I was never particularly interested in the Church Indian placement program. When foster parents would speak of their experiences with Lamanite children or when bishops would ask for volunteer families, I could sit in the audience and smugly tune it all out.
“Fine idea,” I would think, “but let somebody else do it.” And since it was a volunteer program, I knew I was safe: I would simply never volunteer.
Then early one morning we received a phone call that shattered my attitude of indifference. Our bishop asked us point-blank if we would take a nine-year-old Indian boy into our home. “The bus will arrive tomorrow,” he said, “and the prearranged home has cancelled out.” The boy was already a passenger on that bus, and he faced a pretty bleak reception if no one were there at the staging area to greet him. I asked the bishop how long we had to make a decision, and he asked whether thirty minutes would be enough. We now rather facetiously refer to that time as the thirty minutes we fasted and prayed before reaching our decision.
Suddenly it dawned on all of our family that it wasn’t up to somebody else to help this boy. It was up to us! It became a very personal thing, and we decided we’d give it a try.
As soon as we had made our commitment, I immediately recalled all of the reasons I had remained so indifferent to this need before: we already had five young children, one of them a baby; our house was too small; our income never seemed quite adequate. But it was too late, and Calvin White came to live with us.
I don’t think I’ll ever forget those large frightened eyes, that ragged cowboy shirt, and most of all those skinny ribs. He didn’t speak to me directly for many days—still doesn’t much; but his smile was rewarding when we purchased a few school clothes for him. What treasures they were to him! He would carefully put them in a drawer, and all through that year he folded and handled those clothes with the greatest care. Already my children could learn one lesson from Calvin: how to keep a drawer straight.
One thing we noticed right away was his tremendous appetite. The day he arrived we had to wait for him during the noon hour. When we were finally able to eat lunch at home, I noticed that Calvin ate as much as anyone. It wasn’t until days later that we learned he had been fed at noon that day, while we had waited for him. But then Calvin knew what it felt like to go hungry.
We got along fairly well, and Calvin began to feel more at home. He began to laugh once in a while. Then we had an experience that gave more depth to my feelings for our newest family member. When he had a routine TB test at school, Calvin had a positive reaction, which we were assured was common among Indians. We were advised to have his chest X-rayed, which we did. And it wasn’t long until we received a letter from the public health service office that said, “Suspected active case of tuberculosis. See a physician immediately.”
Further X-rays were taken, but since it was a Thanksgiving weekend, we had to wait for the report. Our bishop and the social worker were both gone for the holiday weekend. All we had to go on was the advice from our doctor—to “get him out of your home immediately.” Once again Calvin faced an unhappy prospect.
It turned out to be a false alarm, however, but it was still a pretty scary weekend. I spent a good deal of time during that holiday season thinking about Indian people. Here we were living in a time when we had landed men on the moon, had installed plastic tubes in hearts, were jamming the highways with campers and trailers, and were buying snowmobiles at a rapid rate. Then why did a nine-year-old of our so-called affluent society have to live with the threat of tuberculosis or know hunger or wear a ragged cowboy shirt?
These Indian children are Latter-day Saints who belong in Primary and MIA. They are a royal people whom we have been instructed by our prophets to help. After that TB scare our car didn’t seem quite so crowded or our kitchen quite so small. We had plenty of room for Calvin.
The Lord has told us, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matt. 25:40.) Who can be more in need than a hungry little Navajo, who is nothing less than a child of God?
Calvin is now in his second year with our family, and he has truly become a part of us. I’m not suggesting that it has all been easy. But then we never had such a promise. He is an individual exercising his free agency, and sometimes there are annoyances and unpleasantness. Sometimes he also brings humor to our home.
One day he was sitting next to his foster grandmother in Sunday School, and she was wearing a mink stole. Calvin kept stroking it with his little hand. Finally he looked up at her and asked, “You get this off a deer?”
We worry sometimes that he won’t be socially accepted. We wonder whether he will succeed in school. What about his natural family?
There are other times when we become exasperated with him.
One day, in the heat of a neighborhood basketball game, he took his watch off and laid it on the hood of our car. Later I came out, got in the car, and went to town. I parked in two different places downtown and spent some time in the grocery store. When I came home, his watch was still there on the hood of the car where he had left it. I think he learned that day that someone special is watching over him and looking out for him.
On other occasions Calvin does things that make us very proud. The whole family never misses an opportunity to show off his art work. One day he won a trophy in a basketball contest and his foster father swelled with pride. Calvin went up and down the street showing his trophy to the neighbors.
He has been very well accepted by our other children. I think that they will never have trouble identifying with minority groups. His foster grandparents have been especially good to him. His “Grandma” Bunnell wears a charm bracelet with a charm for each of her grandchildren, and she wears one for Calvin just as proudly as any of the others. His “Grandpa” Powell once gave him a pocket watch. He had gone to a great deal of trouble to get it ready for him. I don’t know who was happier, the giver or the receiver.
Calvin has been well accepted by his teachers, in both school and church. He has many friends who look upon him as a worthy individual. People from outside the Church have often expressed an interest in his well-being and have asked questions about how he came to live with us.
As we gather our large, lively family around us each family night, I feel something like an old mother hen. And then I think about the story of the woman who had a large family and of her neighbor who asked, “How do you divide your love among so many children?” And the wise mother answered, “You don’t divide love, you multiply it.”
Our experience with the placement program has been a rewarding one. We know that as the school year ends and those special children are driven away in the bus, our hearts will feel heavy, and the tears will be close to spilling over. We know that our small house will seem almost empty, even though it still houses seven people. But our fondest hope is that next year there will be more room in more homes for more Calvins.