Last week’s Pioneer Day celebrations were necessarily minimal. But that didn’t need to stop us from honoring the pioneers many of us around here have in our ancestral lines. As I watched a rerun of the Days of ’47 Pioneer Day past parades, I couldn’t help but wonder, “What would our hearty, hardy, God-fearing, no-nonsense forebears think of us — their descendants — today? What would they think of this confusing world we live in? And what advice would they offer, drawn from their own extraordinary, challenging life experiences?” We can’t know for sure. But for the ones we’re familiar enough with, we could give a good guess.
I think of my great-grandfather, Ole Julius Hansen, born in Denmark in 1862. He immigrated to America with this parents and siblings at the age of 2. The family eventually settled in northern Utah where he grew up to become the local blacksmith. People described him as clever, studious, industrious and explicitly honest. He was a sturdy man with broad shoulders, large arms and meaty hands with which he hammered out a life for himself, his wife, Kirsten Christenca Andersen, and their nine children.
Ole was the kind of steadfast, calm, wise pioneer you would certainly want on your side. It’s not too difficult to figure out the kind of advice he would give today — things most of us secretly wish we had the courage to say. To endure the pandemic, he’d advise, “Plant extra vegetables. Use a mail order catalog in your outhouse. Check on your neighbors. Share what you have with those who need it. Stay healthy by working harder. Don’t infect others. Pray to God for protection.” And, of course, “Never give up.”
To protestors, he’d likely say, “You can’t be heard while you’re out there hollering in the street and throwing things around like that. Come sit down here and explain yourselves. Maybe we will figure this out.”
To rioters and looters, he’d say, “You have no business here. Leave now.” He’d likely say this with his blacksmith’s hammer in his large hand. Only a fool would challenge him.
To statue topplers, he’d say, “You have no right to destroy that. It doesn’t belong to you — it was put there for all the people. So make it right. Then go home and be useful.”
To sports figures who kneel during the national anthem, he’d shake his head in disgust and say, “People should kneel only to God,” wondering why anyone would value such ungrateful, pampered persons.
To the political yammering, he’d probably stop up his ears and roar, “Enough!” He never looked to the government for anything. He depended on his own strength and wisdom, held fast to Kirsten and his children, remained faithful to his God and did not fear hard work.
To those trying to get through all the commotion without getting discouraged, Ole would likely offer words of reassurance. He might share stories of how he and Kirsten started life together with nothing, and through their industry, built a life where they had everything — each other, their children and their freedom. His open blacksmith shop was a congregating place where friends stopped by to ask for his help, to seek his advice and to visit. He was an honored man because he lived honorably.
Each of us have pioneers somewhere in our history — whether in this country or another. By pioneers, I mean ancestors who moved beyond the bounds of a comfortable life to strike out in a new direction, one that took them to a better place, a place they achieved by working through trials to triumph. Reading about Ole Julius Hansen’s life again put courage back into my heart, squared my shoulders and comforted my soul. I don’t have his hammer. But I do have his strength, somewhere in here. And I’m ready to use it.
To face today’s trials, find your pioneers. Study their histories. Glean their qualities. Find them in you, then live their kind of life. Reach back, then move forward.