There was a recent bout of stomach flu at my house. In a period of 4 hours, my three children vomited 11 times. I was grateful to be living in a house with a washer and dryer, since we moved fairly recently out of an apartment with only public, coin-operated laundry facilities. I considered what it might have been like living in an earlier time and trying to cope with such an illness: chopping wood to make a fire to boil water to do laundry or perhaps going down to the rocks by the river to scrub, waiting for the sun to dry out the sheets and the towels and the clothes. There would have been no 24-hour nurse hotline to consult, no pedialyte to dole out in spoonfuls, no internet to look for information on signs of dehydration.
In thinking about those earlier days, I found some forgotten information about one of my ancestors. Catherine Fewkes, was born in England a few years after Joseph Smith’s vision of the Father and the Son. They say she was a handsome woman with dark red hair and brown eyes.
In 1845, at age 19, she married Thomas Hicken, also 19, and joined the church. Catherine sewed clothes from cloth that she wove with homespun thread that she made from flax raised by her husband.
In December 1851, she and Thomas and their 3 children crossed the Atlantic ocean to New Orleans on a small crowded ship. For the 10 week trip, they were in quarters with no heating, no ventilation, and no refrigeration for their food. The washing and plumbing facilities were likely inadequate for the 500 passengers on board. When they arrived in March of 1852, they traveled up the Mississippi River to Iowa, where Thomas worked any job to earn money to buy an outfit to cross the plains.
In the spring of that same year, the Hickens joined with the Kinsman family to buy one yoke of oxen, 2 yokes of cows and a wagon. They joined the Eli B. Kelsey Company. Because the 2 families were sharing the wagon, Catherine walked most of the way from Iowa to Utah with her children, ages 6, 3, and 2. On top of it all, she was pregnant!When they arrived, they settled in Provo. That December, her baby, Thomas (my great-grandfather) was born in what they called a wattle house, with walls made of willows stuck in the ground and plastered with mud, with dirt floors and a dirt roof. Those years in Provo were lean. Food was scarce. Her daughter recounts that one morning when they went out, the trees were covered with a white sweet substance. They gathered it and used it as sugar. They survived on suckerfish and pigweed greens for almost one whole season. After 8 years in Provo, they moved to Heber, where they stayed.
In the 9 years after arriving in Utah, Catherine bore 3 more children, one of whom died when he was 9 months old. A year after her last child was born, and Catherine was 36, her husband took a 2nd wife, a widow with 4 children. He married her to help her and her children. As far as is known, he did not live with her. 3 years later, Catherine had to share her husband with a 3rd wife, Margaret, who was 18. Thomas, was 39. They had 5 children together.
Catherine lived only 15 years more and died in May 1879 at age 54 of a paralytic stroke. She was remembered as a faithful and kind church member.
When I think about Catherine’s life, I want to do better. I want to be better. I want to REMEMBER her and channel her strength, instead of complaining about laundry to do or the difficulties of cleaning vomit out of carpet. I want to remember how blessed I am and thank God for every moment.
Is there someone in your past or present who inspires you to be better?