Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Friday, July 24, 2009

Blessed, Honored Pioneers

Oh, sure. Stick the cynical convert with Pioneer Day, why don’tcha?

Let me warn you right off: if you’re here for a feel-good message about blessed, honored pioneers, you’ve come to the wrong blogger. (See the guy who writes on Tuesday.) It’s not that I don’t bless and honor our common Church heritage. I do! I even happen to be sealed to a half-dozen early pioneers through my husband’s sterling lineage. Therefore, I’m truthfully not sure why the “world-wide” celebration of the early Saints’ arrival in the Salt Lake Valley annoys me, but it does.

Of course, any excuse for a parade is good – especially if it inspires hundreds of hours spent carving beautifully intricate sailing schooners from pink foam. (After all, it’s not it’s not like the most intelligent, gifted Saints around have anything better to do in these latest of Latter-days.) I guess I just supposed that after the mega-inspiring Faith in Every Footstep Year, our own beloved Zionists would get over themselves and move on. (This was said fondly, I swear!) At the very least I thought we’d expand the celebration to acknowledge LDS pioneers in Ghana, Columbia, Russia, Japan, and practically everywhere else on the globe. Granted, none of them pulled handcarts (as far as I know) but, my gosh, what incredible testaments to raw courage and unshakeable faith. They count too. Right?

No, I’m not going to tell any of their stories. I am no longer inspirational, remember? This is a diatribe.

I well remember being in the first council meeting in Arizona at which a “trek” was proposed. I was incredulous. “Say we pull handcarts this summer. What will we do next year? Board a cholera-infested boat and sail across Lake Mead? Find a fetid catacomb and/or lion-filled arena to reenact the struggles of the former-day Saints? Wander forty hours in the wilderness, lost, without food or water?”

The trekkies did, of course, prevail. Watching the boys load rented, state-of-the-art carts onto a flatbed truck while girls wearing long skirts recently crafted from ridiculously expensive fabric boarded an air-conditioned bus, I couldn’t help but think of Brothers Willie and Martin in the after-here, shaking their faithful heads and marveling over what some folks will do for recreation/inspiration.

I have been testified to repeatedly that treks build character and community. Okay. (Granted, even.) But don’t try to tell me they teach what it was like to be a pioneer. We wannabes might go hungry for a morning, but we know darn well we won’t starve. (Nor will we have to hunt for and/or gather our own provisions.) We may develop painful blisters, but there is no doubt that if something really bad happens, the trek doctor will be there in three minutes and the helicopter will arrive soon after. Even when the trail is uphill and at its longest, we know full well we can count the hours until it’s over – until we’re back home with soft beds, electricity, running water, and Wii to keep us fit. All along the way of the finest trek there is little uncertainty and no real despair. (No matter how many plastic dolls we bury in a field, we will not – cannot – understand.) My heart tells me there is a point to it all, but my intellect wonders where.

NOTE: This is the point where all you Faithful hit “comment” and respond with outrage. I never get outraged letters from The Faithful. (Outrageous, sometimes, but never outraged.) I’m excited.

Not that I’m not a team player. Our ward is having a Pioneer Celebration tomorrow evening at the church. As the newest member of the activity committee, I was invited to the planning meeting. “It’s going to be a traditional pioneer picnic,” the chairman told me in advance, “so think of ideas.”

Ever faithful, (if with a small f) I did some online research and was prepared. The first thing the chair asked at the meeting was who would set up chairs.

“Every family should bring a quilt and sit on the ground,” I suggested. “The pioneers didn’t have racks of folding chairs.”

Everybody agreed and I felt almost . . . Faithful.

Next she asked who would set up the volleyball net.

“I don’t think the pioneers played volleyball,” I said. “Maybe horseshoes?”

“Horseshoes would tear up the lawn,” the high priest group leader pointed out.

“And they’re dangerous,” the Primary representative responded with a shudder.

I’ll spare you a transcript of the rest of the meeting. We’re playing volleyball and having “traditional pioneer root beer floats.” (Of course, nobody likes the taste of homemade root beer and it is too risky to make homemade ice cream what with salmonella and all.) Despite all the rest of my ideas being summarily rejected, I nevertheless put my shoulder to the wheel and volunteered for the most pioneerish of assignments. It will be my honor on this Pioneer Day to drag a creaking metal handcart up and down the treacherous aisles of WalMart. (Walking and walking is a given, but I hope the singing is optional.) Along the way I will gather plastic bottles, plastic cups, plastic spoons, and plastic-y ice cream. I may even wear a bonnet.

