We Mormons are highly encouraged to keep journals.
Most of us have at least tried, but I’m guessing I’m not the only one whose efforts are pretty hit and miss. I wrote daily from sometime in middle school until I got married, but my adult life is recorded in poems, sporadic paragraphs, a few saved letters, and this blog.
Many of us use old age to make up for the lapses by writing life histories. Even journal keepers write shorter versions that are more accessible to the next generation.
This week at DUP, I had the opportunity to share what little information I could find about a pioneer woman who did not get the chance to write her life. All I could find was one page of anecdotes from a granddaughter.
Antionette Davenport Leavitt had an interesting life story. She crossed the plains from Illinois to Utah as a child and became one of the earliest residents of Wellsville Utah. She eventually became the second wife in a polygamist family at a time when the federal government was cracking down on polygamy.
We know she helped neighbors with illnesses and with stubborn milk cows, that she was a skilled seamstress and lace knitter.
During at least one winter, her children suffered from chilblains due to inadequate shoes.
Her husband called her Nettie and bought her a four-burner stove that the neighbors all came to see.
Was Nettie happy? Did she love her husband? What did she dream about?
There is no way of knowing because she didn’t have time to keep a journal and didn’t reach old age when she might have had the time to write a history.
Nettie Leavitt died trying to give her birth to her tenth child.
All of us at DUP (Daughters of the Utah Pioneers) enjoy learning about these pioneer ancestors, but none of us feel compelled to reenact their lives.
After so many of our meetings we chat about how hard it would have been. Every aspect of life was so much harder than it is now:
Tending to fires and cooking on wood stoves
Scrubbing laundry by hand
Sewing the family’s clothes, sometimes from fabric you spun and wove first
Growing enough food to feed the family year after year
Treating illness without modern medicine
Trying to keep anything clean
No modern feminine hygiene products
Outhouses and chamber pots
Weekly baths, reusing the same water for the whole family
Husbands often absent because they are
serving missions, taking care of another family, in jail, or hiding from the law.
We admire our pioneer grandmothers, but would never want to trade places with them.
As a chronically ill person, I’m especially grateful for modern medicine. FIfteen years without biologics would have left me severely crippled and I don’t know if I would have had anything other than frowned-upon alcohol for pain control.
Of course, I would probably have died in childbirth before RA had a chance. Both of my big babies were delivered cesarean.
Every once in a while when I was teaching a student would ask, if I could go to any time or place in the past, when and where would I go?
My answer was that though there were many times I’d like to peek at, especially prehistoric times, there is no other time, and a limited number of places, even now, where I’d be willing to live as a woman.
THE PODCAST this week is not about pioneers, but it is about the prairie. Emily Dickinson has a very romantic view of grasslands, which I compare with a book I read about the dust bowl.
To Make a Prairie
My brilliant mom has been drawing Emily Dickinson coloring pages for me to use as a podcast fundraiser. the set is available in my shop for $15. As you can see, I've been having fun with them. I've printed multiple copies and if you buy the PDF, so can you.
THE KNITTING is back on track. I've finally started my "Christmas" sweater (above). Most years I buy myself yarn for a sweater to knit during the grey days. This one is a combination of my homespun and some great brown from Mountain Meadow Wool in Wyoming. The color is called "pinecone." The sweater will be Scandinavian in style with color work around the neck and above the ribbing at the waist and sleeves. It should be done by the time it stops snowing in May.
I also made myself this sweater out of natural sheep grey from Mountain meadows and my hands-on. In fact, the light grey is spinning fiber from Mountain Meadows too.
I enjoy the gentle exercise of spinning and the unique yarn it produces, so I am working on this natural Corriadale from Beesybee in California. I may dye it a light green or rose color when I'm done, which will only slightly tint the natural color changes.
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