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For The Strength of Youth

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Submitted by Dave Free on 18 January 2007 - 7:24pm.

Epilogue

Steve's journey didn't end that October day in the hospital room as his mom sat listening to President Hinckley’s general conference address waiting for him. Waiting as she had done every day throughout the summer and into the fall. His journey was just beginning. He was given a gift we all receive from time to time--the gift of new perspective and, if we're willing, opportunities to use and share it.

According to the doctors, Steve never should have survived the fall off the cliff at the ski resort. They did all they could for him, but there weren't many signs of brain activity and it was very doubtful his shattered legs would ever carry him again. His mom spent many hours on her knees and had been assured otherwise. She insisted that patience, faith and gratitude for each small step were what was needed. She was right.

Steve's therapy began the day after he woke up. It was painful, but he smiled through it all. The ladies delivering the hospital food fought for the opportunity to deliver Steve's. "How could anyone cheer for over-cooked broccoli?" they wondered. They also enjoyed his hugs of gratitude.

Steve's buddy Hank had been pretty shook up by the accident. He started drinking to try to forget and was near the bottom when Steve's dad had a feeling he should call and invite Hank to read to Steve as he lay comatose in the hospital. Hank resisted at first, but was desperate for peace and finally agreed to give it a try. That was in July. The only reading material Steve's dad left in the hospital room was a Book of Mormon, so Hank started to read. He never missed a day. In January, three months after Steve returned, Hank surprised him with a large white envelope from church headquarters.

“Guess what we’re reading today?” Hank asked Steve as he walked in the room.

“Uh, an envelope?” Steve replied sarcastically.

“Glad to see some of your brain function is returning.” Hank teased then continued, “But this isn’t just any envelope. This one is from President Hinckley and it’s addressed to me.”

“What? Let me see that!” Steve was totally surprised. Had he been able to walk, he would have jumped off the bed and wrestled Hank for it. As it was, the best he could do was grab for it. Hank held it just out of his reach.

“Not yet,” Hank replied, “there is something I have to tell you first.” Hank grew serious and Steve stopped trying to reach for the envelope.

“I haven’t told anyone this,” Hank sat down next to Steve’s bed. “I don’t know if anyone told you, but I was the first one to find you after your accident. When I saw you ski across the trail and go out of bounds I knew what was going to happen. I yelled for you but you didn’t hear me.”

Steve was listening intently, Hank shifted a little in his chair and kept talking. “I flagged down some boarders and told them to go find the ski patrol. Then I skied down the trail to where it goes over that creek. I took off my skis and hiked back up the creek looking for you.”

Steve thought about what a painful hike that must have been. “Thanks!” he said to Hank.

Hank just nodded then, as if unsure about how Steve would take his next statement, he said cautiously, “When I found you, you weren’t alone.”

“You mean the ski patrol got to me first?”

Hank shook his head. A shiver went down Steve’s spine.

“Who?” he whispered.

“I don’t know.” Hank replied. “There was a girl. She was dressed like a pioneer. She had your head in her lap. She was crying. There was also a young guy--about our age I think. He was covering you with a blanket.”

Tears were beginning to flow down Steve’s cheeks, Hank was also becoming emotional but he kept talking. “At first I thought I was hallucinating. I’d been trying to run in those ski boots to find you. I could barely breath. I thought it was some kind of trip. But they didn’t go away until the ski patrol got there.”

“Did they say anything?” Steve asked quietly.

Hank shook his head. “Just smiled at me and then disappeared.”

They sat for some time in silence. Finally Steve said, “Hey, read me what the letter in that envelope says.”

Hank was called to serve in the Hawaii, Honolulu mission and would be leaving in March.

Steve's recovery continued. By the time Hank left he could walk with crutches. At April conference he was using only a cane, and by July 24th he could walk without any help. His large white envelope finally arrived in August. His mom made muffins for the occasion and the entire family gathered around the kitchen table for the opening. “You are assigned to labor in the England London mission.” the letter read. Steve was so excited he jumped up and his chair crashed to the floor.

Steve's Aunt June came from out-of-state to hear Steve speak in church before he left for his mission. She was the self-appointed family genealogist. Steve had never spent much time with her but had called her several times since his accident to see what she knew about their ancestor who was a handcart pioneer. She had confirmed that his great, great, great grandma was named Annie and that she was a member of the Martin Handcart Company. Steve had shown so much excitement that she determined she would bring all the information she had about Annie the next time she came to visit. When she heard Steve was leaving on a mission, she decided it was time to make the trip.

After all the extended family and friends had wished Steve well and left for their homes, Steve said goodnight to his family and excused himself to his bedroom. He settled on his bed with his Book of Mormon and began reading. Someone tapped on his door.

