My Story: Melva C. Lenz Harker

Melva C HarkerI, (like Nephi of old) was born of goodly parents, August Lenz and Della Casson Cahoon Lenz, on June 16, 1920. I was born second to the oldest into a family of twelve girls and no boys. My sisters were Lottie, Helen, Myrtle, Irma, Joyce, Ireta, Ruth, Ruby, Rachel, Marrietta, and Hazel. I was born in Cardston, Alberta at the home of my Grandmother Cahoon.

The early parts of my childhood was spent in the areas of Cardston and Boundary Creek (Seden). Later on, we moved to a farm five miles from the town of Hill Spring, Alberta. This is where I grew up and spent the major part of my life as a child and teenager, until I was married October 6, 1937 to Marvin Evan Harker.

My very first recollection of being alive was when I was not quite one year old (according to my mother). My parents went on a fishing trip to the mountains to Belly River Lakes, near Waterton Lakes. Fishing was one of the few forms of diversion from the heavy labours of making a living they had. They would go as far as possible in the wagon, then they would put saddles on the horses and go the rest of the way by horseback. On this particular occasion, my Uncle Cordon Cahoon was with them and he volunteered to carry me on his horse. There was a place where a bridge over a little brook was made with poles and the horse seemingly about to go through terrified me and I screamed so loudly it frightened the horses. When they came to the falls he decided I would be less frightened if he waded across. When he was about half way, he fell in with me in his arms and nearly drowned the both of us. It took my Dad and Mother and some very skillful manouvering to get us out. I guess that is why some bridges are still terrifying to me. I always cross bridges with caution.

My first recollection of walking was when we lived in Seden near Boundary Creek and I was trying to catch our cat. My older sister came to help me- The cat would dart from side to side, and then in desperation would turn back and run between her legs to get away.

When we moved to Spring Hill my Dad set up a tent to live in until we could get our house moved. The wind blew so hard it blew our tent down and broke all the nice dishes my mother owned. For many years we only had tin and enameled dishes to eat on (the indestructible kind).

Life on the farm was hard and difficult. My dad witched two wells and struck water. Digging them was very hard and they were quite far from the house and were deep. Every drop of water had to be carried in buckets and heated on the stove. There was nothing but harsh home made soap to cut the grease on dishes, therefore a heavy film stayed on all the dishes until it was wiped off. Our washing facilities was an old tub and heavy wash board that we scrubbed the clothes on, and one boiler to heat the water; one boiler to heat the water and boil the white clothes in after they were as clean as we could get them on a scrub board. When we got a metal plunger to punch the clothes in the soapy water, we felt we had a great luxury. We would heat the water in the boiler and add lye to cause the hard water to curdle and come to the top, skim it off and add our strong lye soap to get any kind of a suds at all. We scrubbed clothes everyday in order to keep our large family in clothes.

Washing became a pleasure when Lottie and I were old enough to hook up a team of horses, take our clothes and go to the river, and get 40 gallons at a time of nice soft river water, where a few steps were as far as it had to be carried. Then we would bring the wet clothes back and hang them on the clothes line.

That was only one of the arduous tasks of life on the farm. As we got older the older girls had to take up the place of boys to help my dad with the farming. We were up at 5:00 o’clock in the morning everyday. Before we left for school, the cattle, horses and pigs had to be fed and watered and the cows milked. My dad would get up early and be in the field by daylight. Then, we had to quickly get read for school, harness a team of horses and drive five miles to school.

In the winter we went by sleigh and in the bitter sub-zero weather we were often frost bitten by the time we got there. We were often late and in trouble with the teacher in spite of it. When spring came we sometimes rode saddled horses or walked.

I think the only reason the teachers tolerated us at all was because our marks were good. We were either first of second in our class standing throughout our school years, and I might add- “very well behaved.” If we had not been, we knew we would not only be in trouble at school–but in worse trouble at home. When darkness came we had a candle, or coal oil lamp to see with. This is what we studied by also.

My Dad went to bed at dark and was always up at daylight. He believed firmly–“Early to bed and early to rise makes a man, healthy, wealthy, and wise.” He could see no difference between men and women on the score. My mother worked very hard also. In spite of the fact that she usually had a baby and two other small children to care for. While we were at school she did a lot of the gardening by herself, until the garden was up big enough to see good/ Then, gardening became part of our chores also. When the vegetables were big enough to sell, we would prepare them for my Uncle Jake Lenz to take them to Waterton to sell. That provided us with a little cash to exist and buy shoes and clothes etc. which my mother could not make for us. Also, the flour and sugar could not be made at home. Most of our clothes were made out of flour and sugar sacks. It was difficult for us to always look on the bright side of life as we grew older; especially when we would see our friends and neighbors pass our place to go to Waterton on holidays and Saturdays and still be happy to be down on our hands and knees pulling out weeds or hoeing the garden.

