Sunday, July 27, 2014

To See the Old and Feeble Dame

Or I could have titled this: "Amateur Historians Need Not Inquire."

It was not a total freak-out. After we were just about to Utah and free from Wyoming's desolation, I turned to my wife and asked:

"Do you think I'm obsessed with Grandma Eleanor?"


"Why do you say that?"

"Because you talked non-stop to that missionary guy for 45 minutes. He didn't understand or really care what you were saying. You should have talked to his wives."

That last bit was a clear slip of the tongue. She meant his wife or any of the other senior sister missionaries at Martins Cove Visitors Center. There is no polygamy there or an any other official site of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We renounced the practice well over a hundred years ago to comply with the civil law even if it took a few years to work through the challenges of the supreme importance of Eternal Families.

New perspectives began earlier today when we turned off the freeway at Casper heading for Independence Rock. We had our two oldest grandsons with us and had taken this long way home because we needed to split up the driving-day anyway. Colorado traffic on I-25 from Pueblo to near the Wyoming line was a disaster. We were already tired from looking for my grandson's inhaler for over an hour so there was a late start and we missed breakfast in the dinning hall at Philmont. Oh yeah, and I sort of hooked the front bumper on a post backing out. The plastic Toyota fender popped back into place pretty well. At least we got home without having to boil the tires to stave off starvation in the snow.

But back to the beautifully green banks of the North Platte River, I suggested that my wife Google the handcart song so we could teach it to the grandsons. We both remembered it fondly from Primary days. She found a site (this from a BYU folksong link) and sang more and more softly:

Ye saints who dwell on Europe's shore 
Prepare yourselves for many more,
To leave behind your native land,
For sure God's judgments are at hand. 

For you must cross the raging main
Before the promised land you gain
And with the faithful make a start
To cross the plains with your handcart.

The lands that boast of modern light
We know are all as dark as night
Where poor men toil and want for bread,
Where peasant folks are blindly led.

These lands that boast of liberty
You ne'er again will wish to see
When you from Europe make a start
To cross the plains with your handcart.

As on the road the carts are pulled
'Twould very much surprise the world
To see the old and feeble dame
Thus lend a hand to pull the same.

And maidens fair will dance and sing,
Young men more happy than a king,
And children will laugh and play
Their strength increasing day by day.

And long before the Valley's gained,
We will be met upon the plain
With music sweet and friends so dear
And fresh supplies our hearts to cheer.

And then with music and with song
How cheerfully we'll march along
And thank the day we made a start
To cross the plains in our handcart.

When you get there among the rest,
Obedient be and you'll be blessed
And in God's chambers be shut in
While judgments cleanse the earth from sin, 

For we do know it will be so,
God's servants spoke it long ago,
We say it is high time to start
To cross the plains with your handcart.

For some must push and some must pull
As we go marching up the hill;
So merrily on our way we go
Until we reach the Valley-o.

We turned to each other opened-mouth and did not teach anything to the grandsons who were happily playing video games. That's not the song we sang in Primary. I had even read those verses before but there was something in the way they were softly sung along the banks of the Platte that sent a vague, connected shiver through our souls. I did say something in awe of how it seemed socialist, revolutionary, judgmental, and still unfulfilled all at once.

Independence Rock and the flow of the Sweetwater down from Devil's Gate exceeded expectations. It was only harder to read the names than we had expected. But it has been 150 years or so. The anticipation of the cleft in the mountain ahead drew us on.

My Grandson heading out to Independence Rock

As seen from Independence Rock, a modern Conestoga heads over the Sweetwater that flows from the Devil's Gate
The senior missionaries really were kind and I hold them in high regard. As any of us missionaries go out, we are not "trained for the ministry" with some doctorate of divinity but are required to seek knowledge by learning and by faith. I probably disconcerted the nice, old guy when I launched into my Eleanor issues on the Ellsworth Company, the teapot, Sister Mayo and the hatbox, John Lewis the son-in-law and California gold, Thomas Giles who didn't die, the Kirkmans and the double plural marriage, the cemetery in Springville, the reformation baptisms and on, and on. I can't even fault him for poor bedside manner when I paused to ask, "How could someone just disappear?" 

"Well, she could have been excommunicated and all the records wiped clean."

I remained calm. If that had been the case, why did we find her endowment, patriarchal blessing, and sealing -- all with information linking her to our Elinor Jenkins of Stowe Farm, Herefordshire?

The near freak-out was only at the end of the tour. Our six-year-old grandson was becoming a nuisance, there was no way we would get him through a five-mile hike up to the cove and back. That's not what I was there for anyway. I was there for Eleanor and dozens of others of my ancestors, relatives and associates, even the 49ers and my Oregonians, but most of all, Eleanor. All I said was:

"The Church needs to broaden this out to include all who came not just the disasters!"

OK. Poorly stated, but the sentiment was sincere and even understood. The sister missionaries agreed heartily. The Elder whom I had overloaded with data gave me an aside, "I think the Church is going to do that."

We left in good spirits because the younger grandson was captivated by the movie which was pretty well done.

Upon leaving, one of the sisters asked if we had signed the book, so I did. Our names, our homes in Davis County, Utah, and in the comments section: "Descendants of Eleanor Jenkins Vaughan Hulet - Ellsworth Co. 1856." 

The Grandsons at the LDS-owned Sun Ranch with Devil's Gate behind them.

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