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I Was Canright's Secretary
by Carrie Johnson

Page 115

12. Baptism and Battle Creek

MOTHER HAD learned that in a few days a Seventh-day Adventist camp meeting was to be held in Northfield, Minnesota, June 6-16, 1912. She arranged that I should attend that camp meeting with an older sister and her husband. Mother didn't seem concerned about the storm that would surely follow when father learned of it, but she did take steps to avoid precipitating it before we left.

The next Sunday evening I left home as usual, presumably for Sunday night services. Instead I went to the home of friends to wait for the midnight train. My sister and her husband, who were also going to camp meeting for the first time, went to Frazee, a station before Perham, and bought their tickets and mine. This fast train did not stop in Perham unless the tickets had been purchased in advance.

At home I had been sleeping with an older sister, Rose, because she frequently had nightmares and had to be awakened. She generally had these nightmares when the locomotive and cars thundered past at midnight. As mother expected, the nightmare came this Sunday night just as the train was passing. Dad asked, "What's the matter with Carrie; why doesn't she awaken her?"

Mother replied, "Because Carrie is on that train that just passed." Father had to awaken Rose.

Dad's fury at discovering that I was on that train and that I was going to a Seventh-day Adventist camp meeting was something to behold. But by the time I returned home eight

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days later it had abated considerably. Yet it still rankled in his heart.

For my part the thrill of actually being on my way to camp meeting and riding on that train was soon dampened. I began to suffer at intervals with abdominal pains, which increased in intensity with the passage of time. When we arrived at the campground a Dr. Nelson was promptly summoned. He readily diagnosed my case as appendicitis and urged immediate surgery. But this could not be performed without father's consent, because I was a minor.

Knowing in advance that father would say, "Let her die," I told the doctor how I had left home and had come to camp meeting to be baptized, and that I felt certain I would not be cheated of this privilege by dying ahead of time.

The baptismal service was scheduled for the last Sunday of camp meeting. Dr. Nelson declared, "Under the circumstances, I will do all I can and leave the results with the Lord." This pleased me. He ordered ice, in which to pack me. I was to have no food or drink, and I was not to be left alone day or night.

Sabbath came, and since I was without pain I urged my sister who attended me to go to the meetings. As soon as she was gone I got up and dressed. I was weak and dizzy, but I made my way to the night meeting in the big tent and found a seat. I was late but happy. In spite of the darkness in the tent Dr. Nelson recognized me as I sat down beside him, and he quickly inquired, "Did anyone help you dress?"

"No," I replied.

"Have you had something to eat?"


"You have disregarded my orders by getting up and dressing," he said sharply.

"Yes," I said, "because I came here to be baptized, and tomorrow is the day."

"All right, young lady, go back to your tent," he ordered. "Have some grape juice and corn flakes. I'll see you early in the morning."

Dr. Nelson came early and to his surprise found me up and dressed. He personally supervised my activity and diet for

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the day. He took me in his car to the lake, where the baptism was conducted by Elder S. A. Ruskjer. This was the first time in my life I had ridden in an automobile. It made for two high lights in one day.

When I arrived home the next day, father greeted me with what I expected—"Why did you come home? I wish you had died."

Within three months after the camp meeting father decided to move to Battle Creek, Michigan. He had suffered severe losses, crop failures, and financial reverses as a result of a drought. But the deciding factor was the fact that about this time we received a letter from my brother Joe, a trained nurse at the Battle Creek Sanitarium, saying, "Come to Michigan where the sun shines on both sides of the fence." This settled it in father's mind. Somehow he was willing to leave his Catholic relatives and move to a more promising community, even if it took him into a predominantly Adventist neighborhood.

On August 25, 1912, there was much excitement in Perham. Six full-fare tickets had been purchased to Battle Creek, Michigan. Normally the noon train passed this little station as if it weren't there. But the six tickets brought the leviathan to a halt, just long enough for us to climb the steps and load the baggage. Then it resumed its run.