One time my mother became very ill and had to go to the hospital. The doctors said she had a very bad heart. She had Inflamatory Rhuematism also. They felt that she could not live more than a few months. She was 37 years old. My father had us all fast and then he asked the Lord to spare her life, and make her well enough to come home and be with us as a family. Two days later she came home. Her heart lasted until she was 80 years old. They taught us the meaning of living all the ten commandments by precept and example, the importance of daily prayer in our lives.

As I grew older, I found it was quite easy to make friends, especially among the boys. I was at the age that found me quite attracted to them. Having been brought up very, very, protected in a family of all girls, boys presented a mysterious fascination for me. I never thought of my Dad being even of the male species–but only as my father. I had wished so many times for a brother. Then, I realized that the only brother I would ever have was our older brother, Jesus Christ, and I could fully put my faith and trust in “Him.” Whenever I went out with friends or on dates I always asked for His influence to guide and direct my every word and my every action. I felt His spirit very close to me. It was a great protection throughout the tender years of my growing up especially. Throughout my entire life the Comforter has born witness to me of the love my Father In Heaven and my older brother, Jesus Christ. Their concern in my behalf, and their love for me has been my shield and my protection during times of serious sickness, distress and heartache. I have many friends and beautiful memories as lasting, and special as they were then. My friends then are still my friends now. By following the counsel and advice of the prophets and church leaders throughout those years in regarding conduct especially in dating and friendships, I testify of the truthfulness and wisdom their counsel to everyone who may chance to read this.

I attended public school and High School at Hill Spring. Grade XI was the highest grade taught. While attending Grade IX, Undine Caldwell the Grade I teacher became ill and asked special permission for me to take over her teaching assignment. I was the Grade I teacher for sic months. I took my Grade IX assignments home each day. It was a highlight of my High School years. I was still able to keep my first place standing in the Grade IX class.

Because of finances I was not able to continue on to higher academic learning but since that time I have endeavored to learn and achieve something of value each year. I completed a Dressmaking course by correspondence with a 90% average upon completion.

Each opportunity I have had to be of service to the church, I have studied something to improve my ability to be capable of better service; to learn duties then act with all diligence. Some of the positions of trust which I have been given have been Choir Leader, M.I.A. President, Primary President, Secretary to M.I.A., Beehive, Mia Maid, and M Men Gleaner leaders. Teacher in all the Primary Classes, Sunday School Teacher of every class except adults, Junior Sunday School coordinator, Music Leader and Organist in the Relief Society, visiting teacher–in fact many opportunities I have had to serve, of which I enjoyed.

Besides the above my daughter Barbara and I taught dancing for eleven years. I did most of the choreography and Barbara did the dancing. I have also studied music on my own and taught classes in Nutrition at the Drug and Alcohol abuse centre. I spent one memorable summer as a Matron and advisor to eighty-one girls at the Banff School of Fine Arts.

On October 6, 1937 I was married to Marvin Evan Harker in the Alberta Temple in Cardston by Joseph Y. Card. Our life together has not been uneventful–far from it. For seven years we thought we may never have any children of our own, then in 1943 Marvin was born. What a choice spirit he was. He was the first male member of my family and the first grandson by the name of Harker in the Harker family. It was a great occasion for all of us. He looked like his dad. However, he was alone and very lonely. He often cried, “I have nobody to play with. Seven ears later Barbara Lynne was born. She was truly beautiful and a special spirit too. She was also very lonely. We decided we had room in our hearts and in our home for more children, and being as the doctors said we would never have any more of our own. We decided to adopt twins if we could, so they would not have to grow up lonely, like Marvin and Barbara were. That is what we did. Four years later we received the happy and exciting news that two beautiful babies were available to us if we wanted them. Of course we did! They even had similar features of our other children and fit right into our hearts, and home, and family. They were beautiful and very special to us. I knew that this was the way Our Heavenly Father wanted this situation to be, and that they were to be ours for eternity. We named them Leanne Undine, and Lonnie Eugene. Five years later we were shocked and happily suprised by the arrival of another choice spirit. Because of the happiness and joy she brought with her, we all decided that she should be named Melodee Rae. She was truly a choice spirit too, and has put a song in each of our lives and hearts ever since. I know each of these children were supposed to be mine to love, to teach and to care for–not only by my choice but by there choice also, in a pre-existence where we lived with our Father in Heaven. Because of them I have been blessed abundantly. I know that I am alive even today because of my children and their desperate need for me. A miracle has been performed in my behalf. My husband is special beyond description and has treated me like a Queen. He is choice above all others. I am so blessed!

