On Monday Katherine draped a long green scarf over her hair and placed a cardboard crown on top. “Oh king,” Katherine said imploringly to the empty rocking chair, “Haman wants to kill all the Jews, and I’m a Jew!”
Mom smiled as she walked by with a load of laundry. “Esther today? You must be feeling brave, Katherine.”
“Yes, I am.”
On Thursday Katherine put on pink tights, pulled on a fancy gown from the dress-up box, and tied a silky pink scarf around her waist. She put the tape of the music from the Nutcracker Suite on the cassette player and twirled around and around the room.
Mom peeked out from the next room, where she was working at her desk. “You must be feeling graceful today, Katherine.”
“Yes, I am.”
On Saturday Katherine put on a red calico sunbonnet, tied an old shawl around her shoulders, and plopped down on the rug next to Mom, who was tickling baby Anne. “I’m trying to be a pioneer today, Mom, but what does a pioneer do?”
“Well,” Mom said, “the Primary song says that pioneers walked and walked and walked. Do you remember that one?”
Katherine thought for a minute. “Oh yes. They were walking to Utah, where Grandma lives.”
“That’s right. And did you know that the reason Grandma lives in Utah is that your great-great-great-great-grandmother walked there?”
“Mom,” groaned Katherine, rolling her eyes. “That’s too many greats. What do you mean?”
“A long time before your grandma was born, one of her grandmother’s grandmothers lived in England. Her name was Elizabeth, and her husband died, leaving her with five children to care for. When the missionaries taught her the gospel, she knew that it was true and was baptized. In those days, new members of the Church left their homes to join the Saints in Utah. So Grandma Elizabeth gathered her children and a few possessions and boarded a boat for America. Just before the boat sailed, her brothers came alongside in a rowboat. They yelled up at her, ‘How can you take your children into that desolate wilderness? They may die! If you give up this foolish idea and stay with us, we will pay for your children’s education. They’ll have a good life here!’ But Grandma said no. She wanted to raise her children among the Saints, and she believed that they’d be safe. Do you know why?”
Katherine shook her head.
“Grandma had been given a special blessing before she left England. In it, Heavenly Father promised that if she lived righteously, all her children would reach Utah safely. Grandma faithfully kept her promise by keeping the commandments, and she believed that Heavenly Father would keep His promise.”
“Did He?” Katherine asked eagerly.
“You’ll soon find out,” Mom said with a wink. “Grandma Elizabeth was too poor to buy horses or oxen to carry her across the plains. She and her children walked and pulled a handcart, instead. There were no bridges across rivers in those days, so when the pioneers came to a river, they had to wade or swim across.
“One day Grandma was carrying her six-year-old son on her shoulders as she crossed a river. This river was deep, and its powerful current pulled at her so hard that she began to lose her footing and slip downstream. The people on the riverbank saw her being washed away. They yelled for her to let go of her son and swim for her life. ‘You’ll never make it with him on your shoulders!’ they shouted. ‘Let him go and save yourself!’”
“She didn’t let him go, did she, Mom?”
“No, sweetheart, she didn’t. She remembered Heavenly Father’s promise that her children would reach Utah safely. She fought to keep her head above water as the river surged around her. Her son’s legs hung down over her shoulders, and she gripped them tightly as she thrashed her legs to try to reach the shore.
“There were branches growing from the riverbank that Grandma Elizabeth could have grabbed to pull herself in, but she would not let go of her son’s legs for an instant. She prayed for strength to hold on, and at last she came to a shallow area near the river’s edge. She waded to the riverbank and leaned against it, trembling with exhaustion. After men from the handcart company lifted her son off her shoulders from above, she crawled up after him.”
“Oh!” Katherine exclaimed, giving a little jump. “I liked that story!”
“It’s not over yet,” Mom laughed. “Right on the banks of that river, Grandma Elizabeth knelt and said a prayer. She thanked Heavenly Father for giving her the strength to help fulfill her blessing to keep her children safe.”
Mom gave Katherine a little squeeze. “So what do you think of your great-great-great-great grandma?”
“I think she was great!” Katherine declared, grinning mischievously. “I want to act out that story. May I put Anne on my shoulders?”
“Hmmm. How about a doll, instead?”
“OK.” Katherine rushed upstairs for her rag doll and set it carefully on her shoulders. “This is the river, Mom,” she said, pointing to the rug. She held her doll’s legs firmly in each hand and pretended to struggle across the room.
“You look like you’re feeling faithful, Katherine,” Mom said with a smile.
“Yes,” said Katherine, “I am.”