. . . all flowers remind me of you.
There’s something like a line of gold thread running through a man’s words when he talks to his daughter, and gradually over the years it gets to be long enough for you to pick up in your hands and weave into a cloth that feels like love itself. -John Gregory Brown, Decorations in a Ruined Cemetery
Thanks for all the years of gold thread talking.
You’ve taught me more than you realize.
Eliza Brown White Brown
January 30, 1847 – January 28, 1929
For as long as I can remember, I have giggled at this great grandmother’s name (my father’s maternal grandmother). After all, “Eliza Brown White Brown” has quite a rhythm – she was born Eliza Brown, married John White, then married Thomas Brown. But after reading – really reading – her history, my feelings have been focused, and her unusual name has become a standard of hard work and perseverance and deserves my greatest respect.
As I read the account of her life, I found myself studying her picture and pondering. How I wish I had known her! My heart was touched when I thought about that little girl living in an unfamiliar home as a housekeeper and nanny when just a child herself. What a heartbreak that must have been for her parents, and what a difficult experience for her.
In honor of her birthday, the following is an excerpt from her history written by her son, Nephi James Brown, detailing her early years. In later posts I’ll share events of her adult life. She truly was a remarkable woman.
Eliza was born in the country town of West Lavington, Wiltshire, England – the daughter of John Brown and Sarah Mundy. When she was about three years old, her mother died of a sudden illness at just 34 years old. Eliza went to live with her maternal grandparents, William and Elizabeth Mundy, who were very kind to her. About the first things she remembered while she was living with them was having a little red chair and two or three very meager toys to play with. The grandparents were not really in a position to keep her very long. About a year later, Eliza’s father married Jane Wilkins, and Eliza then returned home to live with them. When she was about five years old, she began to go to school in a little thatched roof schoolhouse where the morning was spent in reading, writing, and spelling. In the afternoon she was taught sewing. Owing to the poor circumstances of her father, she was only permitted to go to school a short time after she was eight years old. It seems incredible that she ever learned to read and write as well as she could during her lifetime with such a meager amount of school. At that time in England it seemed that child labor was encouraged rather than restricted, unlike later years when they were compelled to keep children in school until 14 years of age. Eliza always greatly regretted that she only had about two and a half years of schooling.
Her first employment commenced when she was a little past eight years old in a silk factory [winding silk threads on little spools] – hard work, and long hours for the unbelievable small amount of 10 cents a day – a ten hour day – one cent an hour – 6 days a week. She continued her work at the silk factory for about 9 months. She paid 12 cents a week for a place to sleep.
Eliza next went to Bristol as a servant girl for her Aunt Ann Dyer. She lived there and at two other places in Bristol, working hard for her board and lodging. She received however, in addition thereto, a salary of 12 cents a week. At the last two places, her work was very hard, and food in very scanty quantities. From Bristol, she returned to West Lavington and worked in a bakery, where she was given quite fair treatment.
From there she went to Potterne and worked in a grocery store. Here she endured the greatest hardships of any place she worked in England. Besides her daily grinding routine of hard work, she had the care of four children, including a pair of twins. Her living consisted of only bread and molasses, and was dealt out to her in meager quantities. Her strength was so reduced, and her undernourishment through lack of food so apparent, she left and went back to her father and stepmother. After regaining her health and strength at home through having sufficient food, she again went out into servitude. At one home where she worked for a period of 6 months she was given her board and room, and in addition an increased salary of 24 cents a week.
Eliza worked at the silk factory and a driving, unrelenting housework for six years, from the time she was eight years old until she was fourteen. She left the driving routine which had hounded her youthful years in March, 1861 – and also the harsh discipline of her hard-hearted bosses, and returned to her father’s home to live. Her prior employers had demanded all work from her without giving her any time to play. This change [move home] was made necessary because of the death of her stepmother, Jane Wilkins Brown. Eliza kept house for her father and her brother George, , a rented house in the beautiful peaceful country town of West Lavington for a little more than two years.
Granddaughter, Myrtle B. Maathuis (my aunt) recalled that Grandma had marks on the back of her hands where she had been whipped for picking up scraps from under the table at one of the early places where she worked.
Granddaughter Afton B. DeHaan related that Grandma told her that while working in homes the days were hard and she had very little food. In one home she had to sleep in the attic. The lady of the house would give her one slice of “current bread” a day. She [the lady] would butter it, then scrape the butter off – “bread and butter scrape.”
I am humbled.
