My grandfather Homer Taylor was only three years old when his father died in 1895. Homer served a mission to Missouri beginning when he was 19, then he came back to his mother’s Utah farm and worked for a few years until he enlisted in the service during World War I. His unit had barely come in sight of the European coast when the war ended; then it was back to the farm again. He married my grandmother, a schoolteacher working in a nearby mining camp, in 1920.
Before they had any idea that my mother was on the way, a second mission call came. Family lore – undocumented, and probably undocumentable – says that the call came to Homer’s brother, also a newlywed, whose bride would not let him accept it. But their mother – the determined widow who had kept her farm viable by laboring in the fields alone all those years until her boys were big enough to help – insisted that the call had come, and someone must fill it. So my grandfather left his own bride and served his brother’s mission, this time to England. My mother was born a few months later, and didn’t meet her father until she was two years old.
When he returned from that second mission, there was no more farm life for Homer. He reached Salt Lake, sent a telegram asking his wife and daughter to join him there, and he never went back to the farm. Instead, he worked even harder as a laborer at the oil refineries north of Salt Lake. By the time four more children had joined the family, it was Depression times. My mother said she remembered him as an extremely hardworking man, with skin permanently tanned to a thick leather from his years of working inside coke furnaces cooled barely enough for a human to tolerate the heat while cleaning them.
Then when my mother was about 15, her parents divorced. Homer was killed in a car accident when my mother was a young adult; she told me more than once that she didn’t really know him, that she regretted not having the time to get to know him as an adult.
It was a century past Homer’s birth when I began hanging around the Church archives and getting to know the records there. I discovered the Millennial Star, and, knowing of my grandfather’s missionary service in England, I went page by page through the old magazines one day, looking for any trace of him there.
I found him:
17 February 1921: Arrivals. — The following elders arrived per s.s. Victorian, February 7, 1921, and were appointed temporarily to London : … Homer Taylor, Marysvale, Utah …
10 March 1921: On February 20th, 1921, a branch conference was held at Graves-end. Elders John E. Ingles and Homer Taylor were in attendance. The authorities of the Church were sustained and many valuable instructions were given.
Appointments: … Elder Homer Taylor, from London, March 1st, 1921, is appointed traveling elder in the Sheffield conference.
22 December 1921: The Sheffield semi-annual conference commenced at 10:30 a.m., Sunday, December 11th, 1921, at the Latter-day Saints’ Chapel, Sheffield. There were in attendance President Orson F. Whitney … and traveling elders … Homer Taylor … The afternoon session commenced with singing … Elder Taylor bore a strong testimony and spoke of the happiness that comes to one when the gospel truly finds place in his life …
There were many other brief glimpses of my grandfather’s participation in mission work. One of my favorites, because it suggested some of my grandfather’s actual thoughts, was:
7 December 1922: The morning session commenced at 10:30 … Elder Homer Taylor spoke briefly on Obedience. Cited the example of the Son of God, who by strict obedience to the will of his Father had entered into his glory. Only the humble, the willing and the obedient are fit subjects for the kingdom of God …
Then came the last two items, written when my mother was two and a half years old:
5 April 1923: The annual Sheffield conference was held Sunday, March 25th, in the Latter-day Saints’ chapel, Pitsmoor, Sheffield, There were in attendance: President David O. McKay … and all of the traveling Elders of the Sheffield conference.
The morning session commenced at 10:30 … Elder Homer Taylor spoke of the lessons he had learned in the mission field, many from little children They can indeed realize the power and blessings of the Lord. He told of an interesting experience where this was clearly shown…
The afternoon session commenced at 2:30 …
President McKay commended the work of President J.W. Ernest Tomlinson, and Elders Homer Taylor and Ervin Rawlings. He announced the honorable release of these brethren …
17 May 1923: Elder Homer Taylor, honorably released as traveling elder in the Sheffield conference, left for home Friday, the 13th inst., per s.s. Montclare.
I called my mother that evening and read the brief bits to her. Her reaction? Silence.
Well, gee. I knew they weren’t all that exciting, but weren’t they worth some reaction?
“Read that last part again,” she finally said, rather flatly.
“Elder Homer Taylor, honorably released as trav– ”
“Honorably released?” she interrupted.
“Yes,” I said. “David O. McKay met with the missionaries in England on his round-the-world tour, and it says he ‘announced the honorable release’ of …”
“Read those parts again!”
After hearing those words a third time, my mother began to cry. She told me something she had never hinted at before: All her life, she had been ashamed of her father because, she said, her mother – in the bitterness of a failed marriage, we now supposed – had told her that Homer had been sent home early from his mission, in disgrace, for some kind of misbehavior so grave that it couldn’t be repeated.
Who knew two words – “honorably released” – from a 75-year-old book on the library shelf could give a father back to his daughter?
The photograph was one of those group shots of missionaries. My mother had only a cracked fragment of the larger photo, so my father airbrushed out the other elders to create this lone portrait we have of Homer Taylor as a missionary.