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For The Strength of Youth

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Submitted by Dave Free on 18 January 2007 - 6:59pm.

Chapter 17

For perhaps the first time in his life, Steve was glad that it was Sunday. And this Sunday was truly a day of rest. The company had been on the trail for nearly a week and while most were getting used to the routine, a day of rest was just what their tired muscles and sunburned bodies needed.

Church services were held in the morning with the usual preaching that Steve had now grown used to. The saints were urged on to greater faith and diligence and the evils of slothfulness were expounded upon. At the conclusion of the services Captain Martin organized a detail of brethren to repair carts that afternoon. Just as predicted, the green wood of the handcarts had begun to dry out and warp and crack and several of the carts were in need of repair. Steve thought he might get an afternoon nap but his conscience got the better of him and he pulled himself up from his rock seat and followed the repair volunteers. He didn’t get far before the captain called him back.

“Elder! Elder! I have another assignment for you. Would you please come with me back to my tent?”

Steve was a little surprised by the request, but repairing handcarts hadn’t sounded all that fun, so he agreed.

“Uh sure. No problem.”

The captain nodded and then proceeded to dismiss the rest of the pioneers. As he did so he encouraged them to spend the afternoon making sure they were ready for an early start in the morning.

Steve waited while Captain Martin dismissed the saints and then followed him back to his tent. The captain exchanged greetings with several saints along the way. Steve’s curiosity was beginning to get the better of him.

“Listen, if it’s the water thing yesterday, it won’t happen again. I promise.” He blurted out as the Captain motioned him to take a seat on an overturned bucket in front of the tent.

“The water thing? Oh, no Elder. I’ve already said my piece on that issue. No, I’ve not asked you to come here to offer a reprimand.”

“Oh?” Steve’s tone and demeanor began to lighten.

“No. You’ve done such a good job with the single sisters, I’d like to call you to take on another stewardship.”

Steve appreciated the compliment, but had never really liked or understood the term ‘stewardship.’ In his experience, work of one kind or another always followed when someone mentioned stewardship.

“Uh, exactly what kind of stewardship?”

“It has come to my attention that one of the reasons so many of the carts are breaking down is that they are overburdened. They are carrying too much weight. I believe we need to do another weigh-in and I would like you to do it.”

Steve wasn’t overjoyed at the thought of bearing the bad news that the pioneers would again have to leave prized possessions behind. He answered matter of factly. “Why me?”

“As I said, you have done a remarkable job with the single sisters. I remember how you handled them during our first weigh-in. While I don’t wish to cast any dispersions, I believe that most of the weight offenders are sisters.”

Steve almost burst out laughing. “So this is where BYU coed jokes got started.” He said, half under his breath.

“I beg your pardon?” The captain asked bewildered.

“Oh, it’s nothing really. I was just thinking that some of the sisters might not like being called weight offenders.”

“No, no of course not. That is why I would like you to handle the weigh in. Will you do it?”

Steve thought for a few minutes before responding. “Reducing weight is not going to keep these carts from breaking down. You know as well as I do, that as the wood dries they are going to continue to fall apart.”

The captain nodded. “I know some of the carts will continue to break down. But reducing the weight might save a few. It should also help us to move faster--something I know you would like to see happen.”

Steve had to agree with that. Any time they could make up might help them avoid the disaster he feared awaited them.

“Yeah. Ok. I’ll do it. When do you want it done?”

“Right now. I’ve got the scales right here.” Captain Martin stepped over to his cart and lifted the scales out. “Seventeen pounds Elder. Do you remember how to set the scales?”

Steve nodded as he took the scales from the captain. “Are you going to announce this, so that people know why I’m showing up?”

“No, I decided it would be best not to announce it so that no one has time to put on extra clothes.”

“Yeah, good idea. There’s only one problem: I know very few of these saints and very few know me. What makes you think they’ll even let me weigh their stuff?”

“I’m not sure what you mean, Elder. You’ve been with these saints for years in Britain and now the duration of this trip. You know them as well as anyone.”

