Service to others, from a talk by Elder Vaughn J. Featherstone
Elder Featherstone recounted the following story in General Conference of April 1973. The story is told in the words of his good friend, Les Goates:
“For me, the welfare program began in the old field west of Lehi on the Saratoga Road in the autumn of 1918, that terribly climactic year of World Ward I during which more than 14 million people died of that awful scourge ‘the black plague’, or Spanish influenza.
“Winter came early that year and froze much of the sugar beet crop in the ground. My dad and brother Francis were desperately trying to get out of the frosty ground one load of beets each day which they would plow out of the ground, cut off the tops, and toss the beets, one at a time, into the huge red beet wagon and then haul the load off to the sugar factory. It was slow and tedious work due to the frost and the lack of farm help, since brother Floyd and I were in the army and Francis, or Franz, as everybody called him was too young for the military service.
“While they were thusly engaged in harvesting the family’s only cash crop and were having their evening meal one day, a phone call came through from our eldest brother, George Albert, superintendent of the State industrial School in Ogden, bearing the tragic news that Kenneth, nine-year-old son of our brother Charles, the school farm manager, had been stricken with the dread flu, and after only a few hours of violent sickness, had died on his father’s lap; and would dad please come to Ogden and bring the boy home and lay him away in the family plot in the Lehi Cemetery.
“My father cranked up his old Chevrolet and headed for Ogden to bring his little grandson home for burial. When he arrived at the home he found Charles sprawled across the cold form of his dear one, the ugly brown discharge of the black plague oozing from his ears and nose and virtually burning up with fever.
” ‘Take my boy home,’ muttered the stricken young father, ‘and lay him away in the family plot and come back for me tomorrow.’
“Father brought Kenneth home, made a coffin in his carpenter shop, and mother and our sisters placed a cushion and lining in it, and then dad went with Franz and two kind neighbors to dig the grave. So many were dying the families had to do the grave digging. A brief graveside service was all that was permitted.
“The folks had scarcely returned from he cemetery when the telephone rang again and George Albert was on the line with another terrifying message: Charles had died and two of his beautiful little girls – Vesta, 7, and Elaine, 5 – were critically ill, and two babies – Raeldon, 4, and Pauline, 3 – had been stricken.
“Our good cousins, the Larkin undertaking people, were able to get a casket for Charles and they sent him home in a railroad baggage car. Father and young Franz brought the body from the railroad station and place it on the front porch of our old country home for an impromptu neighborhood viewing but folks were afraid to come near the body of a black plague victim. Father and Francis meanwhile had gone with neighbors to get the grave ready and arrange a short service in which the great, noble spirit of Charles Hyrum Goates was commended into the keeping of his Maker.
“Next day my sturdy, unconquerable old dad was called on still another of his grim missions – this time to bring home Vesta, the smiling one with the raven hair and big blue eyes.
“When he arrived at the home he found Juliett, the grief-crazed mother, kneeling at the crib of darling little Elaine, the blue-eyed baby angel with the gold curls. Juliett was sobbing wearily and praying: ‘Oh Father in heaven, not this one, please! Let me keep my baby! Do not take any more of my darlings from me!’
“Before father arrived home with Vesta the dread word had come again. Elaine had gone to join her daddy, brother Kenneth, and sister Vesta. And so it was that father made yet another heartbreaking journey to bring home and lay away a fourth member of his family, all within the week.
“The telephone did not ring the evening of the day they laid away Elaine nor were there any more sad tidings of death the next morning. It was assumed that George A. and his courageous companion Della, although afflicted, had been able to save the little ones Raeldon and Pauline; and it was such a relief that cousin
Reba Munns, a nurse, had been able to come in and help.
“After breakfast dad said to Franz, ‘Well, son, we had better get down to the field and see if we can get another load of beets out of the ground before they get frozen in any tighter. Hitch up and let’s be on our way.’
“Francis drove the four-horse outfit down the driveway and dad climbed aboard. As they drove along the Saratoga Road , they passed wagon after wagon-load of beets being hauled to the factory and driven by neighborhood farmers. As they passed by, each driver would wave a greeting: ‘Hi, ya, Uncle George,’ ‘Sure sorry, George,’ ‘Tough break, George,’ ‘You’ve got a lot of friends, George.’
“On the last wagon was the town comedian, freckle-faced Jasper Rolfe. He waved a cheery greeting and called out, ‘That’s all of ‘em, Uncle George.’
“My dad turned to Francis and said, ‘I wish it was all of ours.’
“When they arrived at the farm gate, Francis jumped down off the big read beet wagon and opened the gate as we drove onto the field. He pulled up, stopped the team, paused a moment and scanned the field, from left to right and back and forth – an lo and behold, there wasn’t a sugar beet on the whole field. Then it dawned on him what Jasper Rolfe meant when he called out, ‘That’s all of ‘em, Uncle George.’
“Then dad got down off the wagon, picked up a handful of the rich, brown soil he loved so much, and then in his thumbless left hand a beet top, and he looked for a moment at these symbols of his labor, as if he couldn’t believe his eyes.
“Then father sat down on a pile of beet tops – this man who brought four of his loved ones home for burial in the course of only six, days; made caskets, dug graves, and even helped with he burial clothing – this amazing man who never faltered, nor flinched, nor wavered throughout this agonizing ordeal – sat down on a pile of beet tops and sobbed like a little child.
“Then he arose, wiped his eyes with his big, red bandanna handkerchief, looked up at the sky, and said: “Thanks, Father, for the elders of our ward.'”
— The Ensign, July 1973, pages 36 and 37.