“It’ll Make Your Arms Strong”


(Information about Jesse Nathaniel Smith is from his journals.)
In all labour there is profit (Prov. 14:23).

“I don’t see what’s so bad about leaves on the grass,” Susan huffed. She scowled at her father, who was holding out the rake to her. There were six large trees in their front yard, all dropping tons of leaves over everything. Who wants to spend a perfectly good Saturday afternoon raking leaves? Not me! she thought. “Why can’t Jay do it?” she whined aloud. “He’s bigger and stronger, and he likes work!”

“Jay’s already finished his share, Sue. This patch is your part. Besides,” he said, tweaking her nose, “it’ll make your arms strong.” When she made no motion to take the rake from him, he laid it down on some leaves. “Come and get me when you’re done, and we’ll talk about what you can do next.”

“Next!” Susan was so distressed that her intended shout came out a squeak.

Dad just smiled and walked away. As he closed the front door behind him, Susan reluctantly picked up the rake and swiped at leaves. Her patch of lawn seemed to grow before her eyes.

A half hour later, her hands were stinging and her nose was running from the dust. She finally had three pretty-good-sized piles surrounded by small clearings. Suddenly a gust of wind raced across the grass, scattering half the leaves she had worked so hard to rake.

“Oh, I give up!” She dropped the rake and flung herself onto the nearest pile just as Jay carried an armload of trash around the corner of the house.

“What’s the matter, Sue? You’re not letting a little raking get you down, are you?”

“It’s impossible to rake leaves!” Susan ranted. “I’ve worked for hours, and I did only three piles, and now the wind has ruined all my work.”

“Bag each pile as you make it. That way the wind can’t blow them away.” Jay walked off whistling.

Susan’s parents insisted that she work until dark. She finally had two bags full, and not even half of her patch of lawn was cleared. Dad didn’t say anything about how little she had accomplished. He just took the rake and ushered her inside to clean up before dinner. She went to bed very grumpy.

On Sunday Susan rested, went to church, played with Muffin, her cat, wrote a letter to her brother Greg who was in Argentina on a mission, and went with her family to visit her mother’s aunt in a nearby nursing home. She looked the other way when they drove past her patch of lawn.

On Monday after school, she told her mother that she couldn’t rake because she had too much homework.

After dinner, Dad called everyone together for family home evening. “Tonight,” he said, “we’re going to learn about one of our early pioneers—Jesse Nathaniel Smith.” He opened a small red book and showed them a photo of a white-haired man with a big, bushy beard, a long nose, big ears, and thoughtful eyes.

“Who is he, Dad?” Jay asked.

“Jesse N. Smith was a young cousin of the Prophet Joseph Smith. His father, Silas, was a younger brother of Joseph Smith, Sr., the Prophet’s father.”

“Wow!” Jay exclaimed. “I didn’t know that the Prophet Joseph Smith had any cousins in the Church.”

Dad smiled. “The Smith family is a big, wonderful family, Jay. Jesse N. Smith has many descendants in the Church today, and we are some of them. He was an influential mission president in Scandinavia and an early settler in Utah and Arizona. But tonight I want to tell you something about Jesse when he was a boy.” Dad turned to Susan. “His birthday is very close to yours, Susan. He was born in New York State on December 2, 1834.”

“My birthday’s December third—we’re almost twins!”

Dad turned a few pages, and began telling about their ancestor. “Things were not easy or comfortable for Jesse and his family. He was only three years old when they had to leave Kirtland with the rest of the Saints and make the long journey to Missouri. His brother Silas was seven, and his brother John was five. They traveled for six months to reach their new home in Far West. Even before they got there, they were forced to flee from angry mobs on the trail. They had to live one winter in a crude log cabin, and they ate mostly boiled, dried corn because there was no mill to grind the corn into meal. Life was so hard that John died before the winter was over.”

Susan looked at Jay. What would it be like if Jay or Greg died? she wondered.

“Less than a year later,” Dad continued, “the family was in Illinois. There was a lot of illness, and Jesse’s father died in September.”

“Oh no!” Susan jumped up to snuggle beside her dad. “What did they do?”

“They moved to Nauvoo, and the Prophet Joseph and Hyrum helped for a while. When they were killed, Jesse and his family moved across the river to live near his Uncle John Smith in a settlement called Zarahemla. Uncle John helped them, but they had to earn a living for themselves.”

“You mean Jesse had to go to work when he was a little boy?” Susan asked.

“That’s right. When he was ten, he went to work for a farmer who wasn’t very nice to him. He had to live on a farm away from his mother and brother. Every morning he had to get up very early and go a quarter of a mile to get all the water for the day from a well. He worked the rest of the day in the fields. Then he had to bring home the cows. He said, ‘This was the most lonesome and tedious part of my service, as I was sometimes gone in the woods until after dark.’”

“When did he rest?” Susan asked.

“Only on Sundays, when he was allowed to visit his mother.” Dad looked down at the page. “Sometimes Jesse had special chores. He said, ‘On washing days, I carried water the whole day.’ What do you think it was like to carry water all day, a quarter of a mile each trip?”

“Pretty hard,” Jay said. “But I bet I could do it.”

“Not me,” Susan grumbled. “I’d just sit down and not go at all.”

“Well,” Dad said. “Maybe you’re strong enough for one trip. Let’s find out. Everybody come outside with me.”

Sitting on the driveway were four yellow buckets. “One for each of us,” Dad said. “Fill yours as full as you can and still be able to carry it without spilling.”

Dad picked up Susan’s bucket. “Pretty heavy,” he said, his eyes twinkling. “You must think you’re very strong.”

“I am. I can carry it a long way—if I want to.”

“Well, our driveway is forty feet long, so it would take a little over sixteen trips down to that end and back here for one quarter-mile trip. Think you can do it?”

