Fill In The Blanks
By Marvin Payne
Backstage at the Sheraton Hotel in Salt Lake City. I’m playing the parts of several different pioneers in a terrific symphonic and choral tribute to the handcart companies, composed by Marden Pond. A goodly number of white-haired Daughters of Utah Pioneers have already complained to whomever will listen that they “can’t hear the words! The music’s too loud!” and the program doesn’t start for another hour yet.
I love the words of the pioneers. I love it that they wrote them down. I love it that they sometimes wrote down the words of others, too. Young Patience Loader, with the Martin company (why do I always think of guitars?), captured the words of David Kimball, who, according to Brigham Young, is going straight to Celestial Glory for standing all day in the freezing Sweetwater River to carry rescued
handcarters across. Patience’s mother, in Kimball’s arms, tried to thank him, to which he replied, “Oh damn that. We don’t want any of that. You are welcome. We are here to help you.” Kimball and his
pals were afterward regarded by Patience and Sister Loader as angels from heaven. This story was in Marden’s piece. (He’d left out the “damn” phrase, but since I knew the whole quote, it’s back in. Having walked barefoot through the Sweetwater immediately east of Devil’s Gate in late September, I think I have a feel for the kind of language such an act might engender.)
Sometimes people don’t write down the words that are spoken. There’s an increasingly famous story (in General Conference and in Marden’s piece, for example) about Jens Nielsen, of the Willie Company, whose feet froze so that he couldn’t pull his family’s cart. (They had already lost their only son and a little girl they were taking to the valley to join her family, who had crossed earlier.) He begged his wife Ilsa to leave him to die and save herself. Above his impassioned protests, she loaded him onto the cart and pulled him westward. How we know this story is mostly luck. He didn’t write it down, but happily his descendants overheard it and passed it down to us.
When you don’t have the real words, awkward things can happen. I first learned the frozen feet story from Steve Perry, who had been given it by some modern Nielsons when they heard that he, James Arrington, and I were writing a pioneer musical. Included in what they gave him were further accounts of Jens and Ilsa’s later exploits, among them the astounding Hole-in-the-Rock expedition (which, pretty amazingly after the Willie handcart tragedy, Jens remembered as the hardest thing he ever did).
In those loving and reverent accounts, absent any actual real words that anybody said or wrote at the time, the descendants were reduced to writing about “the determined look in their eyes, the ripple of
their bronzed muscles through the ragged rips in their clothing, and their heroic thrust against the yawning danger that faced them” or words to that effect. The only quote we found from the noble Dane’s actual lips is, “The saints can do anything, if they have enough sticky-ta-toody.”
Well, you don’t want your posterity going around saying embarrassing things about what might be seen through the ragged rips in your clothing. Neither do you want them quoting the only thing anyone can
remember you repeatedly saying. (I mean, even Heber J. Grant, most of whose waking moments were carefully documented, may always be remembered as the guy who said, “That which we persist in repeating, not that the nature of the task is done, but the easier it is to persist in doing it.” ((Which, in fact, was actually said by somebody else.)) And if you don’t write down any profound observations, what will your posterity remember? Well, how about “Where’s the doggone remote?” I mean, do you say anything more frequently that you say that? Well?)
So I’m going to help you out. Last month, you were given certain journal entries of mine to serve as templates for your own writing. But I stopped short, for which I apologize. It would have been more
helpful if I had offered you blanks to fill in with your own experience, along with options from which to choose, kind of the “Mad Libs Approach to Journal Keeping.”
Back then I was sharing with you, until we were rudely interrupted by the birth of an irreverent butterfly, the following, among other entries.
2 July 1980
“This morning at five after one, immediately following a short but intense dream about an enormous ant crawling on my arm, I awoke to find an enormous ant crawling on my arm. I flicked it off, with some
difficulty, and knowing it to be quite obviously still alive, began searching for it, lest it should take me again unawares. I found it at last on the curtain, trying to hide, of all things. I killed it, without a license but with good reason, I thought, and measured the carcass with a tape measure. It was five eighths of an inch long. My wife had by now also awakened with some concern and asked what woke me up, to which I replied, ‘Hoofbeats.'”
Now we’ll create opportunities for you to tell your story, to share your words of life with your posterity, by removing my details so that you can insert yours. (There is precedent for this kind of thing. There are any number ((pick one: nine, two, fifteen)) of items you can buy at Deseret Book that are essentially collections of blanks for you to fill in. ((I wish I had thought of this skip-right-over-actual-creation-and-right-into-marketing kind of product, myself. Along with Pet Rocks, too. But hey.)) )
1. (insert date here)
“This (insert time), immediately following a (insert descriptive phrase) dream about (insert subject of dream), I awoke to find (insert what you found and where). I (insert how you dealt with it), with some difficulty, and knowing it to be quite obviously (insert condition), began searching for it, lest it should (insert what it would do). I found it at last (insert location), trying to hide, of all things. I (insert past tense verb and object), without a license but with good reason, I thought, and (insert past tense verb) (insert
whatever) with a tape measure. It was (insert length, height, or weight). My (insert relationship) had by now also awakened with some (insert emotion) and asked what woke me up, to which I replied,
‘(insert what it was that woke you up.'”
5 October 1958
“This morning, right after arithmetic, immediately following a really weird dream about Russians, I awoke to find a sputnik circling my planet. I tried to forget about it, with some difficulty, and knowing it to be quite obviously spiky, began searching for it, lest it should undergo power failure immediately overhead. I found it at last on the front of a newspaper, trying to hide, of all things. I resented it, without a license but with good reason, I thought, and rapped it sharply with a tape measure. It was truly enormous. My schoolteacher had by now also awakened with some consternation and asked what woke me up, to which I replied, ‘Embarrassment on a national scale.'”
See? Pretty slick, huh? Plus, it’s true! From my own life! Now it’s your turn. If you’re still stuck, here are some options.
immediately following a
I awoke to find
with some difficulty, and knowing it to be quite obviously
began searching for it, lest it should
I found it at last
trying to hide, of all things.
without a license, but with good reason, I thought,
with a tape measure.
had by now also awakened with some
and asked me what woke me up,
to which I replied,
There. Hope this helps.
*Bronco Mendenhall was raised in my little town of Alpine, Utah. We were in different wards, so I never met him. The closest I came was when I gave a little “home concert” in his anything-but-little home, but he was outside playing football with his little friends. His uncle and father, who own adjoining properties in Alpine, have made their living raising champion cutting-horses. So they named their respective sons “Buck” & “Bronco.” This is a privilege of parenthood. I just wish I had been there for the baby blessings.
“…come unto Christ, and lay hold upon every good gift…” (from the last page of the Book of Mormon)
2006 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.