Acres of Fire
When I was about six years old, our family—my parents, my three brothers, and I—moved to Idaho. My father and grandfather had been working on railroad construction, but they decided to take an option to homestead some land in Holbrook, Idaho. Grandfather filed on 160 acres, and dad filed on 320 acres. Homesteaders were required to build homes and live at least three out of five years on their farms.
I remember how dreary and desolate the new, two-room frame house looked when we arrived. There were no other buildings as far as the eye could see. We had no well, and there were no fences—only sagebrush. But we children were excited, and my brother and I spent lots of time running races from the post that marked the beginning of the south half of the farm to the house.
The men needed to work quickly to clear the ground and get it plowed and seeded before late fall. Dad had some horses and a wagon, and he bought a plow and a harrow. Grandpa took the wagon and five big barrels to the creek every day to get water, and the horses were driven ahead to get their daily water turn also.
One day while dad was away from home, mother told us she was going to try to burn off some of the sagebrush on our land. She told me to watch the two younger boys and to help fix something to eat if we got hungry before she came back.
The field she wanted to get cleared was half a mile long and about that wide. We watched her go and tried to keep an eye on her, but the sagebrush was high and thick and we lost sight of her. We were not afraid, but when we saw that there were fires in more than one place we wondered if she was all right.
After watching for some time, we could see that the fire was getting very big. Clouds of smoke billowed high in the air, and we soon realized that the flames were coming toward the house. We could not see mother. We ran into the house, since there was no other place to go, but of course we kept running out to look for mother. We were getting more frightened by the minute, and we all cried. I made the boys come into the bedroom, and we knelt down and prayed mightily that our mother would not get hurt and that she would come back to us. Then we cried some more and prayed again.
Soon we heard her calling to us. We ran outside and could see her running, so exhausted she could hardly breathe. She had been running so fast to get around the edge of the fire and get to us before the fire did that she was not aware the wind had shifted, driving the flames away from the house. I have never doubted that this was an answer to our prayers.
But mother was a sad sight. Her hair and eyebrows were badly singed. Her face was purple from exertion. Her feet were burned where the fire had burned through the soles of her shoes, and her clothes were torn from running and snagging on the brush. She could hardly talk, but she made us understand that we should bring a basin of water and some towels and help her clean up. We did so, and then helped her into bed—all of us crying from relief and gratitude.
When grandpa and dad came home, they could hardly believe what we told them. Yet the whole field of 160 acres had been burned clear of sagebrush, and we were all safe. Any of the men in the area would have been glad to get a section of brush cleared that fast.
People in the valley really made a fuss over this brave, hard-working woman, but mother was more embarrassed than proud. She felt she had done something foolish and had jeopardized her home and family, so we didn’t often discuss it.
Time has dimmed some of the fear we felt, but those flames coming so close to our little home on the prairie and the prayers we prayed to stop them still burn brightly in my memory.
“My Neighbor, Marge”
I like to refer to Marjorie Marshall as my full-time missionary. When she first crossed the street that separated our homes in the town of Granger, Utah, she was a stranger to me. And being schooled in the ways of the world for almost thirty years, I was anything but hospitable. My struggling new lawn was all-important to me, and I didn’t even ask her in.
But that didn’t stop her from standing on my driveway in the hot summer sun and starting a friendship. “Your yard is looking good. How do you find time to do so much work in it with your little children? If you ever need to leave your children for a while, just bring them over.”
Marge took every opportunity to visit without imposing. When those pesky weeds appeared in our new lawn, she no longer stood to visit—she was down on her knees pulling weeds as far as she could reach without disturbing the grass. Before long she was drying my dishes while I washed them. She must have carried her favorite peeling knife in her pocket, because every time I took a bushel of fruit from the trunk of my car, she would appear with that knife. She could peel fruit faster than I could bottle it, and all the time the conversation was uplifting and enjoyable. When I admired the shirts her sons wore and she knew I couldn’t sew, she showed up with half a dozen for my son to start kindergarten.
