Yesterday I attended in SLC the funeral of my oldest Uncle Bill, age 86 or so. (1998?)
I want to maintain family connections so I took as many of the kids that were available, Tiscia was in Las Vegas at a clogging performance, Jim was marching in a Parade in Spanish Fork, so just Steve and Mary came with us.
After the viewing I took the family over to the Cathedral of the Mandolin, and give they a quick "Home Evening Lesson" on the 12 stations of the cross, an experience rare for the children on both accounts.
My Uncle was a life long semi-active Mormon that had word of wisdom indulgences of Coffee and chewing tobacco for generations. He was an old cowboy from Wyoming, that didn't dress like one, very much. Uncle Bill often wore boots but not pretentious ones. He wore a cowboy hat when back at home, but wore more of a derby when living in Centerville, Utah.
He was a lighter shade of gray than the other black sheep on his wife's side of the family. We entered Larkin Mortuary just Southwest of the Cathedral of the Magdalena. We were greeted by a second cousin, a mortician, that has worked there since before my aunt Maxine, had her viewing there, some 30 years ago. She left behind, 8 children under the age of 22. Her untimely death was a gut wrenching funeral that shaped my attitude about funerals for years to come.
My Uncle Bill came from pioneer stock on many lines, as was common with people in our small town, 6 miles from Fort Bridger Wyoming.
First, a little humor before I get too serious. We explained to our 3 ½ year old Mary that he, Uncle Bill was Daddy's Uncle, and that he was dead. As we approached the casket, we were concerned as Mary had never before seen a dead person. She was a little curious, but seemed to take it in stride. As we stepped away to greet other relatives, she leaned and whispered in my ear. "Daddy, who killed him?"
Our TV viewing habits seems to have been manifesting themselves, as we tried to explain through muffled snickers and smiles, that he was not killed by anyone, but had just died of being too old.
She had a hard time with the concept as later she again asked, how was he killed. The next day I asked her what we had done the day before, and she responded that we had gone to see my daddy's Uncle that was dead because he was old.
Mary seemed to treat it as pretty much as any other church meeting, other than she was extraordinarily behaved, with the exception, of asking repeatedly, if they had "closed the box yet", and "is that the box up there"?
The circumstances of his death were a bit strained as he had a small stroke a few years ago and moved around very slowly and didn't talk much. He was a very soft spoken man before that. I don't remember hearing more than 5 or 6 words out of him at a time.
I also never remember a harsh word from him or a scornful glare, directed towards me my entire life. When we would meet, at family reunions, if we made eye contact, he would always say "Hi Perry," and shake hands, nothing more nothing less.
My Aunt Essie, the aunt on the side of the family of 17 kids, had fallen a few weeks previous and had broken her hip, it turned out just to be a fracture. While she was in the hospital Uncle Bill had a bad stroke, after a few days it was determined that he had no brain activity, and could be on life support for as little as a week or up to 10 years. The family decided that, was not really life, so the decision was made to take him off life support. My aunt was very upset because she could not leave her hospital to go see her dying husband.
Under normal circumstances this would tug at one's heart strings, but this couple was inseparable for 63 years of marriage. When my grandmother spent their inheritance and took her daughters to the Holy Land 13 years ago, it was the fist time they had been separated for more than a few days since their marriage.
I thought it odd that they were having the funeral at the mortuary and not at an LDS chapel. Uncle Bill's children are a mixed bag of jack Mormons and semi-active, but all baptized, as far as I know. I am familiar with jack Mormons. I have seen my other uncles break the word of wisdom, from coffee, to smoking to public intoxication. My one Uncle used to announce the 24th of July rodeo, in Lyman, he was very good at it, being a bucking bronco rider in his youth. He was colorful, swearing very often during the Mormon celebration of the old west, and two or three times apologizing during the day for swearing, when word got to him from his mother. He knew the stock and the cowboys, where they came from and how they were doing compared to last year.
