Years ago on a cross-country trip to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, our family stopped for the afternoon in Salt Lake City, the headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, also known as the Mormons. We toyed with the idea of going out to the Great Salt Lake and floating in the salt water, but because of time constraints chose instead to spend the day touring a small area downtown called the Temple Square.
Surrounded by high walls and wrought-iron gates, the Temple Square is home to the beautiful Mormon Temple and other awe-inspiring buildings. Near the end of the day, I saw a building with a sign that read “Family History Library” and asked a tour guide what was inside. He said, “That’s the home of the greatest genealogical library in the world. People come from all over the planet to search for their ancestors at that library.”
I always had an interest in tracing my family history, so I looked at Lisa and said, “We’re doing it.” We walked inside, asked a volunteer for instructions, sat down at a computer terminal, and started typing family names into the search engine. I entered my father’s name and came up empty handed. I entered my grandfather’s name and the search found nothing as well.
Then I entered my great-grandfather’s name, and the computer’s hard drive began making noises and pages and pages of information filled the screen. Confused, I caught the attention of the volunteer in our section and asked, “What does all this mean?”
She answered, “Someone belonging to the LDS church has traced your family line.” She leaned over my shoulder and said, “Let’s see here. It appears that your family line ends at ad 1020. Someone traced your family line back nearly a thousand years.”
I felt like I was in Atlantic City and had just won a million dollars on the nickel slots. I raised my hands in the air and shouted, “Oh yeah, baby! I’m awesome at this!” Then I leaned over to my wife, who was shaking her head and rolling her eyes, and I said, “These Mormons don’t know who they’re dealing with. I’m a one-man genealogy machine!”
This experience sparked a new hobby. After vacation I began collecting every story, picture, birth certificate, and marriage license I could locate. Eventually I hit a dead end at four generations of Joneses and decided I would visit my great-aunt Pauline, one of my oldest living relatives at the time, to see if she had any interesting family stories to share. One morning I packed our family into our minivan and drove from Dayton, Ohio, to Pikeville, Kentucky, to see if Pauline could fill in any of the gaps in our family history.
On the way to her nursing home, I stopped at an old Jones family cemetery someone had told me was located on top of a small mountain in Harold, Kentucky. The cemetery was small, just a few gravestones in all, but eerily placed among them were four small markers that all read “Baby Jones.” Each marker had dates showing how long the babies lived, ranging from just a few days to a little less than a month. Lisa looked at me and said, “How sad. Whose babies are these?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “We can ask Pauline.”
After lunch we drove on to the Mountain Manor Nursing Home where my aunt was living at the time. We hugged her, sat down next to her bed, and told her we were in town for the day to find out more about our family history. We talked about her declining health, her son Bobby who was a schoolteacher in the area, and how everyone in our family loves University of Kentucky basketball.
Eventually I turned our discussion to our family tree and mentioned to Pauline we had visited the old Jones family cemetery up the road. I told her about the four small markers we had noticed and asked whose babies they were.
Without hesitating she said, “They’re mine. I buried those babies myself, every single one of them.”
“Did you have miscarriages?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “I carried them each to full term. They died afterward.” Lisa reached over, grabbed her arm, and said, “I’m so sorry, Pauline. That must have been awful.” Pauline nodded and turned her head toward the window and stared outside. A single tear slowly rolled down her cheek. It was clear my question had burrowed into a sacred, pain-filled place in her past.
People in Heaven never have to smooth the dirt over a child’s grave. Words like Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and Rh factor are never used. No one ever sees a woman carrying post-pregnancy weight but not a child and asks, “Oh, are you expecting?”
Over the past two decades I’ve seen so much brokenness, I could continue on for pages more. In Heaven family members don’t discover the bodies of loved ones who have committed suicide. No one dies in automobile accidents, on operating tables, or from old age. There are no strange food allergies, people shed their mental illnesses like old coats before they go there, and there’s never any need to take sleeping pills.
Memories of mistakes we made as parents don’t haunt us anymore. No one is considered ugly. There’s no minimum wage, no wars or terrorists or military budgets, no tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, or tornados. There’s no such thing as an addiction, and no need to leave flowers on anyone’s grave. Tumors can’t ravage our bodies in Heaven, and no one steps across homeless people while getting on the bus.
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