All humans, wherever they live, have some sort of pioneer heritage. As Americans living in this comparatively new country, we descended from people who arrived here long ago from distant lands in search of a new life. For those of us with family lines in the Intermountain West, it was likely the Mormon pioneers that planted those roots. This is the case on a few branches of my own family tree, but this time I’d like to focus on a different type of pioneer. A modern kind.
Amy Horrocks, my paternal grandmother, came to America in her younger years and I never knew the story of how it all came to pass. It was always interesting to have an immigrant that close in the family, but I had never took the opportunity to hear the tale. So, one Sunday afternoon in the spring of 2015, I decided to pay my grandma a visit and enjoyed a wonderful conversation with her. She was 89 years old at the time and her memory was definitely not what it once was, but that certainly did not hinder her ability to communicate one simple truth: When it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be. Everything will work out. Thus was her experience, and thankfully I am here today as a result.
I was surprised to learn that the story of what I thought had happened was totally wrong. The purpose of the conversation was not necessarily to learn how my grandparents met, but instead why and how my grandmother came to the United States. Little did I know that the main underlying reason for her voyage was just that…to find a husband! The following are excerpts from the conversation we had that day, which I recorded for later transcription:
Dillon Boss: So you made that decision to go and get married, but what were the steps you took to go?
Amy: Well I had money saved. I’d always been taught to save. So there was nothing stopping me. So I could just go and there was no reason and my folks weren’t against it, so I went. I came.
DB: How did you get here?
Amy: It was a boat. I came with my friend Joan Bingham, she was a member of the Church, and her folks were planning to come, and so she had no reason to stay there then. We had been on a coach trip with the ward and she came and sat by me and she said, “How would you like to go to America?” I said that I’d love to. But I didn’t want to go by myself, you know, [so] that was a lot better and it was interesting because they had missionaries there at home and one of them said “I’ll call my folks and see if they’ll sponsor you.” You had to have sponsors back then to come to America and he called his folks and they sponsored me.
My grandmother was always a very tranquil woman, appearing to be a little naive. She rarely (if ever) used a driver’s license, never went to college, nor was she known to be overly spontaneous, studious, or adventurous. My whole life she had just been sort of a grandma…an elderly lady with a funny accent and a talent for knitting and quilting second to none. But as I listened to her tell her story, I saw a completely different side of her. I saw a youthful, adventurous, “Why not?” kind of girl. I saw that she knew what she wanted and was willing to cross an ocean to a foreign land in order to get it. Though her health and memory were fading, the emotion and value in her experiences was as potent and vivid as ever. These are the things that made her the woman she was. The last 60+ years of a happy life have been the result of one young English girl with a desire for something more.
DB: So what were your steps, how did you rebuild your life here? What job did you get? What did you start to do? Welcome to America…now what?
Amy: Well I had to look for a job and I got a job selling seeds at Porter Walton’s floral shop. Selling seeds to gardeners before the season and whatever. Yeah. I did do that.
Amusing as that story was, filled with interesting anecdotes and movie-worthy plot connections, an important part of it all was how she managed to find Karl Boss and start the family from which I hail. It wasn’t long before the interview shifted in that direction all on its own.
DB: So how did you meet grandpa?
Amy: It was the gold and green ball. Grandpa was going to BYU and lived in Provo, and we had five English girls that lived in an apartment in Salt Lake and they said I should call John Green (who was a missionary that I knew) that was going to the Y, and I said “Could you bring five boys to this Gold and Green ball?” And he did. So we all went and he brought them, and grandpa was one of them. But they were blind dates, so we paired off and I wasn’t his date. Anyways…
DB: And that was where it all started?
Amy: That is where it all started.
DB: Describe to me that evening. What happened? Because you weren’t each other’s dates…so how did you finish the night interested in each other?
