From the Relief Society Magazine, July 1960 –
Where is Johnny?
By Frances C. Yost
Rose Ella Higbee wished she knew contentment as did most of the pioneers in the Great Salt Lake Valley. True, she was glad to be at last settled in a warm log cabin in the promised land. Brigham Young had said “This is the place,” and deep in her heart she knew it was. But she knew also that she would never know real contentment until she found Johnny. She walked over to the loom in her parents’ home and started weaving more carpet.
“Goodness, Rose Ella,” her mother said, “you’ve made enough carpet to cover a good sized sitting room, and you’ve raised your own flax and corded it and made it into nice tablecloths and scarfs and bed linen. When are you going to start using these things?”
Here it is again, Rose Ella thought. She smiled sweetly at her dear, tired mother, but her heart was not in her smile. “I’m waiting for a man, Mama.”
“You could have Jens Larsen with the crook of your little finger. How many times has he begged for your hand in marriage, Rose Ella?”
“I don’t remember, Mama; after the first half dozen proposals, I stopped counting.”
“Rose Ella. I’ll never understand you, turning down a good young man like Jens Larsen with all those fat cattle and hogs.”
“I turned him down, Mama, because I want more than a home and possessions. He is selfish; look at the way he eats up your meager staples.”
“If you would marry Jens, Rose Ella, why, then perhaps he would share with his kin.”
“Oh, Mama, marriage means more than food on the table. I just don’t love Jens Larsen, and it wouldn’t be fair to him. So let’s not talk about him, Mama dear.” Rose Ella smiled, then continued on with her weaving.
Mrs. Higbee sighed, and shook her head. “I wish, darling Rose Ella, that you would stop hoping your dream boy will come to you out of thin air.”
“Please, Mama, let’s not talk about that, either.”
Rose Ella’s fingers, like moths, flew at the weaving loom, and as the bright dyed rags worked their colors into the pattern, she gave her mind free rein. It traveled the rugged paths of memory back to that last evening at Winter Quarters …
* * *
“There’s a dance in the bowery tonight, Ma. It’s in honor of all of us who are leaving in the morning for the promised valley.” Isaac Higbee had just come from the solemn assembly.
“Then we ought to go,” Mrs. Higbee stated.
“Is the dance for young folks my age?” Rose Ella asked excitedly.
“Why, I would think it would be,” Mrs. Higbee stated. “You’re seventeen, almost, practically a grown lady. Rose Ella, wear your paisley dress, and come walk over to the bowery with Pa and me.”
It was during the Circle all that Rose Ella first saw Johnny. The first time around they just smiled at each other. The second time around they said, “hello.” The third time around, quite by coincidence, the caller chose that moment to say: “Waltz Time.” Johnny put his arm around Rose Ella’s waist and they drifted over the packed hard ground of the bowery.
“What’s your name?”
“Rose Ella. What’s yours?”
The caller then shouted: “Take your partners for a square dance!”
“You’re my partner, Rose Ella,” Johnny said.
Rose Ella listened to the deep musical voice of the dance caller.
“Say, where do you live here at Winter Quarters, Rose Ella?”
“Oh, we’re all packed. We leave in the morning for the Great Salt Lake Valley. We’re in the Hooper Company. Are you going to the Valley?”
“No, we’d like to go, but Pa has to stay on here at winter Quarters. Brother Brigham Young asked him to stay. We’re the millers.”
The dance man shouted: “Choose a partner for the next square dance.”
“I choose you, Rose Ella.”
“But we’re supposed to change partners, Johnny.”
“But I don’t want to. I want to dance all evening with you, Rose Ella.”
There wasn’t any time for conversation during the dancing and all too soon it was ten o’clock.
“I’ll walk you, Rose Ella, over to your wagon,” Johnny stated. “I’ll see you in the Valley someday, Rose Ella.”
“Someday, Johnny.” Then he planted a shy kiss on the back of Rose Ella’s hand, and was gone into the night.
* * *
Rose Ella, busy at the loom, fought a tear which wanted to break through. That wasn’t much to bank her dreams on, she had to admit. One evening of dancing, and one goodnight kiss on the back of her hand, as they stood by the wagon tongue. But her dream of Johnny Miller was better than all the Jens Larsen men she had ever met, and if she had to spend the rest of her life living with Papa and Mama and weaving carpets for someone else’s house, well, she would do it, if she didn’t find Johnny.
Whenever a company of Mormons arrived in the Great Salt Lake Valley, Rose Ella tried to go meet them in the hopes that Johnny Miller would be among them. But somehow her search had always been in vain. Then one day quite by coincidence Rose Ella met President Brigham Young on the street in front of the Lion House.
“If it isn’t little Rose Ella Higbee, and you’re looking well, and how is Zion treating you?”
Rose Ella felt her heart flutter. To think President Brigham Young recognized her. Of course he knew Papa well, but she was so insignificant, and yet he had known her name, had spoken to her. She must find her tongue and remember the manners Mama had always taught her. “Why, I’m fine, President Young …and yet …” Her voice faltered.
“And yet what, my dear? Tell me your problems.” He laughed softly. “Everyone else does.”
“I’m looking for a Johnny Miller,” Rose Ella stated shyly.
