Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Day Tribute to Our Pioneers--He Cares More About the Shoulder Than About the Wheel

Robert Henry Swain
19 Mar 1835--18 Nov 1995
Being Labor Day today, I wanted to relate a story of labor, renewal and love about LaRee's grandfather.  In 1853 her grandfather, Robert Henry Swain and his wife were baptized in Kent, England, where he was employed as a policeman and as a member of the queen’s local bodyguard. Like many of our ancestors, Grandpa and his wife, Elizabeth, and their children crossed the Atlantic to make the pioneer trek to Utah, but they did not come together.

What’s unique in Grandpa Henry’s story is that when he departed from Liverpool on April 29, 1865, on the ship Belle Wood, he left alone. He and Elizabeth had separated five years earlier. We don’t know the circumstances of the divorce, but we do know that Elizabeth was not happy with Henry and had tossed her wedding band into the sea. Grandpa subsequently lost his membership in the Church.

Ponder for a moment and visualize Grandpa walking alone into the Great Salt Lake Valley with the William S. S. Willes wagon company on November 11, 1865. I wonder what he was thinking and feeling as he entered the valley. What was this divorced and excommunicated brother to do there? He had no useful skills for the Saints at that time, and he wasn’t in a position to provide much priesthood service.

Harper's Weekly of Robert Henry
Master Stone Mason on the
Walls of the Salt Lake Temple
So he went to work as a stonecutter in Little Cottonwood Canyon and as a stonemason on the temple, where he labored for the next 10 years. And while working on the construction of the temple, a reconstruction of his own life began taking place as he returned to full fellowship in the kingdom. Eventually he became a chief stonemason and established a family occupation that was passed forward to many of his descendants, including my father and my brother. I miss the quality of that work and mourn a little of its disappearing legacy as the Swain family line continues to move forward into the information age and acquires new skills in a new economy.

Jesus taught:

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Alma the Elder personally experienced this wonderful paradox:

Stone Masons of the Salt Lake Temple
Robert Henry is the tallest, at center.
And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.

In my heart I see Grandpa Henry trudging into the Great Salt Lake Valley, laden with his own burdens. The Lord’s tender response was not to grant a reprieve and a vacation; rather, Grandpa Henry was invited to “Come, follow me” and give himself to the Lord’s will and to His work. The blessed work was restful and refreshing, and Grandpa was renewed. The key to finding rest and renewal is to give ourselves wholly and wholeheartedly to God’s work and to His will. Grandpa Henry worked in God’s stone quarry and found renewal of his life.

Vernal Temple of the Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Two and half years after the temple dedication, on November 18, 1895, Grandpa Henry died of a lung disease attributed to his working so long in the granite dust. His work on the temple breathed life back into him. Grandpa died surrounded by his large family. He died fully in the faith. Besides a family tradition of brick and stone masonry, he left a legacy of faith for us. Grandpa Henry was built—was remade—into a new creature.

The Vernal temple, seen here was originally the Vernal Stake Tabernacle in Vernal, Utah.  It was built in 1912 with brick from the Swain Brick Yard of Abner Swain, son of Robert Henry Swain.



Taken from a talk by Dr. Monte Swain at Brigham Young University, May 27, 2008.

Dr. Swain and LaRee are both direct descendants (great grandfather of Robert Henry Swain.