Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Nauvoo, City Beautiful

We have had some fun adventures this summer. During the second week of July we drove 16+ hours (each way) to Nauvoo, Illinois to take part in some good fun with some good people. The main reason we went was because our friends the Austins here in Chapel Hill had signed up to actually be in the Nauvoo pageant this year, and about four of us families decided to go support them and to check out this unique little town in Western Illinois. Here they are in pageant clothing - on mainly the right side of the photo.

If you are not familiar with the Mormon church or you just need a recap, the town of Nauvoo is one of the "church history" sites that families like to visit to learn about their spiritual heritage. When the original saints - lead in the 1830s and 40s by the prophet Joseph Smith - started to gather, settle and build industrious and politically successful towns, they were historically chased out by mobs of people in neighboring areas who felt threatened by the success of the Mormons. At a number of very meaningful locations, the saints were forced to move westward to find a place where they could settle and find true religious freedom. So, although the church was originally restored in New York, the saints cut a westward path until they found peace in the Salt Lake valley, in Utah. Nauvoo is one of the most industrious and most successful towns they built on their journey westward across the plains. From a swamp on the shore of the Mississippi River, they drained the land and created an organized and highly productive town, which thrived for 7 years before the saints were forced to leave their homes, pack everything in a handcart or a horse-drawn wagon, and head off into the unknown. The church now owns much of the town, and has unearthed, excavated, and tried to recreate a historical town much like it would have looked in the late 1830s.

Unlike the pioneers, we didn't travel to Nauvoo on foot; we drove Balthazar, our trusty Honda Civic. After Marcos' heroic push of driving 8 hours through the night, we arrived somewhere in Ohio in the morning, blew up our air mattress and tried to catch some z's in the lawn behind a bowling alley while my mom took Gigi for an excursion.

And then after a few more hours of driving, an overnight at a clean hotel, and another last jog of driving the following morning, we arrived in Nauvoo at noon on July 14th and met our friends from North Carolina at the state park for an amazing picnic. We had all traveled different routes with different modes of transportation, but there we all were together, in Illinois for a picnic! Abby's parents live in Iowa, and were the only ones who had access to their own kitchen, so they did the Lion's share of the picnic preparations, and it was an incredible spread.

One of the {many} highlights of our Nauvoo trip was that I had the chance to see a few of my absolute favorite mission companions. Nanako Yamashita and I lived in an apartment in Shibuya, Tokyo together almost seven years ago as missionaries, and forged a bond that will never be broken. Her husband Rio happens to be doing a summer internship in Iowa and they and their son Airi were able to join us for the picnic, and spend the day with us in Nauvoo. It was a real treat to spend time together and enjoy each other's company now that we are both in the young mom phase of life. She is just as good in this role as she has been in all of the others.

After our picnic lunch, most of us headed over to join a tour that is directed by the Community of Christ church, which owns a few of the really great Joseph Smith homes and buildings. The tour took us along the banks of the Mississippi, where Joseph and Hyrum, and Joseph's wife Emma are buried. Below is a photo of our group in the upstairs room of the Red Brick store, where the Relief Society - the church's womens organization - was founded.

As the afternoon started to close we made our way to the grounds where the Country Fair and the Pageant are held. The Country Fair was completely free (like all things in Nauvoo that are owned by the church), and had endless fun activities for families. Everything was as it might have been in the 1840s, so there was square dancing, quilting, small crafts for children, hand-carts (below!), sack races, the stick pull, and everything pioneer. About half of the people present were there in Nauvoo as volunteer pageant cast members, so they were all wearing period clothing.

If you recognize the Abe Lincoln beard from one of the previous photos (at the park), that's our friend Colin. He had been growing out his beard for weeks in preparation for the pageant, and said that his coworkers had some very mixed feelings about it. Below, my mom gets double duty while we dance. It was a real treat to travel with her, because she is so helpful.

And here is the pageant. The main story line of the production is the building of the Nauvoo Temple, and the sacrifice that the saints made to create a thriving town out of a deserted swamp. We enjoyed it absolutely; as much as two adults with a busy 15-month old could enjoy it, while tag-teaming to allow Gigi to run around in the lawn as it pushed past her bedtime. Our friends Jill, Colin and their kiddos were great! It was the perfect end to our day.