If he started drinking too early in the day, by nightfall, his words were slurring badly over the loud speakers that could be heard clearly over half the small town of 350 people. The town was so small that you could hear the muffled sounds of the rodeo all the way to the opposite end of town where his great Grandfather, the first person buried in the Lyman cemetery, James Henry Rollins, (Older Brother to Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lighter Smith Young) was laid to rest. As incongruous as this may sound, when he was replaced after about 10 years of swearing and slurring, it only took one year and the people of this 95% LDS town were clamoring to have him back announcing at the capstone event of the yearly celebration of the 24th of July.
Well so much for background on darker sheep of the family. I don't remember ever seeing my Uncle Bill break or "bend" the word of wisdom, yet every one knew he did. His ever present gray peppered mustache was never large enough to cover up his bulging upper lip or the brown stained whiskers, from less than totally efficient expectorations.
Bill and Essie did not initially marry in the temple, nor did most of their other brothers and sisters. Most all went to the temple eventually, and then quickly reverted back to their western lifestyle, that resembled their pioneer heritage more accurately then sanitized histories do.
When my mother told me of the upcoming funeral, she mentioned that some of the family that had talked about how the Bishop had not yet contacted the family, and that the funereal was going to be at the mortuary, a break from family tradition, in spite being jack Mormons.
The Chapel at the mortuary was full, holding about 150 people. So extra chairs were brought in. The Bishop seemed flustered. During the family prayer he stumbled to remember the name of who the funeral was for. His nerves appeared even more evident when the Bishop said that it was now time to close the "cactus." It was apparent that he did indeed know the family, but maybe he was just getting old.
The most gut wrenching scene was when they prepared to close the casket. Immediate family members approached Uncle Bill in his rarely used white clothes with green accent, there was a lot of sobbing as the very doted over, grandson, had a hard time letting go of a close friend. The oldest son and favorite grandson tried to lift Essie from her new wheelchair to allow her to pay her last respects, but the added burden of age and infirmity, stretched the envelope of proper comportment and Essie broke down, sobbing in a mournful manner that melted the hearts of the hardened ranches as tears streamed down their ruddy and wind burned faces.
That part was hard for me too.
It was not long into the service that it was obvious why it was not being conduced in a LDS Chapel.
The obituary, was read by a granddaughter. The old Bishop referred to Uncle Bill by his full name, William Henry Shelton, which sounded very foreign to my ears. That name did not ring familiar like "Bill and Essie". In our family it was never "Essie and Bill", but "Bill & Essie", though we all knew who really wore the pants in the family. It was aunt Essie!
A man in his late 20's, that I had never seen before, stood up and strapped on a guitar. At times his voice was wispy and slightly twangy, as he sang "That Old Strawberry Roan". I had never heard the song before, in it's entirety. Cowboy lure never stuck to me, after all we lived in town, not on the ranch. The song was beautifully done. I noticed that the singer looked at the ceiling most of the time to avoid eye contact, with everyone. Those over 50 all had eyes that were red and moist. I would have been even more moved if it weren't for the fact that this song was a few generations removed from my own musical experience.
No, it was not an obligatory hymn, but I am sure it was a song that Uncle Bill liked, based on the reaction of his siblings.
This was followed by a talk by the family's resident non-mormon. The fourth oldest Daughter on my mother's side had married a staunch Catholic, 60 years later they divorce and then remarried. They amicably agree to disagree, when it comes to Religion.
He told of the quite personality of a loving and caring man. He spoke of the unconditional love, Uncle Bill gave to his wife, children and grandchildren. This was not the typical message from the pulpit, for this catholic, really knew of the Mormons, even though he always kept his distance, when it came to religion. I think it annoyed some members of my family that Uncle Jim was such a good man, but remained Catholic in spite of his goodness. Others accepted Uncle Jim for his integrity in his own beliefs.
