Sunday, July 24, 2016

Pioneer Day: Transplants to the desert of Deseret.

I will try to finish this post tomorrow, the day that Pioneer Day will be observed. But my superstition requires me to post something today, July 24th....

John Kendrick in the gateway of the Worcester estate on which he was the head gardener.
It was owned by a family named Alden.

It's easy to question the motives of many of the Mormon pioneers: so often they were poor, landless Europeans joining a church that offered converts assistance in immigrating to America, the land of opportunity. Indeed, not a few of them had mixed motives for this change in their religious affiliation. Brigham Young knew this was happening, and he felt that if missionaries could get only-half-converted people to Utah, the Saints could make them into real Mormons. In many cases this happened. In many cases it didn't.

John Kendrick was a different sort of European convert, however. He had a nice life in England. Though not rich, he had a job he loved as the head gardener for a beautiful large estate in Worcester, and lived in a nice house near the estate with his family. His second wife, Caroline Philpotts, was a lapsed Mormon who had been baptized into the LDS faith in childhood and though John was friendly to the Mormon missionaries and eventually joined the church, he felt no tug from America other than the tug of Zion. He loved the green and growing things so abundant in England, the beautiful gardens and large greenhouse he tended, the grown children from his first marriage who did not convert to Mormonism and so had no reason to leave England with him. He loved his life as it was, where it was.

But migrate he did, with Caroline and their children.

Life in Utah was nothing like the life they left behind: dry, scorching heat in the summer and cold, snowy winters; little in the way of civilization in Cache Valley, where they settled; and few of the comforts they had known. At first the family of eight had to board with others; eventually they purchased an adobe house.
John Kendrick playing Jim Bridger in a Pioneer Day parade

Friday, July 24, 2015

Pioneer Day: Always fervent praise for the woman Alice.

Alice Smith Done, born 1842
Because three of my past Pioneer Day blog posts have won me amazing genealogical freebies from the Internet gods (including an all-expenses paid trip to Sacramento for the filming of a T.V. show about my great-great-grandfather Thatcher), I've become superstitious about always posting on Pioneer Day, even now that my blog is pretty much dead. Whether by the miracle of exact-phrase Google searches on specific names and places, or by the otherworldly orchestration of my dead people, or both, Pioneer Day blogging seems to pay handsomely hereabouts.

Let's hope this continues.

(I have turned off comments, but if you want to reach me about this posting, use the email feature in the sidebar.)

Five years ago, on July 24, 2010, I posted about William P. Smith, my great-great-great-great grandfather, and his remarkable life. In passing I mentioned his wife, Rebecca Grimshaw Smith (a.k.a. Rebecca Mary Grimshaw Smith or Mary Grimshaw Smith) and his daughter, Alice Smith Done, both of whom were prominent midwives in the Utah territory. In fact, it was while out on a midwifing call that Rebecca received the injury that ended her life, leaving Alice, her oldest surviving daughter, to assume the role of substitute mother to her siblings at age 14.

Just over a year after posting about these ancestors I got an email from someone who had stumbled on my blog while searching for "Alice Smith Done." She said that Alice had been the midwife who attended her grandmother in 1892 when her mother and uncle (twins) were born. She ended her brief email by noting that in her family there was "Always fervent praise for the woman Alice."

Alice Smith Done, according to family lore, delivered thousands of babies during her career as a midwife and doctor in Cache County, Utah. She was probably given some training in midwifery by her mother, and later she was one of the 500 midwives given formal medical training on Brigham Young's order.  According to her great-granddaughter, Alice attended 2,127 deliveries after receiving her certificate in obstetrics in 1879, and she had attended many births before her formal certification. She was so busy serving in this capacity that at one point she had to hire a woman to help run her household (Jane Sant, who later married Alice's brother Nathan Smith, and became her sister-in-law).

