Parting the Veil
by Phyllis Barber
[p.125]“The Whip” is based on an anecdote found in the archives of the Fife Mormon Collection, Fife Folklore Archives, Utah State University, Logan, Utah. This tale was related by Mrs. Syrena Lowe from Franklin, Idaho, on May 17, 1946, to Hector Lee and Austin and Alta Fife. “My grandmother, Elvira Wheeler Rockwood, was coming across the plains, and for some reason Rockwood gave her a licking with his ox whip, and when he came in for supper she had some soup for him and he says, ‘Elvira, what is this you’ve got for my supper?’ ‘The same thing I had for breakfast!’ She’d cut his whip up and made soup from it …. She left Rockwood after she got to Salt Lake, and married again,”
“Spirit Babies” comes from talk I heard as a child and as a married woman from various Mormon women in small group conversations. They reported dreams where a spirit “came” to them and said it wanted to be born to their particular families.
“Wild Sage” comes from an incident reported by Al Curtis of Logan, Utah, when he was approximately eighty years old. It was recorded by Austin and Alta Fife and can be found in the Fife Mormon Collection, Fife Folklore Archives. “My father was on a mission in England. He was sick and there didn’t seem to be anything they could do for him. Mother said that we would have a special prayer one night [p.126]to that he would be able to fulfill his mission. That very night the Three Nephites came to my room. It was as bright as day, and they told me what to do. They said if I would go up and gather wild sage and send it to him, and tell him to make a tea and drink it he would get well. I did that. I sent it to him … and he made the tea and drank it and was well again.” Curtis described the Three Nephites as being “all in white robes, clean shaven. They looked very similar to each other, like brothers. Their skin was rather dark. They talked to me and told me my mission was to be like theirs, and it has been true. I have never been on a mission but I have made converts everywhere I have went.” Fife cites documentary evidence that the belief in the intercession of the Three Nephites was well established in Utah in 1851. The origin of the Three Nephites is from Book of Mormon scripture. Three disciples of Jesus Christ (when he appeared in the Americas) wanted to live forever: “And when he had spoken unto them, he turned himself unto the three, and said unto them: What will ye that I should do unto you, when I am gone unto the Father? And they sorrowed in their hearts, for they durst not speak unto him the thing which they desired. And he said unto them: Behold, I know your thoughts, and ye have desired the thing which John, my beloved, who was with me in my ministry, before that I was lifted up by the Jews, desired of me. Therefore, more blessed are ye, for ye shall live to behold all the doings of the Father unto the children of men, even until all things shall be fulfilled according to the will of the Father, when I shall come into my glory with the powers of heaven. And ye shall never endure the pains of death; but when I shall come in my glory ye shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye from mortality to immortality … “ (3 Ne. 28:4-8).
“The Boy and the Hand” has its origins in a retold story from James M. Fife, who heard the original in a testimony meeting in Lincoln, Idaho, when a Mrs. Kelley got up and bore her testimony. According to the Fife Mormon Collection, Mrs. Kelley said that “one of the children had gotten a fish bone in its throat and was about to choke to death. She saw a mysterious hand, just as plainly as she could see her own hand, reach into the child’s mouth and extract the fish bone, thus saving the child from death.”
“Devil Horse” has it roots in a story from my family history found in “A Sketch of the Life of Jonathan Calkins Wright,” written and [p.127]self-published by his son, Brigham Wright, and dated March 8, 1931. An excerpt:
“But when (missionary) Lyman asked him to accept a Book of Mormon, he did so, and as soon as Lyman had left, father commenced to read. Bed time came but still he read. Finally he said to his wife, Rebecca, ‘I must see this man, Joseph Smith.’ ‘I wish you would: she replied, ‘if you don’t you’ll go crazy.’