Uncle Bill's children had struggles and trials as they had taken the often hard life of school dropouts, family tradition of drinking, shotgun weddings, divorces and remarriages, loss of jobs do to all of the a fore mentioned proclivities. Though all this, Uncle Bill, quietly and patiently in the background, supported and loved and cared for his children and grandchildren. I learned that day subtle, and humble that family support was, because the stories that were recounted to us that day, were all new to me, and a side of a quite man that I had not known.
Many people had misunderstood his quite manor as grumpiness. He opened up to his family, when he felt safe to do so. Every Christmas, and birthday his wry humor would show through, as he would dawn every present he had received all at once, even if it were 3 shirts and 4 ties, and then wear them ALL day, with a plethora of price tags flapping as he shuffled around the house.
He was a lover of popcorn, and always had a bowl of it on the table. If you wanted to locate where he had been that day, you could follow the trail of popcorn crumbs.
Uncle Jim told how just a year ago Uncle Bill had picked a small bunch of lilacs, and placed them in his front shirt pocket. They hung down, so when he would leaned they would droop down near his arm. Then all day he would wonder around and ask people if they wanted to smell his arm pit!
My Catholic Uncle Jim ended his thoughts, with, "we will miss you and all look forward to seeing you again Bill".
No, it was not ended in the name of Jesus Christ, and though my Mormons culture immediately noticed the breach in protocol, upon reflection, I can only hope that my own catholic, childhood friend Delta Utah will have such fine and true and things to say about me.
This talk was followed by another grandson who had remembrances from grandchildren, which again taught me that quiet strength is undervalued until it is gone. His remarks also ended in nontraditional manor.
The Guitar was slung again and a stout woman accompanied the young man in a cheerful rendition of "You are my Sunshine."
There were talks by what would be considered more white sheep type of Mormons, by a brother and granddaughter.
The final song was "Love At Home," where the congregation was asked to sing the first and last verses. During the Last verse, the younger "White" lines of the family chided the "Dark" lines of the family as they were clue less as to the words of the last verse.
Tyler Morgan, my cousin just younger then me, gave a nice Mormon closing prayer.
All in all this funeral had much love and laughter, but no lectures or lessons. The flavor was decidedly different.
This would be the only time in his life that there would be any religious gathering that centered just on Uncle Bill. Should we begrudge such a quiet man as this, 60 minutes devoted to his memory, or turn it into yet another similar meeting?
If Boyd K. Packer had been there, he would have sat with a furrowed brow, because it was not done in the method he has suggested.
But if the Savior had been sitting there, he would have been grinning ear to ear, and fighting back the tears, as he embraced a sheep of a different color, that faced a different direction, so as to not be offensive with the lingering scent of chewing tobacco, long since given up.
Subject: Back from a family reunion in Wildoming, a weeks after the funeral.
Two little tidbits that I picked up talking to the old folks while at the
Ok 3, just try and sue me. :) (actually there ended up being 4)
I spoke with many family genealogists, all of which referred to other family genealogists that they were certain that Mary Elizabeth Rollins Lightner Smith Young's Mother was full blooded Jewish. When pressed for hard evidence, they referred to people that were not in attendance.
Mary's Mother Keziah Ketura Van Benthuysen, came from RICH Dutch "Jews" that lived in New York, working with Jewelry. They came from the Netherlands, in a town by the same name "Van Benthuysen" and her mother came from a town in the Netherlands that also had the same name "Van Hoesen". Keziah and her sister were farmed out to the guardianship of a man that they would always claim, robbed them of their inheritance. Keziah has childhood memories of trying to lift silver candlesticks off the floor that they were too heavy to pickup.
Keziah's father was JJ Van Benthuysen, born and died in New York, as did her Mother Mary Simonds. The Genealogy shows one line going back 24 generations back to 1203 in Northern Holland.
Again I still have no hard evidence that Keziah was Jewish, but it is looking likely at this point.
When they family discovered this Jewish link in the family they used to tease my grandmother, saying this explained why she was so frugal. I would say living on a farm and raising 17 children would make anyone frugal, you don't have to blame genetics for this. Once example of my grandmothers frugality, was once her daughters took her to Mari Calandars for dinner. Since it was her birthday she got a free piece of pie. When the waitress asked was there anything else she would like, my grandmother replied, "Yes can I have a whole pie for free?" The waitress was so shocked by this request from this sweet old lady, that she couldn't say no. Mean while all my aunts sat at the table turning beet red!
