing a cup of coffee or recalling winning marbles at elementary school add up to a lifetime friendship.

So, too, do major life events.

Such are the bonds that have kept 90-year-old Beverly Wheeler Mastrim and Elma Motta Uzelac as friends since they were 5-year-old farmgirls in a part of south Salt Lake Valley that has changed much.

The two women were born in the same year. Both grew up on their fathers’ farms — Mastrim at what is now Wheeler Farm and Uzelac on property that is now Cottonwood High School.

The two women attended Woodstock Elementary, Irving Junior High and Granite High School and married within a year of each other. Both lost their first husband to cancer in the 1970s, remarried and became widows again. They each live today with a sibling.

Beverly and Elma remain active volunteers in the community, still drive automobiles and get together at least once a month for coffee and a chat.

Perhaps most surprising, neither can remember ever having a fight.

“We never thought of fighting,” said Uzelac. “I always looked forward to seeing her again the next time.”

Mastrim’s grandfather Henry J. Wheeler and his wife, Saria, purchased the 75 acres that is now historic Wheeler Farm. She grew up in the classic farmhouse that is now a big part of the Salt Lake County-operated facility.

Uzelac lived on what was the Motta family farm until it was purchased in 1968 by the Granite School District for Cottonwood High. She remembers riding on her dad’s horse-drawn wagon over to Wheeler Farm where there was a ready supply of manure to be hauled back to the Motta farm for fertilizer.

Growing up on a farm forced the then young girls to be creative.

“There are so many comforts that the kids have now,” said Mastrim, who has two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. “If we wanted to go swimming, we’d go to Big Cottonwood Creek after the [spring] flood. After high water, there would be holes in the creek. You’d find those holes and you’d go swimming for the summer. Now, if you want to go swimming, you go to a club.”

The girls played games such as “run, sheepie, run,” “kick the can” and “hide and seek.” They had hot dog and marshmallow roasts near the wooded area along the creek. They chuckled at the fact that they were two of the best marble players at Woodstock Elementary.

“We won all the marbles from the boys,” Mastrim said with a laugh.

“Herbert Huish, every Monday, came to school with new marbles, which we won during the week,” Uzelac recalled. “Sadly, he was killed during World War II.”

When attending high school, the two women often did their homework at Wheeler Farm, where Mastrim’s mom usually emerged from the pantry with something freshly baked.

The women also forged great careers.

Mastrim became an artist and still paints wonderful oils. Uzelac, who has three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren, spent 27 years working at the Salt Lake YWCA, where she was supervisor of the children’s department. She remains busy with volunteer work and bridge club.

“I love being busy,” said Uzelac, who lives with her brother Dom, who also has been twice widowed.

That is perhaps the key to a long and successful life. But Mastrim offered another good bit of advice.

While she remembers many details of her youth, she tries to look forward.

“I keep thinking don’t go back, but always go forward,” she said. “Plan your days for something new.”

And with that, it was almost time for her to end another visit at Elma’s house and climb into her two-door convertible.

wharton@sltrib.com

Twitter: @tribtomwharton