I'm reading "Fire of the Covenant" by Gerald Lund right now and I cannot stop thinking about 17 pounds. This book tells the story of the Willie and Martin Handcart Companies of 1856 that walked from Iowa to Utah (nearly 1300 miles!) while pushing and pulling a handcart filled with all of their supplies and just 17 pounds of "personal items". 17 pounds was the limit for each adult. Children got 10 pounds each.
I wonder what I would bring. Many of the pioneers struggled with this same thought. By the way, this 17 pounds INCLUDED their clothing and bedding! What would you bring? One of my first thoughts was to bring my scriptures of course! But my scriptures weigh at least 3 pounds (I have a large print edition my sweet hubby got me years ago, so I could read them without needing my glasses) .... ok, I'd have to get a mini-set, like the ones my husband got in the military. Maybe it would be good to memorize as many scriptures as you could. Think about the knowledge you could "take" with you. I'd like to have a Family Home Evening about all of this and have my children go through their own special and important "stuff" and see what they decide to take.
I know this is silly, but I would bring my lipstick. I don't need any other make-up, but I just love wearing lipstick. I think it's so fun and it makes me happy. Hmmmm. I wonder about the women in the handcart companies. The leaders were very strict on this 17 pound limit. They had to be. Excerpts from the company journals say that many of the women would try to wear ALL of their clothing in layers so they could take it with them all the way to Salt Lake, but not have to count it with the 17 pounds. Maybe we're not that different from them. The company journals also say that along the first 100 miles of the trail, piles of dresses and hats and petticoats and such were strewn all along the way.... I can imagine those women weighed down with all of those extra clothes, sweating, trying to keep track of all their children, while pushing a 500 pound handcart alongside their husband and thinking, "To heck with my Sunday dress!"
What about family heirlooms or sentimental items? Most of those were left for good in Iowa at the "weigh-in". Some of the "opportunistic" settlers of Iowa simply waited until the handcart companies left and then went "shopping" and took all of the things the pioneers discarded. I don't know if I have any item so special to me that I'd want to carry it 1300 miles... the only thing I can think of being that treasured is photographs... they're not too heavy, right? Well, I have a "small" bag of special pictures I keep in my nightstand. It weighs about 2 pounds. I'd have to sort through them and keep just a few I guess.
As I get deeper into the book, I realize that unimportant items like lipstick, or even irreplaceable photos or my scriptures would just be an added burden. The pioneers simply couldn't carry enough food with them. I would bring more FOOD. These particular handcart companies left too late in the year and faced harsh winter conditions. They didn't have adequate clothing or bedding. I cannot begin to imagine what it would be like to starve or freeze to death. Or worse! Seeing my children... let's not go there.
These Saints were so faithful. Their desire to be obedient and true to the covenants they made burned like a fire in their hearts. I am overwhelmed with gratitude when I think of them. My own great-great Grandmother, Ane-Johana Peterson, was a member of the Willie handcart company of 1856. She was only 3 years old. How did she survive? What sacrifices did her parents make to be sure that she did survive? Each night I tuck my kids into bed with all of their warm blankets and soft mattresses (oh and our house and furnace!) and each meal I set on our table with leftovers to put away in my refrigerator for another day.... I am so thankful for these things. I hope I will always remember just how blessed we are. So blessed! I love the scripture in Alma 37: 46 "...do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way...the way is prepared, and if we look we may live forever."
In 1834, Joseph Smith said, "Let us here observe, that a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation..."
In 1982, Neal A. Maxwell said, "How could we expect to be joyous and to receive all that "the Father hath" if we do not strive to become like Him? And, in fact, can we, on our scale, be like Him without sharing in the "fellowship of his sufferings?" He shares with us His work; does that not suggest the need for our sharing, too, some of the suffering?... If in all of this there is some understandable trembling, the adrenaline of affliction can help to ensure that our pace will be brisk rather than casual. His grace will cover us like a cloak -- enough to provide for survival but too thin to keep out all the cold. The seeming cold is there to keep us from drowsiness, and gospel gladness warms us enough to keep going. "