by Ruth Hammond Barrus
"Mother, the pudding has cooked as long as you said it should, so shall I take it off the stove?" Retta called to Mother Hale who was in the downstairs bedroom.
"Yes," answered Mother Hale, "But it is heavy and hot with steam, so get Viola to help you with it." Viola willingly left her dusting job in the dining room to help her sister in the kitchen. With heavy dishtowels in their hands nine-year-old Viola and twelve-year-old Retta lifted the big cast iron kettle from the stove and on to the back porch where it could cool.
"Um-m-m, doesn't plum pudding and fried chicken and hot bread smell good all together. Can we take the bread out of the oven now? Ma says if I am real careful I can do it alone," excitedly came from Viola.
"Yes, it's time, but keep your face turned away from the oven when you open the door or the steam will smart your eyes," advised Retta.
It was a day of big responsibility and high excitement for Retta and Viola. Katie and Grace, who usually did the cooking were in a remote world of ruffled finery, and unintelligible whispers, punctuated occasionally with nervous laughter and tears.
"Let them be," Mother Hale counseled when Retta and Viola complained that they weren't getting much help. (Actually their complaint was due more to the fact that they weren't included in the whispers than that the older sisters weren't included in the kitchen work; for the young girls felt very grown up to be doing work they had never been quite big enough to do before.) "Your sisters have been as close to each other as it is possible for sisters to be for nearly nineteen years, and tomorrow they will be separated. Let them spend today as they wish." And that was exactly what Katie and Grace were busily doing. All summer the two had designed and sewed the beautiful trousseau that they were now carefully packing into boxes. Each piece had a special memory attached to it that had to be whispered over.
"You'd almost think Grace was getting married too, she's so excited about everything," said Viola as she proudly eyed the eight big loaves of shiny bread she had taken out of the oven without burning her once.
"I wonder why Katie chose Fast Day for her wedding day. It's going to be hard to go without two meals tomorrow with all this good food around," wonderingly asked Viola.
"Well, answered Retta, "Katie says about the most important time in a person's life is when she gets married; and she says she really wants the spirit of the Lord to be with her on her wedding day."
"I'll bet the spirit of the Lord would be with Katie any day, she's so good," returned Viola.
"Yes, but you know the Lord has promised us that if we would fast two meals each month and give food to the poor, and if we would be really humble He would reward us with an extra portion of his spirit." These last words Retta said rather hastily as if to say something she had partly memorized and wanted to get spoken before she could forget them.
"What's reward with an extra portion mean?" asked Viola.
"Oh, silly," answered Retta a little crossly, "it means - -" and she thought a minute, puzzled. "Well, it's like getting as much chicken to eat as anyone else at the table and then mother giving you another piece. That other piece is the "extra portion."
And the "extra portion" was clearly manifested in the joy that radiated in the faces of the large gathering of Hale relatives who were preparing to leave on the four-mile ride to the Logan Temple that crisp fall morning of November 6, 1890.
"I guess we're all real excited," returned Retta. "I just wish I were old enough to get a recommend so I could go to the temple with them and watch them get married."
"When are you old enough to get a recommend," asked Viola."Ma says it's usually when you get married or go on a mission; but you have got to live awfully good or you can't get one," answered Retta.
"I'm going to be good," said Viola, "cause Ma says that getting married in the temple is so beautiful it's almost like getting married in heaven."
"Me too!" solemnly rejoined Retta.
"She looks almost like a queen," whispered Retta to Viola as the two girls waved to Katie who sat very tall between their father and mother, her large, lustrous dark eyes tenderly turned toward her younger sisters.
"Katie," wailed Viola, and ran to get one more embrace from the sister she loved so dearly.
"Come now, she's not gone forever," said Grace with forced cheerfulness as she took the hands of her younger sisters. "They'll all be back tonight for supper and we've got a lot to do to get it ready and take care of all these cousins and nieces and nephews besides. Retta, you and Viola can take turns caring for the young ones and helping me. Before you know it the family will all be home again."
And it wasn't long before the family was home again and seated around the huge table in the large dining room, over twenty of them, enjoying and appreciating, after the cool ride and their day of fast, the quantities of fried chicken, steaming vegetables, and rich puddings. Katie, angelic in her lovely white wedding dress, seated close to her tall handsome husband, Joseph Harris Merrill, whose name was now hers, radiated a contagious happiness that all responded to.
It was with some effort that Retta finally isolated her mother long enough to ask about the wedding. Mother Hale hugged her twelve-year-old daughter close to her. "You know how beautiful the temple is," suggested Mother Hale. "Yes," said Retta. "It is so beautiful in the bottom part of the temple where the big baptismal font is, supported by the twelve bronze oxen, and where I have been baptized for my dead relatives many times; but not as many times as Katie, because she has been baptized for over 400 people."
"Well," continued Mother Hale, "the rooms above are even more beautiful than the baptismal room; but today the inside of the temple seemed unusually inspiring - it was bright and holy, and Katie was very beautiful in her snow-white bridal robes. She seemed almost like an angel."
"I knew she would," sighed Retta, now satisfied, and dreamily she took her place again at the table with her happy family. Who could have imagined at this memorable time that this scene could be so radically reversed in a few short months.
