Every ward has one—you know that Family History Fanatic. That’s me. Everyone in the ward who knows me knows I do family history, that I love family history, that I talk, nearly eat and sleep family history, but I don’t know that anyone really knows why.
I could say I do it because I’m commanded to do it in the scriptures—after all, it is there in all of them. Out of the first twelve chapters of The Old Testament, three tell of the creation, three about Noah, and half of the rest, another three, is family history. The introduction to the New Testament, Matthew 1:1-17, lists the forty-two generations between Abraham and Christ in sixteen verses of pure family history.
But that’s not why I do family history.
The Book of Mormon may not have the continuous pages or versus of family history found in the Bible, but no one forgets why Nephi and his brothers were sent back to Jerusalem and were nearly killed, then were commanded to slay Laban; to get the plates which contained, among other things, their genealogy. And, by definition, the Book of Mormon, as a whole, is a family history document.
That’s not why I do it either.
I think it is interesting that the very last two verses in the Old Testament, Malachi 4:5-6, promise the coming of Elijah who “shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”
As a child who took everything literally, I thought that scripture referred to some strange medical procedure. I now realize it is a much more complex process.
I also remember being curious about the vision Joseph Smith received one night when the Angel Moroni visited him three times repeating the exact same scriptures. I wondered what was so important about the scripture that he had to remember it word for word, and why it took him three hearings to remember it. By the time I was old enough to think of reading the scripture, Doctrine and Covenant 2, I was not surprised that the verse was nearly identical to Malachi’s conclusion, referring to promises to be planted in family member’s hearts, and that the earth would be ‘utterly wasted’ if that didn’t happen.
Still, that is not why I do family history.
I doubt that I can find a copy of General Conference addresses that does not include talks on family history—compassionate talks filled with love and understanding that fill my heart with the desire to do more and my eyes with tears because so much is left undone. If I had no other reason, perhaps those beautiful words would help me start doing family history.
But I have other reasons, and to explain them, I have to tell you about Koocha.
We got Koocha, our orange, long-haired, in-doors, part-of-the-family cat when he was a kitten. He grew with our family.
Jennifer, our youngest daughter, commented on how strange it was to have an animal, a furry, meowing animal, walking around in our house as though he belonged there just as much as we did.
We loved him and he loved us—or at least our food.
He came running whenever he heard someone take the plastic lid off the can of instant potatoes which he loved nearly as much as he loved raisons, and Jennifer, a budding gymnast, tried, and nearly succeeded, in teaching him to walk the complete length of her beam by placing raisons along its length.
Koocha considered himself a member of the family and he was insistent that he have his morning turn in the bathroom where he watched the water gurgle down the sink drain. If he didn’t get his turn, he stood outside the door, gave a very loud howl then threw himself against the door in the true sense of a temper tantrum.
He was one of us.
We were traumatized the evening before we were to leave for a three-day weekend, one of the few vacations we had planned for several years, when Koocha was nowhere to be found. In the midst of planning and packing it was dark before we missed him.
Alarm immediately set in.
At first Mary, our oldest daughter, shook his dish which was filled with dried cat food. When he didn't respond, she popped the instant potato can lid on and off a number of times until we were convinced that he was not in the house and couldn’t hear the sound. With flashlights and a shaker of cat food dabbed with instant potatoes in hand, the three of us began searching the edge of the woods that surround our New England home while my husband, Tony, stayed in the house to let us know if Koocha returned.
There was no response. Apparently, Koocha was not going to react to the light or the food, or to us. After nearly an hour of searching, we gave up and returned to the house, all of us admitting to the prayers we had secretly been saying. We knelt and joined together for a special family prayer as we fearfully thought about our pet.
That night we left food on the porch with the door open so he could get in, and we left the porch light on hoping it would guide him home.
No one mentioned vacation the next morning. Leaving with Koocha missing was not an option. It was unthinkable.
The weather wasn’t much brighter than our moods that morning. We tried to reason that the rain which had doused the area during the night had kept Koocha from walking through the damp underbrush but rather, had forced him to seek shelter beneath a bush or within a hollow in the rock fences that abound near our house. We were too worried to take time for more than a glass of orange juice for breakfast. We spent the first part of the morning asking neighbors if they’d seen Koocha, then walked through the drizzling mist avoiding poison ivy as we called out to him from along the edges of the forest.
Still, Saturday night came and Koocha was not home.
Again we left the porch door open. We heated instant potatoes hoping to enhance the scent so he could smell it more easily and be enticed to come home. Perhaps he’d not been able to recognize his way home since he’d never been out in the woods and the light on the porch would draw his attention. We didn’t consider turning off the porch light.
I think we all knew we were rationalizing, but even though he was just our cat, there seemed to be no “just” in our relationship that night and we added a special family prayer for him again.
