Under the Cottonwoods
by Douglas H. Thayer
[p.197]”Dad, we’re not going to stay overnight, are we, for sure?”
“Son, your father’s told you that we’ll be in Provo tonight. Now stop worrying about your baseball game tomorrow, please.”
Jared glanced over at Sue, then turned back to the two-lane highway that cut along the base of the sagebrush-covered foothills edging the desert. They had left Las Vegas that morning, and Disneyland the day before. The side trip to Zarahemla would cost Brent one little league game if they stayed overnight. Craig, who sat by the other rear window, was in the city tennis tournament. Jared had promised they would not stay to visit. He looked at his watch.
Just before they left for California, Cory Jensen had called to say that he had another buyer for the stone house Jared’s great-grandfather Thatcher had built. A retiring Los Angeles doctor offered fifteen thousand cash for the house and the ten acres of land, and an extra thousand for the furniture. Every year the price climbed, yet Jared had never really put the house up [p.198]for sale. Cory said the he would pay for the extra gas if Jared would stop in again.
Sue had said once more, “Make up your own mind, honey. It’s your house.”
They could put some of the money away for Craig’s and Brent’s missions and build a nice cabin on their lot in Provo Canyon with the rest. Many people in their ward had cabins, some as far away as Bear Lake. If a family didn’t have a cabin, it had a camper, trailer, or motor-home, and some had boats. All of the houses in Indian Hills were new, and comfortable, and most of the families young. Their ward was one of the most active in the whole Church.
Jared had lived in the stone house with his mother and grandmother until he was eighteen. His greatgrandfather had built a stone house for each wife—Nora, Etta, Emily, and Lily, Jared’s great-grandmother. Jared’s was the only house still in good repair and the only one still in the family. Each house had a row of six lombardy poplars and an iron fence across the front, a hedge of lilacs down one side, and was known by the wife’s name.
He and Sue had planned to use the house summers, but his high-council position and her Sunday School teaching tied them down weekends. Craig and Brent didn’t want to vacation in Zarahemla. His partner, Paul Terry, had bought his grandfather’s farm in Nephi when he died, and Paul and his family spent a lot of time there. But Nephi was a lot closer than Zarahemla, and Paul’s only boy, Jeff, was just eight. Paul’s brother farmed it for him. After Jared’s grandmother died, Sue had wanted some of the furniture, but Jared didn’t want to change anything that soon. To keep them from being stolen or [p.199]lost, they took to Provo some porcelain pieces, the best handmade quilts, the family photo albums, and the large oval framed portrait photograph of his greatgrandfather and his family (thirty-two children). Craig called it the polygamy picture and had it on the wall in his room. Craig wanted the brass bed too now.
Jared’s grandmother had dusted the picture every day. She had been born in the house and lived in it all of her life. “My son,” she said to him often, “your great-grandfather was one of the noblest men ever to draw a breath of air on this earth. He was God’s servant, and if ever a man deserved the celestial kingdom, he did.” Nathaniel Thatcher wore a full beard and his hair long, but he wasn’t tall.
He had named Zarahemla, chosen the name of the greatest city in the Book of Mormon, been bishop for twenty-five years (was always called Bishop Thatcher), laid out the new town, built the new stone wardhouse, and sketched the scenes for its six stained-glass windows. He had built all of the original stone houses and town buildings in Zarahemla, dug the first canal planted many of the trees, fed and fought the Indians, been judge and jury. He had run three farms, and he had healed the sick and called back the dying and the dead.
The last ten years of his life Nathaniel Thatcher had been a patriarch; Church members brought their children fifty and sixty miles by wagon to receive blessings under his hands. The last year, sitting up in the big brass bed, he had to reach out to lay his hands on the child’s head. Brigham Young, God’s prophet, stayed with him on his trips south through the villages in his white-topped wagon, the other wagons carrying the apostles, the special witnesses for Christ. “Be like your [p.200]great-grandfather, my son,” Jared’s grandmother said, “for no boy ever had a nobler example. He held to the iron rod all of his life; he loved the Church.”
In five generations his great-grandfather Thatcher had ten thousand descendants, the blood brought over a millennium before to England by marauding Danes carried by him to the edge of an American desert. But the family was spread out now over the whole country, was not located in one village, that sense of blood, kinship, and order gone. The first two generations and most of the third were dead.
A white shaft of stone cut by Nathaniel Thatcher stood at the center of the family cemetery plot, which was enclosed by an iron fence. Every stone but three had embedded in it and sealed under glass the daguerreotyped face of the relative whose grave it was, proof that he or she would rise in that likeness on resurrection morning.
Behind Jared in the back seat, Brent was punching his baseball mitt again. Jared reached over to adjust the air conditioner (he wanted to turn it off; it kept him from smelling the sagebrush). He looked up at the paralleling mountains and then out to the desert, which showed patches of shadow now, the plateaus off toward the Colorado River beginning to turn blue. It was their first trip to Zarahemla this way. They always came down Pine Canyon from the north, which was the way his great-grandfather Thatcher had led the thirty-two covered wagons from Provo, the iron-rimmed wheels scarring the canyon stone. Before Zarahemla, Nathaniel Thatcher had helped settle Provo and then had been called by President Brigham Young to leave his pregnant wife and five children to serve a mission in the South, make that [p.201]sacrifice too.
