Sunday, July 26, 2009

Blessed, Honored Pioneer

I was asked to talk about the pioneer journey west in Church today and as I was looking around for a great story to include I felt impressed to retell Rachel Fielding Burton's story. I think it's a fairly common story... in my own family history documents I found two slightly different versions and that made me curious enough to google it where I found several more. I've tried to edit some of the details together into a unified voice here.

Rachel was the oldest of the 3 Fielding sisters who were married to my great grandfather. She was the only one old enough to remember and write about the experience of coming to Salt Lake as part of a wagon train. She celebrated her 9th birthday while crossing the plains. Her story, in as close as I can approximate today, her own words:

“I was born in Preston, Lancashire, England on the 27th of June 1839. My father’s name was Joseph Fielding and mother’s name was Hannah Greenwood. I left England and came to Nauvoo with my parents before I can remember, when I was near two years of age.

In Nauvoo, father bought some land (at $8.00 per acre) and planted a garden and a dug a well. He planted some raspberry bushes. When they got big enough to bear fruit Ellen and I were delighted. One morning we got out of bed and stole out the back door and ate our fill of raspberries. We got some juice on our dresses and mother reproved us, so we did not do it any more.

Once after we went to a Church meeting, we went home with Uncle Hyrum’s family. The children, our cousins, had a little wagon and we had a good time with a rocking horse. I fell down the stairs and it left a scar on the back of my head. “Uncle” Joseph used to enjoy a romp with the children and played with us many times. The day I was 5 years old, the persecutors killed my Uncle Hyrum and his brother Joseph Smith. I remember well the sorrow and excitement at that time.

When the mobs were raiding Nauvoo, the men were often gone, and my mother and Aunt Mary were alone with us children, so they brought the pitchfork, hoe, rake and axe into the house, filled the stove with hot water and put the cayenne pepper on the table ready to use if it was necessary to defend our home and family.

After our enemies drove us out of Nauvoo our parents had many worries and a great deal of hard work. We had two heavy covered wagons – a span of horses on one and two cows pulled the other. At Winter Quarters we were often hungry. We ate pig-weeds and cornbread, our only food until our vegetable garden grew. There my little brother, Hyrum Thomas, died as did Auntie’s baby John. They were buried together in the same grave.

When we started for the Salt Lake valley we were rather destitute for my parents had spent all they had in bringing us from England to Nauvoo and then to Winter Quarters.

Still we had many enjoyable times on the plains as well as sad ones. Some nights we camped early and in the evenings we had immense bonfires and the Saints would gather around the fires, sing hymns or dance and make merry. The bigger the fire, the better it seemed and spirit with which the hymns were sung was an inspiration.

When we camped, our wagons were placed in a circle thus forming a corral for the cattle for the night. Some nights we had to travel late before we found a good camping place, for in many places the grass was scarce or else water was inadequate. We often saw large herds of buffalo and then the men would kill one and we would all have a little meat. Once we saw a herd of deer and it pleased me so much to see how nimbly they ran.

I remember one time we came to what seemed a large lake of saleratus (naturally occurring kind of crystallized sodium bicarbonate) and all the women gathered some. I helped my mother and we both filled our aprons full. It was in cakes. Mother took care of it so we were supplied with saleratus for a long time. We used it for baking soda, so we were glad to have it when our bread was sour, which was quite often owing to the way in which we had to neglect it on our travels.

Once while traveling on the plains, one of Aunt Mary’s oxen became sick, so sick it seemed it would die, but my father poured oil on it and administered to it. It lay perfectly still a few minutes, got up, shook itself, ate a little grass and it was alright after that. So father hitched it up and we were on our way rejoicing.

We had lost one of our horses, but we had a couple of oxen on one wagon with a horse in front of them forming a spike team and two cows on the other wagon. The third ox and one of Aunt Mary’s made a yoke of cattle. Mother and Aunt Mary drove the first wagon with all the children in it, until the lines broke and then I had to lead it. Father drove the other with all our earthly possessions in it.

I was bare-footed and I walked most of the way from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake (nearly 1200 miles) for our harness was old to start with and we had not gone far when the lines gave out and I had to lead the horse by the bridle. It was difficult sometimes on the rough roads for the horse stepped on my heels so often it kept them sore.