By 7 p.m. on that Saturday night, the hospital room was quiet, dimly lit, and very peaceful. Dad was napping on the extra bed, and I had pulled a chair close beside Mom’s bed. Her breathing was slightly labored, but she was resting peacefully and stirred only occasionally. I knew her time was short, and I wondered how much longer she would be with us. The lights of the Christmas tree on the table cast a soft glow on the room. Christmas carols playing from the bedside CD player provided my favorite kind of background music. I hummed along with “O, Holy Night,” remembering how Mom would often break into song with the Tabernacle Choir at her favorite parts! How Mother loved Christmas!
I looked at her in the bed, her physical body tired and worn out, and my mind and heart were filled with memories of so many good times. My mother was one of my best friends, and I felt so grateful for the relationship we shared. She was strong – yet sentimental, outspoken – but sensitive, and exacting – while at the same time gentle. She had supported and encouraged me throughout my life, even if she did think I was crazy to take up skiing when I was almost 50! She had given me a lot of guidance – some asked for, some not – and I knew that her passing was going to leave a void.
But more than what we had shared and what all of us would miss, I wondered about her next step. She was going where none of us had yet been, nor could now. What was it like to die? I wasn’t concerned so much about physical pain or discomfort, but particularly curious about the transition from this life to the next. Where was she going? How would it feel? Who would she see?
I picked up a copy of The Book of Mormon that was lying on the bedside table and began to read where the pages fell open:
“Now concerning the state of the soul between death and the resurrection — Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life.
“And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.” – Alma 40: 11-12
The room seemed sacred, my heart felt peace, and the Christmas carols were as a prelude . . .
The weekend of October 3 & 4 brought the broadcast of the LDS General Conference into our home. I love those April and October weekends of marathon church! It’s taken me a long time to feel that way, but at this time in my life I really anticipate and appreciate the chance to listen to Church leaders and be uplifted and inspired by talks like this counsel regarding the need to show and express love to my family members, or this powerful testimony of the Book of Mormon, and this gentle reminder to look for opportunities to be of service.
Yesterday while looking for something else (sometimes my lack of organization does pay off), I came across the history of my great grandfather, Thomas B. Brown (27 December 1824 – 18 June 1899). In light of the previous conference weekend, this excerpt really touched my heart:
“Thomas dearly loved to go to the semi-annual conferences in Salt Lake City. There was not transportation other than horse and buggy. Since he had neither of these, he would walk to Salt Lake City. Two days before conference, Eliza [his wife] would prepare some bread, cheese and fruit, and tie it up in a red handkerchief. Very early in the morning, he would set out. He walked as far as Farmington the first day, getting there about dusk. A fine spring by the side of the road supplied him with a good cold drink of water. After reaching Farmington, he would go to an old friend’s place, Brother Parret, who came from England also. He would spend the night with Brother Parret and his family, and arise early the next morning in order to be in Salt Lake City in time for conference. It would take him two days to complete his journey. He would attend all three days of meetings and then walk back to North Ogden. He traveled over 100 miles round trip, and did so for many years, twice a year.
Thomas said that when all the apostles and other speakers would talk, it was most grand to hear them, but when Brigham Young stood up he started in where all the others left off. His sermons were so powerful and inspirational that the other talks were pale in comparison. Thomas said that if the distance had been twice as far for him to walk, he would have done so, just to have the privilege of hearing Brigham Young speak. On his return, he always brought his children a treat of store candy. It was usually peppermints, and oh, how good they tasted coming all the way from Salt Lake City.”
And I was really happy for the faith and conviction of my ancestors . . . as well as the modern convenience of BYU television.
This picture was taken while you were on a mission in Manila. In the background I see some things that make me think your fellow MTC-ers had a little celebration for you that day. I’m assuming that Dad came through with the roses for you, even as a missionary. He’s good that way. And I’m pretty sure you’ll be getting some red roses today as well.
This year we had a big party for you in August. Remember – the one you helped plan to celebrate this milestone? Almost all the family came to the festivities at Reid Ranch. I think we had 90 rowdy revelers on Monday night. We reminisced . . . cried. . . laughed a lot . . . and had a great time. You taught us how to have a good time.
We remembered you with this DVD created by Todd. Although it was difficult to see you back in that hospital bed, you looked good, and it was great to hear your voice. Did you ever imagine that you’d star in your own movie? Some things just take time, I guess!
We also remembered you with chocolate that Michelle wrapped up as party favors. Because really, what could have been more appropriate than Hershey’s? I suppose Godiva or See’s or even Dove might have been tastier, but we had 90 guests to favor. And most of them were too little to really appreciate good chocolate. They just melted it into s’mores and ate it as fast as their mothers would allow. But I think I’ll savor some of the really good stuff today in your honor.
This is the second time we’ve recognized your birthday since you’ve been gone. It’s easier, but we still miss you. Do you celebrate birthdays in heaven? I hope you’re having a bang up party today!