(Now grandpa Karl pipes in)
Karl: Well in those days when you went to a dance, you held a girl in your arms and you didn’t gyrate around. You had what’s called a dance card, and all the dances would be numbered from 1 to maybe 20, that means that 20 dances would be held that consisted of the dance. And you’d go around and the men would go around because he had the dance card with the others and say we’ll trade dances, this number or whatever and that is what we did. So you danced with all the girls that were there with you and they had no choice but to dance with their partner because it was written on your card. But I happened to dance with her when we traded dances, and that did it. I fell for her and went home to BYU and told my buddies that I had found the girl that I was going to marry. Our first date was to the Prom at BYU, with a name band. Again, it wasn’t a dance like you know dances. The people actually held a girl in their arms and you danced nicely and there was no bear hugging or crap like that…sorry! Anyway, we traded dances there. It was a wonderful evening and I was overcome with love.
DB (to Amy): So when you envisioned yourself coming to America to find the “Blue Prince,” did he fit the bill?
Amy: I guess he must have! I don’t know…I never had anything like that. I was just glad to meet somebody and he was nicely dressed and nice and that was it!
Karl: So then we dated but not nearly as much as we might have because I didn’t have a car, but I soon got one after that. It was my first car. We weren’t married of course, so I belonged to a fraternity at BYU called Delta Phi, a returned missionary fraternity. And it was…if you were going to marry a girl and you didn’t have enough money to buy a ring then you “pinned” her. Every fraternity had a pin that you wore.
DB: So you gave her your frat pin?
Karl: I gave her my frat pin.
The whole story taught me another important life lesson, and it meant even more coming from my grandmother. The events that she described made it clear that things happen for a reason, and that if something is supposed to happen, it will. Call it destiny, the will of God, whatever. Even something as daunting as starting a new life in a new country with little or no experience can seem realistic and even fun if you are driven with that sense of purpose and direction…or what some call faith. Complicated things become simple. Falling in love happens faster than ever. It’s not worth it to worry. My grandmother taught me that where there’s a will there’s a way, and there is nothing wrong with turning back if you feel so inclined. In the interview, one of the recurring statements she made was, “I could always go back.” She decided that if it didn’t work out then she would go back to England and consider the “thing” an adventurous vacation. But it did work out. She met a husband and said, “Why not?” It is that spirit of “Why not?” that has inspired so many amazing people to do so many great things.
DB: So this is the early 1950’s, the war is over. What other things contributed to you wanting to come over here? I mean, I guarantee there was at least one person in England that you could have married…
Amy: There were no men, they had either all died [in the War] or were still serving or not interested in the Church.
DB: So it was all meant to be then!
Honestly, for several reasons (geographic distance being the primary), I was never particularly close to my paternal grandparents while I was growing up. Birthday cards, holiday tins of flavored popcorn, pajamas, and knitted socks and sweaters were regular, but I never developed the bond with them like I now otherwise would have liked to. That’s why that conversation meant so much to me that day. Because of that conversation I can say that I view life now through a different lens. Not only was I set straight about my grandma and grandpa’s love story, but I learned that they were once adventurous young adults with hopes, dreams, passions, and had a handful of insecurities just like me. For a brief moment I was able to witness that youthfulness as they described those events, and it was a beautiful thing. An enviable thing. The point is that life isn’t worth waiting around for things to happen to you. One might say there had to have been someone in England for my grandma to marry, but the ever-so-apparent answer to that is “No. There wasn’t.” She was supposed to marry Karl Boss and that is why she came to America. When my grandpa was invited to a dance in Salt Lake, he accepted and he went. At that dance he met Amy Horrocks, a young English girl trying her hand at the American way of life. That is where it all began. My father, Timothy, was their first child. I am his youngest. And thus we see that family is a spectacular thing. Our roots run deep, and it doesn’t take that high of a climb up the old tree to see that.
“What can you gain from fear? Nothing. What can you gain from courage? Well, if nothing else, a story worth telling.”
**UPDATE – Both my grandmother and my grandfather passed away in the latter part of 2015, not too many months after I conducted this interview. This really was the last candid moment I had with them before their health declined and disabled their abilities to communicate clearly. For that, I am forever grateful for this exchange. I finally got to bond with them.