President Joseph F. Smith and His Families

by Darrell F. Smith

Perhaps this talk I gave at the family reunion in 1998 might be of general interest to the family.

I served as Reunion president in 1954. I couldn’t understand why I would be chosen as a young man just off my mission with such figures as Joseph Fielding Smith Jr. on my committee. It took years to realize that I was chosen because Uncle Willard knew that mother, Naoma, would really be in charge and all would go well with it. Mother knew the whole family through father [Franklin R] managing the Salt Lake Knitting store. They all came in for their discounts.

Mother loved the Smith family. Our aunts and uncles were held up to us as Saints in the the traditional sense. They could do no wrong. They were the children of our wonderful grandfather.

Tonight I would like to focus largely on those special children of our grandfather and the reunions we knew so many years ago. Smith Family reunions 60 years ago were the second high point of my year. Christmas could not be far off. My first memory was as a 4-year-old . In those days we invited special guests. That year President Grant came and addressed us. I managed to get out of my mother’s clutches and went up front to make his acquaintance. “What is your name, little boy?” “I am Dally Smith. What is your name?” “And how old are you.” “I am four. And how old are you?” By this time my parents were hiding on the floor but Aunt Aseneth was made of sterner stuff. She swooped down and interrupted my interview.

In those days Uncle Fielding K. “Smat” Smith entertained by kidding the family. Aunt Alice Cannon always came in for some good humored razzing over her eight children: “And where is Johnny?? Has he fallen out the window again? When was the last time you counted them, Alice?” I took this rather seriously, remembering when her daughter Leonora was rocking too hard and fell into our fireplace when we lived in “the old home,” [ Aunt Sarahs home ] on Second West.

Movies of Grandfather were a must which we revived in ‘54 and Uncle Willard’s Howard will show again tonight. Central to the meetings were the scrumptious turkey dinners at the Lion House. The 48 children are all gone now, but they figured largely in those days. In 1954 grandfather had 743 living descendants. Now we send programs to 1440 families. Will all the Grandchildren now please stand…. Those who knew Grandfather, please remain standing. (Six or eight remained standing.) These people are all at least 80 years old.

The scriptures tell us that the Savior was in the express image of his father. “If ye have seen me, ye have seen the father,” said he. The prophet Joseph’s wife, Emma, said upon meeting her nephew, Joseph a young adult, “ Why Joseph. You look exactly like your father. I would know you in Hell!” Aunt Edith said, “Papa felt the love and concern for every member of his family, He was the kindest and most thoughtful father in the whole world. He inherited his love of others and his ways of kindness from his father, Hyrum. Everyone who knew the prophet, Hyrum, testified of these characteristics in him.”

A part of Grandfather was in each of his children . In a lesser sense, part of him is in each of us grandchildren, and our children and childrens children.. Even his voice carried on into the next generation. Uncle Joseph and Uncle Willard sounded very much like the recording of a letter Grandfather dictated to uncle Calvin while he was on his mission.You, too, can hear his voice by calling up his name up on the internet. We felt that we knew Grandfather by knowing his children…

I will focus on a few of the children. Each of you grandchildren has your own special list . Uncle Silas seemed to me to be as close to the Savior as any man living. My mother reverenced him for his competence, love and concern for the family. When I was a five-year-old, he came to the old home on Second West and examined Janny and me . We had Scarlet Fever. I howled with fright at the thoughts of having my throat swabbed with tincture of Merthiolate. Mother held my hands with one hand and my nose with the other until I opened my mouth. In an instant it was over. “He will never like me again,” said Uncle Silas, but the next time he came, it was, “Me first, Uncle Silas!” I was hooked. From that day I, too, would be a doctor like uncle Silas. That little incident was the beginning of a life long romance with medicine. Mother said Uncle Silas had such faith in his own ability that he came home from the army to take his daughter Carol’s appendix out. I learned that I was not made of that kind of stuff. Trying to emulate him, at mother’s insistence, I undertook the removal of a cataract on mother’s brother and literally suffered a heart attack! Uncle Silas said that his mother told him the family needed a doctor and that he was elected. She was a strong woman indeed. Uncle Silas was always at the reunions. It seemed that he was searching our very souls for hidden disease.

