The Unforgettable Summer


There never was a time in my life when I questioned my father’s faith. His convictions were stamped indelibly upon his life, firm enough to withstand whatever trial, adversity, or challenge presented itself.

When I was a boy we lived on a small Utah farm where money was scarce and work abundant. During those early growing-up years the summers seemed especially difficult to me and filled with endless drudgery. There were beets to thin, corn to hoe, and ditches to clean; the troublesome weeds always grew back; there was always another crop of hay to haul.

The one saving balm, the one pleasant oasis in the midst of all the summer labor was the Sabbath. We all knew that Sunday was the Lord’s day. The weeds, the hay lying in the field, and the unharvested grain would all wait until Monday.

Stopping work on the Sabbath was not always as easy as hanging up a hoe and not returning to the cornfield. There were complications. The summers were the only real opportunities to harvest financial security. If a farmer did not prosper during those short summer months, the long winters were lean and difficult. The crops had to succeed, and more often than not the key to this modest prosperity was water—water that was scarce in Utah, water that seldom came in the form of rain, water that had to be stored meticulously during the winter and spring and rationed carefully throughout the hot, dry summer weeks.

Each farm was dependent upon the irrigation ditch. The ditch, with its life-giving water, was all that stood between the farmer and disaster. Irrigation was imperative, and at times that posed a real Sabbath dilemma. Some years a farmer’s turn fell on Monday, some years on Tuesday, some years on another day of the week. And sometimes the turn fell on Sunday. The farmer had no choice.

Like everyone else, Father’s turn came on Sunday some years. I remember those years well because I was always impressed by my father’s determination to keep the Sabbath day holy. I don’t suppose the Lord would have condemned him for irrigating his farm on Sunday. He knew father’s heart, and He knew the circumstances under which he and the other farmers labored. However, father wanted to avoid even that Sabbath labor. He was convinced that were the Lord to make out those watering schedules for the farmers, no turn would ever fall on His Sabbath. I never heard Father verbalize his resolve not to trespass on the Lord’s holy day but his life reflected it.

When father’s turn fell on Sunday, he did all he could to avoid Sabbath irrigation. Friday and Saturday he would watch at the irrigation ditch for any run-off water from the farmers up the line. He squeezed every available drop from the ditch, and by Sunday the farm was irrigated. I don’t remember that he ever had been forced to work on the Lord’s day. This meant more work for him, but father was willing to make the sacrifice if it would allow him to rest on the Sabbath.

Everything always seemed to work out. As I observed him through the years, his dedication and resolve were a testimony to me that the Lord blesses those who strive to keep his commandments.

Then one year came a special trial of his faith. The scorching summer heat seemed to come early that year, portending a drought. The days passed slowly, the sun baking everything—the lawn, the garden, and the fields wilting under the burning rays. Of all the years to have a Sunday water turn! The farm needed water, water that had not come down the irrigation ditch as runoff on Friday and Saturday; consequently, the farm was dry on Sunday.

One Sunday morning, my mother approached my father with great concern. “Joseph,” she said, “I think you’d better turn the water down from the ditch, at least on the lawn and garden. They’re burning up.”

And they were. Everything was burning up without water. There was no alternative. The farm had to have water, and if father let his irrigation turn slip by, there would be no water until the following Sunday. The farm would never go another week.

And so, before getting dressed for his Sunday meetings, father left the house, carrying his shovel over his shoulder. It must have been terribly disappointing for him to trudge up the hill that morning. All these years he had worked to avoid this very labor, and now he was caught. We were sure the Lord would not condemn him, and yet, Father wanted very much to find another way.

He reached the irrigation ditch and put the canvas dam in place, but before doing anything else, still bending over the ditch, he paused and contemplated. What was he to do? He pondered the Lord’s injunction to keep the Sabbath holy. Did he really believe that, not merely with his lips but with his life?

While he was deep in thought, he received a poignantly powerful communication, one he would never forget: “Pull out your dam. Put up your shovel and tools. I will take care of things for you. It may not be early in the day, but I will take care of it. As for the summer, leave it to me. I will provide.”

Father straightened up. There was no one around. He looked heavenward. The sky was clear and blue, no clouds in sight. A dry breeze was blowing, promising a stifling, suffocating day.

With the broiling sun intense and the earth parched and powdery dry, father pulled out the canvas dam, left the ditch, and returned to the house. He had been told. He knew that. He didn’t know how he would be taken care of, but he knew he had been promised. He dressed and went to his Sunday meetings, leaving his farm to the power he had trusted all his life.

When they returned home from their meetings, the sky was still clear, the air hot, the farm wilting beneath the sweltering sun. With no visible sign of relief, mother, still greatly concerned about the garden, again spoke to father, who had not mentioned to her the experience he had had that morning. “It surely doesn’t look much like rain,” she said. “What are you going to do about the garden?”

For the second time that day father climbed the hill to the irrigation ditch, saddened by his situation. Reluctantly he placed the dam into the ditch, but then he paused, amazed by his own faltering conviction. “Where is your faith?” he asked himself pointedly.

Filled with a new resolve, he pulled the dam from the ditch and went down the mountain, determined never again to make that Sabbath trek to the canal.

Coming down the hill, he lifted his eyes to the sky and saw clouds beginning to gather. Within an hour the rain was coming down in torrents. The dry earth soaked up the needed moisture, and the lawn, the garden, and the fields were refreshed.

That rain was a miracle, but it was only a beginning. Summer was just commencing. The sweltering months of July and August lay ahead. But father had no worries; he had been promised by Him who had given the law and who would provide the way for its compliance.

The following week a neighbor asked father if he would trade a portion of his Sunday water turn for a portion of a Saturday one. Father was delighted. During that short time on Saturday he was able to water the lawn and garden. Still, there was no possible way to irrigate the farm’s acres of corn, barley, and hay during those few short hours on Saturday. But the Lord blessed him in another way. Periodically throughout the summer, just when rain was needed most, clouds gathered, the rains came, and the crops were watered.

So sure was my father that the Lord would watch over him that not once during the summer did he clean a ditch or furrow out the corn. This was hot, dry Utah, where the farmer’s whole existence was dependent upon those irrigation ditches, but this summer the ditches on father’s farm were never used. Never before had father gone an entire summer without irrigating his farm, but this summer was different. This summer was the Lord’s summer, and he was providing.

By the end of the summer father had harvested three bumper crops of hay, a bounteous yield of barley, and a lush crop of silage corn. The windows of heaven had truly opened, and the Lord had indeed provided.

It has been some time since that miraculous summer, but my own faith has been strengthened ever since. So often the Lord wants to bless us, but we refuse to let him. We fear to trust him who has given us everything, and yet he is so anxious to send us, as it were, the water of life. His blessings await us, but we must trust him completely, unconditionally. It seems that at times we must watch our dreams wither and wilt, with no visible sign of relief on the horizon. But then, after the trial of our faith, comes the miracle.

[illustration] Illustrated by Dilleen Marsh

Alma Yates, a high school English teacher, serves as ward clerk in his Snowflake, Arizona, ward.