Light and shadow, cool and bright, we experienced Angel’s Landing last weekend at Zion National Park. Scrolling through the pictures makes my fingers and toes go numb as I look at the narrow fin of rock on which we hiked. I didn’t watch the kids do this. I stayed ahead or behind, and didn’t make the last few hundred feet of the journey with them. As I walked down the mountain, I thought of our Father in Heaven, who doesn’t shrink from watching over each of us when we are in peril, and felt gratitude for a Parent like that.
The Weber, 2013
Each summer, my mom’s family has a week at the Spencer family cabin called the “Weber,” about 10 miles east of Oakley, UT. The first Weber cabin was built in the early 1900’s, and was part of a ranch shared by several prominent families in the Salt Lake Valley. Along the length of Pines Ranch runs the Smith-Morehouse River, and the Spencer cabin rests on an especially choice location right above the river. The Spencer bridge is the most permanent and strong bridge over the river at the ranch.
In 2002, the original cabin was knocked down and rebuilt with most of the important details still intact. There is a large, windowed porch room with long tables for big family dinners with a porch bed on the west end which can hold 10 people or more as they read books, gaze down at the river below, or take a nap among ample pillows. The central kitchen remains without a dishwasher so there are long dishwashing sessions to build character and relationships among those who wash and those who dry. Dozens of tiny, ancient hot chocolate mugs and stoneware place settings fill the cabinets. Pitchers and creamers are for wildflowers. There is an attic full of springy mattresses, and four rooms off the living room for senior members of the family, or those with the youngest infants.
Outside, people play volleyball, badminton, and basketball. Little children race around on scooters and toy cars while parents watch from the long porch. Tubing, spending time on the great swing in the pine grove, bike rides, and walks fill the days.
These are just the trappings of the Weber experience. The full picture is incomplete without a strong, dynamic grandmother leading the activities, a steady, fun-loving grandfather, aunts and uncles, and cousins of every age all around. I have lived long enough to see the changing-of-the-guard in these roles. Where my great-grandmother stood, my grandmother took her place, and now my mother lives her own version of matriarch at the Spencer cabin. In my mind, the matriarch is the most important role at the Weber. We don’t realize it, but each woman is in training to lead at the Weber.
As the oldest cousin, Paige had a following of little girls at the Spencer family cabin each summer. One afternoon in 2013, as some children began tubing down the river, sixteen-year-old Paige accompanied a line of younger girls and a dog named Sadie on a walk down the hill, across the bridge, and through the pine grove toward the spring. The flagstones of the path led them through the tall grass, buttercups, and monkshood toward the spring at the base of the mountain. The happy sounds of chattering voices and laughter were suddenly overshadowed by feelings of fear from the sound of movement nearby, and some growling from the dog, Sadie. Paige wrote, “Despite the heat of the day, I felt goosebumps rise on my arms. Something was wrong. I heard a rustling sound not far from where we were standing. I looked ahead to the left side of the path, and suddenly I knew. A dark shape emerged from the trees and stood up on its hind legs. I felt myself go tense as I realized it was a bear watching us from a short twenty feet away… I looked at the sweet, scared faces which had all automatically turned to me for instruction and reassurance. Not knowing what else to do, I desperately gestured to the girls to stand close to me. Ruby, still slightly ahead of the group, slowly crept backwards. Kaitlyn and Anna huddled in fear on either side of me, their small hands gripping mine tightly. Charlotte stood still and silent behind us. As I met their wide eyes, I took a deep breath and knew I had to be brave. I had to do something. I prayed silently: Please help us. As I stood, trying to choose a course of action, Sadie started growling even more intensely and began moving slowly back and forth… Even though my mind was full of questions, fear, and disbelief, I suddenly felt surprisingly calm. Sadie barked, and … time started speeding forward again as we watched the bear start climbing up a nearby tree. As I hesitated, wondering if it was okay to move forward, my mind suddenly became clear, and I knew that we were safe to do so. ‘Let’s go!’ I hissed, and we were off, reaching for each other’s hands, rushing along the path. We didn’t look back.” (Paige’s Narrative, 2016)
This could be a story about many things: the protection of our girls, gratitude for Sadie the dog, or the adventures of childhood in the mountains. To me, the story tells what it takes to be a strong woman. Most of all, a strong woman acts in faith. For Paige that day, it was faith to trust God’s help to escape from a bear. My Grandma Stewart’s acts of faith were to reach out to the grandchildren and children who couldn’t come to the Spencer cabin because of divorce or other challenges. She never gave up traditions she knew would draw the family together someday. For my mom, her acts of faith include her hospitality to everyone. The first Spencer grandmother at the cabin, who was known for her hospitality, placed a plaque on the cabin which reads, “Come in the evening or come in the morning. Come when you’re looked for, or come without warning. A thousand welcomes you’ll find here before you, and the oftener you come here, the more we’ll adore you.”