While I don’t do treks, I can at least do this. I hope my husband's pioneer ancestors feel very honored indeed.


At 7/24/2009 12:26 PM, Anonymous Jared T. said...

Ha, well done, well done. Love the modern metal handcart reference. The picture in my mind changed as I got through the sentence.

At 7/24/2009 12:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kerry, thanks for the smile - I'm actually feeling somewhat cynical myself today.
I volunteered to re-type a bunch of family histories for my sister this month, because I have so little to do these days.
I ran across one elite lady who emigrated here, made the trek across the West, continued on the whole way with the Mormon Battalion, was at Sutter's Fort when gold was discovered, left that behind and returned to SLC to found a little community (Draper) and run a school there.
After her husband's other 2 wived died, she raised all their kids.
Geeze - I'm such a wimp.
All I have to complain about is that I have too much time on my hands.
I think in my ancestors honor, I'll make beans and flat bread bread for Sunday Dinner.
...Yeah, that will go over well.

At 7/24/2009 12:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I don't know what our stake has planned for tomorrow morning for our pioneer celebration, I do remember one, uh, painful 25th a few years ago when a committee somehow came up with two fairly authentic handcarts. Teams were chosen not only down ward lines, but by gender. It seems I was the only 3rd ward woman willing to put up the 118 degree heat of the July summer, and I was assigned to another ward's team. Without any pride, I have to tell you, Kerry, we blew the doors off the competition, and won the big prize. A plaque of some sort. I can't remember anymore. The point is I almost died from heatstroke that day. The competition was fun, but if I had to pull that heavy cart with all the gear for thousands of miles, heck, for a hundred miles, ... I know, with every fiber in my body, my gene pool would have ended along the dirt path.

The cream pies melted in the heat, the hand-cranked home-made ice cream never became hard enough to be called anything other than soup, and I'm sure our pioneer brothers and sisters didn't eat tri-tip like we did that day. We didn't have another "celebration" like that again. There is no use pretending we are anything other than what we are; soft-bellied suburbanites dependent on air-conditioning and grocery stores. And I’m mortified.


At 7/24/2009 12:45 PM, Blogger Cheri J. Crane said...

Well said, Kerry. My mother, sister and I are still chuckling. My mother has often commented that the pioneers shake their heads over the "trek" adventures, wondering why in the world we would want to do such a thing. They didn't have a choice.

Hang in there and best of luck with the hand-cart\plastic adventure.

At 7/24/2009 1:25 PM, Blogger Chillygator said...

Thanks for bringing back horrible memories of my own youth trek experience! I thought it was stupid when they suggested it. My stake, however, whined about having to wear authentic clothes, so we were all decked out in American Eagle and Banana Republic as we trudged along. I think there is no better way to honor my pioneer heritage than by proving I'm grateful for all they gave me by enjoying my air conditioning and internet. Thanks, ancestors!

At 7/24/2009 1:46 PM, Blogger Melanie Goldmund said...

I'm nodding right along with you, Kerry, and thinking, "Absolutely right!"

Although personally, I like the idea of the lion-filled arena for your next activity of honouring the early Saints. :D

On a more serious note, these "handcart treks" didn't become popular until after my time, and I'm quite glad, because although the pioneers were allowed to wear the clothes they normally wore, I would have been forced to don something I DO NOT wear each day -- a dress! Can you imagine what the pioneers would have said if they'd been forced to dress up like Moses, Aaron, and Miriam during their forty-year sojourn in the wilderness? And what if somebody had brought a few camels along, and maybe even some flying serpents for more authenticity?

Although ... if we're going to honour trekking saints, why not spend 36 hours stuck in a barge, with various flocks and bees, floating around on a nearby lake? There could be a designated "brother of Jared" in each barge singing songs of praise all day long, just like in the scriptures.

Makes you wonder just how big that hole in the bottom of the barge was ...

At 7/24/2009 2:20 PM, Blogger Josi said...

LOL, Kerry. I did a trek as a teenager, and it was a poweful experience but I don't know that I'd have made it through if not for the promise of a Granny's shake on the way home. My daughter did a trek a couple weeks ago--it rained the first night and the RS had to go pick up the sleeping bags and dry them all day so the kids had something dry to sleep in. The last night was a catered Dutch Oven dinner. Nice.