When we reached Big Mountain, Mother and Aunt Mary happened to be walking behind with my little brother Joseph and sister Mary in the wagon. I remember the descent looked long and steep, but I went down without waiting for my parents. The hill seemed worse than I’d first thought for the wagon pushed the oxen so that they hooked the horse and I had to run to keep up. I called to the children to sit and we came down Big Mountain rather fast. The people at the bottom were very much alarmed and shouted, “That child will be killed, that child will be killed.” However, we arrived at the bottom in safety. I would not think of letting go of that bridle because the children were in the wagon. But my feet were dreadfully cut and bruised and my steps could be traced some distance by the blood.

We arrived in Salt Lake on the 23rd of September 1848. I remember feeling so glad that we were in Zion and that we did not have to travel any more. I ran up onto the temple square and all over; my parents could scarcely keep track of me.

For awhile we lived with my Aunt Mercy Rachel Fielding Thompson, who came to the valley the year before us. Then my father obtained a piece of land in South Millcreek. There was no house on the farm, so we lived in our two wagons. Aunt Mary had one and my mother the other. This was in the fall. Father went to the canyon for logs and our old horse dragged the logs home. Then my father notched them together and soon we had the walls for a one room house. Someone let us have some straw and this was our floor and then father stretched the tent over the top and we had a living room, the wagons still being our bedrooms. Father plastered the cracks between the logs forming the walls with mud and making the room warm and comfortable.

In January, Aunt Mary had a little daughter, Josephine, and my mother was her doctor, nurse and housekeeper. In May, my mother had a little daughter, Hannah Alice, and Aunt Mary did everything for her.

In the spring, as early as possible, Father ploughed and planted a garden and some wheat. As soon as the wheat ripened in the fall, he cut it and thrashed it with a flail then took the wheat to Brother Neff’s mill and had it ground into flour. When he brought it home, mother made some hot biscuits and cooked some green peas from our garden. I am sure I have never eaten anything since in all my life that tasted so good. When this meal was cooked, I was about a mile and a half away from home watching the cows so mother sent my meal to me. I never shall forget that delicious meal. We had been on rations so long while crossing the plains, for during that time our food was divided out to us to make it last until we reached the valley. Then all winter we had been using as little as we could, waiting until we could plant our crops and get returns. Often I had just one half of a pancake to a meal, so I had been hungry so long I could scarcely get satisfied.

There were no stores here at first and they developed very slowly, so it was difficult to get the necessary food and clothing. We were entirely on our own resources and had to do everything for ourselves, even to making our shoes.

In place of the matches of today, we used to keep a tinder box – which is a tin box full of scorched cotton cloth. We would strike our flint rock with a steel and let the sparks fly on to the cloth, which we put in paper and fanned into a flame. If we ran out of tinder, we borrowed fire and red coals from our neighbors.

We made lye from wood ashes. The strength varied. If the lye would not eat feather fiber, it was not strong enough to make solid soap. Often we saved the grease that collected on our dish pans in order have enough grease to make soap. We counted ourselves rich if we could get enough grease to make two or three kettles of soap and enough tallow to make two or three dozen candles.

We scrubbed our floors with sand instead of soap and brushes. The cry was “Use plenty of elbow grease and spare the soap.”

Ragweed often served for brooms, until we could raise broom corn to make our brooms.

Sugar was so scarce that we used a syrup made from frozen squash and beets for anything sweet.

We grated potatoes and thoroughly washed the pulp, strained it and let the water settle. The settlings was our starch. If potatoes were scarce and we had green corn, we used that for starch.

We saved our straw and braided it to make our own hats.

We made yellow dye from the blossoms of the rabbit brush. We used indigo for blue dye and to get green, we dyed the article first with the yellow and then dipped it into the blue. For red, we used sour bran water madder.

We saved all ravelings, especially the long ones. These we twisted into thread and used it in our sewing.

We prepared our own yard goods and knit our own stockings, gloves, shawls, scarfs, etc. if we were fortunate enough to have them at all."

There are a number of things about her story that I find striking. First the degree of hardship is nearly unfathomable but I was also struck by their resourcefulness and ability to make do with what they could find. What impressed me the most, however, is that she still found joy in the journey. Here she expressed it many times and I am so impressed that she saw all of the tiny gifts in the everyday that Heavenly Father gives us as evidence of His love for us.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Handwriting analysis

Today, waiting for some computer issues to resolve, I took a quick and simple handwriting analysis test. The instructions were to write, in cursive, "She sells seashells by the seashore." Then based on how you loop your l's and if the e's are closed or open and if the s's come to a point or are round on the top and a few other factors, you come up with a list of personality traits that are supposed to describe you.

