At the end of the school year, I was excited that the youth of our stake–all the congregations in the towns of Spring Lake, Payson, and Santaquin–would be holding a three-day campout in Nephi Canyon, some 20 miles to the south.
I had a great time at the camp, and although I knew everyone from school, it was nice to spend time doing something completely unrelated to academics. We went for long hikes, learned how to make lanyards out of leather strips, and had huge bonfires every night, where everyone sang and put on skits and jokes. It was wonderful. A few older kids got in trouble for pairing up and going off to kiss and who knows what else, but in all, it was wonderful.
The last night, we were told to dress in our Sunday best, as this would be a special “fireside.” It would be a testimony meeting, and we would all have the chance to share how the Spirit had witnessed to us of the truth.
Jim was terrified. “I can’t go up there and bear testimony. It would be like lying.”
“Don’t worry about it,” I said.
That evening, one after another a long line of teens stood to express how much they had been touched by the Spirit. Even the kids who had been caught kissing the day before were brought to tears as they shared their most sacred encounters with the Holy Ghost.
Why didn’t I feel anything? Was I just not open to the Spirit? Was I not trying hard enough? Or was I just the only honest one there?
No, they must have felt something, or they wouldn’t say it, would they? Maybe it was just that people like me and Grandma didn’t work that way; we didn’t expect that kind of thing, didn’t need it. We just did our duty, and it was fine.
I wasn’t going to get up and bear testimony, but soon there were just Jim and me left, the only ones who hadn’t. I sat there quietly, trying to ignore the pressure to get up and say something. Finally, Brother Kelsch, our Aaronic Priesthood leader stood and said, “I would be very disappointed if some of my boys didn’t stand and bear testimony.” He stared at me, motioning me with his thumb to get up.
I guess he was looking at Jim, too, who slowly rose to his feet.
“I don’t really know what to say,” Jim said in a shaky voice. “I …”
Suddenly Jim was sobbing, his shoulders shaking. “I know the church is true!” he managed to get out. “I have a testimony!”
He collapsed into sobs, and Brother Kelsch put his arm around him to comfort him.
Now it was just me, and it seemed like everyone was staring at me, waiting for me to make a move.
I stood up.
What was I going to say?
“Uh, I’m grateful for the opportunity to stand here,” I said, knowing that wasn’t true.
I wanted to tell everyone I had a testimony from the Spirit, but the words wouldn’t come. I was starting to panic.
Then I saw Grandma’s face in my mind, and I was calm.
“I know that when I keep the commandments and do what’s right, I am blessed.” There, that wasn’t so hard. “I learned a long time ago that Heavenly Father just wants us to do our best, and I feel good when I do my best.”
Brother Kelsch looked a little disappointed.
“That’s how I know the church is true,” I said. “In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”
I wasn’t sure, but I thought saying I knew it was true meant I had borne my testimony. I didn’t feel bad, and I didn’t feel like it was a lie. So maybe I did have a kind of a testimony. Could you have one without feeling some kind of spiritual sign? Maybe so.
The following summer, Dad took me aside one day and told me that I was now old enough to do real work. I’d been working on the farm all my life, so I didn’t understand what he meant.
“I’ve worked hard every day of my life,” I said. “What more do you want me to do?”
“Son,” he said, his eyes filled with a clarity I’d never seen before, “Working on this little farm is all well and good, but it’s time for you to work on the ranch with your Uncle Bob.”
“But I don’t want to leave!” I protested.
“It’s just for the summer,” he said. “Grandma could use the company, and you are old enough for that kind of work.”
The day after school ended, Mom helped me pack an old suitcase, and I loaded it into the back of the truck. She kissed me and hugged me goodbye, saying, “Remember who you are. Do your duty, and all will be well.”
It took two full days to drive to the ranch, as the old truck couldn’t keep up with the traffic on the highway that stretched north through the cities and small towns of northern Utah. Dad pointed out that, for pretty much every Mormon settlement along the Wasatch Mountains, the mountains were on the east, and water (Utah Lake, the Jordan River, and the Great Salt Lake) was to the west. We both laughed when he said, “Heavenly Father just wanted to make it hard for people to get lost.”
The old truck rattled and wheezed its way along. It seemed like all morning we had been passed by angry motorists, some who yelled angry swear words at us, especially when the truck struggled over the Point of the Mountain, the narrow pass between Utah Valley and the Salt Lake Valley. “Never mind,” Dad said. “We may not be fast, but we’ll get there.” I wasn’t so sure.
We stopped for lunch in Salt Lake, where we got hot bread with jam at a bakery downtown and ate it in the shade of a poplar tree on Temple Square, just south of the gray granite temple. It felt a little disrespectful to be eating on the grounds of the holy temple, but Dad said Heavenly Father wouldn’t mind.
