Mormon Literature Sampler:


Florence A. Merriam Bailey*

The brownies' faithful care of the old grandmother, and the sight of the troop of little grandchildren carrying flowers to the old grandfather's grave, gave me a tender interest in the poor old lady, who, they said, was "grieving" so sorely in the little house behind the trees across the street.

The old people had been married "most sixty years," our school-teacher told me, "and they were never separated but two days in all that time when grandpa went to see his son in Salt Lake."

Now the little grandmother was left alone. It was too late to uproot her, she could never be content even in her children's homes; so they went to take care of her in the old house. I was touched by the thoughtful tenderness with which they cherished her. Her daily cup of tea was carried over "so mother won't have to build a fire at noon--it's so hot;" at the baking an extra loaf was set to rise "so she won't have to bake;" some one went to sit with her at her lonely meals, "she misses father so, to eat alone;" and she was never left long by herself in the desolate house, "she grieves so, all the time."

When I went to see her, I found her in her little kitchen. There were two big rocking-chairs, one on either side the stove--one empty now. A pathetic old pipe still lay on the mantelpiece, an old hat and coat still hung against the wall; later, her children put them tenderly out of her sight. "I couldn't bear them," the dear old soul said, tremulously.

"He was so kindly to me," she sobbed, when telling me of her desolation. "He was so kindly to me--always so kind. Since I was took with the lameness--two year this April--he always had my stockings warm for me in the morning--always so kind. Oh! nobody knows, nobody knows the miss of it!" she cried out in her loneliness.

When less borne down by her grief she rambled on about their happy life together. All her memories of sixty years were bound up with the thought of "father." She told me that when the old man used to go out in the yard, the hens would all follow him,--seventy-five or more,--and the neighbors going by would stop at the fence and laugh.

Then her mind would wander back to the early days of their married life in England, and she would recall with tender pleasure how, "before I had any children, my husband would bring me young birds and lambs, for I always wanted something young always must have something to love."

She told me how rich they might have been if her husband had gone to Australia to raise sheep "he was always such a hand with sheep." But the Mormon missionary found them, and they came to America. "Not all the gold in California," the old lady said impressively, "not all the gold in California would have taken us from our home, but we come for the gospel, and so were happy in doing right;" and her beautiful face bore out the testimony.

She had had a remarkably varied and interesting life, and I liked to get her to talk about it when I went to sit with her. At first she used to ask me to go into the front room where the "Book of Mormon" lay on the centre-table, and a bust of Brigham Young stood on the mantelpiece. But I preferred the spotless sunny kitchen, where I could draw up my big rocker opposite hers, and watch her dear old face as she talked.

Her smooth white hair fell in curls beside her cheeks under bunches of purple flowers that decorated her black English cap. After all her troubles not a line of her face bespoke impatience or complaint the record was of a life of loving-kindness. What she said made little difference to me. When she ran on with the garrulousness of old age, it was enough simply to sit and look at her serene old face.

When telling about England, her old eyes lit up with memories of her girlhood; and she fell easily into the quaint English dialect when talking to her family, though with me she rarely used the old expressions.

She had lived in one of the watering places frequented by the royal family, and it had been a familiar sight of her childhood to see Queen Victoria, herself a child then, riding her donkey about the hills "Oh, such a handsome donkey!"

When in her teens, she bad been lady's maid for a child of the royal family. "Lady ----always dressed me in Swiss muslin. The foot-men in livery waited on us, and we waited on the ladies," she told me with pride; exclaiming, "Oh, I tell them I've been with the highest and I've been with the lowest with the royal family and in a tent on the plains."

Her stories of court life were like pictures from an old novel. One romance she liked to dwell on. A handsome headstrong boy of noble blood had fallen in love with a wealthy tradesman's daughter who was visiting the baths; and on the spot he swore he would marry no one else. Grandma evidently had a soft spot in her heart for the handsome boy who had confided his love affairs to her fifty years ago, and it was interesting to bear her talk about him and tire "beautiful lady," and wonder why it should be a sorrow to his family to have him marry her; though she moralized that there was a difference between the real gentry and the rich trades-folk; you could tell by the way they treated their servants, the nobles were so simple and kind.

After she left court life and had married the tollgatherer, and her boy was a baby, the royal physician came to get her to nurse a "great heir." She recited with a touch of pride the interviews with the grand personages, telling how the "great physician" begged, and the "dowager" cajoled, and how she refused with spirit at first, only compromising at last on half her time, because, "I wouldn't starve my baby for nobody."

Her native independence, increased perhaps by her American life, made it possible for her to criticise hesitatingly the customs of the "gentry," whom she still held in reverence. She told with disapproval how the mother of "the great heir" came into the grand nursery merely to pass down orders about her child, never offering to take her little one in her own arms. "She was no mother," the dear old grandmother concluded, sadly.

With her next breath, however, she would tell me how she used to dress her little girls in their pretty pink and blue frocks, and when "the great ladies" would drive by, they would stop to admire the pretty children. She remembered with pleasure that Lady ----, whose maid she had been, once came to see her, and actually drove to the apothecary's herself for a lotion she found was needed.

