“Washing, Weeding, and Worshiping,” Ensign, Mar. 2003, 18
My mother gave birth to 12 children and reared a 13th, my cousin. We grew up in the rural mountain valley of Midway, Utah, with very few modern appliances—no automatic washer, no clothes dryer, no furnace, no electric stove until later, no microwave oven, no wash-and-wear fabrics, no TV—and only one bathroom. But in what seems to me a most remarkable manner, Mother was able—through precept and example—to weave basic gospel teachings into the fabric of our everyday lives.
Mother taught all of us girls to sew, reminding us of the need to dress modestly and of the difficulty of finding modest styles in the stores. All our clothes were made from percale, which had to be starched and ironed. Each fall Mother sewed six percale dresses for each of us girls and six percale shirts for each of the boys to wear to school.
I loved doing laundry in the summer. We hung it on outside pulley lines, and the clothes smelled so fresh and clean. The winter was another story. We hung everything out, only to have the clothes quickly freeze on the lines. Sometimes when I hung the clothes out, I would stay until my hands were freezing, then run in the house and warm them up again. Then I’d go back outside again. After the clothes had hung there for a few hours, we took them inside the house to finish drying. We literally had to pry them off the clotheslines. When we moaned a bit about this procedure and the winter weather, Mother reminded us that “rugged weather makes for strong people.”
In the summer, however, to see my mother’s clotheslines was to see a work of art. We sorted all of the clothes inside the wash house before taking them outside to hang. One would not see a towel, a pair of pants, and then a sheet. No, all the towels were hung together by size and color, all the sheets together, and all those percale dresses and shirts. As I said, a work of art.
To my mother, right was right, and wrong was wrong, and there was no compromising. She was very consistent, and we could predict her reaction. For instance, we were not allowed to criticize Church authorities. Mother quoted our Danish grandmother, who said, “Remember that the first sign of apostasy is criticism of the Church leaders.” That concept was strictly enforced.
In our home we knew the importance of music. When it looked as if a quarrel might begin, our mother insisted that we sing together. She often said that one can’t quarrel while singing. She also insisted that it calmed our spirits and kept bad feelings away from our home. Every morning as we got ready to start the day, we would sing our favorite hymn, “Morning Thanksgiving.” It is no longer in the hymnbook, but we loved it. By the time we finished that song, little troubles had disappeared, and things somehow seemed brighter.
We didn’t gossip in our home. Mother told us that it was important for friends and acquaintances to know that they had real friends in us and that when they needed help, we would be there for them. She also told us that it didn’t take a lot of intelligence to sit around talking about others. My husband and I have tried to develop that attitude in our own family with a slogan hanging on our refrigerator that says, “Your name is safe in our home.”
Mother questioned who “they” were when she would hear us say “they say” this or that. She reminded us that it is difficult to judge others because we do not know what motivates their behavior. She often said, “Love people into doing things.”
Mother was a strict disciplinarian. My parents both taught us that obedient children are happy children. No one misbehaved long in Mother’s presence—family members or friends. She loved people and let them know she did. Yet, when she spoke, we took her seriously.
My parents taught us that there is no such thing as a spiritually strong person who is at the same time lazy. We all worked hard in our home.
Mother helped us discover not just the importance of hard work but the joy of it as well. She taught us the magic of the early hours of the morning for accomplishment. She often told us that those who are up early “run ahead all day.” She suggested that we as young mothers should arise a while before the remainder of the family. So much can be accomplished during those moments alone. She often showed us the beauty of the early morning. I can still hear her as she called us at 5:00 A.M. in the summertime. She would say, “Let’s get up now, girls, and go weed while it is still cool.” Once we got into the garden, she would show us the weeds and tell us that weeds were like sin. If we pulled them out while they were small, they were much easier to remove than later when they got big. To this day I can feel a bit of excitement early in the morning when I think of that quiet time when meditating is easier, studying is more profitable, and one seems to accomplish twice as much as later on in the day.
Mother taught us the great importance of the Sabbath day. Clothes, food, and cleaning were all prepared on Saturday. Mother said that one of the main reasons for the great troubles in the world today is lack of observance of the Sabbath. We truly tried to revere the Lord’s day.
Our parents taught us to study and love the scriptures. Mother instilled in us a love for all good books. She could recite poetry by the hour. One of my most vivid memories is standing on the wood box while Mother and I did the dishes. She would recite poetry and would tell us wonderful stories with great morals. All 13 of us children received a book each Christmas and each birthday. They were carefully selected by Mother. She shopped at secondhand stores to find copies of her old favorites.
Mother taught us the importance of keeping a journal and writing our personal histories. She always told us that we would think we could remember details of our lives, only to find later on that many of them had escaped our memories, and we would regret that we hadn’t kept our personal histories up-to-date.
Mother and Dad worked diligently to instill a testimony in each of us. Mother often reminded us of what our grandparents’ testimonies meant to them. Many times, I heard Mother relate the story of her mother’s introduction to the gospel in Denmark. She was 18 years old when a relative invited her to go to town to listen to and heckle some young Mormon missionaries. Grandmother thought that sounded like great sport. The results were quite different from what she expected, because the moment she heard the first one speak, she knew that he spoke the truth. She rushed home, thinking that her father and stepmother would be as thrilled as she, only to be told never to mention the word Mormon in their home. A little later, she joined the Church and set sail for America, arriving at age 19, knowing no English and having no friends. She had also been disinherited by her family. Even though she endured many difficult experiences, her testimony remained firm throughout her life.
Finally, Mother taught us to love. She championed those who had less opportunity to accomplish. We grew up accompanying her on her visits to widows and others who were lonely. We cooked special things for them; we sewed for them; we took them vegetables from our garden. We learned that there is no joy to equal that of serving others and forgetting oneself. I later realized that those visits we made with her were probably one part for the benefit of the recipient and two parts for our growth and benefit.
I pay tribute to my mother, who taught us gospel principles as we hung clothes on the line, weeded the garden, and prepared for the Sabbath day. Her life, filled with self-discipline and compassion, was its own testimony of righteous living. My memories of her, like the lovely afterglow of a sunset, remind me of the joy that comes from striving to be like the Savior.