A few weeks after Joseph had taken his radiant bride to the lovely home he had waiting for her, he received a notice that his name had been handed into the Presidency of the Church as one suitable to take a mission to the Samoan Islands. This would mean a separation of three or four years for the young couple; a fact which brought tears to Katie's eyes as she confided this to her mother.
"It will be hard, Katie, but you were born to missionary service. Your father was filling a mission to the Eastern States at the time you were born in Grantsville, December 10, 1871. We knew he was called to the work of the Lord, and I knew I must not hinder his progress for even one day. I know you have great faith, Katie, for your life of church service has demonstrated that; and I know you will be able to bid him God-speed and uphold him constantly with your prayers."
The same spirit of religious heroism which sustained the mother at that time was to characterize the daughter as well, and she immediately set about making ready for the husband's departure which was to take place in February. Joseph wanted a special picture of his bride to take with him. Katie did not want to sit for the picture; she said she felt she must cry; but Joseph wanted it, so she consented. The sad expression it showed was not usual with the smiling Katie.
Soon after, a joyful piece of news came to the young couple. Having learned of the recent marriage, the church officials advised Joseph to take his young bride with him. The family was concerned over this last development. Retta listened, fearfully and wide-eyed, to descriptions of the small boat which was to travel the great distance to Samoa; of the hardships, poor food, and seasickness on such a journey. She heard about the grass huts, the unpalatable native food, and the uncivilized nearly naked natives on the Islands who had but a short time earlier been visited for the first time by white men.
"You just can't go there!" tearfully exclaimed Retta to her sister.
"Retta," consoled Katie, "you and I both know that the Lord never asks his children to do anything that He does not give them power to accomplish. You would not want me to fail the Lord in this call, would you?"
Retta knew there was only one answer as she slowly shook her head, "No, you must not fail the Lord."
The young couple left on the steamship, Alameda, February 24, 1891, which was scheduled to stop at Honolulu March 14th and arrive in Samoa March 22nd. It seemed an endless time to the family before a letter came back to them reporting the trip, and they were saddened to learn that Katie had been ill most of the trip and was still struggling to overcome her weakened condition. Joseph reported that Typhus Fever was very prevalent on the Islands, and he asked that the family send quinine which seemed to help ward off the illness. This the family promptly did. Both Joseph and Katie seemed most enthusiastic about their mission and felt that much good could be accomplished. Katie said that every spare minute she had, she sewed for the missionaries, making white pants and coats which buttoned up to the neck and was used as a substitute for coat and shirt, because of the heat. She wrote to Retta and told her that at Samoa the larger boat was met way out in the ocean by little native boats, and that when the little boats had gone as close to the shore as possible, the natives swam out and carried her to shore - - she arrived in Samoa in the arms of a big brown Samoan. She said they were all very kind to her.
Each letter from the missionaries left the family deeply concerned over the health of Katie. It was late in July that Samuel Roskelley from the Logan Temple came to the Hale home. As he faced his friends in their living room he said, "President Woodruff sent me a telegram today asking me to bring you a very sad message."
"I know what it is," tearfully interrupted Mother Hale. "Katie is dead!"
"Yes, that is it!" was the amazed reply. "How did you know?"
"I have felt for nearly a month that something had happened to Katie. I have felt her presence in my dreams and have awakened Pa up many times to tell him of it."
"That is strange," continued Brother Roskelley, "for Katie died nearly a month ago, June 29th. President Woodruff told me you can expect some letters giving details in a day or two, but he wanted me to bring you this word he just received, and give you his sympathy before the letters arrived."
Retta and Viola were down by the railroad tracks herding cows when Brother Roskelley brought the word. Johnnie was immediately dispatched to bring the girls home. Father Hale met them on the front porch and gave them the unhappy news. They fled to the arms of a now tearful mother and joined their sobs with hers.
The next day brought two letters from Samoa, and the family that gathered around the large dining table to hear these letters read were filled with mourning. All was still when Father Hale arose to his feet.
"I will read the letter from Sister Lee first," said Father Hale in his clear spoken voice, softened by a grief he was striving to control.
Fagalii, Upolu, Samoa
July 10, 1891"Dear Brother and Sister Hale:
". . . Soon after Katie arrived in Samoa it became apparent to us that the country and climate did not agree well with her. Brother Lee and I were soon to be released as missionaries to return home, and we thought it would be best for Katie to return with us as her health continued failing. But after considering the matter carefully, Katie decided she would remain with her husband, and with him fulfill the mission to which they had been called, even if she should die there . . .
"Katie was such a congenial, charitable sweet girl; and we exchanged days about doing the work. May 23rd, she complained of a headache, but still wanted to do her work, as it was her day; in the afternoon I insisted on doing it and her taking a rest.
"From that time on, Katie was never well, but grew weaker and weaker, day by day. On Sunday, June 28th, the gentle patient sufferer gave premature birth to a son. It was very small, but as perfect and pretty baby as I ever saw. Katie exclaimed, 'Thank the Lord! It is alive, and a boy; Oh! I am so glad! Do let me see it and kiss it!'