“No but, that wasn’t--” Steve was about to explain, but then realized what he was doing and thought better of it. The captain could see Steve’s concern and added.

“If anyone has issues with reweighing have them come and talk to me. And, if you would like some help, please go ahead and ask who ever you please.”

Steve nodded. “Ok, I’ll think about it. I’m going to eat first and then get started. Is that OK?”

“Good. Good” the captain replied. Steve turned to leave.

“You might want to ask a sister to go with you.” The captain called after him. “One that’s not over weight!”

Steve smiled to himself and replied over his shoulder, “Ok, I’ll see what I can figure out.” The captain’s last minute counsel reminded him of leaving home for a date. His mom or dad would shout a last word of encouragement or counsel after him. “Remember who you are and what you stand for!” or “Be home by 11:00, we’ll be waiting for you!” or “Treat her like a queen!” As far as he could remember though, they’d never shouted to find one that wasn’t over weight.

The meal that afternoon was becoming a regular. The pioneers called it corn stirabout, which is exactly what it was. A little cornmeal flour mixed with water and then stirred about over a fire. Steve gulped his down. There was no taste to savor and he was in a rush to get the weighing done before dark.

Annie wasn’t at either tent. He finally found her at the stream trying to scrape some burnt stirabout out of the bottom of a pan. The cornmeal was burned black and had almost become one with the iron of the pan.

“Here let me show you a trick I learned at scout camp.” He took the pan from her and scooped up a handful of sand from the creek, dumped it into the bottom of the pan, and rubbed it hard with his fingers over the black corn meal. It slowly gave way and, by the time Steve rinsed the sand out in the creek, the pan was cleaner than it had been for years.

Annie was impressed, or at least acted that way. “What is this scout camp?”

“Oh, in my time there is a thing called scouts. You start when you’re twelve. You get together once a week with other scouts to do activities. You wear these green uniforms and earn badges and stuff. Scouts go camping a lot so you learn about camping. It’s pretty fun.”

“And you were a scout?” Annie asked.

“Yeah. Even got my eagle--that’s the highest award you can get.”

“Do scouts pay well?”

“Pay? Heck no! In fact you have to pay to be a scout, but all the parents love it because it teaches good things so they don’t mind paying. C’mon, let’s get this pan back to camp.” Steve turned and started walking toward the tents.

Annie had to hurry to keep up. “Well if scouts doesn’t pay, how do all these young men earn a living?” she asked as she caught up.

“Earn a living?” Steve asked incredulously. “Scouts are only twelve to fourteen years old! They don’t have to earn a living.”

“I don’t understand?” Annie responded. Steve stopped suddenly and looked at her for a moment.

“You’re serious aren’t you?” he asked. Annie nodded. Steve continued, “Do twelve year old boys have to earn a living where you come from?”

She nodded again and added, “Well of course, and even younger. And not just boys, but we girls as well.”

“What about school and your parents? Don’t the parents work?”

“Oh my yes. But they don’t earn enough to feed the whole family.”

“And school?” Steve asked again, “What about school?”

“Only the very wealthy are able to attend school after about the age of ten. And even those that do attend school usually have some kind of work to attend to in the evenings.”

“Whoa!” Steve turned and began walking toward the tents again before asking, “What kind of work did you do Annie?”

“While I was with my family I did house work for some of the wealthier families in the area. In London, I worked in a knit shop.”

“A nit shop?” Steve asked, not understanding exactly what he had heard.

“Yes a knitting shop. We knitted socks, caps, and other things.”

“Oh a knitting shop. So when my socks finally wear out, you’ll be able to make me a new pair, huh?”

Annie blushed a little. “Of course Elder, of course. And you, Elder? What is your trade?”

“My trade? I don’t know yet. One summer I worked at the community pool. My parents want me to go to college, but my best friend didn’t go and he’s got a killer job in construction.”

“He is a butcher?” Annie asked a little confused.