He was hunted by mobs, tarred and feathered, shot at, arrested a dozen times, his journal full of accounts of the danger and persecution which made daily miracles necessary. But in those three years he converted over four hundred people to the gospel, each name carefully recorded in his journal: “This day I baptized and confirmed members of Christ’s true church the following persons … The mobs continue to hunt us from village to village.” And now this convert posterity was part of the tremendous growth in the Church that latter-day prophets had foretold.
Sometimes in the evening, the light just right, Jared stood at his big picture window or on his back lawn to look southwest out across Provo, the valley, and Utah Lake to the silhouetted mountains and beyond. He had a wife, two sons, a partnership in an accounting business, a house, a position on the stake high council, and he had been on a mission.
Nathaniel Thatcher had preached for fifty years the latter-day restoration of the gospel, the prophetic calling of Joseph Smith, the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Balanced by his own common sense, he preached the fact of Christ’s divine sonship, man’s perfectibility, the resurrection, the gathering of the Jews, and the Saints’ return to Zion in Jackson County, Missouri, to prepare for the millennium and Christ’s reign on earth. He preached under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, used his priesthood daily, and his faith became knowledge and then faith again as he faced some new impossibility requiring sacrifice, his journal full of the daily newness of it all.
His patriarchal blessing, given under the hands of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s father, said that he would [p.202]be a savior on Mount Zion among the Lamanite peoples. And he had preached the gospel to the Utes and Navahos, baptizing them in the desert water holes. Now the areas of greatest growth in the Church were Central and South America, where the Lamanite blood was most abundant. And the Church used language schools for the missionaries now, the standardized lesson approach, television, radio, films, exhibits at the world and national fairs, which were techniques that Jared hadn’t even heard of when he was on his mission in Mexico. A man almost needed a Harvard M.B.A. to be a mission president now. Even after twenty years he still wished that he hadn’t been called into the mission home to be secretary.
Jared glanced up into his rearview mirror. Craig and Brent lay back in their seats; they had stopped looking out their windows. The highway had begun to climb up through the foothills. Many of the Church leaders today had no pioneer past, so they didn’t know the desert, mountains, and villages that way. Jared lowered his window and breathed in deep. He looked at his watch.
“I like the smell of the sagebrush,” Sue said.
“It’s always best after a rain.” He closed the window. Provo had few really good smells.
Jared watched the shadows along the edge of the highway; the heat waves were gone now. He had been on the building committee for their new chapel. Based on the seven or eight basic plans permitted by the Church architect’s office, all the new chapels were big, efficient, carpeted, air-conditioned-comfortable. They housed two and three wards, members going to meetings in shifts. Their Indian Hills chapel had high, narrow milkglass windows. He had wanted color. The [p.203]evening sun coming through the windows of the old Zarahemla stone wardhouse filled the room with a hazy golden glow. And it was as if Brigham Young, the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Angel Moroni, the Father, the Son, and the other figures stood suspended in air, each window a vision.
A jack rabbit ran across the highway in front of the car. To the east the vast shadow-filled sandstone canyons dropped off toward the Colorado. The high west mountains were turning darker.
He had thought about selling the stone house when his grandmother died (he would rather sell than rent). His Aunt Laura, who had become the family genealogist after his grandmother, kept it as clean as she did her own. She did her genealogy there so she was in the house every day. His Uncle Charley farmed the ten acres along with his own place. He had tried at different times to raise fox, pheasants, mink, and turkeys, but he only made money on his crops and his few beef cattle. Jared had only cousins left in Zarahermla. Aunt Laura was his grandmother’s niece, so was really only his cousin. His mother had been an only child. His Aunt Laura’s two daughters lived in California.
“I hope that we don’t have to stay more than an hour,” Brent said. “Do we have to go to the cemetery again, Dad?”
“If we have time. It depends on how long the real estate man takes.”
“Gee.” Brent slumped back in his seat. Craig looked out at the desert again.
Jared watched the edge of the highway for ground squirrels and marmots. He had told Craig and Brent all of his grandmother’s stories many times and tried to [p.204]get them to remember the names of the most important faces in the old family photo albums. He had read to them from his typed copy of the journal, had told often the stories of his own boyhood, but they were older now. The main reason Paul had bought the old family farm was for his boy Jeff. Last week at the office he had talked again about moving to Nephi and commuting daily the eighty-mile round trip to Provo. “It would be worth it,” he said.
Jared knew that Zarahemla had deteriorated since his own boyhood, as if the depression had continued. Many of the old houses were dilapidated, the lots trashy, the center of each block a jungle of hundred-and-twenty-year-old fruit trees, lilacs, hollyhocks, rotting pioneer barns and other outbuildings, and rusting junked cars and farm machinery. It was mostly the retired people moving in from Los Angeles and the other big urban areas that remodeled their houses for comfort and planted flower gardens.
Cory Jensen sold most of them their houses, and if not their houses then the solid pioneer furniture and brass beds they all wanted for their houses. He had a big circular “Antiques” sign outside of the store, and he searched the small towns for furniture. When Jared’s mother worked at the store, old Bishop Jensen, Cory’s father, sold only groceries and feed. He had been bishop of the Zarahemla Ward for twenty years, until the day he died.
“I just want to get home.”
Sue turned. “We’re all tired, Brent. We’ll leave as soon as your father sees about selling the house.” She turned back. “Look, there’s Zarahemla now.”
“Yes,” Jared said.
