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On a brilliant day of daffodils and blue sky, it’s hard to imagine driving winter storms that  bite, blind and cripple. In the warmth of spring, it’s difficult to remember the fierceness of cold that can chill a person to the core. And yet, this is the time of year when handcart reenactment treks are planned and prepared for. And when stories are recalled.

Two of my favorite stories are of James and Amy Loader. Their complete history with the Martin Handcart Company begins with a published letter from their son-in-law to James, rebuking him for not embracing the handcart plan when it was first announced. Stirred by this rebuke, James told his wife, Amy, “I will show them better. Mother, I am going to Utah. I will pull the handcart if I die on the road.” As compelling as that part of their story is, as inspiring as their physical and spiritual determination to pull a handcart is, I will limit this to just two intimate tales of their love for their family. The first comes after 600 miles that had drained the life from James Loader.

“As long as James Loader had strength, he would come into camp at night and begin making tent pins . . . [in anticipation of] winter storms. Not certain he would live long enough to help his family through them, he did what he could while he was alive. Thus, when he gave his daughters a full bag of tent pins shortly before he died, they knew they were holding evidence of his love—and a good-bye gift. His daughter Patience recalled:

“‘He said to us girls, ‘I have made you lots of tent pins because when the cold weather comes you will not be able to make [them], your hands will be so cold.’ By this we knew that he would not live the journey through, and he also grieved to know that mother and we girls would not have anyone to help us make a home or help us to make a living. . . . He had always been a good, kind husband and father’” (The Price We Paid, 306).

James died midway across Nebraska, leaving his grieving widow and six children to complete the final 700 miles of their journey on their own. Amy “had already far exceeded what she thought she could do.” And yet, “this 54-year-old woman of delicate health was one of the most resilient, resourceful, and hopeful people in the company. . . . But the depth of Amy Loader’s love and influence is best revealed in the story of her dance at Martin’s Cove” (The Price We Paid, 366). 

Patience recalled: “That night was a terrible cold night. The wind was blowing, and the snow drifted into the tent onto our quilts. That morning we had nothing to eat. . . until we could get our small quantity of flour. Poor mother called to me, ‘Come, Patience, get up and make us a fire.’ I told her that I did not feel like getting up, it was so cold and I was not feeling very well. So she asked my sister Tamar to get up, and she said she was not well and she could not get up. Then she said, ‘Come, Maria, you get up,’ and she was feeling bad and said that she could not get up.”

Despite her daughters’ reluctance to get up, Amy Loader showed no anger, impatience, or frustration. Instead, always resourceful, she thought of another plan to get her daughters moving

“Mother said, ‘Come, girls. This will not do. I believe I will have to dance [for] you and try to make you feel better.’ Poor, dear mother, she started to sing and dance [for] us, and she slipped down as the snow was frozen. In a moment we were all up to help [her,] for we were afraid she was hurt. She laughed and said, ‘I thought I could soon make you all jump up if I danced [for] you’” (Recollections of Past Days: The Autobiography of Patience Loader Rozsa Archer, 89–90; spelling and punctuation modernized).

Tent pins that would prove to be useless because the ground was too frozen to drive them in, and a brief dance one bitterly cold morning when exhausted daughters didn’t have strength to rise from bed—both simple acts—both fleeting, and yet so full of love that their legacy survived to inspire and touch the hearts of their posterity.

And mine.

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