The Golden Thread

A Talk Given by Ruth Hammond Barrus to the Rigby Study Club - October 26, 1972

I appreciate the privilege of being with you tonight, for, in a way, it is like coming home. Rigby is the place of my birth and when the Rigby Study Club was organized at the turn of the century, my mother, Aroetta Hammond was a charter member.

Once, when our children were very young, we were passing through Rigby on June 15th, and we noted a celebration. All wanted to know the reason of this celebration. "Why don't you know," I said, excitedly. "I was born in Rigby June 15th, and my birthday has been celebrated by this community ever since!" My children looked at me most skeptically, and I couldn't quite convince them of this; so I finally had to break down and tell them that it was Pioneer Day in Rigby, and that the great people who early settled this land were being honored on this day.

What a privilege it is to have the blood of pioneers in our veins - - the blood of sacrifice, work, values and vision. We must keep these same qualities in our veins for the sake of our children and our communities.

Not long ago I had an opportunity to fly high above our valley and the beautiful tapestry below filled me with wonder and awe for the handiwork of man. I saw carefully ordered patterns of varied greens and yellows marked off by threads of fences and nourished by multiple arteries of canals and ditches that brought life-giving water to each and every field. And these fields stretched endlessly to my view in geometric variety. Long, smooth and graceful roads tied the whole together in unity and significant relationship, and fine homes nestled comfortably along those roads. The labor of men's hands is truly beautiful!

But I knew that this thrilling tapestry had not always been so and my mind recalled the picture of mother shaped for me when she came as a bride to this valley in 1898. She and her husband, Milton James Hammond, came by train to Market Lake (now Roberts). Milton's father had helped lay the tracks for this vital connection with the outside world. From Market Lake, this young couple then traveled by sleigh over roads so deep with drifting snow that the driver had to trust to the senses of the horses to keep the sleigh in the narrow crusted ruts. Two days Milton and Retta traveled to get to Marysville, the farthest outpost north in the Snake River Valley, where they were to make their home in a log cabin and commence their life of teaching - - he in a one-roomed school house and she as a music teacher. Milton was called next to teach in Teton and then in 1901 to Rigby, where he served as Superintendent of Schools for fifteen years. During this period, Rigby was the first school west of the Mississippi to initiate consolidation of schools - - the bringing in of students outside the community by school wagon to a central area. I remember those school wagons for they were parked in the summer on the school grounds near our home. I was only four, but my sister and I used to play house in them. They looked much like covered sheep wagons. The narrow wooden box was lined with narrow benches, and a small stove was placed near the driver for heat in the winter. The wagons were converted to sleighs in the winter.

After this fifteen years in Rigby, the family moved to Blackfoot, leaving behind two graves - - one in Teton and one in Rigby. I was the next-to-the-last child to be born in Rigby - - the 8th of ten children, and was four years old when we left Rigby. It was my mother's intense desire to visit those graves, and one Decoration Day, when I was six, we managed the difficult journey from Blackfoot to Rigby in a Model T Ford, with my brother Ronald at the wheel. It was raining and cold. The Isinglass curtains that were feebly fastened to the skeletal frame of the touring car flapped in the wind, and the water that flowed in the deeply rutted narrow highway came as high as the running boards. Water splashed through the ill-fitting floor boards of the car with every bump, soaking our feet and legs. We arrived in Rigby after many hours, wet and with our teeth chattering. I will never forget the comfort that Sister Call gave us when she placed a chair for us near her big coal range and allowed us to put our legs on the warm oven door to dry ourselves.

No, the order and beauty which thrilled me from my high flying position had not always been so - - only the labor and sacrifice of generations had made it so.

In the exquisite tapestry below me I saw in my mind another thread - - a very delicate and priceless thread - - in fact, a golden thread, and it had worked itself into this important pattern. This thread, so fragile that rough hands would easily have broken it, had to be woven by woman's hands, I concluded. They had to be hands skilled in sensitivity and patience; hands stretching for spiritual and cultural values; hands striving to connect a golden thread to every child in every home; excited hands - - the givers of beauty, truth, and culture. And woman's work is never done, for each new child that comes into a home must in some way be connected to that golden thread. Just as man had dug the ditches and built the roads, and nourished the green of our tapestry, so women must spin and weave the gold of our tapestry, nourishing spiritual and cultural values. Yes, the labor of woman's hands is truly beautiful!

The spinning and the weaving of a golden thread was slow in America. While the great symphonies and quartets of Mozart and Haydn were being performed by multiple chamber groups in Europe, the most that Western America could offer musically was the loud, unaccompanied, unison singing of austere hymns in primitive churches, or the tawdry noise of dance halls. Musical instruments were considered to be the tools of Satan by our Puritan forefathers, and few found place in our American homes until the 19th century. While the music of Chopin and Schubert were filling the air in Europe, we in America were struggling to master pieces called "Hearts and Flowers," and "Ben Hur's Chariot Race."