The fields spread out from Zarahemla to meet the  desert. The river, a green line of cottonwoods, came out of the canyon, bent around Zarahemla and cemetery hill on the northeast and vanished down South Wash. Zarahemla was a dark green oval of trees; Nathaniel Thatcher wanted a city shaded from the sun by great trees. In Indian Hills a boy had no high trees. Jared turned his wrist to check the time, then looked above the highway to watch the Zarahemla trees grow more distinct.
It was always coolest under the cottonwoods along the river. He and his friends lay on their backs in the sand to watch the fluttering leaves. They carried water to the clay beds, wrestled and fought in the splendid wet cool red clay, became completely red, then ran and dived off the ledge. They cooked feasts of fresh corn, new potatoes, and trout, and they swam at night, lay in the sand under the incredibly starry desert sky, bodies alive even to the silence. The two times he had taken Craig and Brent down to the ledge hole to swim, they seemed almost afraid. They wore their trunks, didn’t run and yell, didn’t really enjoy the rope swing.
They didn’t really enjoy staying in the stone house, except that Craig liked the brass bed. In Provo they had their friends, stereo, color TV, closets full of clothes, own rooms, and their league games. They both took swimming, diving, and tennis lessons again this summer. They studied hard in school (both he and Sue pushed that), and would go to college and into the professions.
They didn’t need poverty or a depression to motivate them. The boys in Indian Hills expected to be presidents of corporations, doctors, lawyers, generals, cabinet members, or scientists, so counted on suc-[p.206]cess always. The Church helped to breed that kind of ambition; doctrine, leadership, organization, programs, and dedication had become the most important things now.
When Craig and Brent were younger, on the return trip from Zarahemla Jared always tried to drive through Manti after dark. He wanted them to see the lighted temple their great-grandfather had sacrificed two years of his life to help build. On the hill, brilliant white in the darkness, it seemed like part of a celestial city. Sue always told the story again of how Moroni in the Book of Mormon had dedicated the hill fifteen hundred years earlier as a temple site. The same Moroni, now a resurrected angel, appeared to the boy Joseph Smith and led him to the golden plates.
The highway cut down out of the sagebrush foothills and into the flat green fields. Jared slowed down to fifty.
The new Provo and Ogden temples looked almost alike. Every day driving to work Jared had seen the big white sign listing the architects and contractors for the Provo temple. He knew that the Church’s real strength was in the urban areas like Salt Lake, Los Angeles, Boston, and Washington D.C., and that it had been for fifty years. Membership had increased five or six times since his own birth.
The Church had developed in the last twenty years the new administrative know-how and standardized programs to run the big urban wards. The big new twenty-eight story central office building housed nearly three thousand salaried clerks, secretaries, and administrators. The journal said: “God will prosper his saints in this land, and all the valleys will be filled with a righteous people.”
[p.207]”There’s Uncle Charley’s, boys,” Sue said. “See the trees?”
A mile northeast across the fenced fields, the high clump of trees stood black-green, and beyond that a half a mile the line of six poplars marked the stone house. Jared’s Uncle Charley’s place (his Aunt Laura had inherited some land) was part of Nathaniel Thatcher’s east farm. Jared had told Craig and Brent how he had plowed, harrowed, planted, irrigated, hoed, fixed fence, and how he had put up hay for fifteen and sixteen hours straight. His body tired to numbness, he saw across the fields in the moonlight the order he had helped create.
Jared’s grandmother had taught him to save nearly every dime he earned. Every fall she took him to Salt Lake to buy his school clothes with some of his saved money. They visited relatives to search for genealogy, toured President Brigham Young’s houses, climbed the hill to his grave, toured Temple Square, and sat in the tabernacle to hear the great organ. And his grandmother stopped him three or four times in the city to look up at the golden Moroni standing on the temple’s highest spire and holding the golden trumpet to his lips (no angel stood on the top of the Provo temple spire, which he saw from his valley-view window).
Each trip she narrated for him again how President Brigham Young had called his great-grandfather to leave Provo six months after his return from his mission and build a new city on the edge of a desert. Pointing out through the bus window, both coming and going, she described the journey for him, and she told him what each state historical marker said as they passed it. “The Prophet needed a man with a lot of good common sense and great faith,” she said.
[p.208]The youngest daughter of the fourth and youngest wife, she was not born until twenty years after it all happened. Yet she spoke of it as if the cooking-fire ashes were still warm, the wagon tracks visible in the sand, the trail graves new, and the songs and prayers of thanksgiving audible on the night breeze: “Today, the Sabbath, the company rested. We spent our time in singing praises to God, and bearing testimony to his work in the latter-day kingdom. Thus we renewed our minds and bodies to his service.” Jared had searched in Pine Canyon to find the wagon-wheel marks cut in the stone.
“They were faithful, my son; always remember that,” she told him. It pleased her when he named all of the faces in the polygamy picture and in the albums. Sitting between her and his mother in sacrament meeting as a boy, he looked up at the glowing windows and expected always to find his great-grandfather among the figures. (The six spaces had been filled with clear glass for the twenty years it took the Zarahemla saints to raise the money to have the windows made in Italy.) The whole emphasis now for a boy in the Church was youth leadership, chastity, testimony, and mission preparation.