Friends, neighbors, relatives, had all come out for the occasion, and some said they got close enough "to hear some words spoken by the engineer and conductor."

Sometime after dark we arrived in Minneapolis, and after transferring to another station, had time to visit with my brother William and his wife, Clara Kressin. Note 1

The all-night coach seat became very uncomfortable long before we reached Chicago. Here we transferred again. The change in scenery was dramatic. From an almost soundless Minnesota prairie, to which we were accustomed, we were suddenly thrown into a babble of sights and sounds and confusion of tongues that was both exciting and distracting. The wash rooms on the trains and in the stations seemed

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marvelous to us. This was our first experience with modern plumbing.

As we traveled along on the Michigan Central, we passed Kalamazoo, Michigan, and before long the conductor boomed, "Battle Creek; this way out." A huge pile of trunks, valises, suitcases, traveling bags, were unloaded. Sanitarium porters were there to greet the many people. It seemed as if almost everyone on the train was stopping at Battle Creek. These people were taken to the Battle Creek Sanitarium in hacks and limousines.

We made our way to a street car, paid the five-cent fare, and soon were on our way to my brother's home. As we went out North Washington Street past the Sanitarium, we saw a crowd milling on the steps and lawn. We went to the end of the line, then walked a few blocks to the home of my brother Joseph and wife, Nina.

The words "Battle Creek" are enshrined in memory's hall by Seventh-day Adventists. This is understandable, because this is the place where the church grew up, so to speak. It was here that the various lines of the work of the church came to full development.

It is said that a letter from any country in the world addressed to: "The Sanitarium, Battle Creek, U.S.A.," would be delivered to the once-famous Battle Creek Sanitarium.

Mother discovered that Battle Creek was a place where she could worship without interference from father. While father waited to take possession of a farm he had purchased some six miles out of Battle Creek, the family lived in a rented apartment, and mother could walk to the Battle Creek Tabernacle for church services. I remember that she was especially eager to partake of the communion service. She had heard about this service, but longed for the privilege of participating personally. This coveted privilege she enjoyed but once, five weeks after reaching Battle Creek. The following Sabbath, or six weeks after we came to Battle Creek, her funeral was conducted from the Tabernacle.

My mother's funeral was the first occasion involving her over which my father had no control. Mother and the four children living at home had requested membership at the

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Tabernacle, and the children insisted that the funeral be held there. After raising his voice in protest, father acquiesced to the funeral arrangements, and for the first time in his life entered a Protestant church. To a great extent the heavy hand of Romanism was lifting. My eldest sister, Rose, volunteered to keep the home intact. I chose to be independent and make my own way. Father was soon on his farm a few miles away.

I quickly found work in the Battle Creek Sanitarium helpers' kitchen, washing and drying glasses and silverware and assisting in kitchen work. I arranged to live with the Carl Kelly family, occasionally baby-sitting to help pay for my board and room.

While working in the Sanitarium kitchen I noticed from time to time that a tall poorly clad elderly gentleman would come in the back door of the kitchen. He stood straight, and his bearing indicated that he had been a man of some distinction. He carried a courtesy meal ticket and he would sit at the corner of a worktable. Someone would fix up a tray for him and take it to him. At times I fixed the tray. His uncut hair, his untrimmed and dirty finger nails, his unkempt attire, the absence of one eye, made this stranger somewhat repulsive to the girls who waited upon him. We were all curious to know who he was, but no one seemed to know. We called him "Mr. X." All we knew was that we did not enjoy his presence in the helper's kitchen, and that he entered and left by the back door.

After a few weeks' employment at the Sanitarium I enrolled in the Battle Creek Business College to continue my studies and improve my skill in shorthand and typewriting. Mrs. Kelly encouraged me in doing this. She introduced me to Mr. W. E. Cornell, and on her recommendation Mr. Cornell consented to wait for tuition until I had completed my studies and had begun to earn wages.

End Notes

1. Clara became my sister-in-law, and at this writing (1970) is now a retired employee of the Voice of Prophecy, in Glendale, California [back to text]

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