I’m not sure how much we learned in church on Sunday but it didn’t take us long to change clothes and get out the “wanted” signs with Koocha’s picture on them that Jennifer had prepared on Saturday. Our woods and a small wet land separated us from a large subdivision. Perhaps he had gone through the forest and gotten confused there. We walked from house to house, knocking and asking.
Someone had seen a strange cat, but it was black and white, not orange. No one had seen our Koocha.
Jennifer said that if Koocha really wanted to be free to roam the woods and stay out of the house, it would be all right, but she hoped that we could at least see him once in a while so that we would know he was okay.
Monday was the third day since Koocha had disappeared. Our moods were heavy as my husband loaded his brief case in the car and headed for work. No sense in a three day weekend when two days were gone. “Has anyone checked the trail behind Grachan’s?” he asked as he prepared to close the car door. I thought of the area behind our neighbors’ house which was mostly wetlands with a few huge slabs of granite left years before from quarrying, and the gaping holes in the ground which had yielded the slabs. Koocha could have found shelter there. “We’ve scouted the area but we’ll check the path again.” I assured him.
It didn’t seem productive to stomp through the same area over and over on a dreary mist-filled morning with rain forecasted. We had missed our vacation and traipsing through the woods in the off-and-on drizzle wouldn’t help so I decided on a diversion and we headed for a local museum.
It was mid-afternoon when we got back home, but the sun had broken through the clouds. Maybe Koocha had venture home since the leaves and grass were drying and there was abundant sunshine.
Koocha was not on the porch.
I didn’t say a word, but I didn’t need to. It took us less than five minutes to change into our muddy shoes and long Jeans, grab shakers of dried cat food, and head out to the woods. I was out before the girls, and I headed to the path Tony had mentioned. The girls went to the trail that split our property from Grachan’s, a path separated from the one where I was searching by wetlands. I heard them being calling. My heart ached for them as well as for Koocha as I heard their pleading cries.
Then Jennifer’s call sounded different. It seemed as if her inflections had changed from a seeking call to a loving exclamation, but her voice was too faint for me to be sure. Could she possibly have found Koocha?
“Jennifer?” I yelled into the woods. “Jennifer?”
I could hear her still saying, “Koocha, Koocha,” as if she were addressing him but I couldn’t be sure as I jagged back around the granite slabs towards her, afraid to let myself believe that she had indeed found him, suddenly afraid of the condition he was in after three days in the woods that coyotes and wild dogs randomly stalked. But Jennifer’s voice was happy and loud as she excitedly exclaimed, “I found him,” between another series of joyous, “Koocha! Koocha!”
After changing her clothes, Jennifer, ignoring the soggy soil of the wetlands that had separated us, had started towards me. She had heard a soft meow and had looked up as Koocha responded to her from high in a tree. Soon Mary had joined us to gaze joyfully at our lost cat and we quickly said a grateful prayer.
We had found Koocha.
But Koocha had gone a good distant up the sleek, branchless trunk of the tree he’d chosen to climb. He had nested himself into the first joint where a branch shot off the tree, and had been unable to move down from the perch. Our pleading was no more motivating than the hunger and discomfort he had felt for those three days and despite our attempts to cajole him down by securing a container of cat food to an extension of a roof-rake and raising it to his level, he would not come down. He was stuck in the tree. Successive attempts with water, then instant potatoes sprinkled liberally with raisons also failed. He could not get down and we couldn’t get up to get him.
We had found Koocha, but we had no way of rescuing him.
It was difficult to drag our ladder out through the underbrush, avoiding the clumps of poison ivy we had discovered, and after we got it to the tree, we discovered it was not tall enough even if we could have found a way to safely secure it against the tree. Anyone with plan B?
We would have to have help. But who and how?
Our next-door neighbor pulled into their driveway. His ladder was taller, 18 feet, and he carried it easily where we had dragged ours. But it wasn’t tall enough and there was no way to position it against the tree so we could climb it.
In children’s books, the firemen always rescued the cat, but could they do that in the middle of the forest? Maybe the scouts had a technique that we could use. I made calls but, sorry as they were, no one knew of a way to get a cat down from a tree in the middle of the forest. I couldn’t even think of a plan D.
I was tired and hungry. It was getting dusky. How long could a cat survive without food or water while wet from rain storms? We had been distraught about losing Koocha, but how would our daughters (and myself) react if we couldn’t save him after finding him? Tony wouldn’t be home from work until after dark, but there was nothing more he could do anyway. I felt desperate.
Plan D wasn’t a plan to rescue Koocha, but a plan to calm us and help us find a way to get Koocha down. It was not our first prayer since we’d found Koocha, and it wouldn’t be our last, but it was as sincere as any we’d said that week, and when we stood up, Mary said calmly. “Why don’t we call Brother Sears?”