Obituary (Logan Republican, October 9, 1919)
While family accounts are valuable, so far secondhand and thirdhand sources have been my main resources in learning about Alice. In recent days have started looking outside family stories for primary records about Alice's life and career, and it's been slow going--what follows is all I have found so far. I plan to add to this entry (between the asterisks) as I find out more about her:


1898 through 1904 (ages 56 to 62): attended at least 108 births in Cache County (these are the ones registered, but registration of births was not required in Utah until 1905, so this count is probably very incomplete)

1905 (age 63): state registrations show that she attended at least 32 births, including three on February 3rd!

1906 (age 64): state registrations show that she attended at least 23 births--this year a medical doctor and another midwife started working in Smithfield with Alice


What I wonder about Grandma Done: Why did she do this work? Did she like the prestige of being a key figure in her community? Was she after extra money? The break from housework and children? Did she do it because she'd been called upon by church leaders, or did she feel it was her natural calling? Did she wish she could be a "normal" wife and mother? Or did she simply love what she did and know that it was important work that needed to be done by someone with her particular skills?

I wonder these things because I've never been naturally ambitious myself. I was born in a time and place in which I have so many options, so many blessings of freedom and equality and opportunity that women for millennia dreamed of having. While I love learning and enjoyed school and like my work, I have never particularly cared about having a "career" or moving up any ladders of pay or prestige. I do my job, I like it, I go home. I like the financial independence it affords me, but it is not anything that feels like a key piece of my identity or purpose. And while I have a good life, I have always wished for things that Grandma Done had in abundance--husband, children, a feeling of being truly needed. I know that many of my friends, also older and single, feel the same--we know we can do good and important things, but something is missing. We are rich and blessed in wonderful ways, but how can such things ever compensate for what has somehow slipped by us? Isn't there a way to have the best pieces of the old and the new worlds? Why is our generation forgetting to want or failing to find the basic joys enjoyed by women and men since forever? Are there many others who are really fulfilled by their work in a way that I am not?

I feel ungrateful, sitting in this wide and unfenced field of possibilities wishing for a little house and little people. But I do. I wish I could ask Grandma Done's thoughts on my situation--by all accounts she was both kind and wise. I think she would calm me and help me see better all the possibilities that I fail to see in my times of discontent. But I think she would also grieve with me for what is slipping away. It is worth grieving.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Sans Seraph.

This is the Wild West, young man
The down and under
The lone and dreary.
It is what it seems,
Says what it means:
B and R
C and L
The blunt and barren babble
That it tells

The Deuteronomic exactitudes
The flat and tearless platitudes
The hissing in Sinai
The slick and flightless words

Nail them to
That nailless tree
On that treeless peak
That smooth Babel
Then return and report:

The hornless ram will not be caught
Or cut
The hornless altar will not bleed
Or blossom

And when you are weary
Of walking in sand
Stand on the road
Thumb extended
And pray for the tumbleweeds

Stand on the road
Thumb extended
And pray for faith and friction
To snag an Arial Courier
Flying to the smoothless sun
Rayed with flame


To crack your heart and line your face
And tear your eyes and melt your fist
Into a cupping curve of grace
To hold the dirt, to catch the rain
To grow a tree,
A sure place for a jutting anchor--
A strong and seraphed T
With an excess of wings--
Four to hide you from the heat and
Two to fly you to the fire

That you may shout
Jagged words on ragged lips
That the coal burns through
That the light shines through

Oh! and why?
See and El!
The bright and blistered beauties
That they spell

Genesis 22:12-13
Leviticus 4:18
1 Samuel 1:24-28, 2:1-10 
Psalms 75:10
Psalms 112:9
Psalms 132:17
Isaiah 6:1-8
Isaiah 11:1
Isaiah 22:23-24
Isaiah 30:10
Jeremiah 17:1
Ezekiel 29:21
Daniel 7:7-8
Malachi 4:2
Luke 1:68-69

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Pioneer Day: putting down roots, pulling up roots.

