Friday, March 27, 2020

"That’s all of ’em, Uncle George!"

A story about George Goates, little brother to my great-great-grandfather. It's a story I grew up with. A story that's had an outsized impact on my world view.

This version is a retelling of something Les Goates' wrote. Les Goates was a career sportswriter for the Desert News, and George's son.

It's 1918, in the midst of the Spanish Flu Epidemic. George would have been 55 at the time. Francis was 20, Charles 35.


“Winter came early that year and froze much of the sugar beet crop in the ground,” writes [Les] Goates. “My dad and brother Francis were desperately trying to get out of the frosty ground one load of beets each day.” One day they received a telephone call that George’s nine-year-old grandson Kenneth “had been stricken with the dread ‘flu,’ and after only a few hours of violent sickness, had died.” George was asked to go to Ogden and take the boy to Lehi for burial.

When George arrived at the home he found his son Charles was also sick. Charles asked his father to take the boy and return for him the next day. “Father brought Kenneth home, made a coffin in his carpenter shop, and … with [my brother] Franz and two kind neighbors [dug] the grave...

“The folks had scarcely returned from the cemetery when the telephone rang again.” They learned that Charles had died and four of his young children were also sick. Charles’s body was sent to Lehi by train, but the next day George had to return to Ogden to get one of the grandchildren, seven-year-old Vesta, who had since died. Before he returned to Lehi with Vesta, a call came again that one of her sick sisters, five-year-old Elaine, had also died. So George made yet “another heartbreaking journey to bring home and lay away a fourth member of his family, all within the week.”

The next day George told his son Francis, “‘Well, son, we had better get down to the field and see if we can get another load of beets out of the ground before they get frozen in any tighter.’ …

“As they drove along the Saratoga Road, they passed wagon after wagon-load of beets being hauled to the factory and driven by neighborhood farmers...

“On the last wagon was...Jasper Rolfe. He waved a cheery greeting and called out: ‘That’s all of ’em, Uncle George.’ “My dad turned to Francis and said: ‘I wish it was all of ours.’“

When they arrived at the farm gate...there wasn’t a sugar beet on the whole field. Then it dawned upon him what Jasper Rolfe meant when he called out: ‘That’s all of ’em, Uncle George!’

“Father sat down on a pile of beet tops--this man who brought four of his loved ones home for burial in the course of only six days; made caskets, dug graves, and even helped with the burial clothing—and sobbed like a little child."