The first symphony orchestras that were born in America came because of the tireless efforts of women. Isolated pioneer women over our broad western prairie lands would not rest until they had commenced spinning their golden thread and weaving it into the lives of their families and communities. Many precious musical instruments were brought by oxen into our western valleys. The treadle organ upon which my mother commenced her musical study was brought by oxen into Utah. Because of the deep desire in my mother to stretch this golden thread, the first piano to come into the Rigby area came into her home and she used it to serve the whole community - - for teaching and performance. Whenever it was needed this l000 pound Adam Schaff piano was loaded into wagon or sleigh and taken to church or school. One of my earliest memories was being wrapped in a blanket (I was about three) and laid on a bench behind this piano where I listened to my mother and my brothers on their violins playing for a community dance. I guess I remember it well because of a terrible earache, and that music didn't help it any.

One of the first orchestras in this valley had its commencement in the Rigby School System. Professor Thomas led this effort - - it was a small orchestra, but it was a beginning. I have a picture of this first orchestra that was taken around 1911. The drummer and one of the violinists are my elder brothers, and the serious looking man in the back is my father. Rigby has also been distinctive in developing one of the largest orchestras in this valley under your fine musician, W. W. Brady. I have had the opportunity to participate in many high school festivals through the years, and I have ever been appreciative of the quality and extent of his work and influence.

Interest in keyboard study started early in Rigby. My mother talked often of the love she had for her students in this area. Treadle organs were the standard instrument, but they were gradually replaced by pianos. She traveled by horse and buggy to Menan and Lewisville to give music lessons.

Many have followed her example in weaving a cultural thread into the lives of your people. Two such people are with us tonight - - Mrs. Deone Tall and Mrs. W.W. Brady. I am sure that you love and appreciate them greatly, as I do.

Today, as never before, the need for values in our lives is apparent. Pollution has become an anxious topic, but the greatest pollution of all is that which involves our minds and our hearts as well as our bodies. TV and motion pictures and our places of amusement are becoming sources of pollution with their degrading sensuality and filthy references which have embraced the "new" morality. Drugs are rapidly infiltrating into our local schools, even dipping down into the elementary schools. A young colleague of mine commented yesterday: "If you want drugs, you can even get them at Ricks College, although they are pretty well hidden; but if you really want them, you can get them easily down at the high school." These are our schools he is talking about and our children.

What can we do to protect against these ominous evils? As history has proven itself, the work must commence in the home - - and again, it must be woman's work. We each need to get our spinning wheels out and commence anew the spinning of our golden thread. The good and beautiful must be brought into each home as a family affair. We don't just send out children to take music lessons, art lessons, dancing lessons, - - we will take them, and we will take time each day to assist our children in their development. We will encourage them, listen to them, join with them. We will encourage them in their school activities, their programs, their plays, their concerts. We will let them know how much we care! As a family we will sing together, play together, study together, and pray together. Only then can we dispel the dark cloud that threatens our very soul. The golden thread can push back the darkness.

Isn't it interesting that much of our greatest art has come to us out of family-oriented situations. Michelangelo was brought as a boy into the Medici family. He studied art, literature and sciences in a school which was in this home under the greatest teachers in the land. He ate with the Medici family, played with the Medici children, and each day the great Lorenzo Medici would put his arm around this young "adopted" son and go with him into the school-studio to give him the benefit of his counsel and his encouragement. Michelangelo's vision of his David, his Moses, and his Christ developed in the warmth of a family.

Rembrandt's roots were nurtured in the soil of Holland - - a land where culture was the focus of the home. Painters painted pictures for homes - not palaces and great churches. Instruments were purchased and mastered by the common people for home and community entertainment. It was expected that every member of a family could participate in home evening in singing or playing on instruments. Books were read in the home. It is no wonder that out of such an environment he could paint such a masterpiece as this "Aristotle Examining the Bust of Homer." Can you see in this painting how the great values of life are emphasized. Notice how Rembrandt has used light. It is not reflected light, but an inner light which seems to emanate from the very soul of this great philosopher - - a light which is golden and warms the whole room. Aristotle's hand gently placed on the head of Homer seems to draw light and nobility from that great primary source of western culture. The large, worn, ancient books stand richly in the earth-browns in the back - - reminders that light has been drawn from them also. I can't resist quoting the 24th verse from Section 50 of the Doctrine and Covenants, for every time I look at this picture this verse come to mind; "That which is of me is light; and he who receiveth light and continueth in me receiveth more light, and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day."

Brother Oliver Parsons from our Ricks College Faculty has captured an exciting concept of light in this small autumn scene. Brother Parsons is another example of family team work. I love to go into his home and see the artistic marvels of this family which line hallways and all room importantly. It is fun to ask which member of the family painted this or carved that. The creative joy in that home fills it with light.

We do have a golden thread in our communities and in our homes. Let us, as women, make it important in the tapestry of our lives and that of our family and community. Women's work is never ended!