“Is This, by Chance, Your Party?” Ensign, July 1975, 64–65
Custer—Washington—Grout. The names came to me with such impact that I couldn’t ignore them. Yes, they did stir something in my memory, but it was the way they came that jarred me. I felt they must be important.
I had been accustomed to spending half an hour each morning reading the scriptures, and at the end of that study period I enjoyed a private talk with my Heavenly Father. On this particular morning I had finished reading and was kneeling in prayer when my thoughts were interrupted with those words: Custer—Washington—Grout! I tried desperately to ignore them and continue my prayer, but they persisted, so I searched for a pencil and paper and wrote them down.
As the day passed, I reflected on the possible reasons these words should keep coming back to me, and my thoughts went back to my childhood. My mother had died when I was three years old, leaving me and two older brothers in an orphanage for a time. Then I had been adopted by an inactive Latter-day Saint family, but my two brothers had to remain in the orphanage until they were old enough to fend for themselves. My foster parents could not afford to adopt them, too.
I did meet my brother at high school, and he told me that we had half-brothers and sisters living, but he didn’t know where or how many.
After I married, and my knowledge of genealogy grew, I developed a strong desire to honor the mother who had given me birth by doing her temple work. After diligent research I obtained from one of my brothers the address of a half-sister who might be able to give me enough facts to do this work. I wrote her in 1948 and subsequently did complete my mother’s endowments. This half-sister lived in Oregon—or Washington—I had forgotten which. And the little correspondence we did have had long since been forgotten.
The names that came to me during my prayer that Wednesday morning kept nagging at me, and I discussed them with my husband that evening. He had business in Portland, Oregon, and invited me to drive up with him. “If you could find your half-sister’s address, it just might be worth checking into,” he said. “We’ll be in Portland a couple of days.”
That evening I dragged a box of old genealogy records from the basement upstairs to the living room and emptied the whole thing on the floor. I was searching for a 20-year-old envelope with an address and the only word I could remember: “Custer.”
After the third futile search, I shoved the papers back into the box. “What’s so important about an impression anyway?” I asked myself. “Why can’t I forget the whole thing?” Then, on impulse, I emptied the box one more time. As I was putting the papers back, an envelope fell out, and the return address almost leaped out at me: “Vivian Grout, Custer, Washington.” I stared at the words with a feeling of complete disbelief.
A look at our atlas showed that Custer was almost on the Canadian border, and so far from Portland that it was ridiculous to think any of them would live near that city—if they were on the west coast at all. “You might as well forget it,” my husband said. “Even if they still live in Washington, the chances of a letter reaching them in time to meet us is practically nil.”
I realized he was right. So I went to bed and tried to forget it. But the words wouldn’t go away. The next morning I composed a letter to Vivian, explaining our trip and giving her our telephone number—just in case. I sent the letter out airmail Thursday night.
The remaining time before our trip was hectic, and by Saturday morning the letter had been all but forgotten. And then one of the children called me to the phone saying, “It’s for you, Mom, and it sounds like long distance.”
The words I heard that morning gave me the strangest feeling I have ever had. “Jeannette, this is Vivian, your sister. I received your letter just this morning. It was forwarded from Custer. We haven’t lived there for many years. We live in Bellingham now. I’ve been crying for three hours—I just knew some day you’d get in touch with me again. My husband says I can fly to Portland to see you.” I was elated.
Yet on the drive to Portland I had misgivings and wondered how Vivian and I would get along. By the time we arrived, however, I was skeptical we’d ever find out. The motel where I had told her we’d be staying had no vacancies—and the whole city was crowded. A roller derby and several conventions were being held and accommodations were hard to come by. We tried desperately to explain our plight to the motel owner, but to no avail. So we asked that if someone named Grout called for someone named Partridge, would they please tell them our location, and we left.
We called another motel recommended to us, but it was too high-priced. We called several others. No luck. Yet, strangely, each one recommended the higher-priced accommodations we had turned down. Finally, in order to have a place to sleep, we took the available room and telephoned our location back to the first motel. But I just knew that would be the end of it. They would forget all about it. We’d never know whether Vivian came or not—or whether she just couldn’t find us.
We did a bit of shopping, and then, on impulse, went to the desk clerk and asked if there was any message for us. The clerk said she had had no inquiry, but as we started out the door she called, “Wait a minute. Did you say Grout? I believe we have guests here by that name.”
We held our breath. “Yes, they called from Washington yesterday—Bellingham, I think—for reservations. They are in room 210, just three doors down the hall from you. Is this, by any chance, your party?”
I spent the following day with them while my husband conducted his business, and I learned a great deal about my family.
A testimony of the importance of genealogical work came to me through this experience, and perhaps this sharing of friendship and information will one day unite our scattered family.