Uncle Richards figured large in our lives. During the depression years our family lived in Grandmother Sarah’s home on Second West. Uncle Richards came to lunch five days a week for two years. I got to hear his wonderful mission stories . He had faith in my becoming a physician. He frequently reminded me that I also had the blood of Dr. Willard Richards and came naturally by my medical desires. He was charged by Grandfather to be responsible for the family and he took that to heart. When Aunt Agnes’ daughter Sarah was killed as a teenager he took care of the funeral. My sister Jan, who was the same age as Sarah, modeled the burial dress. He was very generous . If I got good grades in school he paid my tuition. Just before his passing, he gave me $1000, explaining that he would not be around much longer. That paid for a year of medical school. What a bargain that was! It was given with the usual counsel. “And don’t tell Florence.” This was better known to her than he thought. Several years after his passing, Jannie’s Diane was born 7 weeks premature. Aunt Florence gave Janny $100 saying, “Richards would have wanted it.” Mother had a poem she liked to recite about him. Abou Ben Adam awoke one night from a deep dream of peace.. to find an angel recording the names of those who love the Lord. Abou asked the angel, “Is my name on the list?” “Nay,” said the angel. “Well, put me down as one who loves his fellow men.” The next night he awakens again to find the angel writing as before and asks about the list, and “lo, Abou’s name lead all the rest!” That was the kind of man Uncle Richards was. Oh, how we loved him. When I started kindergarten, four-year-old Janny was with us. She saw the principal going down the hall and thought it was Uncle Richards. She caught him by the leg screaming, “Uncle Richy Bichy! Uncle Richy Bichy.” Poor man. He was even more embarrassed than mother.

I remember Uncle Willard for his love of us children. He was always full of cheer like z real live Santa Claus. At Christmas time we always got a shiny new silver quarter, and a kiss. He had but one vice. That was his insistence upon giving each of us a dry shave–a rub against his bristly cheek–and a kiss. Janny’s bridegroom, Spencer Nilson, avowed that Uncle Willard would not kiss him but of course he did not escape.

My savior at the “U” was Uncle Samuel. He taught math and his tutoring got me through that impossible subject. I always knew that two and two was four but somehow it bothered me. His office was like a bus station on a holiday. I was not the only one he was helping. Once in a Physics class I noted that a lab mate with whom I had been working for some time was named Joseph Smith. “Are you related to the Prophet ,” said I. “Are you kidding?” says he. “I am your Uncle Sam’s son.” There were so many of us.

Aunt Mary was our closest link to Grandfather. She was the last of his wives to pass on. She seemed to reign at the reunions, lovely and serene, always smiling benevolently at us all.

Uncle Wesley was ever full of tales from old Hawaii and of the tricks he played with our father. Once when Rachel and Jeanetta were little girls, Frank and Wesley took them to the barn and told them they should kill all the grasshoppers or there would be a famine. These little girls spent hours, or so it seemed to them, catching and smashing grasshoppers. They worked until they were exhausted.

I especially remember Aunt Senie, who father called little Scissors when he was on his mission. Apparently she could not say sister. She lived upstairs at the old home when we were small children. She taught kindergarten and always had pet rats and such–very interesting to a five-year-old. She married Dr. Clifford Conklin, who was a convert from Wisconsin. On their honeymoon they came to stay with us for a few days and he had his first meal in a Mormon home. Mother had successfully used his role as a doctor to get me to eat my carrots. “That is why Uncle Clifford has such clear white skin.” Many years later Uncle Clifford told of his first dinner in a Mormon home. He had been told that Mormons were carrot-eaters, and sure enough, Naoma served carrots at that meal. He did not like carrots. Mother choked with laughter. It was not nearly so funny to me thinking of all those carrots, which I still do not like, but I had eaten just to be like him.

We owe much to Aunt Edith and Aunt Rachel for their long lives and sharp memories of Grandfather. Mother, Janny and I had several long interviews with them.

Cousin Marian Warner records in her little book Laie Of The Divine Destiny how Grandfather had lost many of his precious babies. No matter how old his girls got they were still his “babies” and the boys were always his “boys.” Perhaps one reason they were so dear was that he never had a real childhood of his own. Once when a daughter complained, “I wish we didn’t have that old mirror in the front hall.” He inquired, “Why Baby?” “Because it’s always covered with fingerprints of little children,” said she. “Baby,” he replied, “if I had my way, I’d frame every one of those little fingerprints.”

Grandfather was sensitive even to the needs of animals. One Sunday between meetings he came to Aunt Mary’s. The cows were mooing and he asked what was wrong with the animals. “I guess they are hungry. It is fast day.” Papa really scolded her. “Mama, fast day is only for those who can understand its meaning and have faith.” The cows were soon fed and cared for. On the trail to the Great Salt Lake he recorded his throwing his arms around the necks of his oxen, comforting them with tears and prayers at their fatigue and hunger.