Varmint-proofed, but not virus-proofed.
I forgot to put together a Pioneer Day posting about a notable dead person, and now it's 10:30 pm and my bedtime. Did pioneers have bedtimes? Are bedtimes for sissies? If the cows busted through the fence or the blog needed updating, I bet a pioneer would have just pushed on through, with pluck and candlelight.

But I digress. Today I visited my community garden plot, as I do most days. This community garden is brand new this year, newly carved from the parched, weedy wilderness of the Salt Lake foothills. We founding gardeners were in charge of removing the cement-like never-tilled dirt, pulling out the rocks (which were many), putting down gopher barriers if we so chose, refilling our plots with amended soil, all before we could plant. Even when that was done, we had to worry about deer nibbling on our plants, because it took until early June for the deer-proof fence to go up. I worked so hard on my garden plot--only one other gardener out of the total of 37 worked as hard as I did to do everything right. I put in about 20 hours total getting the plot ready: first digging--sometimes hacking with a pickaxe--the plot out extra deep*, lining the trench with expensive metal hardware cloth that cut my hands, and then putting back in just the best of the native soil, well amended with compost I had purchased, and hauling away the rejected rocks and soil--about a dozen wheelbarrow loads. Backbreaking, blistering work, much of it in the baking sun. I finally planted my garden halfway through June, and though I knew that my harvest would not be great due to the late planting, I was ecstatic. I had hacked a safe and nourishing little garden bed out of the wilderness for my vegetables and flowers--the desert would blossom as the rose, because of my diligence! My fellow gardeners who had taken far less care in preparation would envy my plants!

Well, my garden has grown quickly in the good soil, and I have laughed as the gopher burrows appear  around it and without fail stop with amusing abruptness where my gopher-proof wall begins. The basil and zinnia seedlings I'd sprouted in March in my apartment and that had languished for a month and a half past their ideal planting time, waiting for a place to be planted, slowly revived from the transplant shock and now are lush and full. The giant zinnias are beginning to bloom, and are beautiful.

But the prize of my garden was the tomatoes--eight heirloom tomatoes selected with care at a plant sale on Mother's Day weekend and given the best spots in the garden plot. I constructed a bamboo trellis for them, anticipating their quick growth. They grew quick and lush, like the rest of the plants, but.... in the last couple weeks most of them have developed leaf curl. At first I thought that it was just stress from the high heat--that sort of leaf curl is not a big problem. But three of the tomatoes stopped growing, which I knew was a sign not of stress, but of a disease. Today as I re-examined the leaves yet again, I saw some purple veins--a sure sign of beet curly top virus. At least three, and maybe more, of my tomato plants have an untreatable tomato virus that is contracted from bites by bugs who have previously fed on infected weeds in the Utah wilderness--the Utah wilderness that immediately surrounds my little garden. I've grown tomatoes for many years and never had this problem--and never seen such vigorous, healthy tomato plants turn withered and stunted so quickly. Three others show early signs of perhaps having the same virus, which would leave me with just two tomato plants. As I read up on the virus today I learned that it tends to target the very most lush, healthy plants in an area, and is more likely to hit plants that are spaced far apart. Apparently the very things that pointed to the health of the plants and the care that I'd taken in trying to give them the best chance at thriving, had likely been their downfall. I've examined the tomato plants of the many other gardeners around me, plants that in general are packed in much more tightly, and that are less green and full because of their poorer soil and shallower beds--and only a couple of their plants show the same virus symptoms. Though a few of their plants have been lost to gophers because of poor plot preparation, in general those who planted on time and without the extensive precautions I took likely will have a much better harvest than I will.**