Although Brother Sears is a very nice person, had been our home teacher and drove a dirt bike, I knew nothing about him that qualified him to rescue cats from trees. But I was desperate, and when Mary repeated her suggestion, I called the Sears home never seriously considering that Brother Sears might be Plan D. Sister Sears answered, and to my astonishment, said that Brother Sears had all the equipment he would need, including a helmet with a flashlight connected to the top so he could see in the dark. The only problem was that he wasn’t home.
It had been completely dark for some time when he finally pulled into our driveway and cheerfully lifted a three legged, 20 foot ladder from his van out through the woods to the tree which we could locate only by the girls’ voices and flashlights. I carried an old blanket with me and a happy heart. I watched Brother Sears set the ladder as I handed the girls the blanket. Brother Sears agreed that I could go up to get Koocha—a stranger trying to pick up a scared cat might not be a wise idea—and I climbed the ladder without hesitation, though grateful for the helmet he gave me to light my way. Koocha seemed as relieved as I when I scooped him from the fork of the tree and climbed down with him to two set of arms held out to enfold him in a soft, warm blanket.
It was a matter of minutes before we climbed the porch steps where Tony stood holding the door open wide for us and Koocha. We fed him and watered him. We petted him and cuddled him. I watched my daughters and my husband welcome him back with delight and elation. Koocha was home.
I gladly gave Brother Sears the cookies I had baked as part of our traditional vacation snack.
Koocha was home and was safe and unhurt. I watched my family care for him as if he were one of us. And he was one of us. I will never forget the peacefulness I felt as I purposefully pulled the porch door shut and latched it, then followed my family into the house. I turned off the porch light. We were all home and safe.
I will always remember those three days. The fear and longing that anchored in my stomach, the yearning on my daughters faces as they looked at me for comfort, the deep-down ache that would not subside no matter how I tried to distract them—or me. The deep-down, completely engulfing peace and joy I felt as I closed the door and turned off the light knowing Koocha was home and safe.
I did not tell anyone then of the other memory only I would recall then and it was one that only I could experience. As I looked into the eyes of my daughters while they held out the blanket to gather Koocha into their arms and safety, I saw the looks of generations of mothers holding out their arms to hold their babies. We had waited for three very difficult, draining days to hold Koocha again. I had waited a different but somehow similar three days to have a nurse fold my son in a blanket so I could hold him as, having gained a body, he returned to a more important mission and I was left to long and yearn.
How many mothers have also longed and yearned?
Koocha was “just” a cat, a strange, furry creature that we invited into our home to be our pet. We loved him. No one in our family ever complained about missing vacation that year. No one complained about ruined shoes, missed meals, walking together to talk to strangers, walking through drizzle in damp clothing or missing TV shows. We gladly did what we’d done because we wanted Koocha to be with us.
I don’t know what it means to be an “eternal family”. I can’t quite understand what living for an eternity includes let alone the dynamics of an eternal family. But there are a couple of things I do know.
I know the fear and sorrow of losing a child, the pain of losing a son, a brother, a mother, a father. I know the yearning and longings to be reunited with them in everlasting bonds. I know the reassurance of the Spirit telling me that all of this is possible—possible for me, for my loved ones, for all of Heavenly Father’s children. That reassurance is peaceful and joyous, much like the feeling of closing a door and turning out a light because everyone is home and safe.
I don’t know what it is to be a wife waiting to have a descendent find a missing record so she can be sealed to her husband. I don’t know what it is like to be a mother waiting to have a descendent find the broken headstone of a baby so she can have her child sealed to her and her husband eternally. I don’t know how that is, but I do know what it feels like to close a door firmly and to take a deep breath as I turn out the porch light.
That is why I do family history.
A Piece of my Harris family history in Reality
Several years ago I was very grateful when a photo copy of Alice Fewkes and William David Harris was shared with family members. Many of us have our own pieces from that large and wonderful family. I'm sure others as well as myself would appreciate any photos or stories thatfamily members are willing to share. Pictures can be emailed to me and I will include them in following blogs.
When I was a girl, Mom had us clean the cupboards every week and my turn was every other Saturday. I remember the cupboard where the Salt Lake plate was kept with other special china and how I always took it down and looked at it because there was something about it that always delighted me. Imagine my joy when Mom told me that Grandma Harris had given it to her and that she had seen how I loved it those many days and was giving it to me! I can’t remember Grandma but this has given me a link to her and the lovely things she treasured, as well as the beautiful promises I treasure from the temple.
The Salt Lake Temple memorial plate in this picture was a gift from my father’s mother, Alice Fewkes Harris, to my mother, Mary Gertrude Coltrin Harris, which she then gave to me. (enlarged photos of the front and back can be seen at the end of the blog) The doily was crocheted by my mother, Mary Gertrude Coltrin Harris who also made the drapes. The copy of the temple was made by Muriel Joyce Harris Weight Wright.