At the canal bridge Jared turned right and off the highway. The shadows from the willows along the bank edged the road. In the fall after the water was shut off, he had pitchforked the trout in the shallow pools and carried them home in a gunnysack. They passed Carter’s place and then the Johnson’s. Five families lived on the canal road east of the highway. One evening when Craig said it was impossible to know everybody in a town, Jared drew a street map of Zarahemla and named every family. He could have [p.209]named the children and told which families were related. He saw their faces still.
“It’s sure a dusty road,” Brent said. “Why don’t they have good roads like in Provo, and lawns?
“Stop complaining,” Craig said.
“I ain’t complaining.”
The barn and other outbuildings stood fifty yards behind the red-brick house. Jared lifted his foot off the gas pedal and turned in the driveway. He and Sue rolled down their windows. As he braked the car to a stop, his Aunt Laura, just as he knew she would be, was out the back door of the house before he had turned off the key. The heat entered the car.
“Well, here we are, Aunt Laura,” Sue said out her window. When they got out, his Aunt Laura kissed and hugged them all and told them that Uncle Charley was still out cutting hay. “He’ll be in for supper, she said. “We thought we’d have an early supper out on the back lawn in the shade.”
Jared looked at his watch. “I want to stop by the house for a minute before I see Cory Jensen, so I’d better go.”
“Oh, Jared, are you going to sell? Do you think he will, Sue?”
“Well, we’re still thinking about building a cabin, but Jared’s never really offered the place for sale. He has to decide, Aunt Laura.”
“I know, I know. His grandmother will turn over in her grave. If only we had somebody in the family who needed a place to rent.”
“I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“Don’t let me forget, Jared. I’ve got copies of some new family group sheets for you before you go back. We ought to have the boys come down and do bap-[p.210]tisms for the dead this fall.”
“That would be nice, Aunt Laura. Craig has been to the new Provo temple once to do baptisms.” Sue turned toward the house.
“I’ve got ice-cold Kool-Aid in the house. Why don’t you folks stay overnight? We’d love to have you.”
Jared switched off the air conditioner when he got out on the road so that he could smell the cut hay. He drove slowly, looked out across the fields for his Uncle Charley on the tractor. His Uncle Charley had spent his whole life in Zarahemla, and many times out in fields working he had told Jared not to return after he finished college. “Even if you could make a decent living,” he said, “your kids would be gone the minute they were old enough, just like mine. You’ve had the best of it while you’re young.” Jared knew twenty or thirty men in their Indian Hills ward who had grown up on small farms in Utah and southern Idaho.
Down the road the six poplars outside the iron fence threw their long shadows across to the canal. Grey gravel dust covered the weeds and willows.
He had wanted to go to college at B.Y.U., but he went to the University of Utah because that’s where his state scholarship was. It was his first time away from Zarahemla, and he could not comprehend the students who spent their days and nights trying to cleanse themselves of everything Mormon. In their dedicated rage to change their way of feeling and knowing, they turned to gambling, drunkenness, fornication, homosexuality, or they dedicated their lives to science, literature, psychology, and art. They forbade themselves any longer to be limited by the [p.211]injunction to be perfect, denied prophets and revelation. They cursed the idea that man could progress through the eternities to become like God, and so denied what for him had already become blood.
Jared braked as he drove into the shade from the poplars, turned in the driveway, and drove up to the hollyhocks and stopped. He got out and stood looking at the lawn and the house. The hollyhocks were in bloom. He walked across the lawn (he had always cut the lawn on Saturday for Sunday), went up on the porch, pulled back the screen and unlocked the door with the key he kept on his ring.
His Aunt Laura’s genealogy sheets lay on the round table. He smelled the coolness. He listened. His mother had been dead fifteen years, and his grandmother half that time. He touched the sofa. He touched the clean curtains. He touched the stone above the fireplace. In the kitchen he touched the table, stove, and walls. He opened the drawers and cupboards. He turned on the cold-water faucet to hear the sound. He went down into the cellar just for the smell that never changed winter or summer, and to see the shelves of empty fruit jars. Each summer Sue wanted some of the jars. His grandmother made it almost a sacrament when they ate fruit from the old glass-topped jars that had been her mother’s.
She said: “We all have great reason to be grateful. We have food to eat, clothes to wear, a good roof over our heads; we have the iron rod of the gospel to cling to, and we have the family.”
Jared went back upstairs. In the hall he pushed open the doors to his grandmother’s bedroom (the old star quilt was on her bed), then his mother’s, stood for a moment in each doorway, and pushed open the door [p.212]to his own room last. The brass bed shone in the sunlight coming through the windows below the half-pulled blinds. On spring nights the scent of lilacs filled his room, and always, except in winter, there was the smell of lawn, trees, and fields. He heard the night birds, the crickets, and the wind and storm in the poplars. He saw in the darkness blurred shapes of furniture. If he put out his hands he touched quilts his grandmother or great-grandmother, or both of them, had made, and he touched the bed’s cool metal.
Jared looked at his watch. He closed his bedroom door. He turned and walked down the hall and through the front room, but stopped by the round table. He bent and leafed through the family group sheets to read the new names and their dates. He looked up at the large white oval spot above the fireplace where the polygamy picture had hung.
Even during his boyhood the family had already been gone into the cities for twenty-five years, the farms divided too often to be productive, the sense of blood dissipated. But his grandmother named and described the houses and fields as if they still belonged to the family. After the stories and the pictures, she brought out the collected patriarchal blessings for him to read. He scraped and painted the iron fence around the family graves, cut the grass, and raked the fall leaves, the faces in the embedded pictures watching him. While his grandmother washed the headstones, she described how the family would visit among the open graves on the morning of the first resurrection.
