The True Story of Richard the Bricklayer

Once upon a time – about a hundred and fifty years ago, to be precise – in a faraway land called Birmingham, England, there lived a humble bricklayer named Richard.

Yes, Richard laid bricks. It was a good and useful skill to have, since Birmingham was a big ol’ city that needed a bunch of bricks for its buildings and such. Of course, the job had its drawbacks. In nineteenth century Britain, the bricklaying trade didn’t offer a whole lot in the way of social mobility. Whether he liked it or not, Richard had resigned himself to the fact that he would likely be laying bricks for the rest of what probably be a short and difficult life.

And that would have been exactly what would have happened if Richard hadn’t married Maria Foster.

Maria (her name was spelled like the West Side Story Maria, but it was pronounced Mariah, as in Mariah Carey) stayed close to the rest of the Fosters after her marriage, so she was unduly influenced by the company they kept. This proved to be something of a problem in her marriage, since all of her family had fallen in with some unsavory characters from the United States, most of their unsavoriness due to the fact that they were Mormons.

Nowadays, when the Mormons get their claws into you and begin their brainwashing process, you pretty much just have to quit drinking beer and chasing broads. It’s really not that bad, all things considered. But back in the Birmingham of the 1850s, once you joined those loony Mormons, you had to pack your bags, sail across the ocean, and then get a covered wagon and march across the Great Plains, where you finally settled down with all the other Mormon crackpots in a worthless desert next to a big, salty lake with lots and lots of brine flies. That’s where these loons planned to build their Zion.

Maria was ready, willing, and eager to go.

Richard wanted no part of it. And, really, can you blame him?

Still, he loved his wife enough to strike a deal. Maria could join the church along with the rest of her family. Richard refused to be baptized, but he agreed to emigrate to the US on the condition that they had enough money to return back to England once Maria came to her senses.

Good plan. Alas, it was not to be.

As soon as they got to the East Coast, all of their money was burned up in a fire – a fire which they blamed on their young son John, who was given the name Foster as his middle name.

No matter who did it, the reality was what it was. Richard was stuck.

Westward ho!

Richard, bitter and angry, nevertheless made the arduous journey west with the Mormons, and when he finally showed up in Utah, he made a beeline to Brigham Young’s doorstep to give the Mormon leader a piece of his mind. He demanded that Brigham and his fellow Mormons provide him with financial help to make up for the money that had been burned up back east. Perhaps he thought this was his ticket back to bricklaying. Brigham responded by saying he would be happy to provide assistance to a fellow church member. Richard, however was still an unbaptized heathen, so the church refused to help.

That was the straw that broke the camel’s back, both for Richard and his wife. She left the church, too, but they didn’t have the resources to head back to England. She, too, was stuck.

Not long after this experience, Brigham Young called on the entire Foster family to head up north and colonize the Bear Lake area, which was right along the Utah/Idaho border. They said yes, pulled up stakes, and headed north, all except Richard and Maria, who stayed in Salt Lake and told Brigham Young to stick it.

One summer, their son John Foster, the accused pyromaniac responsible for the whole predicament, was sent to live with his cousins in Bear Lake. He was past the age of 8, around which time respectable children were baptized, but he was still quite unaffiliated, which caused much consternation among his devout Foster relatives. So he joined the Church, much to the surprise of his family upon his return home.

Perhaps out of latent respect, or maybe out of sheer spite, Richard didn’t try to undo what the Fosters had done. On the contrary, Richard told John F. that now that he was a member, he was going to have to live like one.

He never got baptized himself, but Richard was scrupulous in making sure that his son paid tithing, attended his meetings, and stayed active, which he did throughout his life. He was the only child of Richard and Maria who had any connection to the Church, and he went on to become a prominent and prosperous businessman. Maria Foster became an alcoholic and died estranged from the Church, and the rest of her children lived relatively ignominious lives. John F.’s wife Rose later remarked that her husband was “the only member of that family that was worth the price of a bullet.”

John Foster was my father’s grandfather. I owe my legacy of faith largely to him.

Richard, therefore, was my great-great grandfather. I owe my geographical location to the fact that he cheerlessly followed his wife around the world, burned up his money, and then told Brigham Young to stick it.

On Being Hated
Happy Labor Day!

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