Mable Sundstrom, approaching 100, still lively
July 3, 2014
"Did you read my sign over there?" Mable Sundstrom asks, pointing to a corner of her living room. "My grandson and his wife gave it to me for Christmas a couple of years ago."
On the sign is a quotation attributed to Bette Davis: "Old age ain’t no place for sissies."
Mable, 99, may not be quite as spry as she once was, but a sissy she ain’t.
"Why don’t you put your chair a little closer to me," she says with a twinkle as The Park Record reporter sits down across from her. "You can sit right on my lap if you want."
About six weeks from now, Mable will celebrate her 100th birthday with friends and members of her extended family that now numbers, by her count, four children, 15 grandchildren, 32 great-grandchildren and 11 great-great-grandchildren with another on the way.
But if you’re in the neighborhood this Friday, you’ll be able to see the Sundstrom clan spread out on Mable’s front lawn waiting to see her cruise by in a yellow convertible. She’s riding in a float in the Fourth of July parade in honor of her upcoming centennial.
If you’ve wandered the back streets of Old Town, you may know the Sundstrom property by the old travel trailer parked under a makeshift wooden shelter visible from Woodside Avenue. The trailer hasn’t moved in about 35 years, but to Mable it represents happy times spent with her husband, Albert Sundstrom, in his later years (Albert died in 1979). According to their son, Albert Junior, his parents would pack up their fishing gear and head for Moosehorn Lake up in the Uintas for several days at a time.
Now this wasn’t the kind of family where the man caught the fish and the woman cooked it for dinner. According to family lore, Mable caught as many fish as much as anybody, and did it with her own flies.
"I was out at Strawberry (Reservoir) fishing and I got this fish on and brought it in," Mable recalls. "Oh, it was a nice fish, like this (she holds her hands about 16 inches apart).
"The guy beside me says, ‘What are you using?’
"I says, ‘A fly.’
"He says, ‘What kind of a fly?’
"I says, ‘I don’t know. I made it. I couldn’t tell you what kind it is.’
"He waded around in the lake to where I caught the fish and he didn’t catch no fish," Mable says.
"I still have my tackle box and my fishing pole and my fly-tying outfit out in the trailer. I still have it. And I’ve got a lot of flies that I’ve got already tied in my tackle box."
One of nine children, Mable was born Mable Larsen on Aug. 20, 1914, in the tiny community of Elkhorn, Wasatch County, near what is now the eastern arm of the Jordanelle Reservoir. She attended elementary school in Francis, Summit County, and in Keetley, which was flooded by the Jordanelle in the early 1990s, before starting the ninth grade at Wasatch High School.
But Mable was no stranger to Park City. Every summer during her childhood she would spend time with her grandparents, who lived on Woodside Avenue. During those summers she got to know Albert Sundstrom, whose family lived across the street. Then, at the age of 16, Mable left Elkhorn, moved in with her grandparents and got a job cleaning houses in Park City.
"And then one day (in 1932) I was sitting out on my grandmother’s porch," Mable says. "It was May 1 and my (future) husband walked across the street and he said, ‘Would you like to go for a ride?’ And I said, ‘Yes.’"
After getting permission from Mable’s grandmother, Albert and Mable rode around Summit County in Albert’s Essex. That was their first date.
"And after that, every time we’d go for a ride, it (the Essex) would break down. Something would go wrong with it, so my husband had to get out of the car — that’s when we was going together — and get out of the car and fix the car."
Albert parlayed his mechanical ability into a job as a machinist, first at the Silver King Mine and later at the Judge Mine. When United Park City Mines opened Treasure Mountains (now Park City Mountain Resort) in 1963, he helped install the gondola and the resort’s first chairlift in Thaynes Canyon. And he was instrumental in building the first rudimentary snowmaking system.
Albert and Mable were married on Christmas Day, 1932, and, the following year, moved into a two-room log building on Park Avenue that Albert had been using as a machine shop. As their family grew they had three girls and one boy Albert added a kitchen and another bedroom.
Mable and Albert’s three girls were born at the Miners Hospital. In an attempt to save money, she says, she delivered the boy at home.
"Times was hard then, and the mines was shut down," Mable says. "And we just figured we could hire a lady to come take care of me, because we couldn’t afford the hospital bill. If it was a boy it was 35 dollars and if it was a girl it was 30 dollars."
So why did it cost more to deliver a boy?
"Well, ’cause they had to circumcise the boy."
For Park City, the lean years lasted well beyond the Great Depression. And Mable relied on her skills as a seamstress to make clothes for her children, turning printed flour sacks into blouses and skirts. She made the wedding dress for her youngest daughter, Pat. She is also legendary in the family for her quilting, knitting and crocheting. A framed crocheted doily recently sold for $450.
In the kitchen, Mable was known for her canning she prepared bushels of fruit and vegetables each year on the coal stove in the kitchen. For 22 years she helped cook at the Park City Senior Citizens’ Center. And until recently she made her own bread, baking seven loaves at a time.
Mable doesn’t drive anymore. She gave up after knee-replacement surgery at age 85 and sold her car, a green AMC Hornet known, of course, as the Green Hornet. But she’s still fiercely independent.
"I live by myself and I do my cooking, I do my housecleaning and I do my laundry," she says.
And, she says, she has no plans to move out of Albert’s old machine shop anytime soon.