Friday, November 28, 2014

Merle Hayward Wessman (1909-1945)

When a child is born, the hospital pricks its heel and soaks the blood into a Guthrie card. The hospital tests the blood for a variety of rare conditions including cystic fibrosis, congenital hypothyroidism, and phenylketonuria.

With modern medical technology, if a child has an early diagnosis, many diseases can be treated and the child can live a normal life, but in the days before the heel prick test, something about the child's development or feeding might not have seemed quite right, but parents could only watch helplessly as their child started to fall behind developmentally, mentally, and physically.

Merle Hayward Wessman was born September 27, 1909. Her proud new parents named her after her mother's beloved sister Leah Merle Hayward, who had died four years earlier.

Merle's widowed grandmother Amanda Wessman was a Swedish immigrant and temple worker. Merle was her fourteenth grandchild. Merle's other grandparents, Henry Hayward and Elizabeth Pugsley Hayward were respectively a contractor and politician, and Merle was their first grandchild.

Soon their darling little Merle developed the symptoms of what was then called "cretinism," perhaps a diagnosis now known as CH, or congenital hypothyroidism, perhaps another rare genetic disorder like Hurler-Scheie syndrome or Morquio syndrome. If it was CH, she would have slept a lot, eaten poorly, and had poor muscle tone and a low body temperature. Her belly would have distended and within a few years she would have failed standard developmental tests.

Merle with her uncle John Hayward.

Whatever the genetic or metabolic disorder, it does not seem to have shown up again in the family, and due to the size of the extended family, there's no reason to believe it will.

Not long ago, Merle was mentioned on Facebook, and in response, her younger sister Norinne sent a lovely hand-written letter filled with tender memories of her sister's life, with permission to excerpt it and include it here.

From Norinne:

My first recollection of Merle was when I was very young. She would sit in a rocker holding me, rocking and singing, “Go to sleep, my Renie, Renie girl,” (to the tune of an old song). The first line in the song is “Smile the while you kiss me sad adieu,” the title of the song is “‘Til we meet again,” —at least I think that’s the title. I still remember the melody, and she did quite well with it. This resulted in my family and friends (many years later) calling me “Rene,” which they still all do. 

You are right—she didn’t smile much (never in pictures), but when she did it was a sight to behold. She’d sit at the piano and play no recognizable tune, always in kind of a waltz tempo. For hours on end she would sit by the radio and play cards. I don’t recall if she ever played with other people. She loved to wash dishes, if you can believe that—14 plus place setting, 3 meals a day. She would cry if for some reason someone else did the dishes.

Merle, Grandpa Henry Hayward, unknown boy.

We moved to Salt Lake when I was about 9 years old. Mom, Keith, Boyd, Marilyn and I camped out in South Fork Canyon. I don’t recall Merle being with us, and I think she may have stayed with Grandma Hayward—she did that occasionally, and Grandma loved her. I think the others all needed to help. We also had 5 orphan kitties with us, whose mother had been poisoned by a horrible man, who would give cats and dogs poisoned chicken.

Front: John, Jean, Phil, Betty, Bobby (cousin Robert Edwards, son of L.R.J and Elizabeth Hayward Edwards). Middle: Merle, Harry, Paul, Dick, Ernest (baby). Back: Jean, Grandpa Henry Hayward, Henry, Grandma Elizabeth Pugsley Hayward.

What is sad is, I don’t recall Merle ever going to church with us, and never to our Pugsley family reunions at Lagoon. She was kept home most of the time; Grandma would take her for a few days quite often. Isn’t it awful that people with her issues were sort of hidden away. It is so different now—they are taken in groups on outings, etc. I’m ashamed when I think back on the way they were treated.

Jean with all fourteen children.

I must have been high school age or older when a terrible thing happened. John and Merle were home alone. At that time he was working for Mtn. Fuel Supply. John was bathing and heard some commotion. He wrapped himself in a towel and opened the door to see Merle running, screaming toward the kitchen, and she was in flames. He wrapped the towel around her, put out the flames, and called the doctor. Merle was in the habit of standing with her back toward the fireplace (no screen). The down draft pulled the back of her dress into the fire.

The doctor popped big blisters all over her body and dressed them with some kind of ointment. Her hair, eyebrows and eyelashes were singed. The doctor came every day for a long time to dress the burns. It was horrible! She could have died, and the house could have burned down!

When Grandma Hayward died 26 Jan 1942, Merle was very sad—she and Grandma loved each other so much.

Wessman family gathering, 1943-1945.
From left: Merle, unknown,  (behind: Beverly and John), Liz and Harry dancing.

When Merle was 36 years old, she was very ill with Bronchial Pneumonia and was in LDS Hospital. I understand that illness was common in people with Merle’s condition. Mom spent most of the time there. Merle thought Grandma was there. She also kept staring at a corner of the room and told Mom the kids were playing there.

Merle died on 7 April 1945.

John was in the army, and was on his way home... I keep thinking the funeral was at Larkin Mortuary, but I’m not sure. She was buried by Daddy in Salt Lake City Cemetery. 

See her entry at FindAGrave: Merle Hayward Wessman.

