Sunday, January 9, 2011

Those That Came Before

My family heritage was on my mind a lot this fall.  For some reason I was very aware of the blessings I enjoy every day because I was born to two parents who loved the Lord and were committed to serving Him.

In November I blogged about my mother’s choices and sacrifices here.

Before the meeting that made me think about my mother’s legacy, I had been thinking of the legacy of my father’s family.  I knew that my great great (?) grandparents on my father’s side of the family were early LDS pioneers in South Carolina.  This fall I had a new question.  Both of my paternal grandparents came from large families; my grandpa had 13 siblings and my grandma had 5 siblings.  Both of their parents were members of the church.  And yet only 5 of the 14 kids in my grandpa’s family remained active members of the church, and only 2 in my grandma’s family.  I started wondering how and why my grandparents defied the odds and spent their entire lives as strong, active members of the Mormon church.

In October while I was visiting at the farm with my dad and several of his siblings, I asked my question. “How did it happen that Grandma and Grandpa stayed active in the church when so many of their brothers and sisters didn’t?”

After tossing around several possibilities (which included the vital importance of the example of my grandpa’s older sister, Hattie, and her husband RB) my uncle looked at me in the eye and said, “it probably had a lot to do with Mom and Dad taking our family to the temple.”

I could tell there was a story to be told, and I was not disappointed.


My grandparents were poor.  Poor.  When they first married they rented a room in someone else’s house to live in.  At one point they lived in a room of RB and Hattie’s house.  By the time my father was young they had moved to the farm on the outside of town.  My grandpa worked as a machinist during the day and came home in the evening to work his farm.  The children also had farm chores to be done. 

My grandma always told my grandpa that she wanted to take their family to the temple.  This would be no small undertaking.  From their small town in South Carolina the closest temple was in Utah; over 2100 miles away.  I don’t know what my grandpa thought about her desire; but I do know that years went by without their family making the trip. 

One year my grandpa was in a motorcycle accident.  He was terribly injured and spent over a month in the hospital.  After the accident my grandmother intensified her request that he take their family to the temple, apparently telling him that “if he didn’t she would find herself a man who would.”


family Callis (holding Pam), Margaret (holding baby Dave), John, Cal, Chuck, and Linda


One day when Mark (baby #7) was just a few months old, Grandpa told Grandma that he had a plan that would enable them to go to the temple.  They had purchased a car that was big enough to drive the family across the country.  (Though “big enough” was certainly a relative term!)  Grandpa could take enough time off of work to take the trip.  They would be able to afford it…and here was the kicker.  IF Grandma and the kids picked the field of cotton behind the house.  If they picked the cotton themselves they would have enough money to be able to travel to the temple.


Now I’ve known this story for many years.  I’ve heard my Aunt Pam tell how the cotton boll was sharp on the end, and that it would sometime catch their fingers so that they would bleed while they were picking the cotton.  But on this particular day I heard more of the story. 

I told my Uncle Chuck how impressed I was that the kids had all picked cotton after school so that their family could afford to go to the temple.  Uncle Chuck told me that all of the kids (except for the baby) were in school all day, that the little kids were too small to accomplish much, and that he and my Uncle Cal (who were in their mid teens) had other chores that had to be done around the farm. 

And then he said, “Do you know who the real hero of this story is?”

I was quite certain he was going to tell me that he was the real hero.  Or that he and Uncle Cal were, since they were really the only ones old enough to shoulder much of the burden.  But what he said next was not what I expected.


He said, “The real hero of this story is Margaret Watson.”

scan2 014 Margaret Watson—my grandma


Each day my grandma would take her 3 month old baby out to the cotton field.  She would lay him on a blanket at the end of the row, and then pick cotton all day long.  When her kids came home from school she would make dinner and take care of all the other chores that needed to be done.  And then the next day she took her tiny baby out to the cotton field with her and picked cotton again; cotton that would pay for their trip to Utah and the temple.

I saw my grandma differently that night in South Carolina.  I already knew that she was a woman who had married young and worked hard to create a better life for her children.  But I had never known of her heroic role in this story, of her driving commitment over the years to take her family to the temple.


family2 The family about 4 years after the temple trip.


Was this the thing that made the difference, that kept my grandparents and their children committed to the church throughout their lives?  I can never know.  But I do know that sacrifice and dedication like this leaves lasting impressions, and I am sure that I am the recipient over and over again of blessings that have come because of these sacrifices. 


When I was a young child singing songs of the Mormon pioneers I often felt left out and inferior.  I was the only person I knew who wasn’t descended from the Mormon pioneers.  I wish I had understood then what I know now; that I am descended from Mormon pioneers.  One young woman who was the first pioneer in her family.  And another family of pioneers who worked harder than I can comprehend to be able to have their family sealed together. 

What a superior legacy they have left me.



P.S.  As it turned out my grandparents had other obstacles to overcome before they made it to the temple.  My Uncle Chuck wrote an article about it for the Ensign and it was published in Feb 1985.  Oddly enough the Feb 1985 issue isn’t available online right now, but if you’re curious to read the rest of the story you can find it here.


  1. This is amazing... I need to remember this.

  2. Loved it, Cindy! Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Thanks SO much for sharing this Cindy- your grandmother sounds incredible. I can just imagine her taking breaks to nurse the baby out in the field- I can't imagine! And I love that she told your grandfather she'd fine someone to take her to the temple if he didn't!

  4. What a wonderful story to have in your family legacy! Thank you for sharing it here.

  5. Oh, thank you so much for sharing that. When I read the Grisham book about how terrible picking cotton was, I had a conversation with dad, telling him that I could not believe they actually had to do that.
    Now, knowing that grandma subjected herself to that..... Wow! I surely wish she was still here so we could give her the credit she truly deserves.
    I cannot imagine doing that hot, sticky, ouchie work each day - baby laying in the field. I am truly amazed!

  6. We just spent this weekend celebrating the life of Craig's grandmother, who passed away this past Wednesday. I learned that through at least two different lines, my children are 6th generation members of the church -- and none of those ancestors ever lived in Utah. We have similar stories in our heritage about the sacrifices our forebears made to get to the temple -- and I am now realizing the extent of our blessings because of their sacrifices.

    I bet the Pooles (also SC pioneers) and WAtsons knew each other at some point back there -- Craig's family lore includes all kinds of stories about when the missionaries first came to SC!