My list of traits:
Open to the world
Likes to socialize
Finds it easy to express self
Unswayed by emotional arguments
Intellectually probing
Likes to study new things

Overall, not a bad description according to my view of myself and my world.

I know, I know... there are some (including me some days!) that would argue the well-adjusted part and I've always thought I was quite trusting. At least I'm willing to believe people until they violate that trust and then it's pretty hard to win it back. And lest we gloss over it, it doesn't take much to turn me into an emotional mess! Maybe I'm just hoping my display will sway someone else more than theirs changes my mind...

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Random Observations on a Saturday

Headed off to the grocery early to get the shopping over with, but found myself sitting in the pharmacy waiting on a prescription refill. At this particular Smith's Food & Drug, the waiting area faces the display of 'sexual products' so I found myself unwitting staring at condoms and KY jelly... mindlessness must have got overly boring because the Passion Cherry intimate massage oil branded as 'Play' caught my attention. Apparently it heats on contact. Hmm... not sure whether to be intrigued or grossed out by the combination of flavor, heat and 'intimate' in the description. When I got bored with that thought, I started counting the variety of condom brands: Trojan, Lifestyle, Skyn... and several more I've forgotten now (or anyway forgot how to spell). Impressive selection. I'd never really thought about all the brands or the different features available. Guess I've never needed to know.

Later, we took a little bus adventure to go out for lunch. Every now and then I cross paths with a young man in a wheelchair. Just guessing, but I think he has MS. He's a very pleasant, friendly and outgoing person and he works as a greeter at Walmart. Whenever I see him, he always thanks me profusely for being such a good caretaker for my mom. He's the only person who's ever really done that and the recognition is nice. (In all fairness, several people understand and have commented on the difficulty of doing it... but that's just not quite the same.)

Lunch was at La Frontera on 4th South. Dang!! I still want to learn to make Chili Verde.

I stuffed down an entire Smothered Taco and felt the nauseous and gassy effects all night. But yum! Well worth the pain. Never heard of a smothered taco? It's your basic soft shell taco made with a chorizo filling and then covered in chili verde. Add a little cheese and chopped onions to the top and you are in Mexican heaven.

The rest of the day was pretty much filled with mundane stuff like laundry, watering the garden, watching tv until so late that it was hard to get up for Church the next morning...

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The story behind The Star Spangled Banner

Several months ago a friend shared an audio clip with this story as a dramatic reading. It was touching and I filed it away to listen to again on Independence Day. On this most patriotic of our holidays, I was reminded of it while singing our National Anthem and as I listed to the clip and re-read the words to the song I found myself sobbing in thanksgiving for the gift I'd taken for granted for so long. To quote another less famous but more modern song, “I believe we will answer each to Heaven for the way we spend our priceless liberty.”

Francis Scott Key, author of The Star Spangled Banner, was an attorney in Baltimore who was chosen to negotiate a prisoner exchange. Both the young United States of America and Britain had accumulated a large number of prisoners in fighting the Revolutionary War. The American prisoners were held on British ships about 1000 yards off the coast. When arrangements had been made, he went out to one of the ships in a row boat and commenced negotiations with the British admiral. Finally they had an agreement to exchange prisoners one for one.

Mr. Key went down into the belly of the ship where the prisoners were held and told them that they were going to be released but as he went back to the deck, the admiral pulled him aside and said there was a complication. He said that they’d still honor the agreement to release the prisoners but after tonight it was going to be basically academic. The he directed Mr. Key’s attention to the horizon where he could see the tiny specks of the approaching war ships. The admiral went on to explain that it was the entire British war fleet. Then he pointed to the coast and Fort Henry saying that all of the ships would be directing their fire at the fort. The stated goal was to remove it from the face of the earth. Mr. Key tried to dissuade him as the fort housed mainly women and children and was not a military installation. The British admiral insisted that there was no need to worry because he’d left them a way out. The he pointed to the flag on the rampart.

He said if the colonists would just lower the flag, the shelling would stop immediately. That’s how they know the colonists had surrendered and agreed to be under British rule. Mr. Key went back down to the prisoners and related this new information. Dusk came and night fell and the flag remained in place. And the shelling started. It went on for hours and was continual and merciless. Mr. Key related that all he could hear from below, in the rare moments of silence as guns were reloaded, was the sound of men praying “God, keep that flag up.”