So on Pioneer Day, as I stood in the sweltering heat and imagined the July 1847 pioneers plowing the soil two and a half months late in a desperate attempt to get enough crops grown to keep their families alive through the winter, I took a deep breath and ripped out three of my beloved tomato plants, including my favorite variety, which had always grown beautifully in my prior gardens. Their roots were long and deep in the rich soil. I had done everything right, but the wilderness didn't want to give up its wildness so easily. I didn't need any of those plants in order to survive--it's just a hobby. I have enough delicious food stored in my house to feed me well for months, and enough money to buy enough food to last me for years. My dismay was nothing to what the 1847 settlers must have felt as they struggled against the elements and the plant diseases and the crickets just to survive. But it felt fitting that the painful uprooting happened on Pioneer Day. Because I'd never worked so hard to clear a space for my plants to grow I'd never cared so much about their success or been so surprised at their failure. And because I've inherited my life in this desert civilization fully fenced and furnished and ready to plant my comfortable life in, it is easy for me to just love the nature around me as a beautiful, if severe, backdrop for my adventures. But today I felt, just a little bit, what it must be like to be at war with nature for the necessities of life. To look at the mountains as foes and the native plants as noxious. To feel that hard work is necessary and good, but success is still a game of chance. With, if you pray, enough God-sent gulls and friendly Native Americans to keep you (barely) alive until spring.

I honor those who planted their faith and their beans in this hostile place and cleared a space for my happy and abundant life here. May my halting attempts at goodness and my care of this fiercely beautiful desert do them honor.

* I dug it out 18 inches deep in a plot four feet wide and 20 feet long. My dad even hired a day laborer to do an hour's worth of hacking while I was at work because he felt so sorry for me when he saw how hard the soil was--thanks, Dad!

** Let's call their plots California 1847, and my plot Utah 1847.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Angles of remorse.

I've been trying to find information on the story behind Joanna Newsom's song "Baby Birch" because it sounds too vivid to not be drawn from her own experience--specifically it sounds like a song of remorse over agreeing to an abortion. Lyrics from another song on the same record, "On a Good Day," also suggest she was pregnant with a baby girl at one point, a product of a relationship that ended in spite of her wishes to stay together. Others posting online have wondered about these raw and pain-filled lyrics and noted that Joanna and singer/songwriter Bill Callahan dated for a few years. "Baby Birch" was released in 2010, a couple of years after they split. His song "Baby's Breath," apparently a response to hers, was released in 2011, and also sounds like a song about aborting a baby girl. The likely story that emerges is devastating, especially given how often and warmly Joanna sings about children and motherhood.

Joanna Newsom, "Baby Birch"

This is the song for Baby Birch
I will never know you
And at the back of what we've done
There is that knowledge of you

I wish we could take every path
I could spend a hundred years adoring you
Yes, I wish we could take every path,
Because I hated to close the door on you

Do you remember staring up at the stars
So far away in their bulletproof cars
We heard the rushing, slow intake
Of the dark, dark water
And the engine breaks

And I said
How about them engine breaks
And, if I should die before I wake
Will you keep an eye on Baby Birch
Because I'd hate to see her
Make the same mistakes

When it was dark I called and you came
When it was dark I saw shapes
When I see stars I feel in your hand,
And I see stars and I reel, again

Well mercy me, I'll be goddamned
It's been a long long time since I last saw you
And I have never known the plan
It's been a long, long time, how are you

Your eyes are green, your hair is gold
Your hair is black, your eyes are blue
I closed the ranks and I doubled back
But you know, I hated to close the door on you

We take a walk along the dirty lake
Hear the goose cussing at me over her eggs
You poor little cousin
I don't want your dregs
A little baby fussing all over my legs

There is a blacksmith and there is a shepherd and there is a butcher-boy
And there is a barber who's cutting and cutting away at my only joy
I saw a rabbit as slick as a knife and as pale as a candlestick
And I had thought it'd be harder to do but I caught her and skinned her quick
Held her there kicking and mewling, upended, unspooling, unsung and blue
Told her "wherever you go, little runaway bunny I will find you"
And then she ran
As they're liable to do

Be at peace, baby, and begone

Bill Callahan, "Baby's Breath"

There grows a weed, looks like a flower
Looks like baby's breath on a mirror
My girl and I rushed atop the altar
The sacrifice was made
It was not easy undertaking
The roots gripped soft like a living grave

