Prairie Thunderstorm

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“Prairie Thunderstorm,” Tambuli, June 1981, 21–22

Prairie Thunderstorm

Jennie shivered and drew the patchwork quilt more tightly around herself. She snuggled close to Susan. Outside the wagon, the wind whipped fiercely across the prairie, snapping the white wagon cover above her. Frightened, she wondered if the big wagon could withstand the raging storm. Papa had said the wagon was to be their home on the long journey to the valley of the Great Salt Lake. But suppose the wind shatters this old wagon, she thought, then how would Susan, Baby Sarah, Mama and Papa, and I get to the valley?

Although the wagon was cold and uncomfortable, it did provide pretty good shelter from storms, and it was large enough to carry the things that Jennie’s family would need to start their new home in Salt Lake. Besides all of Papa’s tools, there was a heavy iron blade for a plow. Mama, too, had packed many things. Her beautiful dishes were carefully wrapped in bedding and linens to protect them from breaking as the wagon creaked and jolted across the land. She had also packed a sewing box of scissors, thread, and needles. Along with the grain and vegetable seeds there were tiny packets of flower seeds. Lovely flowers blooming in the yard would help make their new house a home. There had been no room to carry furniture, so Mama’s beloved carved dressing-table had been sold, as had Papa’s chest of drawers and Susan’s framework for her bed.

Jennie remembered their pleasant home in Nauvoo. It had been hard to leave it, but cruel men had forced them to go. Papa had promised her that someday they would have a new home in the Rocky Mountains where they would all be safe and happy. Now thunder rumbled loudly across the prairie, and the wind moaned through the night. Jennie buried her head in her pillow and wished that the days of happiness and safety would come soon.

“Sister Quigley! Sister Quigley!” It was Brother Olenslager’s urgent voice. The light of his flickering lantern could be seen through the canvas wagon cover. “Are you awake? You must come. My wife is having her baby!”

“Yes, Brother Olenslager, I’m awake and I’ll come at once.”

Jennie heard Mama hastily dressing in the cold darkness of the wagon box. Tonight Papa was gone, for it was his turn to guard the horses and cattle. Jennie suddenly realized that she would be alone in the big dark wagon with four-year-old Susan and Baby Sarah.

“Mama?” she whispered.

“Jennie, I must go to help Sister Olenslager. Please watch after the little ones if they wake up.”

“Yes, Mama.” Jennie’s throat was dry and she could scarcely speak. How she wanted to cry out, “Don’t go, Mama. I’m frightened!”

“If I’m not back before morning, Jennie, you must prepare breakfast and prepare the wagon to start moving at daybreak. The morning bell will signal when it is time to wake up.” Then Mama slipped from the wagon into the wet night and was on her way to Sister Olenslager.

BOOOOM! A frightening clap of thunder directly overhead split the night, jolting Susan from her slumber. “Mama!” she cried.

“She isn’t here, Susan,” Jennie explained, trying to soothe her frightened sister. “She’s gone to help Sister Olenslager with her baby.”

“I want Mama,” Susan began to cry. “I’m scared.”

Jennie hugged her younger sister and said softly, “Don’t be afraid. Everything will be all right. I’m here with you. It’s just that this noisy storm woke you up! Go back to sleep now.”

Jennie held the trembling little girl in her arms, concealing the terror that she herself felt. Uninvited tears rolled down her cheeks and onto Susan’s blonde hair. Oh, if only Papa were here! she wished. He always laughs at storms. Jennie believed that Papa’s booming laugh was louder than thunder and his muscled arms stronger than a fierce wind.

“Shhh …” Jennie whispered. “Be still, Susan.” But the little one, shivering beneath the patchwork quilt, was not easily quieted. Soon her sobs woke Baby Sarah, who began to fuss and whimper.

All the while the storm grew wilder, and the rain beat unceasingly against the canvas. Lightning crackled, brilliant and white, and thunder boomed and echoed across the sky. A cold knot of terror tightened in Jennie’s stomach. She could no longer bring herself to speak to her sisters or to comfort them. Mama had told her to tend the little ones, yet she, herself, was frightened. Oh, what can I do? she wondered pleadingly.

Then Jennie remembered something Papa had told her before they had left their home in Nauvoo. He said that there would be times in her life when she might be lonely or frightened and that during those times she might have to do things that she felt she could not do all by herself. But even though he and Mama might not be close-by, she need never be alone. He explained that Heavenly Father was anxious to help her in times of need. He was eager to comfort her when she was fearful, and happy to be near her when she was lonely. All she needed to do was pray and ask for His help and her prayers would be answered.

Controlling her fear, Jennie sat up and knelt beside her two sisters. Then she prayed with all her heart for Heavenly Father to bless her and Susan and Sarah and be with them during the storm. When she finished praying, she crawled back under the covers.

Soon both Susan and Sarah were sleeping soundly next to her. As she lay beside them, Jennie felt the cold fear go away from her own heart, to be replaced by a warm calm. And weary from listening to the roaring of thunder, she, too, fell into a peaceful sleep.