A few hours later we had left the familiar mountain valleys. After the sun set, Dad pulled the truck off the side of the road under a Russian olive tree somewhere north of Pocatello, where the land spread out wide and flat in the Snake River Valley.
“We’re on an Indian reservation,” he said. “Maybe we’ll see some Indians.”
That sounded pretty exciting to me, but also a little scary. “They won’t come after us, will they?” I asked.
“You’ve seen too many movies,” he said. “The people here are wonderful. Kind and generous, even though the white men haven’t been very good to them.”
We built a good-sized fire and ate the sandwiches Mom had packed for us.
I think Dad and I talked more that evening than we ever had before. He told me about growing up on the ranch, how his father had taught him to work hard, and how he hoped he had done right by me.
I looked up to my father, but I had never told him until that night.
“I’m proud of you, son,” he said, his voice quavering in a way I hadn’t heard before. I’m not sure I ever heard him say that again, either.
It was beginning to get cold, so we spread out our bedrolls and lay down. As we stared up at the bright stars, I asked him, “Do you think God really does notice us? I mean, there’s so much out there, and we’re so small.”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I expect he does, but I wouldn’t know.”
“Has he ever answered your prayers?” I asked, looking over at him.
His face relaxed, and he said, “I think so. Not like a burning bush kind of thing or anything like that, but just … well … things have a way of working out. I often can look back and see how something I prayed for came about in ways I didn’t expect.”
“Like what?” I asked.
“Well, like being sent to Utah to work on the farm,” he said. “That was the last I wanted to do, and it took me a while to forgive your grandma. But I never would have met your mother if I hadn’t gone, and if anyone has been an answer to my prayers, she has. … And then there’s you and Ellen. See what I mean?”
I guess I did.
In the morning, we stopped by the Fort Hall trading post, where Dad bought me some penny candy and some tea to take to Grandma (an old Scottish habit). The man behind the store counter was a real, honest-to-goodness Indian with long braids hanging out from beneath a wide-brimmed hat. I stared at him with what must have been very wide eyes.
“What’s the matter, son?” the man said, putting our purchases in a paper bag.
“It’s just–I’ve never met a Lamanite before!” I said, using the Mormon term for Indian.
“A what?” he said, looking genuinely puzzled.
My dad laughed. “Never mind, Henry, he’s just excited to see an Indian for the first time.” Dad had stopped at the post many times before and knew the man by name.
“Whatever you say, John,” the man laughed too.
We drove for what seemed like many hours through mostly flat, dusty potato fields until the land rose toward the forested mountains, and the old truck struggled up the grade. The trees were beautiful, and I wondered why people didn’t live up here instead of in the rather ugly valley below.
“You can’t grow potatoes up here,” Dad said. “Too many trees.”
After a brief stop to eat lunch and let the radiator cool off, we wound our way across the mountains and down into a green valley north of the mountains. Dad kept the truck in low gear all the way down because he said he didn’t trust the brakes. That didn’t sound very reassuring, but we made it to the bottom of the grade safely.
“Have you thought of your plans for the future?” Dad asked out of nowhere.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I haven’t thought about it much. I’m only 14, after all.”
“Yeah, there’s time,” he said. “Still, you’d do well on the ranch, I’d say.”
If there was one thing I didn’t want to do, it was that, but I wasn’t going to tell him so. “Well, Mom thinks I should go into banking. She says I have a head for figures.”
“Of course you do,” he replied. “Why do you think Mom has given you homework every summer since before you started school? You’re way ahead of other boys your age, especially in math.”
“I guess I’m good at it,” I said, “But I don’t know if that’s what I want to do. It can be pretty boring.”
“Hard work isn’t meant to entertain you,” Dad said, looking very serious. “You do what’s best for yourself and your family, and being boring’s got nothing to do with it.”
“What did you want to be when you were my age, Dad?”
“I wanted to run the ranch,” he said.
“Why didn’t you?”
“It just wasn’t meant to be,” he said, giving me a look that let me know he didn’t want to talk about it.
“But you like working on the farm, don’t you?”
“Sure, son, but it’s not exactly a challenge for me. Like you said, it can be pretty boring. But it’s what was meant to be, and I have to do my duty. I don’t complain.”
We rode in silence for another 15 minutes before we saw the big gate marked “Park Silver Ranch.” At some point, the name had changed from the original “Peaceful Springs Ranch” as sort of a family joke referring to Great-grandpa McCurdie losing his shares in a silver mine. Dad said it was a good reminder why the Lord taught us not to drink alcohol or gamble. Either way, the brand was the same: a P looping over a smaller S.
Grandma was waiting up for us when we pulled up to the front of the house. She seemed older and more tired than she had the last time I had seen her, but maybe it was just the dim light. She hugged me tightly and told me how happy she was to see me as she showed me to the small room at the end of the hall that would be mine for the summer.