Fuel Oil, Rebellion, and Warm Bricks

By Brent D. Cooper

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    What passed for a basement in our old house was really a narrow half-basement with a low ceiling. Anyone over five-feet-eight-inches tall could develop real sympathy for the giants of professional basketball just by setting foot downstairs. The two small rooms—one a laundry room, the other designed for storage—each had one tiny window and absolutely no heat. Winter always brought the new challenge of ice-cold floors and night air that made your skin tingle. At sixteen, however, I was determined to have my own room and none of this deterred me from using one of the downstairs rooms as my bedroom.

    Going to bed in the winter required a special routine to minimize discomfort from the cold. Once the decision was made to undress, speed was essential. Retaining my socks, I would switch to heavy pajamas and then quickly dive under a big pile of covers. Once under the covers, I customarily remained in a tight ball until the surrounding area became warmer from my body heat and breathing. If fresh air was necessary, a small opening in the covers could be made for my nose and mouth. Gradually, warmth, comfort, and sleep would come.

    My prayers suffered a great deal during the winter because I generally put them off until I was safely under the covers. All too often, sleep would steal in before or during my prayers and carry me away. Unfortunately, this failure to talk regularly with my Father in Heaven came at a time in my life when I really needed extra guidance. None of my close friends were members of the Church, and I had acquired some bad habits in their company—especially swearing.

    When I was with my friends, I found myself speaking the language they used. When I was at home, I used language appropriate in a Latter-day Saint home. My father was the bishop, so I was expected to be a good example. I attended all my meetings and went through the right motions, but inside a real struggle was taking place. The glamour and fun the world seemed to offer often came in conflict with teachings lived in my home.

    These internal conflicts surfaced late one Saturday night when I was awakened from a sound sleep by my mother.

    “Brent, wake up. The ward down at Letha just called and they’re out of fuel oil. Your father has gone down to the station to start filling the truck, but he needs your help.”

    The thought of putting my feet out on that cold floor made me hesitate and pretend it was all a dream.

    “If they don’t get the fuel oil tonight, the chapel won’t be warm for meetings tomorrow. Please hurry and get dressed.” With that she turned and hurried back upstairs.

    “Midnight! How can they call at such an hour and on Saturday night? They have a big tank; doesn’t anyone ever check it? I’ll bet if we weren’t a Latter-day Saint supplier they would have been more careful. They know a neighboring bishop wouldn’t say no!” These and other thoughts raced through my mind as I hurriedly dressed in the bitter night air. Emotion quickly replaced reason. By the time I reached the top of the stairs, that temper often attributed to redheads was in full view. I was furious about having to respond to what I felt was a needless call in the middle of the night. My pent-up anger exploded upon the first person I met—my mother. There was a look of shock and dismay on her face as she was bombarded with a string of oaths designed to express in a “worldly way” the anger I felt at being so inconvenienced. Shouting and hollering, I slammed every door on the way out without looking back.

    Driving to the station cooled me off a little. Once there, I quickly became absorbed in the task of loading the truck and then driving the fifteen miles to the church. By the time dad and I had finished, my negative feelings had all but vanished and I had even begun to feel a glimmer of satisfaction for having gone the second mile to help. At the same time, however, my conscience was bothering me because of my earlier behavior. The prospect of facing my mother made me very uncomfortable. I was relieved to see all the lights out when we arrived home, and I quickly disappeared down the back stairs.

    Safely in my room, I began the ordeal of entering my cold bed. Finally, teeth gritted, I leaped into bed. Once under the covers, however, I discovered my bed to be warm! Reaching down to the source of the warmth, I discovered two hot bricks, each wrapped in a fluffy towel. Tears flooded my eyes as I envisioned my mother, fresh from a deep hurt, searching our dark backyard for those two bricks, bringing them into the house to be heated in the oven, and then carefully wrapping them in towels.

    This act of love, unsolicited and performed in the face of abuse, had a profound impact upon me as an example of Christlike living. Now, years later, I have a testimony of the real power of “love unfeigned” in binding children to righteous parents, a testimony born of two bricks and a truly loving mother.

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    • Brent D. Cooper, a tour program director and father of seven children, serves as a high councilor and Young Men president in the East Brunswick New Jersey Stake.