Another story was related during a Family gathering in the Urie, cultural hall, this 70ish year old, third cousin, related the following story about my Great Aunt Eve with the provision, that she maybe shouldn't be telling this story inside the church, but she did anyway. First I must preface, for anyone that does not know my Aunt Eve and Uncle Peekie Syme. My Aunt Eve was the largest body size wise, of all her family, probably because of her renowned skill at cooking, especially her pies. Aunt Eve was always in competition with my Grandmother at the Annual Relief Society Bazaars.
She once sold a pie at a Relief society Bizarre in the poor farming town of Lyman Wyoming, for the unheard of bidding price of 25 dollars. That was back in the 1960's. Well my Great Uncle was beloved in the town, and was called by everyone as "Uncle Peekie", he was tall, pointy nose, and a high squeaky voice, much like that of J. Golden Kimball, other than Uncle Peekie would never swear. Aunt Eve however would say shait, damn and hell as if they were not bad words at all. Shait was OK, but Shit was bad, go figure.
Aunt Eve's brother, Uncle Heyward, raised race horses, and one day found a cartoon drawing in the paper of a stout work horse standing next to a lanky, thin scruffy horse, below the drawing he wrote the names Eve and Peekie, and mailed the cartoon to my Aunt Eve.
When she got it, my Aunt saw no humor in it at all, she marched right over to her brother's office, barged in on him and announced loudly.
"I am going to say one last thing to you and then I will never speak to you again, the rest of my life."
"You can just go to HELL!"
"And stay there!"
The gathered relatives just roared with laughter, as the majority in attendance were all old enough to know Aunt Eve and could hear the faint English/Minersville accent in her voice, you know the type, that say carn instead of corn and waard in stead of Ward.
My third cousin, concluded the story, by reaffirming the great soul that Aunt Eve was, by explaining that the next day Aunt Eve took over to her brother, a big beautiful Cherry Pie, to make up for losing her temper.
My GGGGrand father on the Platts side was a carriage driver for Brigham Young. When he was asked to participate in Plural marriage, the first version of the story I had heard for years was that he would not live it and fell away from the church. Four plus generations of Platts's were either part member or Jack Mormon. Some of his children were never baptized, but still lived in Utah or Wyoming.
The 2nd version of the story was that he was very willing to have more wives, but his wife would have nothing of it. This division caused such discord in the family that they became jack Mormons and passed on that semi-believing tradition to their children and grandchildren, not often discussing the where's or how for's of their mediocre attitude towards the church.
The last little version was passed onto me by the 2nd oldest attendee of the Lyman High School All Class Bash, class of 1927. She had lived her whole life in Wyoming. She is the widow of the of the Grandson of the Carriage Driver. She said that there are many stories passed down, but it is clear that it was the wife that rejected Brigham's call to plural marriage. She said that there are stories that when her husband approached her, she got so mad that she tore the family bible apart, rolled up some pages of holy verse and used it to light up a cigarette. The teller of the story followed this up, with a caution, that this may just be an exaggerated family story, but the result was not fabricated.
Oh Dang, I left out one tidbit,
Speaking of smoking, James Henry Rollins, used to smoke cigarettes and also a pipe. It is believed that he died of lung cancer, and may have had stomach cancer as during that last weeks of his life he often rolled on the floor tossing and turning, holding his stomach.
Not the image of his death that I had previously imagined, being a former body guard for Joseph Smith and working as a clerk in 3 of Joseph Smith's stores, as well as discovering the first Lead mine in Utah, etc. etc. etc.
I hope you liked those tidbits, as there was a lot of sitting
through much less entertaining reunion armature reenactments and
recantations to glean these few gems.
Or if that does not work, try this mail
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(subject to change based on better information).
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