For fifteen years his grandmother made temple burial clothes to earn money for his mission and college savings account, which she had started by mail the day of his birth. (His father, who was from Price, had [p.213]been killed there in a coal mine three months before he was born.) She filled the house with the smells of cooking, baking, bottling, and ironing, smells he would remember all of his life, smell for a boy as important as sight or sound.
When he returned from school in the silent afternoons to change his clothes and go to work over at his uncle’s, he often found a note on the kitchen table: “My son, I have gone to help Sister Johnson.” Or it would be some other neighbor or relative. Wherever there was need in Zarahemla, his grandmother helped, charity a required part of existence because they had no doctor, hospital, or mortuary. And when she returned she told him stories of birth, suffering, death, of the holy Melchizedek priesthood’s power to heal and to restore life. She told him too of the dead returning from paradise in dreams and visions to comfort the living.
Jared straightened the family group sheets on the table. Their ward youth council had a committee to plan monthly service projects. Craig was chairman. In Indian Hills families had life, health-and-accident, maternity, and disability insurance, and retirement programs. Paul had said to him last Christmas, “You have to be careful, Jared, or a kid grows up feeling the whole world’s rich. They don’t know where money comes from any more. I know boys eighteen years old who have lived in comfort all their lives and have yet to do a real day’s work. Yet the Church sends them on missions.”
He and Paul had been in the Mexican Mission together. He hoped that Craig and Brent would be able to stay out in the field and not end up in the mission home. He and Sue had decided that if he sold the [p.214]house, what money the boys didn’t have saved would come from that. If they would save for their missions, he would pay for their college.
Jared stood by the front room table listening, head raised, then turned and walked out the open front door, closed and locked it, holding the screen back with his shoulder.
Jared drove slowly because of the dust, had the visor down against the direct hot sunlight. He didn’t honk at the people he knew because they wouldn’t recognize the car, and he didn’t have time to stop. He didn’t know any of the kids. He slowed down when he passed Aunt Etta’s place, which somebody had boarded up, the poplars still alive because they were on the ditch. The lawn was dry weeds. Jared turned the corner. Trees protected each of the two or three houses on each block. Except for the occasional garden, all the vacant lots were dry weeds.
He was thirty before he had understood that southeastern Utah could not have been beautiful to the pioneers who came from England, northern Europe, and the American East. They could have had no affinity for heat, sandstone, alkali, sagebrush, and sandy irrigated farms. Diphtheria took whole families of children together, or killed one child every year. Israelites in the wilderness, the pioneers had their Canaan and their Zion in green Missouri, where it rained. Two and three generations had to die out before the fear of the arid land passed.
Nathaniel Thatcher wrote in his journal the name of the man who killed a neighbor in his own garden with a shovel because of a stream of irrigation water. He preached for fifty years against theft and the other [p.215]sins—drunkenness, lust, ignorance, hate, pride, and sloth, and all of his life he sought forgiveness of his own sins. Men were excommunicated, flogged (a group of older Zarahemla boys out cutting wood murdered two friendly Indians and hid their bodies), but only a man’s spilt blood washed away some of his sins forever. On one of the trips to Salt Lake, he and his grandmother stopped in Provo, and she took him to the B.Y.U. library to see the seven volumes of his great-grandfather’s journal. “Pick them up, son,” she said. “Hold them, open them. See how beautifully he wrote. Even his handwriting was beautiful.”
Jared turned the corner at Larsen’s station and drove down Main Street, which was asphalted now. He drove past the chapel. (He didn’t take Craig and Brent in the early evenings now to see the Father, Son, Holy Ghost, and the prophets made alive by the sun’s last rays.) Zarahernla had one block of stores, Christensen’s and Jensen’s the only two not boarded up. Everybody drove up the canyon and over to Richfield to shop. A “Real Estate” sign hung from the big “Antiques” sign. Heat filled the car again when he parked. He got out and walked past the old plows, milk cans, stoves, and wagon wheels lining the front of the store. He’d always ridden his bike when he carne to see his mother. He pushed open the door.
“Well, hello, Jared. How are you? Back again I see.” Mrs. Williams stood behind the candy case helping two boys.
“Yes,” he said.
“Mr. Jensen’s back in the office waiting for you.”
“Thanks, I’ll go back.” He walked past the old furniture; the store smell was different.
Cory saw him through the window and came to [p.216]the door to shake his hand and lead him into the office. “Sit down, Jared, sit down. It’s good to see you.” They talked about his mother and grandmother, and Cory asked how his Aunt Laura and Uncle Charley were.
“Look, Jared, I appreciate your coming by, especially since you don’t have that place up for sale yet, which I understand perfectly.”
“I suppose that you sell most of what’s sold.”
“Well, most of it I guess. People see your house, look through the windows, and come to me.” Cory opened his desk drawer. “I’ve got two cashier’s checks here and they’re made out to you. One is for the house and land, and the other for the furniture, if you’ll sell that too.” He laid the checks on the desk by Jared’s hand.
Jared read his name on both checks. “The doctor seems willing to pay for what he wants, doesn’t he.”
“Look, Jared, you’re a CPA, so you know this is a good deal. I don’t think you’ll ever get a better one.”
“I guess I probably never will.”
