Les Goates said that he would never forget the autumn of 1918, “that terribly climactic year of World War I during which more than 14 million people died of that awful scourge ‘the black plague,’ or Spanish influenza.
“Winter came early that year and froze much of the sugar beet crop in the ground. My dad and brother Francis were desperately trying to get out of the frosty ground one load of beets each day which they would plow out of the ground, cut off the tops, and toss the beets, one at a time, into the huge red beet wagon and then haul the load off to the sugar factory. It was slow and tedious work due to the frost and the lack of farm help, since my brother Floyd and I were in the army and Francis, or Franz, as everybody called him, was too young for military service.
“While they were thusly engaged in harvesting the family’s only cash crop and were having their evening meal one day, a phone call came through from our elder brother, George Albert, bearing the tragic news that Kenneth, nine-year old son of our brother Charles,…had been stricken with the dread ‘flu,’ and after only a few hours of violent sickness, had died on his father’s lap; and would dad please come…and bring the boy home and lay him away in the family plot…
“My father cranked up his old flap-curtained Chevrolet and headed north to bring his little grandson home for burial. When he arrived at home he found ‘Charl’ sprawled across the cold form of his dear one, the ugly brown discharge of the black plague oozing from his ears and nose and virtually burning up with fever.
“’Take my boy home,’ muttered the stricken young father, ‘and lay him away in the family lot and come back for me tomorrow.’” Within one week Les’s father made four separate trips in the old Chevrolet, bringing home for burial his son and three grandchildren, all had died of the terrible flu.
Then, on the seventh day of the ordeal, according to Les’s account, “dad said to Franz, ‘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. Hitch up and let’s go on our way.’
“…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. As they passed by, each driver would wave a greeting: ‘Hi ya, Uncle George,’ ‘Sure sorry, George,’ ‘Tough break, George,’ ‘You’ve got a lot of friends, George.’
“On the last wagon was the town comedian, freckled-faced 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, Francis jumped down off the big red beet wagon and opened the gate as we drove onto the field. He pulled up, stopped the team, paused a moment and scanned the field, from left to right and back and forth—and lo and behold, 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!’…
“Then 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—this amazing man who never faltered, nor flinched, nor wavered through this agonizing ordeal—sat down on a pile of beet tops and sobbed like a little child.” (Quoted in Vaughn J. Featherstone, “’Now Abideth Faith, Hope and Charity,’” Ensign, July 1973,pp. 36-37.)
Now, if Les Goates hadn’t decided to record his life and the events that closely touched it, we would have lost forever this story of his father, the beets and his good friends. Our lives have moments like that that deserve recording—moments that may have happened to no one else. How about starting today to write them down? Our posterity deserves to know us—and our friends.