“As soon as he was able, father got on his horse and started for Nauvoo [Illinois], some eighty miles away. He rode early and late, and it was necessary for him to bate the horse. When he did this he took the saddle off, got his book and read it as he waited. Every minute he had he devoted to reading the Book of Mormon. He hadn’t read a great deal of it until he found something that didn’t suit him. He shut the book with a bang and said, ‘I’ll not go another step. I’m going right home. I don’t believe the story.’ His horse was standing off a little way, and as Wright approached the animal, it started for him with its mouth wide open in a most vicious manner. Seemed determined to fight him. It whirled and kicked him, then broke loose and ran away. ‘I knew in a minute that the devil had taken possession of my horse: father said.”
Jonathan Calkins Wright was converted to the restored gospel and was baptized by Hyrum Smith, Joseph Smith’s older brother Joseph Smith was in Pennsylvania at the time), in the Mississippi River around the year 1840.
“Ida’s Sabbath” was inspired by an act of nature in the late 1980s—lightning striking and destroying a steeple of an LDS wardhouse in Salt Lake City (3900 South and 2000 East streets), near my home at the time.
“Dust to Dust” originated from a story told by a woman attending a lecture I was giving at the University of Utah. 1 asked if people in the audience remembered stories passed down from their ancestors. This woman volunteered that her grandmother, who lived in southern Utah, had been visited once by an ornate golden carriage and a man dressed in satin breeches who asked her for money.
“The Fiddler and the Wolf” is adapted from an incident related by Mary Hilton of Ogden, Utah, on August 26,1946, to Austin E. Fife, recorded in the Fife Mormon Collection. The fiddler in this case was [p.128]called Uncle Tom, who lived and played for dances in Weber County, Utah. One night Uncle Tom couldn’t get through the snow drifts, so he “cut back over across the Weber River and started down through the river bottoms by Wilson Lane.” When the wolves followed him, he found refuge in a cabin where the “McFarland boys had boiled their molasses called the Old Molasses House,” and he climbed the chimney after discovering a window had been removed. In this incident a search party finds him alive just after he’s played “Turkey in the Straw” to “charm the wolves.” The searchers kill one of the animals, the rest of the wolves run away, and a report of the number of tracks around the cabin said there were seventeen wolves in the pack. A relative of Mrs. Hilton, Robert McFarland, was purported to have the wolf skin “in front of their old stove.”
“Bread for Gunnar” was inspired by a fragment found at the Utah Historical Society Library, recorded by William Mulder, about a Scandinavian man in Salt Lake City who continually repainted his house and covered his chimney with decorative tin and bouquets of paper flowers.
“A Brief History of Seagulls: A Trilogy with Notes” is based on an event in Utah history—the 1848 arrival of seagulls who saved the first Utah pioneers’ spring crops during a plague of crickets. A friend told me of her great-great-grandmother who had the first lace curtains in Salt Lake city and how they were devoured by crickets. Part II of the story was seeded by an article in the Salt Lake Tribune—”Mormon Crickets Threaten Utah Cropland,” by Robert Green, May 6, 1990, especially by the paragraph that reads: “Here their numbers are so vast that seagulls quickly eat their fill and spend most of their time napping on sandbars.” Part III drew its inspiration from a news story in May 1982 about an F-16 fighter jet on a training mission from Hill Air Force Base. The jet crashed into the Great Salt Lake after a collision with a seagull crippled its engines. Further information was taken from Paul Rolly’s article in the Salt Lake Tribune, “Utah’s Bird Becoming a Nuisance,” August 8, 1986. He reported measures being taken against the seagulls by the U.S. Air Force (BASH—Bird Air Strike Hazard program since 1975). At the time of the article, gulls were considered the biggest problem bird by the Air Force, according to Captain Russell DeFusco, Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, the air [p.129]force losing twenty-three jets in fifteen years to bird collisions.
“Prophet by the Sea” was inspired by an article by Ferren L. Christensen in “Compassion of a President,” Ensign 9 Jan. 1979): 69-79.
“Mormon Levis” was written in 1995 when I was asked for a story about Mormons in Nevada by anthologist Kathryn Wilder. It reflects my lifelong fascination with the sacred and the profane—something that appears so obvious in a city the likes of Las Vegas (my home from 1954 to 1964).