A Woman's Blessing
by EmilyCC and her grandmother, Aileen Clyde
In honor of Women’s History Month, I wanted to share the story of my great-great grandmother, Sarah Ann Eliza Brockbank Hales’ blessing by Susa Young Gates.*
Sarah Ann Eliza’s faith had been tried already when her husband was called to Mammoth, Utah in 1896. Her husband had been called on a mission to New Zealand two years after they had married, leaving her with their sickly toddler. Soon after he left, she had to move in with her family, working whatever odd jobs she could get. Then, she found out she was pregnant.
She writes, “When I learned I was to have another baby, I felt so blue and alone. I had a sick baby, no income, no bright future, etc. Well, I thought I could not possibly go through with it, but I did.” This baby was born 8 months after her husband left on his mission; he wouldn’t return for another 3 years.
After her husband returned from his mission, he was called to organize and lead the Saints in Mammoth, Utah, a booming mining town (today, it is deserted). Sarah Ann Eliza and her husband, George, were reluctant to go to this town with their three young boys. After they moved, a daughter, Tryphena, was born there.
My grandmother said, “As a mother, she always felt dependent on the Lord because there was such limited medical help in that mining town.”
Tryphena died when she was ten months old of pneumonia.
Soon, Sarah Ann Eliza had another daughter, Leah. It was a difficult labor and delivery. Two doctors told her that she probably wouldn’t have any more children.
In 1900 or 1901 (it’s tricky to figure out the exact date here), Susa Young Gates came as a “general officer of the Church” to Mammoth. At the time, Sarah Ann Eliza was the Relief Society President. Meetings had been arranged for Sister Young’s important visit, but Leah got sick. Sarah Ann Eliza sent word that she would not be attending the meetings so that she could care for her daughter.
At the end of one meeting, Susa Young Gates came to Sarah Ann Eliza’s home and said, “Sister Hales, where is your faith? Why haven’t you come to your meetings?”
Sarah Ann Eliza explained that she had already lost one daughter, the doctors had told her that she probably would not have any more children, and so she had decided to be with her baby daughter while she was sick. She said, “This baby is ill. I’m not going to take her with me. I’m not going to leave her.”
Susa Young Gates asked, “Would you like me to give you a blessing?
My great-great-grandmother replied that she would.
Susa’s blessing was full of specific and unique promises. She said that Sarah Ann Eliza “had all the children that she had designated to her in the premortal life but that there were other children whose parents had rejected them.”
Susa continued, “These children will come to your home. Some will be musically-talented and there will be others with special gifts. You will have 6 more children.”**
I was dumbfounded when I heard this story. My great-great-grandmother was a woman of great faith, a smart, obedient, and self-sacrificing lady. As I listen to other stories about her, I suspect she was more orthodox in her Church beliefs and practices than I am, and I wonder what she’d think of all of us feminists as part of her progeny.
She told this story to my grandmother during on an ordinary day in the 1950’s. She emphasized the great peace and comfort she felt from this blessing and acted as if such a blessing was perfectly commonplace, though by the 1950’s it wasn’t.
I wonder how things would be different in my life, in the Church in general, if this was still commonplace. Since this isn’t the case, I’m so glad that my grandmother told it to me on an ordinary day last year.
What stories do you love about the women in your family? How does your family keep such stories alive?
*Want to read more about Susa Young Gates? Read this fabulous piece by Louise Plummer (this is also where the picture is from).
**Sarah Ann Eliza did, indeed, go on to have six more children. Agnes, the youngest, had a beautiful singing voice and trained in New York City. And, Helen, another child, could play piano when she was four or five and was always able play by ear.