"At 2:00 p.m. on Monday, the baby quietly passed away without a struggle. The doctor said he had no hope of it from the first. We did not tell Katie of it as she was so weak. Before washing and dressing the little one for burial, I went to her beside. She had told me repeatedly she had no pain but was so weak. Now when I went to her she asked for her husband and said, 'Oh Sister Lee, I am dying!' I called my husband to administer to her, rubbed her hands and feet, and sent for her husband who had gone out to try to control his feelings, after seeing his baby breathe its last. 'Oh Katie," I said, you are mistaken, surely you would not leave your poor husband!' She answered, 'They have come for me, and I must go, I can't stop.' After being administered to she revived, and said, 'administer again,' which was done. Just then Joseph came in; she spoke to him; kissed him, and said, 'Good-by.' She was dead without a struggle. Death could not have been more peaceful . . ."
Father Hale cleared his throat, his shoulders shaking from emotion. He dared not look at the silent weeping eyes around him or he would not be able to read Joseph's letter. This letter contained much the same information that Sister Lee's did, yet the message seemed laden with the grief of a young husband who had just buried his bride and young son in a foreign land. He described for her family the last touching scene with his wife he loved so much. "When our baby Aroet died (we had decided to name him Aroet after Uncle Aroet and Retta), I left the house for a moment to try to control my grief. When I reached Katie's bedside after being hastily called, I knew that she too was dying. She put her arms around me and said, 'Dear, don't feel badly, all is right. They have come for me and I must go.' I thought possibly she could recognize some of them, and asked who had come for her, to which she said; 'Can't you see them, they are all around you.' She gave me her last kiss, closed her eyes and was gone."
From the looks of the marks on the letter it was as hard for Joseph to continue writing his letter as it was hard for Father Hale to read it. Retta was struggling to control her sobs.. "To think" she kept saying to herself, they named the baby after me." It was now a very soft voice that continued the reading. ". . . . Sister Lee cared for the baby while it lived and with the aid of President William O. Lee we prepared Katie for burial. Elder Boothe had a full suit of temple clothes, and we dressed her and laid her and the baby in a nice pine coffin that I purchased in Apia. The funeral was very impressive. Several of the Elders were present and Captain Huffanagle of the German cocoanut plantation was present, also two of his assistants. Appropriate hymns were sung. President Lee and Elder Brigham Smoot (Brother of Reed Smoot) spoke words of consolation and encouragement, and with the consent of the captain we were able to bury them on the brow of a slight elevation, about thirty rods from the seashore."
Father Hale's voice shook, and he put the letter down on the table, his blurred vision preventing him from further reading. Retta pushed herself close to her mother, tenderly patting her shoulder, wishing that she could somehow tell her mother of her great love for her, hoping it would ease the great suffering showing on her face - a suffering that seemed to isolate the mother from those near her. This brought a fearful tug to Retta's heart. She wanted to be close to her mother; she wanted her mother to know that she too was suffering because Katie was gone. Only for a moment was her mother distant. The gentle pat on her shoulder caused her to look up into the tragic face of her little daughter, and she reached up and drew her daughter to her shoulder and together they cried their grief. Viola knelt close to her mother, and a mother's strong arm drew her even closer.
Father Hale silently put his arms around Grace, seeking to comfort and strengthen the one who had been Katie's closest friend, schoolmate, and bed partner for nineteen years. Grace felt his strength in her, and though shaking within, she managed to keep calm Fifteen-year old Johnnie sat with head bowed. He fought to keep hold of the memory of a happy Katie, because a man his age shouldn't cry.
Father Hale was clearing his throat again. "I think," and he spoke in his loud clear voice that always encouraged obedience in his family, "that we better kneel and pray to the Lord." It seemed a natural thing for all of them to do, and Katie's chair and place were left vacant - but that didn't seem so for long.
Even though Father Hale's voice was sounding in prayer, each seemed to be thinking an individual prayer to the Lord. When Retta finally started listening she was rather shocked to hear her father again and again express his gratitude to the Lord. How could she feel grateful? Wasn't Katie gone? But her father was saying that "we are grateful for the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the knowledge that if we live worthy we will be with Katie again through all eternity."
To be with Katie again, and through all eternity - - this truth gradually filled Retta, replacing darkness with light. Katie wasn't really gone, then. Neither was the little baby that was named after her, and she would see them again. It was just like her father was saying "that the Lord knew Katie's worth and called her to another and greater mission" Now her father was asking for comfort and strength for Joseph in far-off Samoa, comfort and strength for her mother whose body was already weak from years of physical suffering, and courage for the rest of his family that they may unite themselves at this time of trial.
Retta gripped hard the sides of the chair she was kneeling against. She would have courage! She would live worthy! She would see Katie again!
The whole church and surrounding communities wished to show their love and appreciation for Katie. The December issue, 1892, of the Young Woman's Journal published a sketch of her life and labors, with a picture of her on the front page; the picture Joseph had persuaded her to have taken. The Smithfield Sunday School and Young Woman's Mutual Improvement Association, showing the loving appreciation with which she was regarded by her associates, published a touching memorial.