I have seen many faces welcomed at the Weber. The bear was the only exception.
We have heard a lot of beautiful music at Temple Square and the high school in the past seven days. Here is a sample of Daniel playing piano at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building today.
I love these concerts because they give us time to sit and reflect at Christmas time.
We stopped at the vending machines where you can donate livestock, food, water, and first aid supplies last week. Today my mom came, too. The vending machine had to be restocked as we stood in line. Chickens and goats are very popular items.
From my parents’ patio today, the smell of leaves decaying on the ground and a wood burning stove was enough to make me stop and breathe deeply. The garden was covered in leaves, ready for a covering of snow and a tiller in the spring. Something about autumn forces us to look forward, in preparation for winter and holidays. I feel the tug of holiday expectations early this year, and grateful for the smells of autumn that initiated some minutes to reflect.
On Thursday, I drove to the now-familiar courthouse in Ogden to see my sister and her husband adopt their third baby. Grace was sleepy as I held her during my sister’s sweet, tearful testimony to the judge. To keep the children safe, I don’t post photos of their faces, just their feet. Can you spot the tiniest feet? Those are Grace’s.
In St George this weekend, Richard’s parents’ house seemed more empty during our visit, as Rebecca’s family didn’t stop by. Cancer shows us the gap one person leaves when she is unable to attend. The family rallied for a big wedding celebration for Andrea, twinkle lights and green boughs everywhere. All hands were needed, and this brought out the best in many who sometimes stay in the corners.
When I look at my own wedding photos, it is the faces of grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles that I study, not friends nor countless pictures of the couple. I wish wedding photographers realized this, and took a few more pictures of the extended family.
Speaking of memories of grandparents, Daniel wore his great-grandfather’s cowboy boots to a dance this weekend. I think that would make Grandpa smile.
I called my grandmother last night to wish her a happy 91st birthday. She talked to me about weather and politics and her grandchildren, all the usual. I asked her what she thought her secret was for living so long.
I guess she gets that question a lot, and she said has no answer. No one in her family history has lived as long. She just said she loved to be surrounded by pictures of family, to watch them grow and achieve, and to receive letters in the mail.
Without saying it directly, I saw that the secret to living, no matter how many years we have, is to be positive. She has chronic pain in her knees; she has another scan this week, as the doctors may be worried that her cancer has returned; she is alone a lot of the time. But she brushes these things off, and focuses on the people in her life, and delights in kindness shown to her.
We are watching and and waiting as another relative receives more bad news each day about her health. How do I reconcile these two stories in my family, of longevity and illness? How do I live without fear, and with gratitude, no matter what? Most important, how can I support these women in the paths they have ahead?
These are my Monday thoughts.
Is there anything better than an older relative who spends time with you when you are little? Maybe they rescue you and help you get to shore; maybe they take time to play a child’s game, or dance with you when Grandma tells you it’s time to dance. I wish I knew how the kids learned to show such kindness and empathy. I like to think they learned it long before they came to us. I didn’t ask the kids to do these things. I really like seeing these photos of our kids being kind.