“Johnny Miller.” The great leader’s eyes closed slightly as he pondered. Then, peering seriously into Rose Ella’s eyes, he asked: “What’s he done? Does he owe you money?”
“No, no, President Young. He’s just a friend I knew at Winter Quarters.”
There was a long pause, and Brigham Young stroked his chin in deep thought. “I’m sorry, Rose Ella, but I don’t recall the name.”
“Thanks anyway, President Young. Thank you so much. I’m sorry I have wasted your time.”
“Why, goodness, my dear, my time is everyone’s time.” The great leader gave her shoulder a fatherly pat and went into his office.
Rose Ella picked up her skirt, and hurried across Brigham Street. Now almost blinded by tears, she entered the Zion’[s Mercantile. She looked at the yardage on the shelves until she had control over herself enough to go home. She would tell Mama that she had been to the Z.C.M.I. to look at the yardage. But wild horses would never draw from her the fact that she had talked to President Brigham Young, and bothered him about a … a dream boy …
Rose Ella worked faster and faster at the loom. Her fingers, like moths, darted in and out, and the tears which fell on the multi-colored carpeting did not show. At length Papa’s steps could be heard at the door.
“What’s wrong, Pa? Don’t you feel well? You don;’t usually leave your work in the fields in the middle of the morning like this!” Mama’s face registered concern. Rose Ella looked up from the loom to see if Papa were ill.
“Nothing’s wrong, Ma. Fact is everything’s running so smoothly, I thought I’d run the wheat over to the mill and get it ground into flour. I want to clean out the bin ready for another harvest, come fall.”
“May we ride to the mill, Papa?” Prudence and little Isaac asked simultaneously.
‘Well, now, little ones, I believe I took you the last time I went to the mill,” Isaac Higbee said cheerfully. “I believe it’s Mama’s turn to take a ride.”
“Isaac, take Rose Ella this time. Poor dear, she sits and weaves her life away. The ride will do her good, and the fresh air, and sunshine will bring some roses to her cheeks.”
“Want to go Rose Ella? I won’t be so long,” Papa invited.
“Why, Papa, I would like to go, if mother can spare me.”
Rose Ella brushed the wrinkles from her dress, then put on a dainty white collar and the new red sunbonnet she had just made. “I’m ready, Papa.” Then, later, from the top of the buckboard she shouted, “Goodbye, Mama, Prudence, and little Isaac.” Rose Ella waved at the little ones as they drove from the yard.
Spring had reached out her gentle fingers and touched the valley. Now willow trees in the canyon crevices of the mountains were a tender green, while the oak brush on the ridges chose a darker tinge. Rose Ella, taking it all in, on this trip to the mill, knew why the pioneers enjoyed sweet contentment here.
“The air is so invigorating and the scenery is so beautiful, I’ve been wondering why I’ve never driven to the mill before with you, Papa?”
“You’ll have to come more often, daughter,” Isaac Higbee answered.
At length they arrived at the mill, situated at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon. Rose Ella held the reins while her father went inside the mill to see about getting the wheat ground.
It’s pretty here at the very foot of the mountains, and the sparkling water gurgles over the rocks, as it runs down the canyon, Rose Ella thought, then aloud, but softly to herself she said: “It would be fun to have a home built above a mill like this one. Why, it would be sort of like the treetop playhouse I had back home in Vermont. I wonder why they have a house over the mill and a nice big log cabin, too?”
At length Papa came out of the mill, and a young man came to help him carry the wheat sacks inside to be ground. What was Papa saying?
“Rose Ella, I want you to meet John here. John, this is my oldest daughter, Rose Ella.”
Rose Ella stared at the young man standing before her. He stared at her for a moment, then his face broke into a wonderful smile of recognition. “I believe we know each other, Mr. Higbee. Yes, I know Rose Ella very well.”
He was reaching up to her now, and helping her down from the high wagon. “I’ve looked at every lady in the valley,” Johnny said, “and I never could find you, Rose Ella. You see, I forgot to ask your last name that night at Winter Quarters.”
“Johnny, I’ve been hunting for you, too. I went to President Young, but he didn’t know a Johnny Miller, he said.”
“Johnny Miller!” John looked bewildered.
“But you said …” Rose Ella began.
“I said, we’re the millers. We are. We grind most of the flour for all the settlers, and make the cereal, but my name isn’t Johnny Miller, it’s John Weaver.”
Suddenly they were laughing, good warm laughter that rewards the heart. Just then John’s father came from the mill. “Show Miss Higbee around, John, I’ll run this wheat through.”
“I’ll help,” Isaac Higbee offered, then followed Mr. Weaver into the mill.
Then it was Johnny took Rose Ella up to the little apartment above the mill. “While I waited and watched for you, I built our little home, Rose Ella. I hope you like it. See, there are cupboards and a pantry and everything.”
Rose Ella was measuring the rooms with her eyes. Why, she probably had enough carpet warp for the big sitting room floor already. The lovely braided rugs would be cozy in the bedroom, and the nicest one she would place right in front of the fireplace.
She had so much to tell Mama when she got home. Why, she hadn’t wasted a minute of her time weaving after all. It was well she knew how to weave so well if she were going to be Mrs. John Weaver.