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    Ch. 44 The Wisdom of the Wise
 
Submitted by Dave Free on 21 December 2006 - 4:51pm.

“Twenty-four pounds? Why I’m sure there’s not an ounce more than seventeen pounds there.”

“My apologies sister,” replied the captain patiently, “but I calibrated the scales at noon when I started the weigh-in and have checked them two or three times since then. I’m afraid if the scale reads twenty-four pounds, then it’s twenty-four pounds that you’ve got. You’ll have to figure out which seven pounds you don’t need.”

Lydia looked truly crushed. “But Captain, how can I? These are my only possessions in the world! My Sunday dress and shoes, my extra work dress, two blankets for bedding, my plate, cup, and utensils, my Bible and Book of Mormon. What shall I leave? I need all these things!”

“What about the teapot, sister?” the Captain asked.

“That was my grandmother’s teapot sir. It has been in my family for ages, I couldn’t bear to leave it.”

“I’m sorry, you’ll have to--” the captain’s reply was cut short by Steve.

“Is the seventeen pound limit what one can take, or what one can put on the cart?” he asked.

“Well, I guess it is what one can put on the cart.” the captain replied.

“So if Lydia wanted to, she could tie the teapot to her apron string and never put it on the cart all the way to Utah?”

“Yes, I guess if she wanted to do that, she could. But she needs to remember that she will be expected to pull her share of the cart, no matter how many things she has tied to her apron string.” the captain replied sternly.

“Oh I will, I will!” Lydia exclaimed, the light returning to her face.

“And,” the captain cut in, “I don’t think that teapot weighs seven pounds so you’ll have to figure out something else to leave behind--another three or four pounds should do it.”

Lydia nodded her head in agreement, gathered up her things and returned to her tent to make the agonizing decision. Elizabeth was next in line and she was in even worse shape than Lydia. Her material possessions tipped the scale at thirty pounds. Steve felt sorry for all the pioneers, but these single sisters especially. Seventeen pounds wasn’t much. Last summer Steve’s Priest Quorum had gone backpacking in the Uintas for four days. Steve’s pack weighed forty pounds and was one of the lighter ones in the quorum. He’d had to work at it to get it that light, but he had modern technology like plastic on his side. True, the seventeen pounds these saints were allowed didn’t include their food, but it did include their bedding, utensils, clothes and all their personal possessions for the rest of their lives.

Steve’s tent didn’t have much problem meeting the limit. Steve only had his bagful of clothes and a few utensils he had scraped together. The families in the tent were able to spread their limits around. Each of them had young children that didn’t need a full seventeen pounds so the older members of the family had some flexibility. But the single sisters, had no leeway. They had to limit their possessions to seventeen pounds.

“Sorry, sister” the captain was saying to Elizabeth, “you have thirty pounds here. You’ll have to leave some of these things.”

Steve scanned her possessions quickly looking for things she could tie to her apron. His eyes fell on a big round hat box, brightly painted with floral arrangements. A wide strap handle was attached at each side and crossed the top of the box.

“Sister, is there a hat in that box?” Steve asked.

“No,” the sister replied somewhat embarrassed, “the hat was ruined during the storm on the ship, but the box was a gift and I didn’t want to leave it.”
“That’s fine sister. Pick out some of your heavier items and put them in the hat box. Then tie the hat box to your apron string and carry it that way.”

“Oh, can I do that?” Elizabeth asked the captain anxiously.

“Yes sister, you can do that.” The captain replied, giving Steve a side ward glance. “Just remember that you will still have to pull your fair share of the cart.” Then looking directly at Steve he continued, “Also remember that this good Elder will be there to help you sisters when you become exhausted from having so many things tied around your waists.”

Steve smiled. “It’s ok sister we’ll make it. You go repack your things into your hat box and then come back to be weighed again.”

“Oh thank you Elder, thank you very much.” Elizabeth gathered her things and made her way back to the tent.

As other single sisters made their way over to the scales to have their articles weighed in, Steve began to notice that most were bundled up quite warmly despite the oppressive heat of the late summer afternoon. Some of the sisters actually looked like they were wearing two, maybe even three dresses! He was about to ask the captain why they were all dressed that way when it dawned on him--the weight! Whatever they were wearing didn’t have to be weighed so they were wearing everything their bodies could carry without being too obvious. Steve wasn’t sure if the captain had noticed how his single sisters were bulking up, but if he did, he didn’t mention anything about it.