“To tell you the truth, Jared, I don’t know from one day to the next how much longer people will want these old places. It’s too lonely down here. Half of them are up for sale again in a year or two. The doctor said that any changes to the house will all be in the original stone, which ought to make you happy. He wants to retire here and raise Arabians. He’s a member of the Church from Los Angeles.”
Jared touched both checks. “He sounds like a man who would take care of the place, I guess.”
Cory opened his desk drawer again. “I’ve got a quit-claim deed made out to you. You can take these checks right along with you.” Jared took the deed and read the two names. “Sixteen thousand is a lot of [p.217]money, Jared, even today. You could take your wife and boys to Hawaii for a nice vacation, buy a new car, a couple of new color TV’s, and still have money left over. You could be real comfortable.”
Jared looked up at Cory, and then he laid the deed back down on the desk.
“You know, Jared, Charley and Laura won’t be able to take care of your place forever, and you don’t get down to use it.”
“No they won’t.”
“Look, I don’t want you to think I’m pushing you, but this doctor has an option on another place over in Sanpete Valley. He likes your place the best though, and he’ll pay my commission.”
“How long is he willing to wait?”
“He said a week.”
“Selling now makes a lot of sense to me, Jared.”
“I guess it does.” He stood up. “Well, it’s something to keep thinking about.”
Cory picked up the checks. “I’d sure like to see you take these with you, Jared, but I don’t want to push. You know what you want to do.”
Cory walked him to his car, his hand on his shoulder. As Jared backed out, Cory waved. He’d offered to pay for the extra gas.
Jared drove back the way he had come. On the canal road, he slowed down when he came to the poplars, looked at his watch, and turned in the driveway again. He got out of the car and walked past the lilacs and around to the back, and sat on the porch. The blue plateaus, line of river trees, fields, and cemetery hill had not yet begun to vanish, but the air was cooler. In the last horizontal shafts of evening sunlight, the headstones sometimes shown like win-[p.218]dows into the earth. His grandmother always told him the life stories of the old people whose funerals she took him to. Jared watched a magpie light on the back fence, teeter for a moment, and then fly away. Suffering and death nearly always came by surprise in Indian Hills. Neither Craig nor Brent had ever been to a funeral.
(It would not have surprised him then, a boy, to have had one of his dead relatives knock on the door and ask for his grandmother, or for him. His grandmother took him often to Manti to be baptized for the dead.)
The gospel didn’t require a man and woman to sacrifice their lives overcoming the arid land now. The whole emphasis was on the new Church programs in education, social services, chapel construction, missionary work, welfare, genealogy, and family life, which met the new needs. Now the general authorities were nearly all former lawyers, businessmen, or educational administrators, most of them born in the twentieth century.
The new excitement for Craig and Brent would be in the leadership necessary for a world Church. Their missions would not be like his had been. He had not used a standard lesson program, flip-cards, film strips, tapes, and referral system. Now the Church had fifteen thousand missionaries out and was building a big new language training mission at B.Y.U. Thirty, forty, fifty thousand missionaries, whatever it took, would carry the universal gospel to every comer of the earth. Their ward had fifteen missionaries out (he had been the only missionary from the Zarahemla Ward in two years); four members of their ward were mission presidents.
[p.219]Paul said: “How do you know what a kid feels about the Church if you don’t know it’s what you felt? How do you talk to a kid about anything today? They don’t grow up the same here in Provo.”
Sitting there on the porch, Jared reached out to touch the railing. He stood up and touched the stone wall; he traced the still-visible chisel marks with his fingertips: “Today we began to build Lily’s house. We will finish it by September so that she can be comfortable and have her own place like my other three wives.” Nathaniel Thatcher blessed and dedicated each stone house.
He gave patriarchal blessings in the front room (he had known the Prophet Joseph Smith, been driven out of Nauvoo by mobs. He had crossed the plains with those first companies in 1847, been called on a mission by Brigham Young, and then sent to build a city). He told each child his Biblical blood inheritance (Dan, Benjamin, Joseph, Judah), what God proposed for him if he proved faithful and ordered his life. In those last ten years he gave over five hundred blessings, his mind clear until the day he died. Jared spread both his hands flat to touch the stone, touched his forehead against it.
Nathaniel Thatcher was ninety-two, his three oldest wives and nearly half his children dead before him, and he died in the brass bed in a stone house he had built nearly fifty years before. And after a hundred years that house was still silent in a storm. In Indian Hills men, after work, planted lawns and frail new trees, erected grape-stake fences, put in patios, and finished their basements to make their homes more comfortable.
Jared turned on the porch and looked toward Pine [p.220]Canyon. Looking out his valley-view window, he sometimes blotted out all Provo below him. He made it all again sagebrush, grass, and willows. Near the river stood Fort Utah and the log cabins. The thirty-two covered wagons stood lined up, tops white in the morning sunlight. A small herd of cattle grazed off to the side. Nathaniel Thatcher knelt with the company, leading them in prayer: “Today we began our journey, which we asked God to bless. We pray for the faith and good sense necessary to our tasks. With God’s help, it will be so.”
Stonemason, farmer, bishop, architect, explorer, Indian agent, father, husband to four wives, man of God under a prophet’s mandate, he led them all to face the daily reality of life in the arid land. They would sacrifice to help build the kingdom of God on this earth, their faith as useful and necessary to them as the water they would bring down from the river onto their crops, their visions and daily lives grand. (Using rocks and small logs, Jared had covered the clearest set of wagon tracks cut in the canyon rock to keep them from weathering.)
