Remembering Aunt Carrie


Caroline Hemenway Harmon’s life of charity, sacrifice, and Christian service left a memorable impression on the lives and hearts of all who knew her.

Aunt Carrie would not have expected to be remembered by anyone but her family. She lived quietly in a small Utah community. To anyone outside an area twelve miles square, she was and is a stranger. And yet, there is something familiar about her uncommon courage. She is like our mother, our grandmother, an aunt, a niece or sister. Aunt Carrie represents countless women, unknown and unsung, who patiently do the thing that needs to be done and who in reality accomplish the important work of the world. She reminds us that deeds need not be great to be heroic.

Caroline Hemenway Harman was born of pioneer parentage 2 January 1873 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The second of eleven children, she was the daughter of Lachoneus Luther Hemenway and Annie Roberts.

Lachoneus loved the land and knew how to make it productive. Caroline records that one fall day he went “over Jordan,” as the southwest valley was then called, and while there fell asleep. In a dream “he saw people and wagons and horses coming over here and settling up this place, saw it grow till it was a city from mountain to mountain. His dream impressed him very much, and he went home and told Mother he was going to take a quarter section of land. … They built a one-room cabin and lived in it for several years.” Lachoneus planted orchards, dug a canal for irrigation, built a fine home, educated his children, and prospered. Caroline’s mother, Annie, endured the attendant hardships of rugged pioneer life as she bore and reared seven daughters and four sons. But by the late 1800s, she hosted friends in a huge, hard-won modern home. In the Hemenway parlor one could dine on fine china and cut-glass dishes and enjoy music and lively conversation. Of her mother, Caroline wrote: “She was very intelligent … very kind and would always stand up for the weak and the unfortunate. … When she entered a home she brought sunshine. … I loved her dearly and loved to be with her.”

On 24 February 1884, some ten years after Caroline’s father planted his first tree, the families who had settled in a twelve-square-mile area lying west of the Jordan River were organized into the Granger Ward. The land, the ward, and the Hemenway home and heritage provided a rich environment in which the family flourished.

At 22, young Caroline was slim and beautiful—with hazel eyes and long brown hair curled high on her head—and she was very much in love with George Reese Harman, who worked for her father. On 26 January 1895 George and Caroline were married in the Salt Lake Temple. During the next fourteen years they bought land, built a home, and became parents of seven children. Happiness grew out of industry, and they sorrowed only at the loss of their eldest child, George Luther, who died when he was four months old.

Once a week Caroline’s horse-drawn black buggy overflowed with children (her own and others) going to Primary. In 1908 she was called as a counselor to the ward Primary president, and two years later she became second counselor in the Relief Society presidency.

During irrigation turns, George often worked at night. One evening, wet and chilled, he caught a cold which developed into pleurisy. He died 12 August 1912, and Caroline, at 39, was left with the responsibility of a farm and six children. Her oldest daughter, Annie, was fifteen; the baby, Maurice, had just turned three.

Four months later Caroline’s sorrow deepened as she endured the death of her mother. But Caroline rallied to the responsibilities of life. Each day she arose at 5:00 A.M.—to tend to household duties and to work in the fields and orchards. During the weekly irrigation turns, she would make beds in the wagon, hitch up the horses, and drive with her young sons to the fields to set the water. Three or four times during the night, Caroline would awaken the boys and help them “change” the water. Only during haying season did they hire help. Caroline wanted her family to develop and use its own resources.

Many offered love and encouragement to Caroline, but she was particularly close to her sister Grace, who had married George’s brother David. Before George died, he had said to David, “If anything happens to me, please look after Carrie and the children.” David had once made a similar request of George as he left for a two-year mission when Grace was expecting their sixth child. Over the years, the two families had shared much.

During World War I, Caroline’s Relief Society responsibilities multiplied. In 1914, the sisters began meeting one day a week to knit sweaters for soldiers, roll bandages, and prepare other Red Cross supplies to be shipped overseas. In 1917, Caroline became Relief Society president of the Granger Ward.

When the war ended, the deadly flu epidemic followed the soldiers home. Funerals were frequent. The Granger Relief Society made burial clothing, lined caskets, draped the chapel podium in white, cared for the sick, and comforted the bereaved.

David and Grace were both stricken. In January of 1919, Grace gave birth to a son; a few hours later, weakened by the flu, she died. Grieving for her beloved sister, Caroline brought to her own home a six-hour-old baby boy—her sister’s child, but a child whom she would always look upon as her own.

Less than a month after Grace’s death, Caroline faced one of the most difficult days of her life. In February, her daughter Annie died of the flu, a month before she expected her first child. Caroline had great faith, but this death seemed more than she could bear. Annie was an unusually beautiful and spiritual young woman. Her well-trained voice had attracted the attention of a New York opera company, but following her mother’s example, she had chosen to marry in the temple and build a home.