The last single sister to be weighed in was Annie. She avoided eye contact and conversation with Steve throughout the process and passed the weight limit without any problems. Without being too obvious, Steve tried to determine if she was wearing more than one dress. It didn’t look like she was, but he couldn’t tell for sure. Very slowly and gradually he shifted around the edge of the table to the side of Annie while she and the captain were conversing. With the toe of his left foot he gently tried to brush the hem of her skirts to one side hoping to reveal different color skirts below the first. As he did so, the captain and Annie finished their conversation and the captain said something to or about Steve. Steve didn’t know which it was but he did hear his name and quickly put his foot down and looked up. Both Annie and the captain were looking expectantly at him.

“I, er, I’m sorry, what did you say?” He managed to blurt out.

“Just commenting that Annie was the last sister and we could get back to our tents and get ourselves ready to go now.” The captain replied with a broad smile on his face.

“Oh yeah, right!” Steve began to recover, “Can’t wait to get on the trail!”

Annie gave Steve a strange look, said her goodbyes to the captain and turned to leave, but she didn't get very far. Steve’s left foot was planted firmly on the hem of her skirt, right where he had put a few seconds earlier. There was a loud rip as the dress tore and a brief scream as Annie fell to the ground along with all her personal belongings.

“Oh, I’m sorry!” Steve rushed to help her up and gather her things. In his rush, his feet got further tangled in the tresses of her skirt and he fell headlong over the top of her, ending up on the ground next to her. As they both struggled to right themselves again they got further tangled and ended up collapsing on the ground in another heap.

At this point, Steve would have been very embarrassed if he hadn’t felt so bad for Annie. He had hoped to get back on speaking terms with her again, but now, other than the scolding he was sure he was about to get, she would probably never talk to him again. Despite his desire to jump up and run, he forced himself to lay perfectly still so that she could stand without getting tangled. He waited for what seemed like an eternity. Those who gathered around the commotion also seemed to be waiting expectantly. But she didn’t move, at least not to get up. Steve cautiously raised his head up off the ground and looked over at her. Her whole body was shaking.

“Dang! I’ve made her cry!” He thought to himself. Gently he reached over and put his hand on her back.

“Annie? Annie are you OK?” Annie rolled over and looked at Steve with a huge smile on her face and laughed out loud.

“You, you’re laughing?” Steve asked, not sure if he could really believe what he was seeing.

“What else could I do Elder? We must look pretty funny rolling around on the ground together. You with more of my skirt on than me!” As soon as those who had gathered could see that no one was hurt they let out a collective sigh of relief and a few snickers of their own before returning to their own activities.

Steve still wasn’t convinced, “But your dress, I heard it rip and your things--”

“Just things Elder. Just things.” She stood up and brushed the leaves and twigs from her tattered skirt.

“Well I’m sorry. I’m sorry for everything.” Steve stood and held his hand out to her. She took it and they shook good naturedly and a little longer than most handshakes usually last.

“You know,” Steve lowered his voice and moved closer to Annie. “I am really sorry about your skirt, but I happen to know that most of these good sisters have two or three on right now. Surely, one of them will let you borrow a spare.”

“You know?” Annie asked, surprised. Steve nodded.

“What about the captain? Does he know too?” She asked.

“I don’t know. He didn’t say anything to me and I didn’t tell him about it.”

“Thanks Elder. I heard what you did for Elizabeth and Lydia. That was very nice.”

“Hey, I didn’t do anything. They’re the ones that are going to have to carry those things. And all these sisters that look like they’ve been on steroids are going to have to carry, push, or pull those extra dresses.”

“Steroids?” Annie asked.

“Drugs, you know, that make you look buff.” Steve flexed his muscles in a Mr. Universe pose and Annie looked even more confused.

“Forget it. Anyway it wasn’t that big a deal.” Steve shrugged off her thanks.

“I thought about putting on both my dresses.” Annie replied matter of factly. “I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t. You’d have ripped them both!”

They both laughed. Steve was the first to speak again. “Well, I better get back to my tent and make sure...” Annie looked up at him and he lost his train of thought. “Make sure all the pags are backed, er, I mean all the bags are packed.”

Annie nodded her head. “Yes, we are in for a big day tomorrow and I’ve still got some sewing to do.” She winked at Steve and he smiled back.

“See you in the morning.” He said as he turned and started to walk away.

“Elder!” Annie called after him and he turned back quickly.

“Yes?”

“I’m glad the captain asked you to help us.” She smiled at him again.

“Yeah, me too. Good night.” He turned and walked back to his tent.

Steve found all well at the tent. Samuel’s family was all set to go. Steve had to hand it to Elizabeth, Samuel’s mother, it took real courage to bring five children on a trek like this without a husband. The weigh in had been particularly difficult for her. Even with the weight limits for her five children and herself, her family had been well over the weight limit. They all had several changes of clothes and personal belongings. Her response to the limit had been quick and without second thought. She asked each of her children to choose just two changes of clothing--at least one appropriate for Sunday worship--and personal belongings weighing no more than five pounds. Once the choosing was done, she loaded the excess on the family cart and together with her children they made their way through camp bestowing gifts to others who had a need.