She liked to tell me about the old English customs, the church fasts and feasts; the day when "the clubs walked,"--a procession of some society that carried gilt-headed clubs and walked past the castle gates to the church; after the service joining in the games and merrymaking.

She said there was great strife among the carol singers to see who would get to the house first on Christmas morning, for the one who came first got the best present.

It was considered bad luck to have a girl come first, she said. After she came to Utah, two girls "came first," one year. "They did not mean any harm, but came on an errand; and though father went down cellar and cut them a rasher of bacon, he always said we had bad luck all that year--our girl died that year." "There may not be anything in it," the old lady acknowledged, "but I love to see a boy come first."

When I looked through the window at the new moon she shook her head with disapproval it was bad luck to see it through glass. "Father used to laugh at me and tell me it was an old woman's notion, but he would call me outside to look at the moon."

In her old English home there had been a tradition of a neighborhood giant who had "fallen in the moat and been drowned." "I couldn't say as it was so," she confessed, but the dear old soul evidently had a relish for the tale.

She loved to talk about the "shady lanes" of England, and the "nightingale that used to sing in our yard. Father and I used to listen to it moonlight nights," she recalled tenderly; adding, "There isn't any here: you don't have them here. Father used often to say, 'Oh, there is no nightingale here.'" Again and again, she told me with a smile that when they left England, "on the 26th of March, the sweetbriar hedges were in bloom."

She liked to remember the voyage over. "I love the sea," she exclaimed, with a noble light in her eyes. "We had a terrible storm, but no Latter-Day Saint was ever lost at sea, which shows that we were guided and blest--doesn't it?" she confused me by asking, in her sweet straightforward way.

It was like reading a page of history to hear her tell about crossing the plains. At Iowa they left the railroad and took to emigrant wagons. Their company was a wealthy one of fifty teams, and they had a merry time in crossing the plains. Even after traveling all day they were not too tired to dance at night. "We had splendid singers in our band," grandma said with a smile of pleasure at the memory of those happy days. But it was not all brightness. They met with one of the tragedies so common in pioneer life their oxen stampeded and killed a number of women and children. Grandma pressed her own children thankfully to her heart, and the mourners buried their dead on the lonely plain and went on their way.

Grandma came over with a rich "Independent Company," but one day while I was sitting with her, an old woman came in and told us her experiences with a "hand-cart company;" one of the poorer companies that walked and drew part of their baggage in hand carts instead of having it carried by ox teams.

As the woman was very lame--just out of a hospital--she did not draw a cart as the other women did, though she walked most of the way.

She had a thrilling story to tell, and we drew up our chairs to listen, grandma often breaking in with some sympathetic explanation or pertinent question suggested by her own experience.

The company made their first five hundred miles very comfortably, walking about fifteen miles a day. But then a herd of buffalo stampeded the oxen, and they were forced to put cows before the wagons, transferring part of the baggage to the already loaded hand carts.

At Laramie, where they had expected to find provisions, they found nothing but a few barrels of sea biscuit. The company had left Iowa too late. They reached the mountains to find them deep under winter snows, and they had to go on with insufficient clothing for the cold weather, and with systems enfeebled by low rations.

"At last we got so that we had only fourteen ounces apiece, for a three days' allowance. Some of the people boiled raw hide and ate it."

"Yes, I know you did," grandma exclaimed sympathetically.

"How did it taste?" I asked.

"I ate it once, and I never wanted any more," she replied.

"We slept in the snow," she explained, and, when I exclaimed in horror, added ironically, "Snow is warm. You get up in the morning and there is a steam around you. The only way I kept from freezin' in the daytime was by taking the blankets I slept in and wrapping them around my shoulders. Eleven froze to death in one night." Seventy died in all. Those who survived became so hardened from suffering, they were hardly like human beings. "The sight of a dead dog would be more to me now than a dead man then," the poor woman told us. She said, "I saw a woman fall dead at table and her husband go on eating as if nothing had happened."

"Oh! you suffered shockin'," grandma cried with a sad shake of the head; mourning, "Such hardships as the Mormons have been through!" Brigham Young sent out a rescuing party as soon as he heard how late they started, but when it reached them, nearly a fifth of their company were already dead. The early emigrants found Utah very different from the country they had left. Grandma told me how they suffered. "It was a wilderness of sagebrush" then, she said,--"nothing but sagebrush!" But still she spoke no word of complaint. "It was all different from anything we'd been used to," she said patiently.

The house grandma came to from her spacious English home had but two rooms and was covered with a mud roof. "Father used to say it rained hardest after the rain was over," she said to an old neighbor, and he nodded his head emphatically, exclaiming, "That it did--that it did."

The mud dropped down on grandma's white counterpanes--she had never seen colored patchwork quilts till she came to America, she told me with pride; they seemed so "curious" when she first saw them.

