Few newlyweds honeymoon by camping out in the cold for two winter months. But the 18-year-old bride, Emily Abbott, and her new husband Edward Bunker, had little choice. Right after John Taylor, then an apostle, sealed them together as man and wife in Nauvoo, they fled west with hundreds of other Saints over frozen Mississippi River ice late in February 1846. As refugees, they camped in mud and snow day after day on their slow journey across Iowa.
At Garden Grove, Iowa, Edward managed to build a crude one-room log cabin. But its lack of windows or doors and its dirty floor certainly provided his new bride with much less than she was accustomed to. Emily, he well knew, had grown up with nice things. Her childhood home in Dansville, New York, was a prosperous home. Thanks to her father’s good income from a woolen mill he owned. Her parents sent her to a fine grammar school in the area.
When Emily was about ten, the family moved west to develop a 16-hectare stretch of Illinois land. There they were converted to Mormonism and soon moved to Nauvoo. Then in 1843 Emily’s father died, and to help provide for her mother and the five other children, teenage Emily found work in nearby homes. Hour after painstaking hour, her tailoring work turned her into a fine seamstress. It was while tailoring that she met and then married Edward.
Life was not easy in their Garden Grove cabin community, so Edward traveled over an area of many kilometers to find part time jobs. He managed to bring home a little corn one time, some bacon another time. When he heard that the United States army wanted volunteers for the Mormon Battalion, he enlisted, hoping his army salary would pay for Emily’s trip to the West.
Her husband left, leaving Emily and her mother’s family to care for themselves until he returned. Within the year, by January 1847, poverty would teach the young wife a lasting lesson about pride.
Emily, an expert with needle and cloth, sometimes felt superior to those not dressed as well as she was. One day she saw a young baby dressed in some glazed curtain material—bright shawl-type flower figures on a deep blue background. Curtain materials for a baby dress! She severely criticized the mother for not being able to provide better and vowed out loud: “I would not clothe my child in a dress like that, even if I could have it for nothing.”
But that January, when Emily gave birth to her own first baby, she had nothing to clothe him in. No one in the camp had anything she could buy to sew into baby clothes. No one, that is, except the poor mother she had criticized. The mother kindly said to her: “I have a few lengths of the same material from which I made my baby’s dress. You are welcome to it.” Emily, swallowing her pride, accepted the curtain material and offered to pay for it. “No, I don’t want you to pay me for it,” the giver said. “I hope you need it so much that you’ll not shed tears over it and blame the Lord because you have nothing better.”
Emily did not complain about the curtain-cloth dress she made for her son. For a long time it was the only clothing the baby boy had.
When Emily’s husband, Edward, returned from battalion duty after an 18-month absence, he got acquainted for the first time with his 11-month-old son. (But records do not tell us what the baby boy wore to meet his soldier-father.)
Years later, as the mother of 11 children, Emily often told the story of the curtain dress to her children to help them accept situations when they were lacking money and earthly goods.
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