David Russell Creer's Grandmother
History of Mary Ann Christmas Bowen
As written by her eldest son, John E. Bowen, Jr.
At last, by sheer will power, I find myself able to cast aside the sin of procrastination and comply with the request of my sister, Mollie Bowen Creer, and my brother David B. Bowen, to write the story of the life of our beloved mother. I feel it an honor to be asked to do this task, but must confess a feeling of inadequacy to do justice to the person who has been my guiding star throughout my life. I express gratitude to sister Mollie and brother David for their contributions, and will use the same as I proceed with the story.
The lyrics of a song I heard while visiting in South Wales in 1911 portrays a spot held in my memory of my dear mother, Mary Ann Christmas Bowen. The title of the song was, “My Mother’s Prayer”, which was about as follows:
I never shall forget the day I heard my dear old mother say:
You’re leaving now my tender care
Remember son, your mother’s prayer.
When’er I think of her so dear,
I feel her angel spirit near
A voice comes floating through the air
Reminding me of mother’s prayer.
I’m sure I never can forget
These words of love, I hear them yet.
I see her by the old armchair,
My mother dear in humble prayer.
O praise the Lord for saving grace,
We’ll meet up yonder face to face
Our home above together share
In answer to my mother’s prayer.
According to the records, mother was born in Llanelly, South Wales, 4 July 1858. She was the fourth child born to William Christmas and Elizabeth Roach Christmas. Her parents were both of Welch extraction and were converts to the L.D. S. Church. When mother was ten years of age she accompanied her parents to America and to Spanish Fork, Utah. She learned to speak and understand the Welch language while a child in Wales, and this acquisition remained with her throughout her life. I recall that when she and her sisters and other Welch people would assemble out our home it was a regular gala day. Whenever the subject was of a nature deemed to be unsuitable for young ears, there was an automatic shift into the Welch vernacular. We children always enjoyed a visit from a Welch woman we referred to as Ann Gay. She was witty, full of fun. Words rolled off her tongue in a perfect stream, and she could switch from English to Welch language with out the slightest pause.
Mother had an ear for music and was somewhat partial to the music of the Welch harp when played by an artist. Sister Mollie relates that mother belonged to a children’s chorus in Wales and during the Christmas season they would go about singing Christmas carols. As I write this I recall a little ditty, tinctured with a dash of humor, that mother used to sing to entertain us mischievous kids. It went about as follows.
“If you’ll listen to me I’ll tell you a story.
About the worst woman that I ever saw.
And when you have heard it you’ll say,
It’s a pity.
That ever I had such a mother-in-law.
Now, she is so ugly she frightens the children
Whenever they happen to meet on the street.
They all run away whenever they see her,
Knowing her temper is not very sweet.
Mother was united in marriage to my father, John Evans Bowen, 15 September 1879. This marriage was solemnized in the Salt Lake Temple 22 June 1928.
Many hardships were endured by the early pioneers of Utah. Mother learned early in life the necessity of and the benefit of honest work. As a small girl she worked for room and board while attending school. In her teenage years she found employment in Salt Lake City with a well to do family by the name of Hill. Mr. and Mrs. Hill were from Illinois and were so pleased with the services she rendered at their home that they wanted her to go with them on their return to Illinois. Of course, her parents would not approve of her going so far away from home. At this point I wish to relate some first hand information as to mother’s integrity and dependability as a servant girl. When Hannah and I moved to Carey, Idaho in August of 1915, we met a Mr. Davis who owned and operated a grocery store at Carey. I learned from him that mother worked at his home when he lived in Salt Lake City. He held mother in the highest esteem. He told me she was a good worker, was tidy and clean, a wholesome, high-minded girl.
When I think of the hard work, adversities, and periods of sadness, and constant struggle required of mother in the rearing of a large family there keeps popping into my mind the following poetic words:
“The greatest battle that ever was fought
Shall I tell you where and when?
On the maps of the world you’ll find it not
It was fought by the mothers of men.”
I recall an incident in mother’s life, while she was a young girl, that was a very horrifying and frightening thing. She related this while she was gleaning wheat with other girls of her age in a field west of Spanish Fork, they were startled by the appearance of some Indians on horseback. One of them rode up to mother and showed her a large knife. Imagine the chilling terror and fear such an act would inflict on any young person. Mother related to me that the thought of never seeing her dear mother again was the most agonizing and disheartening feeling she had ever experienced. The Indians did this to merely scare the girls. They rode away with laughter and, I imagine with Indian “whoopee” and rushed to their Indian teepees to tell the story to their squaws.
I can think of no woman who was more concerned for the welfare of her family than was mother. There are few teenagers who don’t cause tears and anxiety to their parents. Dr. John Furbay, in his lecture on “The Four Dreams of Man”, makes the dedication that most parents, if they could have a desired wish, would wish: “Oh, Lord, please do shorten the period of adolescence.” As I reminisce on my early life I realize that mother spent many sleepless nights wondering where I was and what I was doing.