“Come in!” he called.

His Aunt June stuck her head in the door. “Can I come in?” she asked. “I’ve got something I want to show you.”

“Sure.” Steve replied, swinging his feet around to sit on the edge of his bed.

Aunt June walked across the room and handed Steve a small cardboard box. "You will be a wonderful missionary Steve. I know you will. When you called and asked about your handcart ancestor a few months ago, I knew that I needed to bring you this box. It's everything we have of hers."

"Hers?" Steve asked.

"It's not much, but there are a few pictures of your handcart grandma, her history and a few of her things."

“Really?” Steve began to open the box. His aunt said goodnight and went off to bed.

Steve had been so busy with his therapy and mission preparations that there were now entire days that he didn't even think about his handcart experience. In fact, there were some days he wondered if it was just a dream. He had certainly learned things and it had changed him, there could be no doubt about that, but had he really talked to his grandma or was that just part of his dream?

He opened the box carefully. There was a very old picture of an elderly lady in a long skirt with a shawl wrapped around her, standing by herself under some trees. Even with the increased age, Steve could tell it was Annie though he had never seen the picture before. His hands began to tremble. There were a few type written pages. He took them out and carefully unfolded them. They appeared to be the history his aunt had mentioned. He read:

History of Annie

written by herself, April 9, 1931

I was born in Barking, Essex, England, on the 8th of January 1837, the younger daughter of Daniel Hicks, a sailor, and Hannah Wenlock Hicks. I knew very little of my father's family. My mother was born of Scotch and English parents.

Father being a confirmed invalid, I had, as it were, to keep and care for myself, assuming the responsibilities of a woman when I was a mere girl. As a child, I was very devout, praying and asking God for guidance and firmly believing that he would protect me from all wrong. And surely, I have been saved many times from most certain evil.

I was alone, or rather away from my own people at the time I first heard the Gospel and I think I loved it the first time I heard it; it seemd so quiet and pleasant to me. I embraced the Gospel and was baptized on the 17th of January, 1855, in the White Chapel Branch in London. Shortly after my baptism, before I had been confirmed, my relatives sent me a terrible book against the Mormons, marking it in places for me to read. The tales were so wicked, I was afraid I had done wrong and decided to ask the Lord to direct me aright. I fervently pleaded with our Father to answer my prayer that night as my confirmation was to take place the following morning.

I immediately was comforted by a wonderful dream. A book (The Book of Life) was opened to me and the leaves were turned in rapid succession until the page with my record was found. On the page was my name without a mar or blemish against it. A loud clear voice spoke to me saying, "This is the way, walk ye in it." I was overjoyed at this revelation and have never doubted the gospel from that time on. You may be assured I was confirmed the next day feeling perfectly happy and satisfied. From then on my relatives were unkind and cruel to me. I worked very hard to obtain enough money to come to America. I would knit from early morning until evening in the London workshop.

On the 25th of May, 1856, I sailed for America on the ship Horizon, beginning our journey to Zion. I crossed the plains with the belated Handcart Company of Edward Martin. We underwent numerous hardships and lost many of our good and faithful band on the road. I reached the valley on the last day of November 1856, with not a friend to meet me--but I am still here with the saints and many friends in the valley of the mountains.

I was married to Absalom Pennington Free, a Patriarch of the Church on March 5, 1857, and am the mother of seven children, all of whom are living. I am also proud of my thirty-four grandchildren and the thirty great grandchildren.

I have been asked to relate an incident or two that might be of interest to you. One which I recall very clearly, occured as we crossed the Platte River. The stream was very strong and the water bitter cold, making it very hard to cross. In the company was a widow with her family. Her oldest boy, a fine young chap, had started across the river with his handcart but the current was so strong that he was borne down stream. Seeing the boy's condition I ran down the bank of the river and went out into it in time to catch the boy and his handcart. I helped the boy to shore but he was almost frozen. In the evening when the company made camp, the boy's mother was going out to gather chips of wood but the boy insisted upon going himself. When he had been gone a long time, a search was made for him and he was found frozen to death with his sticks in his arms.

Tears were running down Steve’s cheeks again. He looked back in the box. Only a little envelope that had yellowed with age remained. He picked it up and opened the flap. There were no obvious contents. He opened the envelope wider and looked into the corners. Something small was down in one of the corners. He reached in and pulled out a little golden heart on a single ring. He held it up and turned it over. Through his tears he could just make out a little “w.”

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed it. Let me know what you think at http://ctrstories.com/node/1 or by email at dave@thefrees.com.

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