I don’t have one of those highbrow Mormon heritages. There are no Smiths, Whitneys, Youngs, Ballards, or Partridges in my bloodline. I doubt any of my ancestors crossed the plains with the pioneers. My deepest claim to Mormon fame is the legend that my grandmother once worked as a nanny for President Heber J Grant. They had met in her home country of England while she was working in the mission home and he sponsored her immigration to the United States by hiring her as a nanny. He apparently continued to visit her yearly at around Christmas time even after she married and had a family. My mother remembers him pulling up in front of the house in a limo and calling him “Uncle Heber.”
That’s my claim to Mormon fame story.
So imagine my surprise when a personal memoir of this very same grandmother’s own mother showed up on someone’s Mormon blog! My maternal great-grandmother. My family already has this letter in our requisite stash of genealogy. It’s nothing new to me, but it is curious to hear about it from a third party online like that.
If you visited that site and read that letter, you can see that my family is pretty Mormon in spite of not being Mormon royalty. Most of us retain that same “I’m certain I’m right even though I don’t read much” attitude.
The thing that strikes me most about this testimony is that it’s the only written record we have of her that I know of. This woman lived a full life of hard work, raised 11 children who adored her (I know from hearing stories in awesome English accents by my grandmother and her brothers and sisters at family gatherings) and yet the only tidbit we really have of her life is her talking about the Mormon church.
Her last durable words begin with, “I know that ours is the same gospel that our Lord preached, and that the Mormon Church is the Church of Christ, restored in these latter days.”
And yet it leaves me feeling hollow and unsatisfied. I recognize her as someone who lived a hard life with little education and yet who was doggedly stubborn in her certainty. I can give her the benefit of the doubt that she was dealing with very little information on the Mormon church. Her lack of access to healthcare does also lend one to rely deeply on “the power of God, through the administration of the elders.” Like in Brazil I get it how “a poor, humble working-woman” can fall prey to the emotional beckoning of turn-of-the-century Mormonism.
What I fail to understand is how that’s ALL she wished to pass along to her descendants, to me. What about reminiscing about the love you shared with your spouse, how you met and what drew you to one another? What did you do to tolerate one another when you were angry? What about recording family stories demonstrating each of your children’s character? How about writing the emotional turmoil of saying goodbye to most of your children as they embarked for a foreign land, probably never to see them again?
Why didn’t she detail the beautiful life experiences that led her to pen the final line of supplication that “He will strengthen the weak and give grace to the strong, and may love, pure and undefiled, ever abound amongst us.”
Perhaps I’m a little sensitive to the Mormon Church monopolizing the last words of loved ones.
My Mom did the same thing before she died. She chose to record her last words and in the end it’s just one long testimony. There are pleas to keep going to church, but nothing to hint that she cherished me or any of her loved ones beyond the Mormon realm.
I’m not saying that last words and memoirs need to be swiped clean of Mormon stuff. It’s part of their story. It’s part of MY story. I’m just saying that I wish there were more there. The best thing about my mom was not her Mormon-ness . She was definitely obsessed and fanatic about it, but there was more to her than that. I would argue that the best parts of her were not Mormon.
I wish I could experience a written record to know those other better non-Mormon parts of my great-grandmother too.