A Hidden Legacy—26 Years Later
It had been five years since my father’s death, and I sat looking at the cardboard box of scrapbooks which had just come into my possession. I remembered sitting on his lap as a child, carefully turning the yellow pages while he read to me from his favorite authors. Later, I had asked to use this poem or that paragraph to illustrate a point in my church talks or school papers. Once he jokingly remarked that he would will the books to me, since I was the only one in the family who had ever made use of them. Now they were mine.
I touched the alligator-looking binders of both treasured volumes as I lifted them gently from the box. My one regret was that my own father’s words were not recorded within the covers—only the cherished words of men and women he had respected.
Then I noticed a third book.
An older, cloth-covered, three-holed binder lay at the bottom of the box. It was obviously another scrapbook, but one which evoked no memories at all. Putting the two familiar volumes aside, I curiously picked up this odd member of the trio and opened it.
The first page was an untitled poem dated 1925. My father had never written poetry. I was puzzled and thumbed through the next few pages till I saw another poem, this one attributed to a classmate at Cyprus High School. My mother had attended Cyprus, not Dad. I scarcely dared to believe what I had in my hands. Then I saw the words to a song, with this note in the margin: “My favorite song as a little girl.” Tears filled my eyes and I found it impossible to focus them on the next three pages. But suddenly I saw very clearly, typed in the top left-hand corner of one page, “To Maryruth 1950.” The poem was entitled “To a Young Plant” and had been written to me when I was a child of six. My mother, dead now some twenty-six years, had left me a legacy of poetry I had known nothing about.
My memory flashed back to the night in graduate school when, after fasting, I had felt inspired to write my own first serious poem. It had been about her. I had so often longed to know my mother as an adult, to appreciate her as a friend. And now, at last, I had her own words as a treasured part of my legacy—this cherished gift passed unknowingly from mother to daughter through the pages of a long-forgotten journal.
The scrapbook contained many of her poems, thoughts, and even a talk she gave after my father joined the Church and they were sealed in the Salt Lake Temple. How grateful I am that long before cassette recordings were possible, and even before the keeping of journals was encouraged, my mother had felt the need and exercised her gift to write poetry for her children. How grateful I am for its preservation through all these years; and now, after this experience, how much deeper an understanding I have of the need to keep my own journal and to record my own poetry, thoughts, and talks for my son. Whether engraved on golden plates or scribbled on aging yellow paper, records are a source of immeasurable joy to those who discover and read them!
Our Boys Were with Us!
In September I began conducting testing activities at a nuclear energy plant, and two pipe fitters were assigned to assist me. Over the months we became good friends. One day in December I was relating to them some facts I had just read about the South American pyramids when one of the men informed me that he had a fifteen-minute film about those same pyramids. As we talked, he informed me that he was a Latter-day Saint. Before I could respond, he asked, “What do you know about the Mormons?”
I paused for what probably seemed like an eternity to him. What did I know about the Latter-day Saints? When did I have time to learn about Latter-day Saints? Why should I even care to know about them?
Asked a month earlier, his question would have fallen on deaf ears, but at this time it struck a tender nerve. Only two months before, my wife had given birth to Chad, our fifth child, and at home four-year-old Jeff and two-year-old Tara had waited anxiously for their new baby brother. But Chad had to remain in the hospital. Then, not totally unexpected, his frail body stopped functioning. With his death our lives crumbled, and the emotional scars from losing two other babies in infancy, Aaron and Benjamin, burst open with devastating misery.
Three of our five children had now been taken from us. What had we done to deserve all this sorrow? Where was this just, all-merciful God I’d learned about all my life? Why must we be hurt so deeply, so often? Religion provided no comfort, only confusion as to Chad’s eternal destiny. I began feeling that God had abandoned Kathy and me to a life of misery.
But as much as I felt justified in abandoning my faith in God, something deep inside restrained me from doing so. Kathy and I had continued to attend church in the hope that some day we would be brought to an understanding of our tragedies. We’d survived the deaths of Aaron and Benjamin early in our marriage to find that their passing had helped to strengthen our love for each other. We were brought to maturity quickly.
But Chad’s death was harder to accept. Had our hearts been filled with so much pain and sorrow that we were beyond relief? I felt it would take a miracle to restore us to the family happiness we had known before.
Most miracles don’t come in a brown wrapper, but ours did. Sent by friends from Mesa, Arizona, it was a book dealing with the Latter-day Saint teachings on death. We read the book in the hope that we could find some consolation. I found it interesting and mildly comforting, though its concepts were completely foreign to me. But for Kathy it brought hope that someday there would be a reunion with the three sons taken from her. Hope was all it was, but at least we had something to hold onto.
“What do I know about the Latter-day Saints?” I responded to my friend’s question. “I know something about them. I have a book that talks about some of your ideas on death. What else is there to know?”
What else, indeed! Our friends in Arizona had cared enough to plant a new seed in our lives, and now, standing before me, was the man who would bring it to maturity. The next day, with twenty-five other pipefitters in attendance, I saw Ancient America Speaks, and I knew that I must learn more about the Latter-day Saints. My pipefitter, as I affectionately called him, was well prepared to feed my soul and help the seed of faith to grow. He provided answers to all my questions as the weeks went by. Eventually the questions became more difficult, so he had me write them down; a few days later he would give a response. I learned later that a seminary teacher was providing him with answers to these tougher questions.
I was gaining knowledge about life faster than I’d learned of anything else I’d ever studied. Doctrines that had been taught were mysteries now became clear to me. I began to see a purpose in life. By late spring 1976, I had read every tract published by the Church that I could get. Never before in my life had I experienced such a driving thirst for knowledge.
With summer came a leveling off of my testing activities at the plant, so I added a new item to the work materials I carried with me: a Book of Mormon tucked into my hip pocket. Every spare moment brought me closer to Moroni’s promise. Before summer came to a close, Kathy finished the Book of Mormon and I moved on to Truth Restored, by Gordon B. Hinckley (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1969), the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. I also had other books to which I referred often.
It was September again—a year since I had met my first missionary—when two new elders in the area came knocking on our door. It took only one lesson for them to realize that “the field was white already to harvest.” (D&C 4:4.)
It seemed like a day didn’t go by that the elders didn’t visit our home. Whether it was teaching us a lesson, or showing up soaking wet on their bicycles during a rainstorm, they were always there. We really grew to love these men, and we could feel their great love for us and for the gospel.
After receiving the lessons, Kathy and I entered the waters of baptism. We came out of the water reborn, comforted, and with new purpose in our lives. A year later I had reason to reflect on the happiness the Church had given our family as I knelt across the altar from Kathy in the Arizona Temple. Her face was beaming with joy and calm reassurance. At either side of me were our children, Jeff and Tara, looking like little angels as they joined their hands with ours. We were united as a family by the sealing power of the Holy Priesthood.
As I pondered the union of hands upon the altar, my eyes focused on those of a man’s atop the others. An elder was standing in for Chad! And two others were standing in for Aaron and Benjamin! The impact of that realization brought tears to my eyes. Our boys were with us, in that room, to partake in the sealing that would bond them to us for eternity! Chad’s death had caused us to finally lose hope, but now we had received new hope—a hope in eternity and in our reunion with Chad and Aaron and Benjamin.