When Annie, with her unborn child, died, Caroline’s health broke. Weeks later, she arose from her bed, calm and determined. The doctor diagnosed her illness as sugar diabetes. From that time on, she gave herself three insulin shots daily and carefully weighed her food. It was a private matter; she never spoke of her health. In the years to come, she maintained energy, strength, a cheerful countenance, and an indomitable sense of humor.

Following Grace’s death, David came to Caroline’s home each day to see his baby son, Pete. His own large home, which he and Grace had planned and built, seemed empty. The first meal in that home had been on Thanksgiving day of 1918. Seven weeks after that joyous celebration, Grace died. … David’s nine children needed a mother and he, a wife. On 29 October 1919, David and Caroline were married in the Salt Lake Temple. So, seven years after George’s death, Caroline and her five children came to live in the big house on 3600 West and 4100 South.

For many years this house was a central gathering place for neighborhood children who liked teeter-totters, swings made of rubber tires, kick-the-can games, and run-sheepie-run. Like all visitors, the children seldom left without a “bite to eat.” The Harman home became a haven for hungry teenagers who liked the singing, laughter, and impromptu parties. At Harman’s you could always roll up the rugs and dance to old records. You could listen to “Mert and Marge” and “Amos and Andy” while drinking cocoa (with lots of milk) from a quart jar.

But at least twice a day the house was quiet. At breakfast and dinner time, all the leaves of the sixteen-foot-square table came out of the closet, the meal was spread, and it was time for family prayer. The huge Harman household tolerated teasing, wrestling, and noise. But quarrels were not permitted. Family members felt a unity that had begun long before David and Caroline married. Caroline honored David as patriarch, supported him as first counselor in the bishopric, and loved him deeply.

In the spring of 1924, an itching rash spread over David’s body. Despite his discomfort, he worked long hours. While dipping sacks of potatoes (or wheat, depending on the account) in a solution to prevent disease, he noted that the rash on his hands healed. After checking with a doctor, David decided to bathe in the solution. Accounts differ as to what and how much he used, but the result was that the solution literally ate him alive. His skin came off on clothing and bed sheets; his tongue and teeth fell out; his internal organs were burned beyond use. After one week, during which David never lost consciousness, he passed from this world.

David died with great courage and little complaint. Caroline lived in the same manner. At age 51, she was again a widow. She was now responsible for fourteen children, the youngest of whom was five-year-old Pete. She suffered complications from diabetes. She was also Relief Society president of a ward with 948 members, 22 of whom were widows; and for Caroline, who served in the days before Welfare Services, this meant “mothering” the entire twelve-mile-square ward. Her way was not to ask for help, but to give it. Always someone was being born or someone was dying; someone was ill or unhappy or hungry. Caroline knew what to do about illness, childbirth, and death. And she knew how to find happiness. When others were wild with grief, she was there to make beds, mop floors, fix meals, and sit up through the night with the bereaved to comfort them with her quiet strength. She became known throughout the territory as Aunt Carrie—kind, cheerful, loving, wise.

How did she do it all with her large family? She did it with her large family. Year after year, the Harman sons drove her in a horse and buggy to visit every home in the ward—many times. Her black buggy would go to the houses of those who had “enough and to spare” to gather goods to be shared with those who had little or nothing. The Harman girls frequently cooked and served meals to neighbors in need, and the boys stayed overnight with the aged or afflicted when Aunt Carrie could not be there.

Aunt Carrie was a resourceful manager, and the children learned her ways. They had no money to spend, but the Harmans did not think of themselves as being “poor.” They made bread, butter, cheese, horse radish, corned beef, apple cider, vinegar, and soap. Both sons and daughters farmed the land and cared for their animals, their orchard, and their garden. Every fall, they bottled fruit, meat, and tomatoes and buried turnips, parsnips, carrots, and potatoes beneath the sawdust in the basement ice room. The girls sewed their few articles of clothing and kept their home scrubbed and orderly. If their chores were not done before the school bus came, they finished their tasks and walked to school. Aunt Carrie believed that idleness was a sin and taught that selfishness was the seed of misery. Everyone in the family learned to work—and more important, they learned to share.

About a year after David’s death, Eugene Robinson, a 66-year-old widower, convinced Aunt Carrie that he should help with her responsibilities and that neither of them should live out their lives without companions. Aunt Carrie finally agreed—but first he must “put his life in order.” On 11 March 1925, Eugene received his endowments in the Salt Lake Temple, was sealed to his first wife for eternity, and was married to Aunt Carrie for time.

