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With New Vision

By: Ardis E. Parshall - October 12, 2011

From the Relief Society Magazine, July 1935 –

With New Vision

By Juanita Brooks

John’s voice rang out full-throated and clear, keeping time to the “sping-spong” of the milk as it struck the bottom of his tin bucket.

”Oh, Zion, dear Zion,
Home of the free
Where the pure breezes blow
And the clear streamlets flow
How I long to your bosom to flee.”

Mary paused a moment in her task of stirring mush. How she wished that song had never been written! Things were bad enough, but that – yet her husband sang it as if he really meant it.

“Pure breezes, indeed,” she thought, “so full of pure heat that they scorch worse than fire.” Hadn’t she watched their grain burn up the year before until they got only eight bushels when they should have had many times that amount? Hadn’t she carried water in buckets a mile and a half to try to keep alive her few precious trees? “And as for clear streamlets – well, I wonder if anyone ever saw the Virgin River clear.” Yet her husband could sing of pure breezes and clear streamlets.

She looked about her. From the dug-out where she had spent two winters her youngest child was crawling. Her oldest girl was gravely brushing flies from the table with a green cottonwood branch. Since warm weather came, the family had moved out-of-doors under the willow shed – the stove on some rocks at one side and the home-made table in the center.

A great wave of home-sickness swept over her. “Oh, these ugly, ugly, red hills,” she sighed. “They’re so bare, so glaring. It seems like they gather up every bit of heat and throw it back at us. At home, the Alps –” Her memory pictured distant peaks and heavily-wooded green slopes.

She thought of the comfortable home she had left, the shining kitchen with its big stone oven, the living room with its wedding-gift ornaments. The cherry tree and the giant linden would be in bloom about now; she almost imagined she could smell their fragrance.

They would have been moderately wealthy if they had stayed home, but – in her mind’s eye she saw again the two boyish strangers as they introduced themselves in broken German. She had been thrilled by their story of a new church, and the light in her husband’s face told how deeply he had been impressed. But the crowning conviction had come when she witnessed the miracle. When she saw her neighbor who had been crippled with rheumatism for years baptized in the lake in a hole cut through foot-thick ice come out of the water and walk away without his crutches, she had been sure she could never again doubt the truth of what she had heard. When she saw this same neighbor straight and well again, the hump gone from his back and the knots from his hands, and had bade him goodbye as he left for Zion, she thought that the greatest joy in the world would be to come too. But she had not expected this!

How happy she had been through all their preparations for leaving! Even the auction sale at which she saw her household treasures pass into other hands had not dampened her spirits. She had been happy through the tedium of the seven weeks’ ocean voyage because she was coming to Zion. She had endured the long trip across the plains, wrapping her swollen feet in gunny-sacks and pulling her share of the two-wheeled cart from Missouri to Salt Lake valley without complaining. She had even been able to join in the song “All is Well.” the looking forward to being in Zion had sustained her. Zion! And this was it!

It wouldn’t have been so bad if they could have stayed in Salt Lake City, but this hot, barren land – “It may be the land of the free, all right, but looks like we’d be free to drudge and starve,” she thought grimly.

She was called back to the present by the voice of her oldest son asking if breakfast was ready. Her husband came over with the milk; the routine of setting table, having prayers, and serving occupied her, and naturally a quiet woman, her silence this morning caused no comment.

It was Sunday. All week she had worked at odd times to prepare for this day. The oldest girl, Mary Ann, now twelve, had been able to make herself a new dress, and she was justly proud of it. She had earned the cotton by picking for a neighbor; she had done all the work of dyeing, spinning, and weaving. The result had been a checked material, of dull green, broken by red and blue threads. The green color traced its origin to the chaparral that grew wild, the red to dogberries from the creek bottom, and the blue to indigo. Then the child had actually done all the needlework, and the finished dress was a not too beautiful monument to her industry. To go with the dress there was a new straw hat, braided and shaped by the mother, and trimmed with “artificials” or designs in colored straw. Since it was Mary Ann’s first new outfit in two years, it was considered quite grand. It made it necessary, however, that the two younger girls must have new dresses also, a real problem until the mother unselfishly cut up one of her own to provide material. So all of the children were in a Sunday humor.

Mary went to service this morning not because she had the spirit of worship, but out of force of habit and because she did not want to answer the questions she would arouse by staying home. There was no church house yet in the little town; the meeting was held under a large cottonwood tree, with stumps and planks for benches. Nothing looked good to her: the seats were low and had no backs, flies buzzed, the sun sifted through the leaves. It seemed as if the services were designed especially for her, yet she was unmoved except for private sarcastic remarks with which she entertained herself.

That first song, for instance:

“Look up nor fear, the day is near.
God giveth freely when we call.
Our utmost need is oft decreed
And Providence is over all.”

Her husband sang with genuine enjoyment, taking the bass in deep, rich notes, coming out full and strong on the runs. Mary wondered if he did not improvise some of those runs. She objected to that line about God giving freely. Seemed like he had been pretty stingy with his favors, she thought. They’d certainly earned all they had several times over.

It was testimony day. Usually she liked testimony day because the services seemed so spontaneous and sincere, but today it annoyed her so much that she stopped listening and began leafing through her hymn book. Everywhere she met only such titles as “Our Mountain Home So Dear,” or “Beautiful Mountain Home” – the only beautiful mountain home she could think of was back in Switzerland, tucked in among the Alps. There was nothing beautiful here, only a forbidding desert, lying in wait to destroy them.