“I don’t know.” Susan flexed her arms. “That’s a lot.” She grabbed her bucket and started off down the driveway. Some of the water splashed out, so she slowed down a little. Soon she was back at the chalk line. Her arm felt only a little tired. “One!” she shouted. “That wasn’t so bad.”

“Two” and “three,” she called out. By the time she got to four, even with switching the bucket from one hand to the other, her arms were very tired. By six, her fingers started going numb. Ten more! she thought, and she struggled down and back. How will I ever do sixteen? Her arms really ached, and she was feeling cross. “Is it OK to stop and rest?” she asked Dad.

“Sure. But remember, the farmer’s wife won’t want to wait long for the water.”

After a short rest, Susan picked up her bucket. The eighth trip was a little easier, and she made the ninth all right, but by the tenth, the bucket felt so heavy that she wanted to just drag it along.

“Dad, I just have to rest again.” She flopped on her back, arms bent slightly on the leaf-covered grass.

“OK,” he told her, “but we only have time for one or two more trips.”

Susan dragged herself back to her bucket and lifted it with both hands. It felt as though it was filled with gigantic rocks, and it banged into her leg with each step. The driveway seemed twice as long now. When she finally crossed the chalk line, she let the bucket thump down hard. She didn’t even care when it tipped over and all her water ran down the driveway.

“That’s all we have time for tonight,” Dad said, looking at his watch.

“Seventeen!” Jay shouted. “I did seventeen!” Susan stared at him swinging his arms in big circles and jumping around in the leaves. She’d made only eleven trips, and her arms felt like they were on fire.

“So,” Dad said when they were all inside and Mom was passing out cupcakes for a treat. “How was that?”

“It was awful!” Susan admitted. “And I think it was awful that Jesse had to do it every day. Why did he have to work so hard? It doesn’t seem fair.”

“Well, they needed money, Susan. But I think working was good for him, too. Hauling all that water made his arms grow strong,” Dad said. “And some things soon happened to him that made that a very good thing.” Dad opened the journal again. “He wrote, ‘During the summer of 1845, I took a job of hoeing corn, thus earning the first pair of boots I ever owned.’ Your arms have to be strong to hoe all day long. Then, not long after that, Jesse and his family went west with Uncle John Smith. He had two wagons, and Jesse’s mother had one of her own. Who do you think was assigned to drive one of those wagons?” Dad asked, looking at Susan.

“Jesse?”

“That’s right. Even though he was only twelve, Jesse drove a wagon with four big oxen all the way across the plains to the Salt Lake Valley. His Aunt Clarissa rode with him. His arms had to be pretty strong to control the oxen, to keep them pulling that wagon day after day over rivers, through mud, up rocky mountains, and down steep canyons. He even had to hold them steady when the buffalo came thundering by. I’m sure his muscles grew even more, driving the ox teams. And that was a good thing, too.”

“Why?” It was Jay’s turn to be surprised.

“His work wasn’t over just because he had arrived in the valley. He wrote, ‘I herded the cows the whole [first] winter through for Uncle John and … a few others. I was exceedingly hungry, [being] at an age when my appetite was very keen; but there was no help for it. We voluntarily put ourselves on rations; we had about half a pound of flour per day for each person, without any vegetables, and but little meat; sometimes no meat. For months my desire for food was not satisfied.’”

“I can’t imagine working all day when you’re so hungry,” Jay said.

“And herding wasn’t all he had to do, either.” Dad continued reading: “‘As the Spring approached, preparations were made for farming and gardening. I drove the team to break the land for [two neighbor men] and [for] my brother and myself a patch of ground. … We planted considerable corn, … also … beans and peas and some few other vegetables … and an acre of wheat.’ Then,” Dad said, looking up, “he had to tend all those crops—weeding, irrigating, and harvesting them. It was hard because he was inexperienced. He said, ‘Our wheat did poorly, not having sufficient water. As we were unused to irrigating, we did not apply the water properly. We had to pull the most of it, as it was too short to cut—’”

“My arms are starting to hurt a lot, Dad,” Susan broke in apologetically.

“Here, let me massage them for you. You’ll need to give them a rest tomorrow, but after that, work them a little more every day, and your muscles will grow, just like Jesse’s. You never know when you might need big, strong muscles to do important work.”

That night Susan lay in bed, her arms still aching. What if we were stuck on the plains because of me? What if my family starved because I wasn’t strong enough to grow food? She fell into a troubled sleep.

The next day Susan babied her arms. As she sat alone on the playground at school, unable to join in the basketball game, she did a lot of thinking. That night, Dad gave her another massage and helped her stretch out the aches.

The next morning the soreness was nearly gone, so she knew that it was time to start on her plan.

“Mom,” she said, before leaving for school, “may I carry the laundry to the basement for you?”

“Why, thank you, Susan,” Mom said, her eyebrows nearly at the ceiling. When Susan finished, she also emptied all the wastebaskets and put the garbage cans out by the curb.

“Wow! Thanks!” Jay said, going out the back door. “You’re great!”

Susan just smiled. This was only the beginning. Stealthily she flexed her arm and felt the muscle. Was it a little bigger?

During recess she went three times back and forth across the monkey bars without stopping. Her arms started to burn a little, so she decided that that was enough for then. She needed to save some muscle power for after school because that was when she put her really big plan into effect. As soon as her snack was finished, she ran out the front door and grabbed the rake.

As she raked and bagged the leaves, she sang, “‘Dare to do right! Dare to be true! You have a work that no other can do.’” *

She got tired, and she was still a little sore, but that was OK—she was growing muscles. You never know when you’ll need to do really important, hard work, she thought, and I’m going to be ready!

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dick Brown

Show References

  1.   *

    Children’s Songbook, page 158.