Aunt Agnes told us this story. While riding in a carriage, little Agnes was telling her Papa about the machinations of the lazy cow bird who put her children up for adoption by laying her eggs in other people’s nests . Wesley had never heard of the creature and neither had grandfather. Wesley had much fun teasing Agnes about it. “Who ever heard of a cowbird?” Grandfather said nothing, but the next time he saw Agnes, he had researched the subject. They discussed the cowbird in much detail and she was so pleased that he was so considerate of her feelings.

A favorite story told by many of the children concerns our father, Franklin. His mother, Aunt Sarah, had to discipline him . His punishment was to sit on a chair in the corner. Several hours later she got the message that Frankie was riding up the street sitting on his chair which he had tied onto his tricycle.

Grandfather was visiting one day when Aunt Edith had a cold and had no place to put her handkerchief. He instructed her mother to sew on a pocket and that all children’s dresses must have pockets for handkerchiefs. And he knew something of sewing. Even in later years he often wrote telling of how he spent his time in a hotel mending his clothes. On his first mission to Hawaii, he made his own garments and even made a pair of pants on one occasion.

Grandfather said he had five homes and five wives but only one family. The children never referred to each other as half-brothers or sisters. Grandfather said he didn’t have any “half children.” When Frank, Emily and Emma were registering at school the teacher asked them when were their birthdays. “May, August and September” was the reply! “All in the same year?” asked the teacher. “Didn’t you say you were brothers and sisters? “ “Yes, mum.” The teacher replied curtly, “You go home and find out when your birthdays are.”

Each child felt that Grandfather loved his or her mother the best. Several hundred of his letters to Aunt Sarah are in the Joseph F. Smith Collection at the University of Utah library. He wrote many letters to his wives ..we counted over two hundred in that collection alone..and children when they were on their missions, etc.

Grandfather had marvelously deep pockets in his jacket that were always brimming with sweets. His favorites were pink peppermints. Sometimes there were licorice nibs or even candy corn for a change. The children loved to sit on his lap, suck on peppermints and play with his perfumed beard.

His favorite meal was a bowl of corn meal and a bowl of milk or cream. He ate a dip of one and then a dip of the other. Bread and milk was another favorite. Our father remembered his father eating a bowl full of raw eggs. He would make a hole in either end, suck out the contents and throw the shells to the children.

It is almost impossible for us to sense the difficult life he lived. When he was born his father was in prison under a death penalty. As a babe he nearly suffocated when a mob broke into his mother’s home and threw a mattress on him. His father was martyred when he was six. He had little childhood and remembered a diet of mostly milk and malnutrition. He crossed the plains not once, but five times before the trains came. His mother was dead when he was 13. He was out of school at 14 after he whipped his teacher for daring to discipline his little sister. The teacher had accused her of lying which he knew she would never do having been taught better by their sainted mother.

He was called on a mission at 15 and sent to the Sandwich Isles. Months were spent earning passage in San Bernardino and San Francisco. On his mission he had several serious illnesses. The people were poor and the missionaries, without purse or script, were even poorer. Food was always very near to their minds. There was very little of it. Many a day, he went to bed hungry. At times he ate a potato and an onion for days on end. There were times when he could not attend church because there were not clothes enough for both companions. He begged a shirt here and a pair of shoes there. There was much heart ache in the work. Sometimes they excommunicated as many as they baptized. On more than one occasion, he had to sleep outside the hut in which fleas were “eating” him up. Passage home was a nightmare. A six-day trip grew to nineteen with a great storm at sea. Later he had to remain underground for seven years with minimal contact with his families while the authorities were trying to arrest him for plural marriage. That was a time which was as hard on the families as it was for him. In the early 1900s he came under vicious attack in the local newspaper inspired by the owner’s having lost a political appointment he blamed on Grandfather. Yet when he died, this same newspaper praised him graciously.

Is not ours a royal heritage? We have the blood of the prophets coursing in our veins. Uncle Joseph Fielding used to tell his children that Adam was a Smith. But whenever Adam’s children did something very bad, they had to change their names. Although I winked when I told my children this story, they were duly impressed. We must remind ourselves, however, that royalty is, as royalty does. We are blessed not for who we are but rather for what we may become. His life was a magnificent example for each of us. He showed that it is possible to rise above our handicaps and circumstances. May his great life of devotion to his families, his love of his children and his service to the church always be our role model, that we may some day return and remain part of the wondrous Smith family forever.

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