She became conscious of her husband’s voice. Unusual for him to bear his testimony in a speech; he usually sang it, starting some familiar hymn which expressed his sentiments and in which the congregation joined. But today he was talking:

“This is a hard country, but it is a free land, and all new countries are hard. But it is a good land and it will repay us many times for our effort.” (How she wished she could believe that. John was so optimistic. She’d never heard him once even hint that he was sorry he had come. He always looked forward so confidently that she sometimes wondered as to his judgment.) “And this is a beautiful land. When I see these hills in all their lovely colors, I think the Lord has done his best to make this a beautiful place for his people. I always feel good to think that I may be able to work with Him and help just a little to add to that beauty. But when I see the sunsets like the one last night I – I don’t know how to say it, but it almost hurts me, it is so beautiful. I think it must be a little reflection of the glory of God which he shows us to help us from getting too discouraged.”

Something stirred in Mary’s heart. Dear old John. He had to struggle at times to keep a stiff upper lip, too. She wished she had been more helpful, but she had thought that he didn’t care for beautiful things; that it was only she who missed the pictures and silver, and the flowers. She had never noticed the sunsets; she hadn’t had time. John’s voice went on:

“It is not only for ourselves but for our children that we are working. It is hard for us all now, but I believe the time will come when we will have comfortable homes and we will be blessed with plenty. Our children will have advantages which they could never have enjoyed if we had not come to this land.”

“Dear Lord, grant that it may be so,” Mary prayed silently.

She looked up at her husband. His eyes were glowing – his face was almost radiant. He believed what he was saying! And suddenly, strangely, she believed it, too. She did not hear him finish his speech because something happened to her. All her life long, she thought of it as a vision. She saw clearly, a two-story adobe house standing just over the present dug-out. It had three windows in the roof with a pointed gable over each. The mulberry tree she had nursed for two years was so large that its branches reached over the roof. Climbing vines covered one side of the walls and in front iris, roses, hollyhocks, and other flowers were blooming. Her home? She knew it.

If there were other speakers, she heard none of them. She collected herself with a start as the Bishop announced the closing hymn, “O, Ye Mountains High.” How long had she been lost in thought? She glanced hurriedly about; no one had seemed to notice. As the congregation began on the opening lines she looked up to where Old Pine Valley Mountain towered in the east, a mass of billowy, white clouds on its summit, the colorful hills at its base. Beautiful? Yes, so beautiful, that as John had said, it almost hurt.

A few minutes later, John became conscious that his wife was singing as he had not heard her sing for a long time – “Oh, Zion, dear Zion” – on the last chorus she turned to him with a smile in her eyes and slipped her hand into his. His heart leaped. Though he did not know just what had happened, he was happier than he had been in two years.



7 Comments »

  1. There are several historical problems with this story — can you identify some of them? (I say that not to ridicule the author in any way, but to point out that even someone who turned out to be as great as Juanita Brooks wasn’t born knowing it all and had to start somewhere.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 12, 2011 @ 12:12 pm

  2. Even though I’ve heard of Juanita Brooks for 30 years, I’d never read anything by her, so thanks for the correction Ardis. I didn’t know she wrote so well.

    Comment by John Mansfield — October 12, 2011 @ 12:57 pm

  3. I don’t know if it’s historical, and perhaps it was common for immigrants to America to anglicise their names, but if they couple in the story were from German Switzerland, would they not more likely to have been Hans/Johann and Marie/a? FWIW, I see from the LDS Church News Almanac that the first missionaries arrived in Switzerland in 1853. Perhaps that was later than the settlement of the area described in the story?

    Comment by Alison — October 12, 2011 @ 1:51 pm

  4. You’re on the right track, Alison, with the dating. The last handcart company crossed in 1860, and the Muddy Mission wasn’t begun until 1865. If the family lived in the dugout for two years, that still leaves at least three years unaccounted for (no big deal, except that writers are always playing the handcart card).

    Another one: Fast and testimony meetings were held on Thursday at this period, not Sunday.

    It seems common for descendants to refer to their grandparents by anglicized names. I’m not sure what names the emigrants themselves would have used. You’d think that within the family, at least, the older, more familiar names would be the ones used — I’m with you there.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — October 12, 2011 @ 2:25 pm

  5. It looks like there were a few Swiss families, Bryner, Mathis, and Gubler, that pioneered cotton around St. George before the 1861 Cotton Mission call sent some other Swiss families there. Old Pine Valley Mountain to the east is hard to line-up with anywhere on the Virgin River. From St. George, it would be north-northeast.

    “Swiss Saints in St. George”
    http://www.cottonmission.org/?page_id=34

    Comment by John Mansfield — October 13, 2011 @ 8:52 am

  6. Re-reading that, it looks like it was only Casper Bryner who had been south growing cotton prior to 1861, with the rest of his family and the other families living near Ogden until the call.

    Comment by John Mansfield — October 13, 2011 @ 9:27 am

  7. Maybe I’m missing something — could they not have come to Salt Lake in 1860, lived in or near Salt Lake for five years, moved south in 1865, and then have this story set in 1867?

    (Of course, if they’d spent that much time in the SLC area, you’d think the story would have mentioned it…)

    Also, they were having a testimony meeting, but did not appear to be fasting (multiple mentions of preparing breakfast). Were there “testimony days” on non-fast Sundays?

    Comment by lindberg — October 13, 2011 @ 2:50 pm

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