Although life has been a struggle financially, my family has attained wealth untold in the things that cannot be purchased with money. As one very wealthy millionaire put it: tell Mr. Harker I have traveled the world over and all men are looking for what he already has; he is the wealthiest man I know. He has more wealth than millions times millions times millions.

Throughout my life my path has crossed that of some very great people. I have made beautiful lasting friendships with old people, children, middle aged and young people of many nationalities and walks of life.

The last twenty years we have been very closely associated with missionaries. We have many choice young men and women fro all over the world in our home often. We have had very many beautiful experiences and memories of these lovely young people, who call us Mom and Dad Harker. Memories that fill our hearts and lives to the point that there is no room left for loneliness, boredom and morbid thoughts. We managed a Motel for nine years, and met many people of all walks of life there also.

While at the motel we contributed in a small way in bringing seven complete families into the church. Hopefully, we have been a little help to the missionaries who have come our way. They have blessed our lives by teaching many lessons in our home, and teaching my family also at the same time. Missionary work is very close to my heart. I am in the process of compiling a book of faith promoting experiences we have had that have deeply touched our lives. I would like to mention briefly one of them. In the year of 1967 my husband was in a car accident. It was felt by specialists that perhaps he might never walk again, and quite definitely that he would never work again. We moved to Cardston where I could find work. A few months later it was discovered that my body was full of cancer and my life hung on a thread. Marvin was married and gone. Barbara was about to enter university. Melodee was five years ole and Leanne and Lonnie were nine years old.

We had sold our backhoe business and that, with what we had managed to save was practically gone. Barbara was asked to manage a motel. When she left for university, I took over where she left off.

Evan was in the Lethbridge Hospital at the time. We had an Indian girl Bernice, who was Barbara’s age living with us at the time. one night a young man came to the Motel. When he signed the card to register for a room I noticed that he was the Head of the Indian Association for Alberta. At the same time Bernice came in and whispered something in my ear. I smiled at her and spoke to her. The interest in that, was quite evident. Then he noticed the picture of the Cardston Temple that was hanging in my office–this caught his eye and he said, “What is that building? I have been driving around for hours trying to decide why it touched my heart so deeply. Maybe it is the way the four winds hit it but there is something about that building that really stirs my heart, and I don’t know what it is.” So I asked if he would like to go to the information centre. He excitedly said, “Yes I would love to go.” I did not realize that the information bureau was closed during the winter at that time. I told him to be ready at 7:00 p.m. and come over, and that I would have someone there to take him. I set about making repeated phone calls to various church officials in order to find someone to open the Information Bureau. Then I tried to find someone to take him. I made between twenty-five and thirty calls without success. It seemed I was batting my head against a brick wall. I wondered why I felt it ws so important, so I went to the phone and called the mission president, President Espenshied. I told him about an Indian man who was the head of the Indian Association of Alberta and how he showed intense interest in the Temple. I asked him id he might be anyone of importance to him.

President Espenshied said, “Well, I guess he is. Do all you can with him Sister Harker. Find the most eloquent speaker in Cardston and send with him. We have been fasting and praying for months that we might find someone to help us to get missionaries on the reserves in Alberta. While you are at it make an appointment with him for me on Friday. There is a meeting of all the chiefs in Gleichen.”

In spite of all our efforts to find someone to take him, we were totally unsuccessful so the only alternative was for me to take him myself. I left word with Bernice to find the Elders and send them up. They came alright and introduced themselves as Elder Kime and Elder Johnson. Then they had to leave for an appointment. Brother Pitcher and I went through the information Bureau with him. On the way home he asked for a Book of Mormon. Then he said, “Elders,–what is an Elder?”

I told him they were choice young men of the church, who come on their own time, their own money, and teach people to have a happier life and home. They teach the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I asked if he wold like to meet the man in charge of all the Elders in Alberta. He said he would love to. I told him his name was President Espenshied, and if he was going to the chiefs meeting on Friday, in Gleichan, he would love to meet him. When he answered in the affirmative I said, “I will write his name in your Book of Mormon.” On the Friday President Espenchied was there, Harold Cardinal arrived. Without even acknowledging his own friends, he went straight to President Espenshied’s car and held out his hand and introduced himself. Then he invited him into their meetings. The minutes were read stating that no white man would be permitted in their meetings. Then he asked President Espenshied if he would like to speak to them. President Espenshied told them about the book of Mormon, and asked permission to have Elders on each of the reserves. Every chief gave his written consent. That is how the Elders got on the reserves in Alberta.

My experiences managing motels lasted nine years, and was very inspirational, and rewarding. My association with people, has attributed much to my still being here.

(Signed) Melva Harker


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