Now as Steve returned to camp, Elizabeth and her youngest son Richard, who was six, were sitting on the log talking quietly to each other. Steve gathered from the tidbits of the conversation that he overheard that she was comforting him in the loss of his tin soldiers which had fought their last battle under his command.

Inside the tent, Steve found John and Margaret trying to finish their packing. Weigh in had been pretty easy for them. With three children so young, most of their belongings were bedding and small children's clothes. It was apparent to Steve from their limited personal belongings, that life back in England had not been too prosperous for them. Since John was the company bugler, captain Martin had excluded his horn from the weigh in. Though they had few things, they were now struggling to get them organized and packed away. Margaret held two week old Steve in one arm and was attempting to fold a small dress with the other free hand. John T., the eighteen month old was whining at John’s side pulling utensils out of a bag as fast as his father could put them in.

“Can I hold the baby while you finish packing?” Steve offered as his eyes adjusted to the dim light inside the tent.

“Oh many thanks Elder! That would be most helpful. There you go Stevie, go see Elder Steve.” She handed the baby toward Steve, but his mind was suddenly racing. He hadn’t heard “Stevie” since he’d left his family and hearing it now brought back a rush of memories.

“Elder?” Margaret asked, still extending the baby towards him. “Are you Ok?”

“Oh yeah, just fine. Just thinking about my family. Come here little guy.” He took the baby and settled it in the crook of his arm.

“Say where’s Lizzy?” Steve asked as Margaret returned to her work.

“She’s off with Mary and her mum and dad to do some visiting.” Margaret had to shout to be heard over the giggling and laughter from the two Johns who were now wrestling over a spoon.

“Ah” Steve nodded his head. Mary was the four year old daughter of Aaron and Elizabeth the other family in his tent. She and Lizzy, John and Margaret’s four year old daughter had become inseparable in their two weeks together in the tent.

“Well, we’ll be outside!” Steve shouted to Margaret as he turned and headed for the tent door. She nodded her approval and went on with her work.

The late afternoon was now becoming a beautiful, but very warm, summer evening. Steve took a seat on a log and rocked baby Steve back and forth as he watched the sunset begin to develop. Despite the peaceful surroundings and little bundle in his arms, Steve’s mind continued to race. Margaret’s use of the name Stevie had thrown him back into his reality. He’d almost forgotten how much he liked and missed his life. He missed the simple things the most: a toilet to sit on, a shower with warm water, toothpaste that tastes good, soap that lathers.

He thought of Jessica and their sock game. He thought of his mom and dad and his brother and sisters. He missed them all. He missed his life! What would they be doing now--a nice peaceful Sunday evening? Mom had probably made some popcorn, dad would have cut up an apple or two and the entire family would be lounging in the family room. Brian was probably reading the Sunday funnies or devouring the sports section. The girls might be coloring or picking out a primary song note by note on the piano. His parents would be reading a church magazine or book. Steve could almost place himself there. Hank might drop by--there was nothing to do at his house--and they’d go in to the front room and hang out. Or maybe dad would call family night because of some schedule conflict on Monday and they’d all gather in the family room and sing “Popcorn Popping” with more hand motions than singing. Or maybe they’d sing mom’s favorite “A House Becomes a Home.” Steve began to hum the tune to himself.

“Elder? Elder I can take baby now. I’ve finished with the packing.” It was Margaret. Steve looked down at his name sake who was now fast asleep before handing him back to his mother with a weak smile.

“Is everything alright Elder?” Margaret asked as she took the infant.

“Yeah, it’s fine. Just thinking about my family again.”

“Fond memories, I hope.” Margaret replied with concern in her voice.

“What--I mean yeah, very good memories. I wish I was with them now.”

“You will be soon Elder! We start tomorrow and it’s only a matter of time till we’ll be in Utah with your family.”

Steve looked up again with a smile. “Thanks Margaret, I’m fine really. You better get some sleep, it’s going to be a long day tomorrow.” Margaret nodded and headed for the tent flap.

“Good night Elder!” she called over her shoulder.

“Good night sister!” Steve called back as he stood up and stretched. Despite Margaret’s comforting words, the old familiar feelings of loneliness were beginning to overwhelm him again. He’d been doing pretty well over the last couple of weeks. He’d stayed so busy and tired there had been no time for loneliness, but with thoughts of his family whirling through his head, all the doubts and fears were returning. What was he doing here? Would he ever escape? Was he really going to start walking across the country tomorrow? The last time he’d felt this way a prayer in the woods had saved him. So, while the rest of the camp settled in for their last sleep in the tent city, Steve turned and headed for the woods.

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