7.11.2009

All questions find answers if you wait long enough

Have you ever noticed how much the number 7 crops up in literature? The Seven League Boots, the Seven Dwarves, 007, the Seven Pillars of Wisdom, the Seven Lords of the Valar, the Seventh Son, the Seven Dials Mystery, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, the Secret Seven, the seven rings of power for the dwarves, the seven parts that Voldemort split his soul into, the seven flies killed with one blow. And so on.

And then there's real life, which I won't go into except to say that, when we first moved to our present home, for seven years we had to endure monthly a 7-hour (round trip) journey by car on southern California freeways in order to attend the temple in Los Angeles. I found those drives by turns harrowing and irritating. The news at the time seemed to be full of horrific seven-car pileups and road-rage shootings. People said, "You'll be perfectly safe. After all, you're doing the Lord's work."

People have answers for everything.

I think I believe in the safety thing in principle, but I know there are plenty of exceptions. I can count on the hairs of one head the number of missionaries who have died while engaged in the Lord's work. What is there to make travel to and from the temple any safer than travel while tracting?

So I'll confess that there were many Saturdays when Gary made the trip alone. In my defense, I was, during those years, often pregnant and sick, or nursing recalcitrant babies who wouldn't take bottles. Those were good reasons enough for not being on the freeway in or around Los Angeles.

I once tried to figure out the total amount of time I spend being pregnant or nursing babies. Coincidentally (or not!), it totaled 7 years.

We had pretty dang big babies, which caused me considerable discomfort at times. I knew I wasn't the first to suffer in this manner, but sometimes just voicing a concern or complaint could help, and hearing a commiserating response could help even more. So I happened once to mention in passing how miserable I was, and Gary responded, "Well, at least you're not a prisoner in a concentration camp."

He has an answer for everything.

Sometimes I did make it to the LA temple. Sometimes, in those halcyon days between the weaning of the currently youngest child and the beginning of another baby, we would hire a sitter and brave the freeway. On one occasion, the ward rented a bus and we left the driving to a professional. At other times we carpooled, three or four couples crammed into a van or Suburban. It was during one of those carpooling ventures that I struck up a conversation with a brother in our ward who was sitting just behind me. He had the same last name as an early Church leader - whom I shall call "Early Leader" - so I turned around and asked him if he was related.

"Yes," said this brother. "He was my great-grandfather. In fact, my middle name is 'Early', after him."

So I said, "My great-great-grandmother used to be married to him."

He raised his eyebrows, and I could see "used to?" scrolling through his mind, in one ear and out the other. "What was her name?" he asked.

I told him.

"That doesn't sound familiar," he mused.

"Probably because she divorced him and married somebody else," I explained.

His brows went up again, reaching new heights. "I've never heard about that," he said. "But I don't know that much about his wives . . . . What was her name again?"

I told him.

"I'll have to look that up in my genealogy."

That was the end of the conversation. Feeling momentarily very much like I did in the early months of pregnancy, I recognized the necessity of giving my full attention to the road, and the opportunity for further discourse passed. I don't know if he did look up my great-great-grandmother in his genealogy, but we never talked about Early Leader again.

I would like to say at this point that Early Leader had a total of seven wives, but it's not true. He had eleven. I don't know if that includes my great-great-grandmother or not.

When I took a course in LDS literature at BYU back in the day (from the great professor Eugene England), one of the required books was The Giant Joshua, by Maureen Whipple.


Some people say it's the Great Mormon Novel. I don't know about that. What I do know is that I plowed - against my will - through the 637 pages of that tome for days. In spite of my sometime admiration for Whipple's writing style and in spite of the fact that, at the time the book was originally published (1941), it was sort of ground-breaking because there were few serious literary endeavors treating the LDS experience, I found myself mentally scolding the author for writing a book that was little more than a pioneer soap opera with a clich├ęd and contrived plot, and for utilizing a slew of unlikeable and unsympathetic characters to maneuver through that plot.

I want to offer a small, qualified apology now to Maureen Whipple. I still think the plot is very like a soap opera, and I hate the predictable ending, but I've since come to realize not everything about the story is as contrived as I once believed. In The Giant Joshua, the heroine, a 16-year-old girl with a weird name, something like Clorox I think, is somehow persuaded by Brigham Young to marry the man who was her guardian after her father died. Clorox doesn't want to marry this older guy, who's like an uncle to her and who already has two wives, and besides he's old, but she obeys.

"How stupid!" I thought when I began the book. "For crying out loud, it's not going to be one of those stories, is it?" Yes, it is.

So, throughout the first part of the book, there's this ongoing conflict within the family, and within Clorox herself, as she flirts with the husband's teenage son by his first wife, and this son falls in love with her but can't do anything about it. Or something trite like that. Because of my ancestors' experiences, of more interest to me was the description of the difficulties the saints who colonized southern Utah endured: the droughts, the failed crops, the continual flooding of the Virgin River (did you know floods wiped out the dams 7 times in the first three years of the Washington settlement?), and so on.