At 7/24/2009 3:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Count me in with the grinches. My teenager leaves on trek in a few days, and *I* am the one with the bad attitude. I just had to spend $50 on the required "authentic" gear (Bonnet, apron, 3 sets of dresses and PJ pants to make into the required BLOOMERS - and that was at DI!) that will never, ever be used again.
And I find the way they do things (like the "women's pull") to be fake and emotionally manipulative.
It's just dressing up and putting the kids through a rotten experience. Like they need it.

At 7/24/2009 3:23 PM, Blogger Kimberly said...

You are such a hoot, Kerry. My feelings on the issue are a bit muddled, but frankly, living somewhere with a congregation of 40, and 10 hours from the nearest temple, I sometimes feel like a pioneer myself.

I'm not sure pretending to experience what the pioneers did is the best way to honour them. I think building up the kingdom probably is...that said, I'm sure my own kids will go on trek someday and I'll mutter some blather about it being character building...

At 7/24/2009 3:30 PM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

As someone with not a DROP of pioneer blood in me, I can relate. I consider my mother (a convert who traveled a difficult road to get where she is) a true pioneer in her own right.

But I also think the treks the youth take are a bit silly. I really don't think it's the handcarts and wearing pioneer garb that teaches them anything--it's getting into nature and doing stuff that's HARD and getting them away from their cell phones so they can actually hear the Spirit. I did that with week-long hikes into the mountains as a Young Woman with my ward. We were totally weird, yes, I know, but they were some of the most spiritual experiences of my life--I'd wager a lot more so than a "trek."

Now I'm going to get hate mail.

At 7/24/2009 3:58 PM, Blogger Jon Spell said...

Yes, but will your ward celebrate by eating food out of pie plates with Marie Callendar's stamped into them*?

My wife did the handcart thing when she was a teenager, and one rolled over her foot and broke it. She does not have good feelings about the treks. =S

For some reason, I tend to envision modern day treks to be carts pulled by 4-wheelers (but not pickup trucks, oddly.) 20 years ago, it was fairly popular to talk about having to make the trek to Missouri. It doesn't seem like that sort of thing comes up anymore. You guys hear about it?

(* Hope Kerry appreciates this reference.)

At 7/24/2009 6:27 PM, Blogger L.T. Elliot said...

I'm not sure how I feel about the treks so I'm not commenting on that part.
However, I do think that more than just the "Utah" pioneers need to be recognized. If the gospel has gone out into all the world, why not recognize all the world for accepting and fighting for it?

At 7/24/2009 8:00 PM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

Thanks, all, for letting me know I'm not all alone in this! (Plus, so many of you made me laugh!)

Jon: I got it right off, without the asterisk, even. Will you stop reading that stupid book, puh-leeze!

At 7/24/2009 8:02 PM, Anonymous Emily M. said...

Our stake's trek last year was amazing, or so I'm told.

But I get where you're coming from. Have you ever read Tessa Meyer Santiago's devotional talk, "Under Covenant Towards the Promised Land?" It's my favorite Pioneer Day talk ever. She's South African, and she speaks about the pioneer experience from that perspective. Highly recommended.

here it is

At 7/25/2009 3:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I feel the same way about cub scouts :)

At 7/25/2009 4:05 PM, Blogger Jennie said...

Kerry, I think there's a human tendency to envy the absent child for all the attention we suppose he or she receives. Here in Utah we constantly hear of all the sacrifices people in foreign countries make to go to the temple, to be baptized, to live their religion. We envy your ward celebrations which we don't have here because Pioneer Day is a state holiday and there's so much public celebration, ward ones would be redundant. And we constantly chafe at the assumption people in other places make that in Utah everyone is a model Mormon. I think it's great to have a day to honor those first pioneers whether they were our physical ancestors or not; they're still our cultural ancestors. However, honoring them doesn't preclude the many other pioneers in our church or personal histories. As for treks, I didn't go on one, my kids went to youth conferences instead of on treks, but two grandsons recently went on a trek and it was a good experience for them. I don't think it matters a whole lot whether young people gather together for a trek, camp,youth conference, or whatever is the current fad. The important thing is that they have a joint experience where they share a unique experience with other kids like themselves and share their testimonies. Every Pioneer Day I think of those ward celebrations I attended as a child with foot races, horse shoes, a baseball game, and a horse trough full of bottles of cold pop free to anyone who dipped their fingers between the floating blocks of ice. Now that was a celebration!


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