Under the dripping mud roofs there was no place for the fine linen she had brought from England, and the settlers were in great need of clothing; so she consented to sell them some of hers. "The women told me they had never seen so many white blankets," she said with house-wifely satisfaction, adding, "and you know they were no good to me then. The women gave me a great deal of gold for my clothes. There were no four-posted bedsteads here, so I took my fine white dimity curtains, and had them dyed to make dresses for my girls."

The "plague" of grasshoppers came soon after grandma came to Utah. The men went out in bands and made ditches, into which they drove the grasshoppers, making the young hop into open sacks. "If they lay their eggs with us, we've got to support them," grandma explained.

After the "plague" came the "famine," when the crops having been destroyed, the starving settlers had to go "down on the bottoms for roots," and up in the mountains for service berries and the bulbs of the sago [sic] lily. "They ate everything of the vegetation, grandma declared, "everything."

Money could buy little in those days. "The first pound of sugar I bought," she said, raising her forefinger and shaking it emphatically,--"the first pound of sugar I bought I paid one dollar for; and I didn't think it was much of a pound, either." She paid the dollar willingly, however, for "father was sick and couldn't eat, but said to me, 'I think I could eat a cup of sop,'"--an old country mixture of sugar and bread and milk.

The dear old lady's rambling talk threw strong side lights on the way in which she took up this new life, accepting uncomplainingly all that was strange and hard; bravely carrying the burdens of her whole family; and going out to minister to her neighbors whose sufferings were greater than her own.

Once a terrible snowstorm overwhelmed the village, and for two days she and her family had to stay in bed to keep from freezing. Even then her little children grew chilled in her arms. Her mother's heart was full of dread and anguish, but she kept up the courage of her husband, and quieted the little ones, hiding her tears from them. "I never let him see me cry," she said protectingly of father "that would have distressed him." In the same way in going about among the sick of the village she would "never tell them how sick they looked, the way some folks do, but always tried to cheer them up."

Her loving heart was ready to respond to any appeal. At Christmas time in the year of the "plague," she found a poor sick neighbor grieving because she had nothing for her children for Christmas. "I couldn't have it that those children shouldn't have anything in their stockings," she said; so she came home, baked some little English cakes at night, and filled their stockings with cakes and apples. "I think one of the girls was hearkening, but the rest didn't know,"--smiling at the memory, "and the mother never forgot it."

"Everybody in the village loved grandpa and grandma," our school-teacher told us. And I could see the respect that must have been mingled with that love. The old lady spoke with kindly sympathy to the old serving-woman to whom she sold her eggs, but the woman asked their price with timid deference. Even now there was a touch of authority and a strain of simple dignity in her bearing. When her little grandsons, the brownies, came into her kitchen, they stood behind the stove with their hats in their hands, abashed before the little white-haired grandmother. She held a position of dignity in the neighborhood. She was the mother of a respected race--thirty great-grand-children blessed her memory. She had lands and cattle, and kept her private accounts, holding in mind the business of "the estate."

But mixed with her sound common sense and ability were the sterling virtues of a noble old English woman, while her whole nature was beautified by the deeply religious spirit that enabled her to idealize the gospel of Mormonism.

Her homely piety was touching in its simplicity. One day, when the family had left her in our care, I went over to sit with her at her lonely meal. The scene reminded me of a picture by one of the old Dutch painters. She drew her rocking-chair to the table, in her little kitchen, and spreading her loaf, bowed her dear white head and prayed, not a meaningless grace, but a fervent prayer for pardon for "sins thy pure eyes see." Afterwards, without a word, she raised her head and quietly began her meal.

She had been brought up in the Church of England, and in talking with her you might have thought her merely a devout believer in the Christian doctrines. The Book of Mormon and the words of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young had been merely added to the faith of her childhood.

In telling me of her happy life with father, she said: "At eight o'clock we would have prayers, and then he would take his light and go to bed, and at nine I would shut up the stove and follow. My husband used to talk about the judgment day, when we'd be sitting here at night alone in the dark. He'd say it would be a wonderful time of great joy and great sorrowing, when we come up to be judged for the deeds done in the body, good or evil. He used to talk beautiful about it," the dear old wife said reverently.

Then she wandered on, as we sat in the twilight, talking about life and death and her faith. "It is such a short time here," she said; "life is so short seems as though but a breath and then there is all eternity. I never could have borne what I have--lost my children--my Alice,"--her voice always grew tremulous when she spoke of this daughter; "and now the great trial--separated from my beloved husband," her voice breaking, "I never could have borne it all if it had not been for my hope, my great hope."

*Florence A. Merriam Bailey (1863-1942), a non-Mormon, was an ornithologist of wide renown. Born in New York State and educated at Smith College and Stanford University, Mrs. Bailey is the author of Birds through an Opera Glass (1889) and several other volumes of bird lore, including Among the Birds in the Grand Canyon (1939). She spent a few months in Utah in 1893, about which she wrote My Summer in a Mormon Village (1894). The village was most likely Bountiful, a few miles north of Salt Lake City. We include this section of her book because it is full of rich insights into a Mormon life.

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