Within weeks after their marriage, Eugene suffered a stroke and became an invalid. For five years until his death in October 1930, Aunt Carrie prepared his food, helped him bathe and dress, and ministered to his many needs.

In 1929 Aunt Carrie was released as president of the Relief Society. She had served in that organization under three bishops for some eighteen years. Although her concern and care for the living continued, she began spending more time in search of her ancestors. Almost daily, she traveled to the Genealogical Library and, in addition to writing family histories, traced the Hemenway line back to the sixteenth century.

As years passed, the children married or moved away. But the Harmans were drawn home by traditions—the Easter egg hunt for the children, Christmas Eve around a tall tree in the parlor, the Fourth of July at Great Salt Lake, bobsledding in winter, summer rides up Millcreek Canyon.

Aunt Carrie devoted much of her time to developing her chicken business. Her chickens had become a symbol of her doctrine of hard work and independence. During the worst of the Great Depression, the well which provided water for the house and chicken coops went dry. Aunt Carrie refused the help of government programs under which she qualified for a new well; so Pete, Jack, and Jake carried water from across the road. Carrying water for the house was one thing, but quenching the thirst of hundreds of chickens was quite another. Finally, when Aunt Carrie had saved sufficient funds, she had the well repaired.

Years later, when all the children were gone, the pump sometimes failed. During winter time, Aunt Carrie would scoop snow into a big oval “boiler,” melt it on the back of her coal stove, and carry warm water to her flock.

At times Aunt Carrie’s grandchildren came to help and to learn. But usually she worked alone, sometimes caring for nearly one thousand chickens—five hundred chicks and almost as many laying hens. She loved her chickens. And they loved her. Each day they came out to meet her, clucked about her legs, or perched upon her shoulders. Aunt Carrie expected everything around her to be productive, and she would not have a lazy chicken. A hen who lacked commitment was invited for Sunday dinner.

Newell and Elva Fowlks rented part of Aunt Carrie’s home, and almost every evening Elva and Aunt Carrie would visit. Mostly they talked of children—of the child Elva was expecting, of Aunt Carrie’s children, of things past and present, and of days that lay ahead.

“I can face Grace,” Aunt Carrie told Elva one evening, “because I know that I did all she would have done if I had been called away and she had stayed. I have no regrets. Of course,” she added quietly, “in some ways all our children could do better. And they will. We taught them right.”

July 29, 1940, was a typical day for Aunt Carrie. She arose early, carefully weighed her breakfast, gave herself the first of that day’s three insulin shots, and went out to care for the chickens and gather and case the eggs. At noon she ate and rested. Then her granddaughter Beverly came to help her clean the house until it smelled of turpentine and linseed oil. Afterward she tended to the chickens, ate supper, and enjoyed her daily ride with her daughter Marjory. She saw the land “over Jordan” covered with houses and reflected that the countryside was her father’s vision coming true. At dusk, they stopped as usual to visit her daughter Mignon.

At last Aunt Carrie came home. She didn’t talk that evening with Elva; the pain in her feet was too intense.

Even though her steps had become more careful and slow, Aunt Carrie walked with an aura of independence—almost ignoring her cane. She told no one but her doctor of her difficulties with diabetes. Each evening in the privacy of her living room she would put her feet into a pan of purple-colored water. But this prescribed medication was a poor defense against the pain and the bone-gripping gangrene.

Just before midnight on January 29, Aunt Carrie knocked on the Fowlks’ bedroom door. “I’m dying,” she said. “Please tell the children.”

Mignon came first.

“I’d like to go out and sit a few minutes on the back porch,” Aunt Carrie said, and the two of them went out and sat in the old chairs where, years before, Aunt Carrie had listened in the evening as Annie practiced her songs. More than twenty years had passed since she had heard Annie’s voice singing in the night as neighbors far away stopped to listen. …

After a while, Aunt Carrie whispered, “We’d better go inside, I’d like to rest now.”

Holding on to one another, they walked slowly back into the living room. Aunt Carrie lay down on the couch. After a moment, she was gone.

Note: On 13 April 1982 dedicatory services were held for the Caroline Hemenway Harman Continuing Education Building on the Brigham Young University Campus in Provo, Utah—a tribute to Aunt Carrie who, according to her son Leon Weston (Pete) Harman, “had every reason to be waited on. Yet she continually served others. She never complained. She never quit. Aunt Carrie asked for so little, and gave so much.”

[illustration] Painting by Theodore Gorka

[photo] Caroline and George were married in 1895. During the next fourteen years they built a home and became parents of seven children.

Elaine S. McKay, mother of five, serves as language arts specialist in her Bountiful, Utah, ward.