Anyhow, it's been a long time since I've read the book, and I can't remember everything that happens, or I've blocked it out, but it somehow sticks in my mind that the lovestruck son drowns while trying to keep the dam on the Virgin River from bursting yet again during flood season. And I think it's a measure of the unsympathetic nature of the characters in this book, or perhaps a measure of my irritation with them, that I didn't even care when this joker passed away.

So anyhow, times goes on and Clorox has several children, and I think some of them die because of malnutrition and one thing and another, and it's very sad, and Clorox has a hard time because life is tough in Utah's Dixie and she doesn't have a testimony to help sustain her (she thinks the Book of Mormon is boring, but she obviously hasn't read it much because she thinks it's all "begets", which is actually in the Bible, not the Book of Mormon - or maybe that was Maureen Whipple's problem), and then finally her husband gets called to move to Logan, Utah, far to the north in a green, cool, and lovely portion of the territory, but the anti-polygamy persecution is going on and the church leaders have to be careful of the federal marshals, so the husband can take only one wife north with him, and Clorox is really hoping it'll be her and she gets pregnant so her husband will want to take her, but her husband, who is now in his sixties or something, marries yet again and takes this new, much younger wife up to Logan with him, and this upsets Clorox a lot so she goes walking around while she's in labor and delivers a stillborn baby on the sidewalks of St George, and I think she dies at the end. Ugh.

All right, so I don't like the story of Clorox and her church leader husband. But I have found some of the circumstances, if not the characters, a little easier to accept ever since I learned about my great-great-grandmother Adaline.

The facts are these: Adaline's parents joined the Church in Tennessee after hearing the preaching of Wilford Woodruff. They were baptized in 1836, when Adaline was about 20 months old. They moved to Far West, Missouri, in 1837. They and the other LDS settlers were driven out by the mobs in 1839 and wound up in Nauvoo, Illinois. Adaline was nine years old when Joseph and Hyrum Smith were murdered; she later told her children she remembered seeing the bodies of the prophet and his brother after they had been prepared for burial. In 1846, Adaline and her family left Nauvoo because of intensifying persecutions, spent some time at Winter Quarters, and traveled to the Salt Lake valley, arriving early in September 1847.

In 1852, when Adaline was 17 years old, her father convinced her to marry Early Leader, a prominent member of the Church. Brother Leader was more than 20 years older than Adaline and already had four wives, and Adaline was not in love with him. But she obeyed her father, who felt the match would be a good one. He was wrong.

I do not say "How stupid!" to Adaline. I feel much more sympathy for my great-great-grandmother than I do for some fictional character. For one thing, Adaline behaved much better than Clorox. For another, I can only guess, and probably not very accurately, at what was going through her mind as she made the decision to obey her father. I'm not even sure I can blame her father . . . much. I have no idea if he bullied her or lovingly persuaded her. Even now people use the argument that "love will grow in time". And sometimes it even does.

Early Leader established Adaline in a little house in Bingham Canyon and then proceeded to spend most of his time with his other wives or carrying out the duties (which were many) required by his Church callings. Adaline had a lonely, difficult existence since she was left to make her own living, which she did by taking in sewing and washing, and by churning and selling butter. During the next 10 years, Early paid enough visits to give Adaline five children. The last child, a boy, was born in 1862. Adaline was alone when the baby came. There were complications of some sort and Adaline was left helpless for two days. Then, a neighbor woman who lived a few miles away decided that two days without smoke from Adaline's chimney meant trouble, so she hiked over to Adaline's house and found her and the baby. This kind neighbor took care of baby and mother until Adaline got her health back.

This last act of neglect on Early's part was too much for Adaline. She went to see Brigham Young and told him about her hardships and unhappiness.

Brigham Young - now there was a man who had an answer for everything!

He did not, at this time, point out to Adaline that at least she wasn't a prisoner in a concentration camp. According to our family history, Brigham Young called Early Leader into his office and told him to his face that he was not deserving of such a wife. At any rate, President Young gave Adaline separation papers, and she got a divorce in 1864. She then moved to Washington (the one near St George), where her parents lived. There she met Andrew, a young Scottish laborer who worked on her parents' farm. Andrew and Adaline fell in love and were married in 1868. A few months later, they were sealed in the Endowment House. They found a deep and lasting happiness that ended in mortality only with Adaline's death at the age of 76.

Adaline at around age 50(?), in a photo of a photo hanging in
the Pioneer Museum in Washington, UT

Andrew and Adaline continued to live in Washington, near St George where the temple (dedicated in 1877) was located. They went often to attend the temple, driving the 7 miles down to St George in their horse-drawn buggy. Once, after spending the day at the temple, Andrew helped Adaline into the buggy as they prepared to go home. Before he could get in, however, something spooked the horses and they bolted. Andrew watched helplessly as the frightened horses lurched away. Adaline was killed in the ensuing accident.

People say, "Well, when you're doing the Lord's work, there's no better time to go."

People have answers for everything.

4 comments:

Gary said...

Prisoner in a concentration camp?

Janeite42 said...

That's what you said.

Shannon said...

You guys are funny. I'm glad you wrote all that-- I learned something new about someone i'm related to... I like that.

Jared and Megan said...

wow, good post. very interesting... and full of humanity.
I love learning about our ancestors, too. And you.
And that *is* a lot of sevens!!