Sunday, April 22, 2012

Rough Edges

This is Julia Ann Clark Harrington's trunk.  In 1860, she crossed the United States frontier as a widow, traveling with her adult children in a company led by her son-in-law Arba Lambson.  In this trunk she packed what she could not leave behind.  Julia was a registered midwife, and the one other piece of luggage she carried was a doctor's bag.  After arriving in the Utah Valley, Julia continued as a midwife--her legacy is commemorated in The Daughters of the Utah Pioneers Museum.

A set of blue china dishes was brought to Utah in this trunk, some genealogical papers, and who can say what else.  What items would Julia have considered precious or necessary for this new life ?  She was not young or inexperienced--57 years old when she set out.  What balance of practical and sentimental influenced her choices ?  What experiences formed her expectations ?

All things considered, the trunk is in exceptional condition, preserved by a proud posterity.  The embossed surface is clear, colors still sharp. This is not to say there are no rough edges, dents, or scrapes to be found. A functional item such as this does not fulfill its purpose without incurring wear or damage-the broken strap is said to have happened on the original voyage.

As with most known ancestors-whether pilgrims, pioneers, or revolutionaries--their histories are told and retold.  Tragedies and victories alike are caressed by the repetition and become brilliant facets in the collective family memory.  Our predecessors take on heroic properties and set a standard to which we aspire.  But just as with this treasured heirloom, our grandmothers and grandfathers did not get their strengths or compassion without enduring human trials, nor were they pure saints.  I would feel hopeless to ever honor my forbears if I believed they never struggled with choices like mine, made mistakes, or never asked forgiveness for some careless hurt.

Julia's trunk is not fancy, but it's well built and true.  I'd like to think well built and true are lofty enough goals for me.

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