Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Stories of Faith: Myrtle Wilcox Paul

My great-grandmother, Myrtle Wilcox Paul, wrote a letter when at age 93 that detailed some of the main events of her life. Her life was very adventurous, including her parents' mission call to Samoa in 1911, as well as her own missionary call to a separate island at age 15.  Here are two stories from her life; the first from her childhood in Canada and the second from her mission in Samoa.
Myrtle was the second oldest daughter, photo from 1910/11

I was born in Cardston, Alberta, Canada, October 3rd, 1897, daughter of David Eugene and Anna Elizabeth Layne Wilcox. When I was eight years old I was baptized in the river by Jacob Scott.

... I want to go back to the years 1910 and 11. One event that happened during that time changed the course of our lives. It has to do with a prairie fire. In the summer the prairie grass grows tall and becomes a fire hazard. Warnings are posted and a severe fine occurs if anyone is responsible for a fire. One day my father had some trouble with some of his machinery. He took it to town to the blacksmith shop for repairs. Mother was sewing and became very nervous with it. She kept fussing about dad being gone so long.

Suddenly she folded the sewing and said, “.. let’s go for a walk.”  As we stepped outside, we saw father and others coming toward our place as fast as the teams could bring them. As we turned the corner of the house, a few Indians were coming, some on foot, others on ponies. Father was a good friend to the Indians speaking their language fairly well. He worked for the Cardston Mercantile Company. He was always very honest with the Indians when they came to trade and treated them with respect. They felt he was a good friend and respected him. They turned livestock loose and carried everything they could onto a strip of plowed land. We became aware of smoke in the air and instinctively knew it meant prairie fire altho’ we could not see it yet. It was very frightening.

Mother ran into the house, called my two younger sisters, Lula and Ruth, and had them hold out their arms which she loaded with clothes telling them to run to the nearest neighbors.  Poor frightened little girls. I can still visualize their terror stricken faces as they ran, stopping a moment to look back, then running on again, stopping only long enough to pick up dropped clothing.

Fortunately father had started to dig a well and there was some water in it. Also early that morning he had hauled several barrels of water from the river. A couple of large tin tubs were filled with water and tho’ only eleven years old, I was given gunny sacks along with the others, told to dip the sacks in the water, go out behind the hay stacks and beat the grass down with the wet sacks. We kept this procedure up for hours, more water being hauled as needed.

Our place was in the direct path of the fire as it burned on and on. Suddenly we missed father. “Where’s Dave?” the men were asking. No one seemed to know where he was. One of the men ordered the tent to be taken down. As they started to do so, father stepped from the tent and told the men to leave it alone. “It must come down”, one said, “go ahead, Dave is upset.”  Calmly father told them again to leave the tent alone. There was something in his voice that compelled them to do as he said. He quietly directed where to concentrate their efforts.

Well, our place was saved. People coming out after the fire just could not understand how it escaped. There stood our house, tent, barn and hay stack right in the middle of miles and miles of burned prairie grass. It was beginning to get dark and the fire was sweeping on endangering other farms. Father and all the men left to help those still in the path of the fire. Mother and us girls were left with the responsibility of being guardians, going out every little while to put out any flames or sparks that might flare-up with our wet gunny sacks. We made our pilgrimages all night long afraid to go to sleep.

Father returned as daylight was breaking. The neighbors did not fare as well as we did losing some stock and a barn. Their home was saved. We asked father why he had ordered the men to not take down the tent. He said that when it looked like the place couldn’t be saved, he went into the tent, knelt down and told his Heavenly Father that he had invested everything he had into that piece of land, if it was His will to take it, he would not question, but if it could be saved, he pledged his time and efforts in serving the Lord. He told his Heavenly Father that he would accept any and all calls to serve. He was soon put to the test. Before the year ended he was called on a mission to the Samoan Islands and to take the family with him, which was my mother, sisters LaVera, Lula, Ruth and myself Myrtle (Melita). ... The prairie fire incident gave me my first real testimony of the power of the priesthood in faith and prayer.

I wish to share my testimony with you. I have one you know. Like Nephi of old I was blessed to be born of goodly parents who taught me in the ways of the Lord. I just seemed to grow up with this testimony of mine - my constant companion. It is firm and precious to me as a Pearl of Great Price.

I didn’t have a miracle or a revelation. It was all the good things of life rolled together into a testament that confirmed the truth of the gospel. I found that living its teachings and ideals has brought a way of life that is rewarding in spite of adversities, sorrows and heartache.

Myrtle "Melita" Wilcox Paul
Concord, California 1990

The second story was related by my great-grandfather Earl Stanley Paul, another missionary in Samoa who would later marry Myrtle in Utah, and is an example of her strong spirit and courage, which I think was likely inspired by her parents' examples.