This story is from my great-aunt, Gladys Irene Hervey Beggs (1905-1990). Gladys lived her entire life in southeast Iowa, about 50 miles due west of Nauvoo. Her roots traced back to the Mayflower; her patriot ancestors had served in every major American war since Colonial days. She was raised on a farm, and in her parents’ home, hard work and respect for God and country was just the way things were done.
She never had any children of her own, but she had many nieces and nephews to love. In 1961, missionaries came to tiny Keosauqua, and she joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She and one nephew (my father), who was baptized the following year, were the only ones in her extended family to accept the restored Gospel. Both were true to their new faith to the end of their days, and Gladys especially loved doing genealogy research, sending the names of her ancestors to the temple in far-away St. George so their work could be done.
By the time I came along, she was bent and worn, using first a cane, and then a walker, to get around her little house. When I was about three years old, she made for me a rag doll with long black braids, which I promptly named “Susan” and carried around with me everywhere. I grew up two states away, but whenever I’d visit, we’d play Chinese checkers.
Just before heading off to my freshman year at BYU, I had a chance to stop by and visit Aunt Gladys again. She told me of how disappointed her aged mother had been when she learned of her plans to be baptized a Mormon. Her Mama expressed sadness that her little girl, the one with the long black hair that she used to brush and braid before sending her off to Sunday School every week, was now going to be a Mormon. Then Gladys chuckled, and told me a story that she told for her first talk in Church after her baptism. As soon as I got back home that evening, I sketched it out in my journal so I could remember it.
And now I’m telling it to you.
When I was a very little girl, one year just after hay harvest, my father came home with a strange contraption. It was a machine for riding in – an automobile. And now that harvest was done, we could all go visit Mama’s relatives over in Illinois.
Back in those days, the roads were not like there are now. They were dirt roads, and they didn’t have names and numbers to tell you where you were going. So, every once in a while, Daddy would stop at a farmhouse and ask the people there how he should go to get to where he was going. And the people who lived there would point and say, “Follow the Mormon Trail. It will take you where you want to go.” Then Daddy would get back in the automobile and continue driving on down the road.
After a couple such stops, I was puzzled. I had heard of deer trails, and I had heard of Indian trails, and I had heard of other kinds of trails, but I had never heard of any such thing as a Mormon before. I wondered what kind of critter it could be. So, I asked my Mama and Daddy, “What is a Mormon, and why did it make a trail?”
Mama pursed her lips and frowned. I couldn’t imagine why, so now I was even more confused, and asked again. Daddy took a deep breath, and quickly explained: “Mormons were just some people who used to live around here. But they moved west and don’t live here any more. They made this road when they went west.” I could tell by the look on their faces that I shouldn’t ask any more questions. But I never forgot what I heard those people say: “Follow the Mormon Trail; it will take you where you want to go.”
More than a half century has passed since that automobile trip. Now I have joined the Mormon Church and I’m standing here in front of you a Mormon myself. And I want you to know that those people who answered my Daddy were more right than they knew. I have found the Mormon trail, and I know it will take me where I want to go!