John Ortell Kingston was born May 19, 1919 to Charles William Kingston and Vesta Minerva Stowell Kingston in Ammon, Idaho. Most who knew him called him by his middle name Ortell.
When Ortell was growing up, his mother Sister Vesta was very particular and had a skill for organizing every detail of her home. She taught her children to keep the same standards she learned when she was growing up. When Ortell was almost 3, his younger brother Merlin was born. Growing up together the two brothers had many opportunities to work together from a young age. Ortell shared a room and even a dresser drawer with Merlin as young boys. Their mother was very particular that the two of them respect each others things. Ortell says:
"...we were also taught to respect other's possessions, our toys. If I played with any toys that belonged to Brother Merlin, I had to get his permission. I'd ask him for permission to play with them. If he played with any of my toys, he had to get my permission to play with them. I never did say no. He never did say no. But we always recognized what belonged to whom. And we were generous with each other and their toys.
Now when we were young, I had a half a drawer. I had one end of the drawer, and my Brother Merlin had the other end of the drawer.....Now I was never permitted to touch his side of the drawer. And he was never permitted to touch my side of the drawer.... As we got a little older, and a few more clothes, we each had our own special drawer....And when my clothes got too little for me, then [mother] would take a pair of pants or a shirt or stockings or whatever it was, and then she would make a special situation out of it, that these were no longer my clothes. These were his clothes. She took them from me and gave them to him. And from that time on, they were his clothes. I never every put anything in or out of his drawer. He never put anything in or out of my drawer."
In August of 1922, when Ortell was 3 years old, his father Charles got a job at the OSL railroad in Idaho Falls. The family lived and grew up between Ammon and Idaho falls for most of Ortell's childhood.
On one occasion when Ortell was around 4 years old, he told his mother, "When I get big, I'm going to smoke." It came as a big surprise to his mother and she asked "Why do you want to smoke?" Ortell said, "Oh, when I get big I want to smoke." His mother kept asking, "Why do you want to smoke?" He told her, "Well, all men smoke. You got to smoke to be a man." His mother answered, "Well your father doesn't smoke." Ortell thought it over, and his mother kept asking before he said again, "All men smoke."
His mother asked him, "How do you know they do?" Ortell went and got the Sears Roebuck Catalog and opened it up to show her the pictures and advertisements throughout the magazine. Whether they were selling clothes, shoes, coats, furniture etc, all the men in the magazine had a pipe, a cigarette or a cigar and they were smoking. Ortell's mother realized that those pictures were conditioning her young son to believe that you had to smoke to be a man. Vesta realized she had to condition the opposite belief in his mind and began to frequently point out the evils of smoking and to reinforce "we never, ever want to smoke". By the time Ortell began school the next year, she had ingrained the idea in Ortell's mind so strong that he had made up his mind all his life that he would never put a cigarette to his mouth. Ortell said, it would be easier for him to cut his arm off then to put a cigarette in his mouth.
Ortell's mother never let the children destroy things even if they were being thrown away. Some people break bottles or tear up old books, but Sister Vesta never let her children do the same. When Ortell was in 1st grade he was walking home from school and noticed a group of children up ahead playing around and making a lot of noise. When he got up to them he realized there was a turkey's nest near the fence. The boys had driven the turkey off its nest and were passing around the eggs to the group. The other children were tossing the eggs up and hitting them with sticks, or throwing them back and forth to break them. They passed an egg to Ortell and because of his habit of taking care of things, he held onto the egg instead of breaking it and walked home.
When he got home he asked his mother if he could put it under their hen in the chicken coop to hatch it. She asked him where he got it, and he told her the boys were handing them out and breaking them, but that he wanted to hatch his. Vesta thought it must've been a rotten egg and that it wouldn't hatch, but she told Ortell he could put it under the hen to see what happened. A few weeks later, the turkey hatched along with the chicken eggs. Vesta knew that was a live egg and not just something that was thrown out. She asked Ortell, "I want you to show me exactly where you got that egg." He took her down the road, across the bank on the side of the road where the turkey nest had been. He told her how the boys had taken the eggs and handed them around to everyone. His mother told him it was wrong for the boys to ruin the eggs and the nest like they did, and that the turkey belonged to someone and to keep it would be stealing. Vesta had him bring the turkey back to the woman who owned the place. The woman had remembered the day the children had broke up her turkey nest, but didn't expect that any survived. The woman saw how much Ortell liked the little bird in his hands and told them he could keep it, but Sister Vesta insisted they give back what was not theirs. However, Vesta asked if they had any live eggs she could buy and hatch and the woman sold them 5 turkey eggs, one for each of the children.
Ortell was very determined to get all 5 eggs to hatch, and once they did, he watched out for them so predators didn't kill them while they were still small. As they grew, one of the turkeys was sickly and smaller than the others. Sometimes the children would tease one another and say, "that's your turkey". Ortell's mother helped all the children to work together and they decided they would all be partners on all the birds, so they all took ownership of healthy birds and the sick one. It helped them have a lot more unity at a young age.
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