He looked at his watch, walked off the porch and around the house to the car. He backed out to the iron fence then stopped to let a pickup tear by. The long cloud of grey warm dust blurred the road and reached the front edge of the lawn. Jared waited; he didn’t roll up the windows. Zarahemla and many of the other rural pioneer Utah towns had been dead now for over forty years, since the big exodus. The rural town and county governments were poor, inefficient, the services all substandard or nonexistent. Most of the wards had gone to seed, the possessions of a few active families. The small towns had the highest per [p.221]capita liquor consumption in the state, the most people on welfare, and had high rates of juvenile delinquency, divorce, premarital pregnancy, and suicide. Boredom and poverty drove out the young. Some land was being bought up by outside money for recreational development now, and in some areas there was interest in the coal deposits. Jared let up on the brake and eased the car out onto the road.
When he got back, Craig and Brent were in the house watching a baseball game on TV; they’d eaten early except for dessert. The spread table was under the big boxelder tree; where Aunt Laura always had it. “It’s good to see you, son,” his Uncle Charley said as they shook hands. “How are you getting along?” His uncle held his hand in both of his.
“Good, Uncle Charley, thank you.” He sat down next to Sue at the table. It was cool again under the big boxelder.
“Well, it’s all been blessed, so let’s eat. Jared, you must be starved.” His Aunt Laura handed him the potato salad, then the fresh corn, hot biscuits, and the sliced ham. Sue poured his Kool-Aid. He told them what Cory Jensen had said about the option and what the doctor wanted to do with the place.
“He’ll pay Cory’s commission too. I guess he really wants it.”
“Son, we’re glad to look after the place for you like we have, but we can’t guarantee anything any more. People come in and steal these old places empty. They even take the doors.”
“It’s awful,” his Aunt Laura said.
“That’s a good price for around here. Cory’s still honest.”
“Oh, Charley, don’t encourage him. I just can’t [p.222]think of anybody but family living in that house. Jared, you didn’t get any tomatoes.” She handed him the plate of sliced fresh tomatoes. “If only we had somebody in the family who needed to rent a place.”
“A cabin in Provo Canyon makes a lot more sense for Jared and Sue. A thing has to be used.”
“These darn flies.” His aunt waved her hand over the ham. “Remember how upset your grandmother used to get with these flies, Jared? Oh, how she hated flies.”
“What do you think about selling this time, Sue?”
“It’s still Jared’s decision, Uncle Charley. He knows how he feels.”
“Well, it’s the only sensible thing to do now I think. Jared, you ought to bring your boys down and work in the hay with me for two or three weeks. That would toughen you up a little.”
“I’d like that, Uncle Charley, but I don’t know about the boys.”
“Oh, they’d get used to it after a few days. Craig worked hard freezing the ice cream.”
Jared turned in his chair. Covered with wet gunnysacks, the old hand-cranked wooden freezer stood at the corner of the house on the cement. It had always been his job to freeze the ice cream. Water darkened the cement around the freezer. He turned back. His aunt was talking to Sue.
He had stopped telling Craig and Brent his stories about work. Sports taught them their bodies and how expert they were, for there was no real physical work for them to do in Indian Hills.
In the late afternoon, his body wet from swimming in the river, he had run with the other boys across new-plowed fields to fight their spring wars, the soft [p.223]clods exploding against their bodies. Exhausted finally, they would lie down in the sun-warmed loam, vanish in the brownness, looking up at the blue sky, watching the white circling gulls.
His sons’ work was to learn to play the piano, earn college scholarships, and be active in the Church and develop strong testimonies. They needed to prepare themselves for their missions, and after that for marriage, college, and post-graduate work. Their generation would be the new bishops, stake presidents, mission presidents, and other leaders the expanding world Church needed. And they would be successful doctors, lawyers, scientists, professors, and businessmen.
“It’s too bad you can’t get one of those housemovers to take your house to Provo, Jared.”
His Uncle Charley laughed.
“Oh, Charley, Jared knows what I mean. Don’t you Jared?”
He looked at his Uncle Charley. “Yes, Aunt Laura.”
“Well, Craig certainly wants the brass bed for his room.” Sue put a spoonful of jello salad on her plate.
“It was the bed Jared’s Great-grandfather Thatcher died in, Sue.”
“Yes, I know.”
“An apostle spoke. It was a wonderful funeral. People came from all over the county.”
They listened to his aunt tell the story. Sue poured Jared more Kool-Aid.
(“My wife Lily nurses and cares for me. God will take me home. I have done his work.”) In the brass bed twelve children had been conceived and born. Four had died in infancy, but the earth still re-[p.224]plenished. At the side of the bed, kneeling, Nathaniel Thatcher had said his thousands of prayers. Nathaniel Thatcher spent one month with each of his four wives and her family. And each wife sent him to the next wife with his basket of clean clothes, and with fresh loaves of bread and fresh pies in the wagon. Every day of his life in Zarahemla, Jared had seen one or more of the three other stone houses. He walked through the two already abandoned, stood in the dusty rooms, listened, saw the broken furniture, reached out to touch the other brass beds.
“It was wonderful, Jared,” his aunt said, “just wonderful.”
“Yet, it was.” He drank his Kool-Aid.
“Oh, son,” she said, “I forgot to tell you. They tore down Aunt Nora’s house.”
