As a child when I burst into the house after a long day at school, I often heard the sound of my mother’s typewriter. “Come into the bedroom,” she would call out. “I’m typing histories of your great-grandmother and grandfather Allen.” Or, “Come and listen to this experience in Grandpa Hunsaker’s life.” But I didn’t understand how anyone could enjoy the ancient history of people one had never known, relatives dead many years. There was no face or personality to go with the name. And how could their lives ever affect mine?
Even as an adult I tried many times to write a journal of my own life, only to find that journals are easy to put aside. Once I enrolled half-heartedly in a beginning genealogy class, but after a few weeks my interest began to wane. I was satisfied to send money to a woman doing research for our family. And, feeling only a little guilty, I became a genealogy drop out.
Then an event took place that changed my direction. It was early Monday evening, the children were playing, and I was busy in the kitchen putting final touches on dinner. My parents had been staying at our house a week, recuperating from an automobile accident. They were planning to leave for their home the next day. My younger sister had just dropped by to say hello. I was talking on the phone when suddenly she ran into the room, exclaiming, “Come quickly! Something is wrong with Mother!” I hurried to our family room. My father had his arms around my Mother, comforting her. In one glance, I knew she was gravely ill. She had suffered a massive stroke.
For several days, Mother’s life hung by a thread. The doctor told us that we would need to wait until the swelling in the brain had gone down to determine the damage done.
When that day arrived, we learned that Mother would never be the same again. She no longer had control over her bodily functions; her left side was paralyzed, making it impossible for her to walk. She had lost half of her eyesight, and her mind vacillated between rationality and irrationality.
Why hadn’t I taken more time with Mother? Why hadn’t I asked her many questions about her youth? What were her parents like? Why hadn’t I learned more about her feelings and ideas? Many of the answers were locked away in her memory forever. Her remaining days would be spent in a hospital.
But as I visited with my mother, I watched a beautiful, refined personality emerge. She was kind, loving, and appreciative of everything we tried to do. She expressed to each of us many humorous and tender comments. When she said, “I can’t die, my children need my counsel,” I knew that was true, and so, slowly, in her rational moments, I began seeking answers about her early youth, her parents, and grandparents. I found I was hungry for any information she could give me. I knew her time with me was limited.
Her eyes lit up when she talked of her early life. I asked myself, How can mother’s needs be met now? She could no longer read, watch television, or walk, and her attention span was short. How could we keep her mind alive?
The answer came when my father and I started rummaging around their bedroom. In one box, we found a twelve-year day-by-day history of our family. We knew these diaries existed, but we had forgotten them. At my request, father permitted me to read the first diary to mother in the hope that it would arouse and hold her interest.
As I began reading, a word of magic opened up for both of us. The revelations were many as we continued through the books. Mother was captivated—her mind was alive and thinking. She could even help me pronounce unfamiliar names. I was amazed to find that she had recorded everything that happened the day each child was born. I never knew before how hard she worked for her family. She had written of putting up seven hundred bottles of fruit in a couple of months. And although I couldn’t remember being naughty in church, there it was in black and white! In another part she expressed pain and sorrow over the death and burial of a young daughter. Dad’s life as stake president had left her alone much of the time. I found myself thinking, if she could do all this with five children, I can certainly do it with my two.
Excitement grew with the many discoveries hidden in these records. My parents’ bedroom was a gold mine. Under the bed, carefully tucked away in boxes and folders, were bits and pieces of many histories of grandparents, aunts, uncles—the histories my mother had typed years earlier. What treasures! I knew these should be carefully organized, retyped, and duplicated for every family member. Mother’s work and her vision should not be wasted.
My father, sensing the mood, began compiling his history. In between visits to the hospital, we traveled to his home town and took pictures of his childhood homes. We extended this to include photographs of the homes of our own family. While my father wrote a history to accompany each picture, I organized the treasures under the bed. First, a scrapbook of my deceased sister was completed. The many tender letters of love and compassion sent to my parents during her illness and death built me up when I read them.
Next came the organizing, typing, and retyping of my father’s completed histories—a written record of the many heartaches he had suffered. At the age of fourteen his father died. Next a beloved brother passed away. His grandmother, two uncles, and an aunt died during the flu epidemic of 1918. Two years later he lost his younger sister. His first wife died when they were missionaries in Texas. Later, after he and my mother were married, they lost a daughter. He wrote how he maintained his witness and love of God. Part of his history contained letters from general authorities collected through his years of Church service.
The treasures under the bed included colorful stories from the lives of grandparents, great-grandparents, and their families. All were tenderly organized and typed. Great-grandfather Hunsaker described his suffering while returning home after his service with the Mormon Battalion. To keep from starving, the travelers had to eat their own animals; even the hide was considered a delicacy. Great-grandfather Allen was a bodyguard to the Prophet Joseph Smith and was known for his integrity. Great-grandmother Allen thought crossing the plains was fun. She loved to pick the wildflowers along the way. It was touching to read how her bloody, sore feet seemed to heal miraculously when the fiddler began the evening dance around the campfire. Personalities and faces started to take shape. I began loving each of them.
As I showed my mother each completed history, her thin face lighted with pride and happiness. Twenty histories were written in six months. And today, several others of our family members are busily preparing journals, letters, and histories that will bring us all closer together.
This experience has taught me another lesson in trusting in the Lord. Good can come from grief if we stay close to our Heavenly Father. By trying to meet the needs of an invalid mother, personal peace and richness came into my life, aided and supplemented by the treasures from under the bed.