From the Relief Society Magazine, 1959 –
Rachel Goes to Relief Society
By Elziabeth C. McCrimmon
“I don’t see how I can go to Relief Society meeting today!” fretted Rachel Johnson when she awoke that snowy morning in late winter. She thought of the two-and-a-half-mile drive to the meetinghouse and all the things she had to do at home.
As the only woman on a large ranch southwest of Salt Lake City, she had too much work to do. So, in the morning, she would plan the day’s program, seizing on the most pressing things, deciding what she could let go. A good housekeeper, she claimed, knew what to leave undone.
Today, besides the regular chores of feeding poultry and washing the separator, she ought to mop the kitchen linoleum, make cabbage relish, bake bread, and iron, if any of the clothes thawed out enough to be ironed. Right now the frozen underwear flapped on the line like a row of hanging men. Besides, she ought to roast the chicken she had dressed the day before.
On the other hand, the Relief Society needed her. The members of Vista Ward, on the salt flats, were mostly foreign-born women, German and Scandinavian. As an educated American woman, Rachel had been the unanimous choice for secretary. When she thought of her assistant, Anna Weiss, she realized it would be difficult for the Swiss woman to write the minutes in English.
I guess I’d better go, she decided as she jumped out of bed and donned her clothes. The fire was already going in the kitchen range. Nice of Port to start it before he went out. The world looked cold and gray through the windows.
After the breakfast dishes were washed, Rachel kneaded the dough into leaves and left them to rise while she stuffed the chicken. She made the dressing with stale bread crumbs, chopped onion, and celery, with a dash of summer savory and sage. The chicken and the bread would both be ready for the noontime dinner, which on the farm was the main meal of the day.
I’m glad I fixed the chicken. Farm folks get mighty sick of salt pork by the end of the winter, she thought, as she built up the fire and slipped the bread and chicken into the oven.
The room was filled with fragrant odors when Port came in and washed up for his lunch. He tackled the hot bread and a drumstick with satisfaction, although his wife noticed he seemed preoccupied and worried.
“What’s the matter, dear?” she asked, as she filled his plate with dressing.
“It’s the fence. Unless I get it built across the ice while this cold weather lasts, we’re done for.”
His wife knew he had to stand on the ice while he drove the stakes in. He couldn’t do it after it thawed. The “lake” he referred to was a brackish pond into which the surrounding land drained. The couple had romantically named it “Lake Mirage,” just as they called their farm “Oasis Ranch.”
The new place had an insatiable maw that swallowed up all their resources. They eventually hoped to get it on a paying basis. With winter wheat and alfalfa fields it was absolutely necessary to have a secure fence. Port had worked on it at odd times all the previous year. The part across the water he had left until it froze over so he could string the wire while he stood on the ice. Fencing in bad weather was hard work. Rachel’s heart had ached over his bleeding hands when, during the winter, he had finally brought the fence up to the edge of the lake.
“Why can’t you finish it now?” she asked, looking at him.
“Because I need more posts and two bales of wire.”
Rachel’s heart sank. She knew they had no money for them.
Port was adamant about borrowing. It was against his principles. He had seen too many farmers ruined by debt. What they couldn’t pay for they simply did without. Although the Johnsons had never actually suffered, they had been hard put to at times to make ends meet.
“You have to get these things now?”
“Yes,” he replied.
The fence was an absolute necessity. They needed it to keep marauding cattle out and their own few head of stock in.
To the young Johnsons, this green spot was the fulfillment of a dream. To make something grow on the desert gave them supreme satisfaction. Theirs was high ground and somewhat better than the surrounding country, as it had drained through centuries. This desert soil, which had lain idle so long, rich in minerals, was highly productive. Fruit, grain, vegetables raised on it were delicious in flavor, bright in color, plentiful in seed.
They also discovered that the desert was not deserted. Its hungry denizens had moved in on their oasis. The couple had waged warfare against flies, mosquitoes, grasshoppers, field mice, badgers, porcupines, skunks, and coyotes – to say nothing of migrating sheep herds and neighbors’ hungry and neglected dogs!
“Can’t you buy what you need on credit?” Rachel asked hopefully.
“Will you hitch up old Wing so I can go to Relief Society this afternoon?” she changed the subject.
After clearing the table, Rachel hurried to her room to get ready to go to the meeting. Her eyes fell on a small plaque by her dressing table. It read “Prayer Changes Things.” She said a prayer that her young husband would get what he needed.
When she went out and climbed into the buggy, she discovered that Port had put hot bricks in the bottom to keep her feet warm. Despite the cold, she felt exhilarated as she flicked the whip over the flanks of the Indian pony.
It’s a beautiful country, she thought, as she surveyed the vast expanse of white snow in the center of the Salt Lake Valley. To the East loomed the blue-iced Wasatch range, to the west the Oquirrhs were dark and somber.
They are like a ring of steel! she thought. Noticing tracks in circles in the snow, she surmised, That is where a dog has chased a rabbit. Wonder if he caught it?
“Come on, Baldy,” she called to her own dog, a black and white shepherd-collie that raced by the side of the horse. Theirs was a little used road, and her wheels made the first track of the day. She wondered where they would get the money for the fencing across the pond before the ice melted.
“I’m so glad you’ve come,” Sister Jensen greeted her when she arrived at the meetinghouse.
“Isn’t Anna here?” Rachel asked the president.
“No. She’s home with a cold.”
“I’m glad I made it. Quite a lot of women out, considering the weather and how far they have to come.” It was cosy and warm inside.
After the meeting, while the women were putting on their coats, Sister Nelson asked, “You wouldn’t have any chicken feed to sell, would you, Sister Johnson?”
“Why, we might,” Rachel answered, startled. Port stored their grain in a makeshift granary, where he kept it for their own use. “We might have some to spare.” They had killed and cured the pigs at holiday time. The culls had been weeded out from the poultry. Of course they had more than enough feed to last until the grass would be green again.
“I’d like Brother Johnson to bring me ten bushels of wheat. Here’s the money.” Sister Nelson handed it to her.
“I’d like five.”
“I could use three.”
When Rachel arrived home with rosy cheeks and sparkling eyes, her husband came to meet her. She couldn’t wait to tell him as he unhitched the horse.
“Guess what? I’ve got the money for the posts.” She drew the roll of bills from her bag and held it out to him. “Thirty-three dollars. Count it.”
“Where did you get it?”
“From the Relief Society women. Several want you to bring them some chicken feed. We can spare it, can’t we?”
“I guess we can,” he answered slowly. “Funny, I never thought of that!”