Jared lowered his glass.
His uncle took the last slice of tomato. “Some Salt Lake lawyer wanted the cut stone for a house. The walls was all that was standing anyway. He took the iron fence too.”
“It’s awful,” his aunt said, “just awful.”
“They even buy old barns and sheds for wood to line rooms with. Hell.”
Jared set his glass on the table.
Craig came around the corner of the house. “It’s a slow game,” he said sitting down at the table. “Six errors already.”
“Where’s Brent, son?”
“Oh, he’s still watching.”
Jared looked at his watch. “Go get him, son, will you. Your Aunt Laura’s ready to serve the ice cream and cake, and then we’ve got to go.” He put his hand on Craig’s shoulder. “We don’t want to get to Provo at [p.225]midnight, do we?”
“That’s a fine looking boy you’ve got there, Jared.”
“Yes he is, Uncle Charley.”
Just before they finished their dessert, his Aunt Laura brought from the house the copies of the new family group sheets for them. “When the boys come down to do the baptisms, Sue, you and Jared can do the endowments.”
“It would be nice to be in the Manti temple as a family, Aunt Laura.”
They were in the car and ready to go just before seven. His Uncle Charley and Aunt Laura stood at Sue’s window. “Remember now, Jared, your Uncle Charley and I are as happy as we can be to look after the house. Don’t worry about that a minute.”
“I know, Aunt Laura. Thank you.”
“You’re going to go by the cemetery.”
“No, I don’t think we’ll take time now.”
Sue turned to look at him.
“Well, maybe next time then. We love you all. You know that. Come again soon.”
“We will, Aunt Laura.”
Standing on the lawn, his uncle and aunt waved until Jared had backed out and turned up the road toward the highway. He and Sue closed their windows against the dust, and he turned on the air conditioner.
At the canal bridge they got back on the asphalt. Brent wanted to stop at Jensen’s Store to get some candy, but Sue said he had just had ice cream and cake. The “Antiques” sign was made from the top of a round table.
They left the houses and the trees, drove out through the west fields, the highway paralleling the [p.226]river for a mile. Jared lowered his window to smell the cottonwoods that rose up through the foothills. They passed the “Historical Marker Ahead” sign, and then the “View Area” sign. The highway widened to the right, the white line curving that way. Jared slowed a little, looked back over his shoulder toward Zarahemla, then pushed up the directional signal.
“Oh, Dad, do we have to stop again?”
“It’s a good view, son, this time of evening. It’s the last time to see Zarahemla.”
Sue turned. “We’ll only be a minute, Brent.”
Jared parked, and they all got out. He and Sue read again the brass plaque set in the stone column, and then they walked over and stood at the edge of the hill. The dark fields spread out from the darker oval of Zarahemla trees and cemetery hill to the desert, the river a thin dark line of trees. The great sandstone plateaus, blue and pink now, lifted above the shadowed canyons to the horizon.
Thirty-two wagons had pulled down out of the canyon and stopped here: “Praise God, we have come to the end of our journey. Here we will build a city at the edge of the desert. We will call the city Zarahemla.” And all that afternoon the white gulls, come up from the river, followed the plows in white flocks. By the next day Nathaniel Thatcher had surveyed a ditch, and brought water from the river to soften some of the ground to make the plowing easier.
It became a town, not a city. But it was beautiful then-the houses built, trees, grass, and gardens planted, the yards all fenced, order visible. The irrigated fruitful fields, the herds of sheep and cattle in the mountains, the growing families all proved faith [p.227]and works triumphant against the arid land, God’s mercy and bounty known to his chosen people. (Last week after they hired the new full-time accountant, Paul said, “I’m investing every dime. Judy and I want to retire early and move back to Nephi and the farm. It may be too late for Jeff, but the grandkids will have a place to come to. It’s the only way to live.” Every weekend Paul went down to work on remodeling the house to make it more comfortable. He and his family often went to church in Nephi.)
Sue put her arm through Jared’s. “It must have all seemed very new and wonderful once.”
“Yes, I’m sure it did.”
Brent was throwing rocks to see how far he could get them out over the hill. Craig, arms folded, stood looking toward the desert.
“I’ll call Cory Jensen tomorrow and tell him we’ve decided to sell.” He turned to look at Sue. “You surprised?”
“No, not really.” She squeezed his arm a little.
“I didn’t think you would be. It makes the most sense, I guess.”
“You don’t want to spend the money on the cabin either, do you?”
“You want to keep the money for the boys’ missions.”
“That won’t take all of it.”
“Maybe they’ll call you to be a mission president.”
“I don’t want to be a mission president, but I’d like to go on another mission with you after Brent’s in college. I’d like to work in a small Mexican town or a village. You’d have to learn Spanish. The Church is going to be sending a lot more older couples.”
[p.228]”It sounds exciting.”
Jared put his arm around Sue’s shoulder, and they stood watching the colors and shadows change. “We’ll keep the furniture and other things you want. We can refinish some pieces for Craig and Brent and store them till they get married. It’s all good stuff.”
He saw his watch. He took his arm from around Sue’s shoulder and held her hand. “Come on boys, let’s go.” Brent ran back to the car ahead of them and slammed his door shut.
A mile above the historical marker, they passed the place where Jared had covered the wagon tracks cut in the rock. The air conditioner off, through the open windows came the cool smell of the pines, quaking aspen, and the river.