The next morning we had to get a corny family photo, to celebrate the fact that there is not much else in some parts of the middle of the US besides miles and miles of corn rows. After breakfast we met our NC friends for a wagon ride, which was a lot of fun. We had a horse drawn wagon, with shade from the hot sun, and a narrator taught us about the town of Nauvoo and the history of the old shops and homes. At the height of its industry, Nauvoo had 12,000 inhabitants, which at that time rivaled Chicago in size.

Gigi did exceptionally well on our trip, considering that her nap times were shuffled much of the time. Below are our friends the Price family.

In the summer in Nauvoo, the pageant actors also do short vignettes throughout the week, and reenact important church historical events. During this enactment, the Joseph Smith actor gave a portion of what is known as the King Follett discourse, which was a sermon delivered at the funeral of Joseph Smith's friend by the same name. It was delivered in a grove of trees, and was opened by the Nauvoo bagpipe band, which played beautifully. I almost want to learn to play the bagpipe now; hearing them play just made my Scottish well up in me.

After pizza with our friends at a local pizzeria, we went to the "Sunset on the Mississippi" variety show that evening. It was performed mainly by senior couples who are serving missions in Nauvoo, and it was hilarious. Gigi chased her friend Seth around in the adjacent field during the show, and we were happy to see them entertaining themselves.

On our way back to the hotel, we drove up the hill and parked the car to admire the Nauvoo Temple in the sunset. We didn't have time this trip to go in, but that gives us a really good reason to go back. The Nauvoo Temple is stunning.

On our final morning in Nauvoo we joined our friends for the Trail of Hope reenactment on Parley Street. This street runs from the center of old Nauvoo town down to the water's edge, and it was on this street that the saints lined up and waited for their turn to cross the Mississippi when threats became so numerous that they feared for their safety. Along the street, actors from the pageant were standing waiting for groups to pass, and they delivered excerpts from real journal entries that the saints had written at this time. It was humbling and inspirational to hear the actual words of saints at this point in their lives, as they left all of their belongings and even their homes to find a new place to settle and worship in peace. Can you imagine waiting in line to cross a river into the unknown, leaving your home empty, and taking only a few possessions with you? That was our last hour in Nauvoo, and it left on us an impression of the incredible faith of those Saints.

{Love this journal entry from the 1840s. Love my baby girl sleeping while we drove past endless hours of corn fields.}

And then, too soon, it was time to head back home. On the way back we wisely decided to stop half way, in Columbus, Ohio, and spend the night with another fabulous mission companion of mine named Lauren Stacey, and her family. Lauren and I lived together for six blissful weeks in Chiba, Japan, and we had such similar goals and ambitions that our time there has laid the foundation for a really amazing friendship. You know how sometimes when you meet a friend's parents you suddenly *get* your friend so much better than you did before? Well, I think that meeting Nanako or Lauren would tell you exactly why I loved Japan so much. They are just the highest caliber of people.

We had originally planned to leave the next morning and drive to North Carolina through Sunday, but as Gigi had done so much better during our overnight stretches than during our day stretches, we allowed ourselves the luxury of spending the day with the Staceys and enjoying their company. Our dear friend Rebecca (remember every beautiful photo of Gigi ever taken?) and her family also just recently moved to Columbus, but unfortunately they were out of town so we had to be content visiting their beautiful but empty house. Wish you were there, Rebecca, Dan and the monkeys!

And that was our trip to Nauvoo, Illinois. We drove home that night through the mountains of West Virginia and arrived home safe and sound in the early hours of the morning. I know that traveling with busy girl Gigi wasn't always pleasant, but I am so glad that we went anyway, and had the experiences that we had and made the memories that we made! I have the on-going goal in my life to be a fun person and to do fun things, and I like to think that we just got a tiny step closer with this trip!


Unknown said...

Did you know that Mike's mom is serving her mission there? I was wondering if I could spot her in your photos but I guess she wasn't there. BTW, your baby girl is too cute.

Rebecca said...

You torture me so ... we would have LOVED to have been there. Both in Nauvoo and with you in Columbus. Sigh. Anyway, I need to call and catch up. We miss you all so so much. xo

Chris said...

I love the picture of Gigi chasing Seth. Glad you had a fun trip, and that you got to see Yamashita Shimai.

But I hold issue with the "7-years-ago" business. Surely we weren't there that long ago, right? And don't think math is going to help you prove a point here.

Jill Hemming Austin said...

Wow, your account makes me want to be there and then I realize, HEY, I WAS THERE!

Thanks for the beautiful account of a really memorable visit.