“A butcher? No, he builds houses. Why did you think he was a butcher?”

“I thought you said he had a ‘killer’ job?” Annie responded.

“Oh no, killer means cool.” Steve replied and then caught himself again. “Both killer and cool mean something is good.”

“Your time sounds very interesting Elder. You must come from a very wealthy family to not yet have a trade and to have the opportunity to go to college.”

“Oh no, my family is not rich. We’re just normal. Not rich and not poor.”

“So most boys in your time get to go to school until they are older?”

Steve nodded. “In fact, it’s the law. You can’t even get a part time job until you’re sixteen.”

“And the girls?” Annie asked hopefully.

“Same.” Steve replied.

“Killer!”

“What was that?” Steve asked, not believing his ears. “What did you just say?”

“It’s very good Elder! Your time must be wonderful. Everyone learning so much and not having to work. It must be like paradise!”

Steve had to think about that one for a few minutes. They’d reached the single sisters’ tent now and so he put the pan in one of the handcarts before responding. “My time is good Annie. In a lot of ways it’s a ton easier than this.” Steve waved his arm at the surrounding camp. “But it’s not paradise. Heck we have drugs and crime and all kinds of problems you’ve never even heard of. I guess not everybody uses their free time like they should.”

“And you Elder? Did you use your time like you should?”

“Too many questions Annie.” Steve came out of his uncharacteristically deep thoughts. “I didn’t come to talk about my time, I came to tell you that I discovered my message.”

“You did?” Annie would have persisted with the prior line of questioning, but was much more interested to hear why Steve had been sent to be with the pioneers. “Well, what it is Elder. You must tell me! Quickly!”

“How does this sound?” Steve asked, “I’m sorry sister, but you are overweight!”

“Pardon me?”

“Um, you don’t like that one huh? Is this better? ‘Begging your pardon ma'am, but you need to lose a few LBs!”

“Elder, what kind of nonsense are you talking now?”

“Well, the captain helped me discover my message this morning. He asked me to reweigh all the goods in the camp. He is particularly concerned with some of the sisters.”

“I see. And you’ve come to warn me?”

“Well not exactly. I’ve come to ask you to help me.”

“Help you break these poor people’s hearts again? I think not Elder.”

“But Annie, I don’t even know most of these people.”

“You don’t need to know them Elder. Just walk up to them and ask to weigh their goods.”

“You don’t understand. For four weeks now I have avoided conversations with most of them. Not because I don’t like them. I try to be friendly, but they think I’m some one I’m not. They think I’m the Elder. They think I know them. But I don’t. What if I say something or don’t remember something that they think I should? I don’t want to offend them. If and when the real Elder ever gets back, I want him to still have a few friends!”

Annie thought for a few moments about what Steve said, finally she replied. “Ok Elder. I’ll help you.”

“Thanks Annie! I’ll be right back. I’ve just gotta get the scales. Say, you and the real Elder, you huh, you like each other?”

“Of course we like each other Elder. I like all my fellow saints.”

“No but I mean in a, you know, romantic kind of way?”

Annie blushed slightly and didn’t respond directly. “Elder, the scales?”

“Oh yeah, sorry. I’ll be right back.”

Within five minutes Steve and Annie were standing at the flap of a nearby tent announcing their purpose for being there. The first few tents were a little awkward as Steve and Annie settled in to their roles. Steve didn’t mind talking with people, but he knew his message wasn’t a pleasant one and that made him more self-conscious than usual. In addition, though Steve had seen most of them about the camps for the last four weeks and recognized their faces, they were for the most part strangers to him. Actually they were worse than strangers, they were strangers that knew him and thought he should know them. Annie did the best she could as his guide. Before they reached a tent she would try to determine which families lived in it and give Steve a little background.

“I believe that is Hannah and her two boys sitting by the fire. Annie whispered to Steve as they approached the campfire of one of the many tents. “Yes, yes I’m sure it is. That is sister Hannah. She is a single sister but has two young boys traveling with her. Joseph and Hyrum are their names. They are not her sons, but the sons of a friend who went in one of the earlier companies.”

