Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pioneer Day: the unfamous edition.

My post from last Pioneer Day has led to developments in my life and family history. What can I say? It's sorta fun to be descended from Important People. But to be honest, I've only become attached to my paternal heritage in recent years -- the stories I grew up on were from my mom's side. The side made up of lowly folk no one's ever heard of.

My maternal-paternal great-grandfather didn't walk across the plains; he converted to the LDS church well after the railroads had been built and he came to Utah in relative ease. And yet I consider him one of the great pioneers of my family, leaving his beloved but unbelieving family behind in England and raising in the Utah desert a his-hers-and-theirs blended family of 15 children so lovingly that they took offense if I ever referred to them as "step-siblings." He was jolly, known for the lovely singing voice that won him the lead role in The Mikado (see photo) at the local college though he had just a second-grade education. He was a self-taught mechanic, adapting to the industrialization that ultimately landed his stocking-weaver parents in the almshouse until their deaths.

Years ago I decided to transcribe the letters his mother sent him from England (the picture below shows her standing outside the almshouse where she lived). We only get her half of the conversation, but in it is a clear reflection of his pain at the death of his first wife and the sorrow of separation from his home. I don't think Pioneer Day should be about flogging ourselves for the pains of those who came before. It's not a celebration of asceticism, but of love -- for faith, for ideas, for children, for the future. Yet how can his choice have always seemed good as he looked back at his poor, sad family? They are together now, and I hope they see me here tonight.*


Jan 28 1915

Dear Son and daughter

i now sit down to rite a few lines to you once more hoping they may find you all in good health....Well dears i must tell you their is alot of trouble and triles to get along with all throu this dretfull war it is cruell to think about every things is getting so dear we pay 1s [shilling] 2p [pence] abag of coles 1s p bacon 9p lard 1s cheese per pound bread is getting verry dear buter we don't get any meat is 10p per pound and now we must thank you for the nice letter and the contents i am shure we boath are alot better in health for it....we ofton set and talk about you all and say as how we should like to see you all in your homes but that will never be on this earth do yor think so Well dears you must excuse me for not riting sooner we got yours the 4th of the new year so you see i haven't been so long after all father think they may be a chance to come and see you now their is flying meshenes [flying machines] o if we could i do wish we could see you and all of them dear children of yours as well o what a meeting a meeting it would be but we hope to meet in the bye and i think i have tould you all i can this time and I contlude with our verry best love from your dear old mother and father good by

rite again soon

* Of course, if he's really like he sounds in the family stories, he'll find this posting unforgivably maudlin. Sorry, Grandpa. I get this way on Pioneer Day.


i i eee said...

That letter is absolutely heartbreaking.

"father think they may be a chance to come and see you now their is flying meshenes"

We take it all for granted now.

Thanks for sharing.

plainoldsarah said...

oh i like some good pioneer stories - that was great! i just reread a few of my own - not nearly the same amount of fun in terms of spelling.

D'Arcy said...

Wow, I am so grateful for the new fashions of today, even if I do have to search every where for a pair of jeans that fit.

Again, no great pioneer stories here, it's all mafia and bootlegging and other skeletons in the closet!

Marie said...

iieee -- Thanks for reading.

Sarah -- Pioneer stories are good for the soul, even if they are well-spelled.

D'Arcy -- Yeah, I think we should redefine pioneer as anyone whose lifespan falls outside the jeans-for-women era. Though I would get behind a sari movement. Forget Eastern philosophy -- I just want their fashion...and those glorious colors....

wynne said...

This was pretty cool to read, Marie. I think I've told you this before--but I have absolutely no appreciation for Pioneer Day. (I think it has everything to do with the horrid "parades" in Primary where everyone was supposed to dress up as a pioneer and ride their "float" (bike) through the park at 110 degrees) so it's nifty to see someone who DOES have an appreciation for it, and that remembers it can be about family, not just MORMONS.

Sometimes just reading a name and a date--and that's all you've got on the person--and you wonder about them. What were they like? What kind of life did they live in the 1700s in Dublin? Why did they come to America? Did they come in comfort, or did they come in the cargo hold of a ship?

And now I'm just rambling, and all I really wanted was to say thanks.