Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Peculiar People

After the families were formed, they gathered in little groups around the parking lot. Each Ma had been given a bag containing a flag of a certain nation and green rubber bracelets for each family member with the trek theme, “Lift up your hearts and rejoice” printed on one side, and a real pioneer’s name printed on the other. I’d already done the pre-trek research into our real-life pioneer family. The Rees family had joined the church in Wales and began saving for the trip to Zion as soon as they walked their dripping bodies out of the waters of baptism. In 10 years, and with help from the Perpetual Emigration Fund in Utah (which they’d have to pay back later), they finally had enough to bring their 3 boys and 4 girls to the United States. One son had an accident on the ocean crossing and his eye popped out. It was dangling on his cheek, giving him what had to be a most interesting view of his own chin, when his mother picked it up, gently pushed it back into place, and then prayed that he’d be able to keep his sight. He would forever-after sport a prominent scar and his left eye crossed inward, but his eyesight never troubled him. For the rest of his long life he was known as “The cross-eyed Welshman”. But the fate of all of these people wasn’t revealed to our kids quite yet. They’d learn later if their pioneer made it to Zion.

Five handcarts made up our trek company and we were introduced to our captain, a strong-looking 19 year-old wearing a homemade backpack of burlap and sticks that added a certain panache and authenticity to our troop. We liked him and he seemed to like us. In real life, things weren't so rosy. The Rees's captain wasn't exactly thrilled to have cast his lot with "the Welsh company", as we were known. None of us spoke much English and he spoke no Welsh. To make things worse, he wrote in his journal that we had no pioneering skills (can't really blame us, we were coal miners). But seriously, he said, we couldn't tell oxen from bison and he was supposed to somehow lead us on foot 1300 miles? In our defense, man, could we sing. If he wanted a Mormon Tabernacle Choir someday, it was in his best interest to get us to Zion. We sang so well, non-members walked great distances to find our camp in the evenings and settle in for a concert. Our cross-eyed son was so amazing, people begged him to stay and not finish the trek to Zion, lest anything else of importance pop out of or fall off of his body. He had talent; he should head back east and sing in concert halls. Forget that wasteland out west. But nothing could change his mind or his heart. He was headed to Zion, with at least one eye firmly pointed in the right direction.

So in our little reenactment, we waved our various flags and walked from the Bainbridge Island church building to the ferry terminal for our ocean crossing. Cars going by slowed down and looked at us quizzically. Someone overheard an onlooker say, “Must be a quaker convention.” Our 2 children who are actually from Bainbridge Island shielded their faces with their respective bonnet and straw hat. One of our girls waved her Welsh flag higher and yelled, "Save the Wales". Our uncle said, "This IS Bainbridge Island you know. Keep yelling that and I'm sure you can make quite a collection." Have I mentioned that we liked our uncle?

The assortment of flags forming the other companies was impressive. Many British flags fluttered in the breeze, along with flags from Switzerland, Sweden, and even some from countries I didn’t even know had Mormon pioneers. I thought of Lyle’s real-life ancestors who crossed the ocean to join the saints. One left a home in England that looked to be straight out of a Jane Austen movie. I wonder if he was disappointed when he got to Utah? The captain of the boat that carried our real-life Rees family to the U.S. was impressed with not only our songs, but with our devotion and with our faith. He said, "It pleased me much to see 700 saints on their way to Zion, pent up in so small a space, all bow the knee." Praying on the boat, now that's a great idea. Why didn't we do that instead of family cheers?

They went to Boston. We went to Seattle. They boarded trains. We boarded chartered busses. People bellowed at them from the train tracks. We became an attraction on the "Ride the Ducks Tour". Next stop, the lone and dreary world.

1 comment:

Brooke said...

My little cross-eyed Welshman is very much enjoying your blog posts! :)