Eventually the British repositioned and brought all their firepower to bear on the flag itself. Mr. Key said that the men being held prisoner kept yelling up, “Tell us where the flag is. Is it still up?” And amazingly every time he could see it in the glow of bursting bombs, it was still standing. Finally morning broke and he went ashore. The flag itself was in shreds; the flagpole strangely askew.

But somehow it was still standing.

He learned that it had taken repeated direct hits. But that every time it had fallen under the heavy bombing, men had rushed forward to hold it in place. Fathers, sons, brothers… knowing with complete certainty that they would die in the act willingly went forward. They held the flag up humanly. As they fell, their bodies were removed and others took their place. In the end, what held the flagpole in place were patriot bodies… remains of men who gave all because they knew what it would mean if that flag came down.

For the most part I think these men - men who knew, and paid, the price of liberty - have been forgotten by history and remain nameless and faceless. But they are heroes none the less. At the very least they are heroes to me. They truly made a difference in the world!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A choice land

Last week in Church, the Sacrament Meeting talks were somewhat patriotic. They focused on our rights and responsibilities as Americans and as God-loving Church members. In one talk a fairly common quote referring to "a land choice above all others" was used. He went on to discuss the phrase "choice land" and finally said that maybe there's another way we should also consider it... a land of choice. Perhaps that ability to make choices is what makes us consider America a choice land. It's been an interesting thought to turn over in my mind.

Part of what set my frame of mind to be especially receptive is a chat with an old friend from High School. Brenda is a big fan of a man named Christopher Hitchens. I haven't studied what he has to say very closely but in chatting with her and making a quick perusal of his Facebook page (, I think that he may present a pretty accurate picture of our current political state. He seems to be enough of a Washington insider to know the difference when our politicians are actually telling the truth and when they still have a bit of BS to wipe from the corner of their lips. In what I read, my only 'problem' with him is that he is so full of vitriol. I prefer rational solutions to simple hate mail.

Which isn't to say that I have a lot of real and lasting solutions to offer... As just one person I know that I'm somewhat limited in what I can do to save the world. But I can reach out to one person. I can help my neighbor. I can smile at a stranger. I can take a picture of a tourist in front of some local attraction so they can take it home to show their friends. I can let someone in front of me in traffic. I have a friend who, speaking of missionary work, says they are out to save the family of man one person at a time. Kind of like the starfish story that's been retold so many times it's almost cliche...

A man was walking along the beach when he saw another man wading into the surf picking up the starfish that littered the beach. An especially large amount of them had washed ashore and the man was picking them up and throwing them back in the water. The first man approached him and told him that his job was too big... there were simply too many starfish washed ashore for him to make a real difference. He bent, picked up another and tossed it back out to sea saying "Made a difference to that one."

Of course reading Mr. Hitchens entries also reminded me of what I think is truly the cause of our difficulties in America. We are a nation built of fundemental Christian values, yet we've allowed Christ to be removed from our public consciousness. We've become a nation of selfish individuals, each more intent on having his/her desires filled than working for the common good of all. We are more interested in the monetary value in suing someone who has offended us than in repairing relationships. We continue to institutionally care for both our young and old while complaining about the decline of family values. We reward those who do wrong - both individuals and large corporations. Call it God's wrath pouring out on us if you wish. But whatever label you attach, I think it boils down to one simple fact - we've brought this on ourselves.

And if there is a solution to be had, we have to be the ones to find it. In my life, learning and living God's will plays an important part in the solution. I want to see His hand at work in my life now so that someday I will have the ability recognize His face because I already know Him.

I was recently reminded of a story from the New Testament that illustrates this idea. It's that of the disciples on the road to Emmaus shortly after the crucifixion. Somewhere along the journey they are joined by a man they do not recognize. He inquired as to why they were so downcast. In reply they asked where he had come from to not know about the death of the prophet that so many had believed was come to save the Jews.

Continuing on, he expounded scripture... prophesying and explaining what had been fulfilled. It was only after they had stopped for the evening and asked him to stay on with them that they discovered his identity as the risen Savior. 'Did our hearts not burn within us?' they asked each other.

How often have we read that story and wondered how they did not recognize Christ? These were His associates in life and would have been well versed in His teachings, manners and mission. How could they not know Him well enough to recognize Him?

I ask myself, am I sure I know Him well enough to not make the same mistake? And as I work to make sure that I do, I think I will find my own solution to the problems of the world.