Oh young girl at the wedding
Baby's breath in her hair
A crowning lace above her face
That will last a day before it turns to hay

And good plans are made by hand
I'd cut a clearing in the land
And for a little bed
For her to cry comfortable in

And each day I looked out on the lawn
And I wondered what all was gone
Until I saw it was lucky old me
How could I run without losing anything?
How could I run without becoming lean?
It was agreed, it was agreed
It was me tearing out the baby's breath

Oh I am a helpless man, so help me
I'm on my knees gardening
It was not a weed, it was a flower
My baby's gone, oh where has my baby gone?
And she was not a weed, she was a flower

And now I know you must reap what you sow, or sing
Yes now I know you must reap what you sow, or sing

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Death of a family man.

Grandpa launches son Greg
My sweet grandpa is in his last days, at home on hospice care. He's not eating much anymore, and the nurse has explained that that is normal--when a person is ready to die, feeding the body no longer makes sense.

He's started hearing a lot of phantom music and seeing phantom people--but mostly babies. Not his dead mother or father or wife or adult son or any of his 13 dead siblings.....but unidentified little babies. I've never heard accounts of dying people seeing mostly babies, and I find it curious. It could of course just be a hallucination--a figment of his imagination, but even if it is, it probably speaks to the unique workings of his mind. Maybe a conscious or subconscious awareness of how his current struggle is nothing more than being born into a strange new world, just as he was 91 years ago? Or maybe thinking back on his life and the most important moments, his imagination is drawn to the little ones he has cherished and the expansion of his beloved family?

On the other hand, my religious faith suggests that there's a very real possibility he's seeing something that's actually there, albeit in a different dimension. Could the babies be those of his great-grandchildren that he will meet in the next world rather than in this one? Maybe including the little one who was born just a few days ago here in Utah? Could some of those be ones I've left stranded by my long spinsterhood?
Grandpa rocking granddaughter Kelly

I have full confidence in the ability of Grandpa to help the babies get sorted out, whatever they want from him. And if he has to advise some of them to just give up on me and sign on for the next Jolie-Pitt delivery, they should take his advice. He's a good man who has his head on straight, even if he's seeing phantom babies. BECAUSE he's seeing phantom babies. Babies are the future, the new cool thing--and heaven is not just restoring the lost past, but adding upon the present. My grandpa gets that, even as he fades away, because he's the ultimate family man.  Kiss the babies for me, Grandpa!

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

The world is many and is mad, but we are sane and we are one.

I've been down the last three months, and my good dead friend Gilbert Keith Chesterton has allowed me to prop my chin up on his big warm heart through the emotionally dreary winter. I've been after his prose only--he was no great poet--but I've come across some deeply felt poems for his wife that have warmed me. I posted one here (in the comments) three years ago--here are two others I just found:

Love's Trappist

There is a place where lute and lyre are broken.
Where scrolls are torn and on a wild wind go,
Where tablets stand wiped naked for a token,
Where laurels wither and the daisies grow.

Lo: I too join the brotherhood of silence,
I am Love's Trappist and you ask in vain,
For man through Love's gate, even as through Death's gate,
Goeth alone and comes not back again.

Yet here I pause, look back across the threshold.
Cry to my brethren, though the world be old,
Prophets and sages, questioners and doubters,
O world, old world, the best hath ne'er been told!

Creation Day

Between the perfect marriage day
  And that fierce future proud, and furled,
I only stole six days--six days
  Enough for God to make the world.

For us is a creation made
  New moon by night, new sun by day,
That ancient elm that holds the heavens
  Sprang to its stature yesterday--

Dearest and first of all things free,
  Alone as bride and queen and friend,
Brute facts may come and bitter truths,
  But here all doubts shall have an end.

Never again with cloudy talk
  Shall life be tricked or faith undone,
The world is many and is mad,
  But we are sane and we are one.