Often when coming home at an unusually late hour, I would tiptoe through the kitchen, quietly open the door to the living room, stealthily attempt to ascent the stairs to my bedroom. However, I was always frustrated with a feeling of guilt by the piercing, but loving words of mother: “Is that you, Johnnie?” She had not enjoyed the blessed oblivion of sleep until she knew that I was safely home. There were many other incidents during my tender years, due to my negligence and penchant for adventure that tried the patience of my parents. For example: I used to like to go down to Uncle Will Flavel’s home in Palmyra, northwest of Spanish Fork, to play with my cousin, Elias. There was nothing wrong with that, but the fact that I would run down there barefooted and without telling my mother and getting her approval was entirely wrong. One such event caused my father a trip down to Uncle Will’s home, about 2 ½ to 3 miles, about 10:00 at night. I was taken out of bed and placed on the horse behind father and taken back home. Surely such a prank was deserving of a good spanking, but because of the patience and compassion of my parents, I was “spared the rod”. Another runaway trip to play with Elias brought its own punishment. We were gathering eggs from sparrow’s nests under a shed of my uncle’s. I was hanging underneath the shed by my feet and hands and was suddenly seized by a cramp in my toes and fell on a hay rake below, resulting in a broken right arm. Uncle took me home in a buggy. My arm swelled a great deal and I suffered a lot of pain until the broken bone was set by our good family doctor, Dr. Warner. Again mother displayed her usual sympathy and willingness to do everything in her power to alleviate the pain in my broken arm.
In my opinion, mother possessed the virtue of the Good Samaritan. She was always ready and willing to render help to those who she saw in need. This characteristic was apparent in the following story contributed by sister Mollie. There was an elderly man by the name of Thomas Evans, a friend to the Bowen family, who became afflicted with what the doctor diagnosed as a felon on one of his fingers. It was swollen, inflamed and very painful. The doctor recommended amputation. Mr. Evans was reluctant to submit to surgery. Mother and her sister, Elizabeth, had been caring for injuries for some time by the application of a homemade remedy. It was a poultice made of a mixture of lard and soot. The old man preferred to continue with this simple treatment, and the finger was eventually cured.
For a number of years mother cared for her own father, William Christmas and after moving to the new family home, where my sister Eleanor now resides, she cared for Grandfather Bowen for 27 years. For a few years, during the winter months, Jones Bowen, a cousin of mine, lived at our home. Besides, there was a relative by the name of Sam Myler who was a boarder and lodger under mother’s care. Also Aunt Elizabeth spent the last years of her life with mother. I don’t even remember hearing mother complain that her lot was too hard to bear.
When one realizes that when mother was rearing her family there were no modern conveniences, like indoor plumbing, hot and cold running water, electric stoves, and refrigerators, automatic washers, electric irons and other appliances that are so prevalent today, one is really amazed at the capacity for work and endurance possessed by this patient little woman.
Mother was a firm believer in the primeval, God given mandate that “man should earn his bread by the sweat of his brow”. Someone once told me that she never walked while doing her work, she trotted. She seemed to feel that it was somewhat sinful to be found sleeping or lying down in the daytime. If she did any sleeping during the daytime, it was usually while sitting in her rocking chair.
An incident related to me by cousin Jones Bowen points clearly to mother’s attitude toward work. One day when mother was in town shopping she observed a group of men standing on the sidewalk near the Coop Store; It was a lovely day, in the fall of the year, and in mother’s eyes these men were wasting valuable time. Jones was among them. As mother passed by, Jones went out of his way to speak to her. In their conversation mother asked him if he had his fall plowing done. His reply was “no”, and she remarked by way of admonition, “well, then, you had better get busy and get your fall plowing done while the weather is good.” Jones and others who heard what was said were, at least, provoked to laughter.
I wish, at this point, to incorporate in my story some thoughts contributed by brother David. He relates that mother was very understanding and sympathetic with her children. For example: and I quote his words, “When Foster and I were beginning to go out on dates we wanted by buy a rubber-tired buggy. Dad said we could not have one. We had some cattle of our own to sell in the fall to pay for it, but he still would not give his approval to the purchase of the buggy. So we talked the matter over with mother. Within a few days we were in possession of the new buggy. It proved to be a source of comfort and enjoyment to myself and Foster, as well as the rest of the family.”
Mother and Father encouraged their children to strive for an education. Eight of their eleven children lived to reach maturity. All of the eight graduated form the eighth grade. Mollie received a Normal Diploma from the B.Y.U. at Provo. John E. and David graduated from the State Agricultural College at Logan, receiving a B. S. degree. Rosetta attended Henager’s Business College at Salt Lake City. The other children were encouraged to seek higher learning, but they did not choose to do so.
Most of the letter writing to the children away from home was done by mother. Her letters were always uplifting, full of encouragement, good counsel and advice, and neatly written with pen and ink in a legible hand.
