A Journey Back in Time

I came across something I wrote on October 12, 1984 yesterday.  I had forgotten the details of an adventure that I still think of from time to time and was happy to see that I had actually written them down.  We lived in Ticaboo, Utah, down near Lake Powell, so everything is measured from Ticaboo:

“On Friday our family went hiking up to some caves that we’ve had our eye on about fourteen miles up the road from here.  We hiked about four miles, spent half a day, and saw some beautiful country.  

When we finally reached the first cave we looked around for clues of early habitation, wondered who and when people may have been there before we arrived (there are Indian ruins throughout the area) and then on a slab of sandstone leaning against the back wall of the overhang we spied a message: “Loa, Utah  E. O. June 10, 1916.”

Someone had been here.  Not the Ancient Ones, the Anasazi, much more recent than that.  Someone had carved his initials in stone in that isolated spot nearly a year before my mother was born. He had probably been on horseback and then hiked up to the cave itself–my husband says a horse would have had trouble making it up to the overhang.  Possibly he stopped in that protected spot to escape the rain or the summer sun.  

What was he doing? Why was he out in “our” country, so far from Loa?  The lettering was well formed, even beautiful with the loops and swirls of an earlier time.  Did “O” stand for Okerlund?  Some distant relative–distant both in time and space? My great grandmother was an Okerlund, born in 1868 and raised in Loa, Utah, a tiny community of farms and ranches.

Perhaps on returning to Loa “E. O.” wrote in a journal his experiences from that June day on the Little Rockies or down in the Bullfrog Basin.  Maybe he wrote about sitting in an overhang, the very one where we now stood, sitting and carving his initials and the date on a slab of soft sandstone in the back of the cave.

All these thoughts went through my mind as I looked at the writing from so many years ago.  I hope “E. O.” kept a journal.  President Spencer W Kimball (another distant cousin) wrote that personal journals “should be kept carefully.  You are unique and there may be incidents in your experience that are more noble and praiseworthy in their way than those recorded in any other life.”

I think generally we don’t feel very unique, and yet I treasure the journals my ancestors kept.  They tell me not only about those who went before me they tell me something about who I am.

Our personal record can help bind us to both past and future generations.  I imagined reading an old, yellowed journal, finding the story of the trip from Loa south, recognizing “our” E.O. when he told of stopping to rest in the shade on a hot afternoon spent chasing cattle; carefully carving his information into the stone and setting up the slab in a back corner. I don’t know who he was, but someone living in Loa right now may know.

President Kimball continued, “I promise you that if you will keep your journals and records, they will indeed be a source of great inspiration to your families and others, on through the generations.  And as our posterity read of our life’s experiences they too will come to know and love us.  And in that glorious day when our families are together in the eternities, we will already be acquainted.”

When I wrote the above I had just turned thirty-five.  I am now sixty-three, with children and grandchildren and I think more about generations than I did then.  I remember reading my grandfather Woolley’s journal where he gives an account of the Great San Francisco Earthquake and fire in 1906 as he awaited passage to New Zealand anxious to go and serve as a missionary.  His account collapses history, making both history and my grandfather seem closer and more real.

I am fast approaching the time when I will be one of the Ancient Ones.  My journals are scraps of random papers and notes that surprise even me when I stumble across them!

But time keeps moving forward; my mother-in-law died last week.  Her funeral is tomorrow.  And so another generation passes. My oldest daughter agreed to clean out her grandmother’s small apartment, bagging clothing, towels and bedding for Goodwill, piling books and personal items into “keep” or “toss” piles. She has also gone through her grandmother’s papers, sorting, tossing and saving.  She wrote a note about what she found:

“Cleaning out my grandma’s apartment today … flipping through pictures and old letters, looking at the clothes she wore, the books she read, and the bed she died in … I couldn’t stop thinking about forgiveness. Forgiveness isn’t easy–sometimes it seems impossible–but how many people do we hurt and how much do we lose when we can’t let go, forgive, and learn to love again?
“I thought a lot about my own stuff too! Folding her clothes into a bag destined for DI, I couldn’t help thinking of my own closet.  And I remembered cleaning out my maternal grandmother’s closets too. They were two very different women, but looking through the things left behind is always a revealing or at least a thought provoking experience. 

“I really like the phrase “burden of hurt”–it’s exactly what I was reaching for when I wrote “let go.” My dad’s mom led a difficult life and her relationships with her children were strained at best. Looking at her things, thinking about her as the woman who wore those clothes and and read those books and who, at 90, still walked a mile every morning … well, I thought a lot of deep and silly thoughts and I prayed that my own child (or, if I’m lucky someday, children) will forgive me for the mistakes I’m bound to make too.”
It is in the things we do, it is as we come to know our family, past, present, and future that love and forgiveness can blossom.  We are more than just our own hurts and fears, our own aspirations and dreams.  We are a link in a long chain of generations.  
And yes, we will and do make mistakes.  But so did our parents and for the most part we survived, and so will our children.
When they want to know who we were what will we have left behind?





About Karen Hopkins

Karen Hopkins (1949-) was born in Los Angeles and raised in Martinez, California. At seventeen she moved to Talcahuano, Chile. After completing her university degree she worked in London, England for Pan American Airlines and traveled extensively throughout Europe, the Middle East, and India. For twenty-six years Karen taught Spanish and English as a Second Language in a variety of settings including a private school in Panama, the "most remote school in the United States" in Ticaboo, Utah, the Navajo Reservation, and a teacher exchange in Hermosillo, Mexico. Karen and her husband traveled extensively throughout Mexico and Central America, spending many summers in the highlands of Chiapas and Guatemala . Karen currently lives in Southern Arizona, near the Mexican border.
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