“Why aren’t the boys with their parents?” Steve whispered back as they got closer.

“Their father is blind and their mother is not well. The captains thought it would be better for someone else to care for the boys.”

“Bummer.” Steve muttered under his breath. Annie looked at him quizzically but they had now reached the fire circle and Steve began talking to the sister.

“Good afternoon sister Hannah!” He said, “how are you and these two fine gentlemen doing?”

“We’re fine Elder, fine.” She smiled down at the boys and they both smiled back.

“I’m glad to hear it sister. Uh, I have these scales with me because Captain Martin asked that all personal belongings be weighed again.”

“I see.” Hannah replied glumly but with courtesy.

“The captain is concerned that the carts are breaking down because they are overloaded.” Annie chimed in to try and further explain the unpleasantness.

“It is fine. Really it is.” Hannah said as she rose from the log she had been sitting on. “I am sure that we were under the weight limit in Iowa city and we have added nothing since.” She smiled at both Steve and Annie. “I will notify the others and gather our belongings.” She left Steve and Annie and entered the tent.

Steve was a little surprised that the boys, Joseph and Hyrum, were so young. He guessed the oldest at five or six and the younger at three or four. How hard it must have been for them to see their parents walk off with a different company. How hard it must have been for their parents to leave them and how hard it must be for this single sister to care for them. If they were over weight, Steve determined in his mind right then that he would let them stay that way. As it turned out, Hannah was right, they were no where near overweight.

The boys were amazed by the scales and became “official helpers” while the rest of the tent was weighed in. Steve held the scales and gave directions to the boys to add or subtract weights from the weight side of the scale. Annie stood by with a ledger book and noted the pioneers name and the actual weight of their belongings. A few of the sisters from Hannah’s tent were overweight by about a dress. Steve explained to them that they would either have to wear two dresses all the way across the plains or leave one in camp. Given the heat and dust of the prior several days, most opted to leave the extras.

On the way to the next tent, Annie and Steve both started talking at the same time. They both laughed and Steve let Annie go first.

“You mentioned your message earlier when you asked me to help you. Does that mean, you believe there is a message for you to discover?”

“Heck, I don’t know. I guess I hope there is a reason that I’m here and that it’s not just some freaky accident. But I don’t know.”

“You know Elder, in a way, it is not so strange. In fact, I think we are all trying to discover a message.”

“What? Now you’re going to tell me you’re not from this time either?”

“No, no, that is not what I meant. What I meant is this life. We all come to this life without a memory and spend our days on this earth trying to determine what we are supposed to do and be. In other words, we are all looking for our message or our mission, so to speak.”

Steve thought in silence for a few moments. They were now nearing the cooking fire of the next tent. “I guess I never thought of it that way.” He finally responded. “So what about you Annie? Have you discovered your message?”

She smiled. “You asked me once what could be worth leaving my family and traveling like this to Zion. The answer is my message Elder. I discovered it and now I’m following it.”

They took the last few steps to the tent in silence. Steve again had that tingling feeling that he had come to recognize as the spirit. He wished the tent was another hundred yards off so that he could just go on feeling this way. But there they were at the tent door. He smiled at Annie and called out. “Trick or treat! Anybody home?”

There was rustling within the tent but no immediate answer. Steve tried again, “This is the FBI. We’ve got this tent surrounded! Come out with your hands up and nobody will get hurt!”

Annie elbowed Steve. “Stop it Elder, you are surely going to scare them.” She then called toward the tent. “Hello! Hello? Annie and the Elder here. Is anyone there?” There was more rustling from inside the tent and then the head of an older man popped out the flap.