And I’ll never forget how grateful I was when Marge appeared at my back door one morning when I was ill. After she put me to bed, she took my children and my laundry home with her; and when evening came she returned with the washing and ironing done, my children fed and clean, and dinner for me and my husband. Marge worked her way into my life and into my heart.
I don’t remember exactly when she first asked me to Relief Society, but I remember giving her almost a year of excuses. I finally gave in on the last lesson of the year, and what a special day it was in my life! A dedicated teacher presented an impressive theology lesson, and during the testimony meeting that followed, my special missionary friend stood and thanked her Heavenly Father for everything she held dear—and I was included in her possessions. I was so moved I decided I wanted to become like her. I spent the following months reading the Book of Mormon and putting my life in order, with her constant help and encouragement.
Prayer was difficult for me, until one evening in July when my six-year-old Steven took his four-year-old friend for a walk and they didn’t return. We searched the neighborhood and surrounding areas and finally called the police. The hours dragged mercilessly on as the searchers became numerous and my arms ached to hold my only son. I was expecting another child in about seven weeks.
About midnight the anxiety became unbearable. Marge took me to my bedroom; and without speaking, she very gently pulled me to my knees. We knelt facing each other, hands held tightly, and heads bowed. She pleaded with our Heavenly Father on my behalf. She asked him to let me know that my son was all right.
And He did. The words that penetrated my mind, beautiful beyond description, were: “Steven will be home at dawn.” Nothing more. I needed nothing more. Dawn was probably five hours away, and yet my mind and heart knew peace. I didn’t know where my little boy was, but I knew he was all right.
I watched the jeep posse line the banks of Decker Lake, headlights glaring, as they dragged the bottom of the lake and came up with debris. I appreciated all their efforts, but I knew my son was not in that lake. When a jeep rounded the corner by our yard at dawn, it held the driver, my husband, and two little boys, sleepy-eyed and safe. They had become tired while walking, climbed into an old automobile to rest “a few minutes,” and slept the night away. How good it felt when my husband placed my son in my arms!
Prayer would never be difficult for me again.
Steven has served a mission, and our four children have married in the temple. Honoring the priesthood and following the Prophet have become a way of life with us now. As I have witnessed the blessings of the gospel in our lives, for both the living and the dead, I know that the efforts of my full-time missionary neighbor extend into eternity.
Marge could have said she was too busy for us. During the time she was being such a good neighbor to me, she was being an equally good neighbor to other inactive members. In addition, her husband’s mother and a friend of the mother lived in her home. The mother was in a wheelchair and the friend was mentally ill. Since they didn’t want to be separated, the Marshalls took them both in, while raising four children of their own and two Lamanite girls.
Until the time the Lord helps me to express my gratitude more fluently, I can only say from the depths of my heart, “Marge, I love you.”
Music Was the Missionary
On a beautiful Sunday morning in the fall of 1841, my great-grandfather, William Minshall Evans, then sixteen years of age, was walking down the streets of Liverpool, England, on his way to church. Suddenly he heard singing that thrilled him beyond anything he had ever heard before. He followed the sound down an alley and up some rickety stairs into a room where a few people were holding a meeting. John Taylor, who later became president of the Church and who had a beautiful tenor voice, was the singer. The song he sang was so beautiful that William remained to hear the sermon.
Upon returning home, William was reprimanded by his elder brother, David, for being absent from his accustomed place in the choir. Asked to give an account of himself, William replied, “I have been where you should have been, and I shall not be satisfied until you all hear the wonderful truth I have heard this morning.”
Before long, William and David were converted to the gospel, and then helped convert other members of their family. Three of the brothers and their parents emigrated to Utah between 1848 and 1850. William’s mother died of cholera in Kanesville, Iowa, and her husband was so brokenhearted that he had no desire to continue on to Utah and so returned to England.
The boys experienced all of the hardships and trials of those early pioneer days, but remained true and faithful to the gospel. William had twelve children and passed on a great heritage to his posterity.
I never sing the hymns of the Church without remembering that it was the singing of a hymn that opened the door to the gospel for my family and made it possible for me to enjoy all the blessings that have followed.