On September 14, 1929, mother and father celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary at their home on 2nd East, 5th North Street in Spanish Fork. Their children, near relatives and close friends and neighbors were invited, and a buffet supper was served to 70 guests at 7:30 pm by daughters and daughters-in-law. After the repast the following program was enjoyed:
1. Address of welcome by David B. Bowen who acted as M.C.
2. Reminiscences and poems “Mother and Dad” by Mollie (Mary Ann) Bowen Creer, a daughter.
3. Accordion solos by Millie C. Schofield accompanied on piano by Mary Williams.
4. Talk by Bishop Isaac Briggs.
5. Solo, “Mother McCree” Ed Williams, son-in-law.
6. Reading, jokes and poems, Deana B. Bowen.
7. Solo, “An old fashioned Couple”, Elizabeth W. Hansen.
8. Solo, Donna Creer, granddaughter.
After the program, wedding cake and punch were served. Children of mother and
dad present were: Jane, Mollie, Eleanor, David, Foster and Grace. John E. was living in Idaho and found it was not possible to leave his home at that time. A gift of $40 in gold was presented to mother and dad as a wedding present by their children.
The above was written by son David.
At heart Mother was a deeply religious person. When there was sickness in the family she would often call on the Elders of the Church to administer to the ill member. She had faith in the healing power of the Priesthood. She had considerable faith in the gift of healing possessed by Robert McKell and William Stoker, neighbors of the family. Grandfather David Bowen was often assisted in the ordinance established in the L.D.S. church. Mother was a Relief Society visiting teacher for many years. She enjoyed attending Sunday School, Sacrament Meeting and Relief Society.
Mother was familiar with a number of passages of scripture. One passage she frequently quoted to me has left an indelible impression on my mind. Whenever I was a bit stubborn, saucy and disobedient, she would point her index finger at me and quote the fifth commandment, “Honor they father and mother that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God Giveth thee”. Those words have rung in my ears many times while raising our family and observing the disrespect shown by many young people toward their parents today.
A true mother’s love for her children never wanes with age. This attribute was exemplified by Mother by the following story: After I was married and moved to Carey, Idaho, during the summer of 1915, Mother and Aunt Rosetta Flavel came to Richfield, Idaho by train, where her sons, Will and Elias lived. Elias brought mother and his mother to Carey to visit me and Hannah. They came in a buggy a distance of about 24 miles. They approached our ranch along the west side. The west channel of Little Wood River ran through the west side of the ranch; as a result there was a healthy growth of willows in that area that obscured a view of the area of the ranch which produced good crops of alfalfa and grain. Of course, there was considerable growth among the willows which made the area pretty good pasture. It also furnished an ample supply of big willows to be chopped into stove length pieces for fuel during summer months, which was preferable to coal during warm weather.
As our guests were coming through the gate toward our house I happened to come out of the house and observed them approaching. Mother rushed to me and we embraced, and then she uttered these memorable words, “Oh, my boy, you have come to the end of the world and have lit on a willow patch”. She showed anxiety and was disheartened at the apparent poor outlook of our ever prospering on such a ranch. I realized that the long ride on a dry dusty road at horse-trot speed in summer heat did not create an atmosphere conducive to feeling of hilarity or optimism.
After a drink of sparkling cold water and some palatable refreshments served by Han; and above all, by the happy, joyous welcome evidence by both of us, mother seemed to relax and feel much better. As a matter of fact, Han and I were very happy with our set up, and we showed them through a little orchard of several varieties of good apples, a nice raspberry patch, a small strawberry patch, a good garden; after we showed mother about 100 acres of good grain and alfalfa, the sight of which thrilled her, she was somewhat reconciled to our moving to Idaho.
There are few mothers who rear large families who escape periods of deep sorrow. Mother was no exception. She seemed to feel that she had more than her share of trouble and sorrow. I recall the first deep sorrow she experienced. It was the sudden and violent death of my brother, Willie. He was next to me in age; was a blue-eyed boy with blonde hair still worn in ringlets. By cruel accident he was run over by a loaded wagon. Several other boys and I were on our way to gather asparagus in the west field. We were all riding on a load of fertilizer. We older boys got off the stopped wagon at the canal just west of town. Willie was to remain on the wagon with the hired man. In his anxiety and desire to go with us he attempted to descend from the wagon while it was moving. He slipped and fell beneath the right rear wheel and was instantly killed. This calamity was such a shock to mother, that to her dying day the sight of asparagus or the mere mention of it was sufficient to bring tears to her eyes. But, fate seemed to have designed that mother would be called on to suffer additional, almost unbearable sorrow. Mother lived to see the passing of six of her eleven children in addition to the death of her sister Elizabeth. The passing of three grown daughters and youngest sister Rosetta all happened within a few months time.
It was very difficult for mother to be reconciled to such a terrific loss of her loved ones. It might have occurred to some people that mother mourned to excess, but it seemed to me that she had so much sorrow in such a short period of time that is was beyond her power to control her emotions.
It is my sincere hope that those of mother’s descendants who may read the above story may find much in the life and character of Mary Ann Christmas Bowen that is worthy of emulation.
Mother died 7 April 1939 at Spanish Fork, Utah and as buried in the Spanish Fork Cemetery.