“Annie! Why didn’t you say so at first! Welcome lass! Welcome!” By now the body that belonged to the head had emerged and before them stood a short and stocky little man. Steve estimated his age at fifty or more. His entire head and face were round and jolly. The top of his head was as bald as a billiard ball and no less shiny. It was obvious that he was accustomed to wearing a hat. His face was as red as a beet, but his dome was white and shiny. His clothes were loose and rumpled. It was obvious he had just been awakened from a nap and didn’t care who knew it. He took Annie’s hand and began pumping before turning to give Steve the same treatment.

“Elder, Elder! How are you? I’ve not seen much of you since we reached this new land. Have you forgotten about your friends from the mother country so soon?”

“Forgotten? No! No!” Steve responded looking to Annie for help. “We’ve all been busy brother--” He hesitated for a moment and Annie cut in.

“Luke! Brother Luke, how are all the other members from the Clitheroe Branch doing? And where is that traveling companion of yours, Brother William?” Steve looked at Annie and pretended to wipe his forehead in relief. Annie tried to repress a giggle while listening attentively to Brother Luke’s reply.

“He’ll be appearing shortly I’m sure. Been restin' ‘is weary bones. Poor chap. I’m afraid all the walkin’ is takin’ a considerable toll on ‘im.”

“Who is that you are babbling on about now Luke? I’m as fit as ever I’ve been and will use these ‘weary bones’ to walk to your funeral some day I’m sure.”

Steve turned to the flap and almost had to look up to take in the entire individual that had emerged. The man was at least six feet which was very tall for pioneers. His clothes were very neat, but it was obvious that he had trouble finding trousers long enough as those he was wearing ended half way up his ankles. Unlike Luke, his face was thin and narrow and generally dour. Ichabod Crane was the first name that came to Steve’s mind as he put out his hand. “How are you brother--” he hesitated for just a moment and then remembered the name Annie had used, “William?”

“I’m quite fine Elder. Quite fine. All other commentaries to the contrary.” He shot a side ways glance at Luke and then turned to Annie. “And sister Annie. How are you?” He took her hand and shook once bowing his head slightly.

Annie responded. “I am doing very well thank you.”

“And to what do we owe the honor of your presence here today?” William continued.

Steve was still struggling to take in the picture before him. “I feel like I’m in an Odd Couple rerun.” Unintentionally, he said it right out loud.

“I beg your pardon?” William asked curiously.

“Sorry, I was thinking of a dream I had last night. Strange dream!” Steve back peddled then figured the best way to change the subject was to bring up the real reason for their visit. “Captain Martin asked us to visit all the tents and reweigh all personal goods.”

The two men responded just as Steve would have guessed they might. Luke said, “Sure” and headed back into the tent to gather his things. William on the other hand just stood there and scowled. Rather than add fuel to the fire, Steve left Annie to deal with William and pretended to be absorbed setting up the scales. In a matter of minutes Annie was at Steve’s side again. He glanced over his shoulder just in time to see William disappear into the tent.

“Is he getting his things?” Steve whispered to her.

She nodded but said nothing. “What did you say to him?” Steve persisted.

“I told him that ever since you had bumped your head, you had been less than whole. I also told him that when you feel stress you experience fits.”

“Fits?”

“Yes. Fits of frenzy. I told him that they always start with strange dreams and that unless he wanted to deal with a fit of frenzy he should gather his things and have them weighed at once.” Steve looked at Annie and she smiled back at him.

“Fits?” Steve asked again.

She nodded and added, “Of frenzy.”

“Clever. Very clever. I’m glad you find my medical problems amusing and useful.” He pretended to be offended but winked at Annie as he said it. Luke came out of the tent and the weighing began again. Neither Luke nor William had any problem with weight. Steve did notice that William kept his distance throughout the process. As they finished up, some fine dust from one of the family heirlooms that had been weighed found its way into Steve’s nose. The tickle was unbearable and he finally had to sneeze.

“Achooo!” Steve let go with a from-the-belly blast. William jumped up from the log where he had been sitting, tripped over an empty pot and bolted for the tent. Annie and Steve exchanged knowing smiles but managed to suppress their laughter until they were well on their way to the next tent.



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