It was a good time for John to be home. Mom (and all the rest of us) depended on him in more ways than one. He was almost a father figure in the family.

A story added by Ernie's wife, Elaine, as related by Norinne:

I had talked with Elaine yesterday and was telling her what information I remembered about Merle to you. She didn’t know Merle as she and Ernie were not together at that time. She called me this morning to tell me something Ernie had told her years ago. He said that my sister Jean and Dick’s wife, Margaret, were staying with Merle at the hospital. They were looking out the hospital window; heard something and turned around. Merle sat up in her bed, held out her hand and said, “Help me, Daddy!” fell over and died. I had never heard this before. Ernie would not have told her that if it hadn’t happened.

Thanks to Emily for providing most of the pictures. My picture of Merle's gravestone is from a trip to Utah in 2010.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

This post is originally from November 25, 2010, but since the information and sentiments are still true, here it is again [and again in 2013 and 2014!]. Happy Thanksgiving to friends and family all around the world.

Every year at Thanksgiving we have a tradition of reading a quote before our Thanksgiving dinner. This quote is from one of the Pilgrims, an ancestor of my children although not of mine, William Bradford. [1]

Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of heaven, who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof, again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth, their proper element. …

But here I cannot but stay and make a pause, and stand half amazed at this poor people’s present condition; and so I think will the reader too, when he well considers the same. Being thus passed the vast ocean, and a sea of troubles before in their preparation, … they had now no friends to welcome them, nor inns to entertain or refresh their weather-beaten bodies, no houses or much less towns to repair to, to seek for succor…. And for the season it was winter, and they that know the winters of that country know them to be sharp and violent and subject to cruel and fierce storms… If they looked behind them, there was the mighty ocean which they had passed, and was now as a main bar and gulf to separate them from all the civil parts of the world. If it be said they had a ship to succor them, it is true; but what heard they daily from the master and company? … Let it also be considered what weak hopes of supply and succor they left behind them, that might bear up their minds in this sad condition and trials they were under; and they could not but be very small.… What could now sustain them but the spirit of God and his grace?

May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: “Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness; but they cried unto the Lord, and he heard their voice, and looked on their adversity. Let them therefore praise the Lord, because he is good, and his mercies endure forever. Yea, let them which have been redeemed of the Lord, show how he hath delivered them from the hand of the oppressor. When they wandered in the desert wilderness out of the way, and found no city to dwell in, both hungry, and thirsty, their soul was overwhelmed in them. Let them confess before the Lord his loving kindness, and his wonderful works before the sons of men.” [2]

[1] One of these years I will get around to posting about the Pilgrim ancestors on the Tanner line, Richard Warren and Francis Cooke. [Ed.—And John Cooke. See comments.]

[2] William Bradford was quoting from Psalm 107. The Pilgrims brought the Geneva Bible with them to the New World rather than the King James Version, and the text of the psalm in that translation reads as follows:

1 Praise the Lord, because he is good: for his mercy endureth forever. 2 Let them, which have been redeemed of the Lord, shew how he hath delivered them from the hand of the oppressor, 3 And gathered them out of the lands, from the East and from the West, from the North and from the South. 4 When they wandered in the desert and wilderness out of the way, and found no city to dwell in, 5 Both hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted in them. 6 Then they cried unto the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress, 7 And led them forth by the right way, that they might go to a city of habitation. 8 Let them therefore confess before ye Lord his loving kindness, and his wonderful works before the sons of men.

The image of the Bradford journal is from the Wikipedia entry Of Plymouth Plantation. The Robert Walter Weir painting "Embarkation of the Pilgrims" is from the Wikipedia entry on William Bradford. Autumn photo from D Sharon Pruitt from 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Samuel Shepherd and the Nauvoo Temple

The Joseph Smith Papers Project continues to add marvelous resources to its website. A new addition is  The Book of the Law of the Lord, a collection of journal entries, nine revelations, and donations to the Nauvoo Temple.

I took just a few minutes to look at the donations and saw the following entry: 

[Page 32] Decmber 18
Received of Samuel Shepherd per hand James Nelson 2 hogs 4.14 [414] lbs. 2 cts per lb $8.28 on his Tything. deliverd the Temple Committe this 18'' Dec 1841. 

Sam was a veteran of the War of 1812, spent time in a prisoner of war camp in Canada, later joked to his grandchildren that while being held captive his clothing was so full of vermin that he could place them on the other side of the cell, whistle, and the bugs would bring them back to him.

After the war he settled near Kirtland, joined the Church, lost his first wife to cholera on the journey to Missouri, remarried a widow and they sent three sons with the Mormon Battalion. A few circumstantial details suggest Samuel opposed polygamy, and after a brief trip back to Utah in 1857, he returned to his home in San Bernardino. Although he was later baptized into the RLDS Church, he has many descendants in the LDS Church.

In mid-December 1841 he was evidently slaughtering hogs, as noted in the donation records.

That's a valuable record for the family, and, in terms of social history, besides the price of the commodity, it documents when the pork was being processed that winter, but most importantly, it documents that Samuel Shepherd helped support the building of the temple.

And... there may be plenty more discoveries to be made in the book, but until I figure out why my computer is currently blurring documents, I will not be able to read the record.