Sprinklers, Sod, and Saints
The weeds around the Daineses’ newly built home and unfinished yard were several feet high. The young couple had planned on finishing the yard, but the defiant weeds seemed to symbolize the family’s sometimes overwhelming struggle against the hardships life had recently brought them.
Alan and Carol Daines had lived in Mapleton, Utah, for only five months. They finally felt settled and had even made some close friends when a division of the stake sent them into an unfamiliar ward.
This change in itself was a trial for Carol. She felt empty inside and worried that she would have to start explaining all over again about their two sick little boys.
Five-year-old Adam had been born with spina bifida. He was confined to a wheelchair, unable to walk. And because of complications, he had been placed in the Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City. The predicted two-week stay had lengthened to almost two months.
During this same time, the Daineses’ new baby boy, Tyler, was born. He also had spina bifida, as well as a few other problems. He, too, was at the Primary Children’s Medical Center on life-support systems. Carol spent most of each day with the two boys. The couple had sent their other two children—Tiffany, nine, and Eli, seven—to stay with relatives. The family prayed for courage and endurance. They read the scriptures, which often helped. But the burden of worry was still heavy to bear.
Thoughtful members of the new ward—the Mapleton Third Ward—worried, too. They worried about the stress the Daineses were feeling and about their new home. Recognizing that the dry weeds around the new home were a fire hazard, men and boys showed up one Saturday morning with rakes, shovels, hoes, forks, tractors, and trucks. Within a matter of hours, they transformed the yard.
The next day, priesthood leaders thanked the volunteers. But one high priest stood and said, “This is not enough. This family has had great trials recently, and we need to do more. We should put in a sprinkling system and lay sod. As a ward, we can do this, and as a family, they need our help.”
Ward leaders granted permission for the project, and volunteers contacted supply houses and acquired estimates. Ward members donated the needed funds, and the work began.
Several men installed and tested the sprinkling system. Volunteers of all ages turned out to help lay sod until what was once a half-acre weed patch became a beautiful green lawn.
Volunteers were again thanked for their help. But a special thanks came in the next ward fast and testimony meeting, when Carol stood in front of her newfound friends and bore her testimony of the love of Christ that had helped her to endure her recent trials.
“For months when we had come home from Primary Children’s Medical Center and had driven up the driveway, we saw nothing but dry weeds,” Carol said. “It was almost too much. But the Lord knew our need.”
She shared with the congregation a scripture in Doctrine and Covenants 121, where the Prophet Joseph Smith cried out in despair, “O God, where art thou? …
“Remember thy suffering saints, O our God; and thy servants will rejoice in thy name forever.” (D&C 121:1, 6.)
The Lord had answered: “My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment;
“And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee. …
“Thy friends do stand by thee, and they shall hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands.” (D&C 121:7–9; italics added.)
“As I looked out my window and saw so many ward members working on our yard and laying the green grass, I felt the pure love of Christ,” Carol explained in her testimony. “I knew I could continue to endure and have the strength and courage to go on.”
Many hearts felt the Spirit at that fast and testimony meeting, and tears freely fell. Ward members knew that they had done more than clear weeds, install sprinklers, and lay sod. Their warm hearts and friendly hands had given the Daines family a quiet miracle.
A few years ago, my wife, children, and I moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where we purchased a home in a quiet suburban neighborhood. Living in an area where there were few Latter-day Saint members, we were anxious to be good neighbors and to set an example of what the Church means in our lives.
As spring approached, I saw my retired neighbor working in his yard. I went over to introduce myself, with my hand extended and a smile on my face. Unfortunately, I soon realized that my neighbor cared little about making my acquaintance. His gruff opening remarks informed me of where my property line was, of his dislike for young children (we had four), and of his and his wife’s desire to be left alone.
We soon discovered, by talking with other neighbors, that almost everyone with children in the neighborhood had had, at one time or another, an unpleasant experience with Mr. Reilly—or “Mr. Meany” as our children, and later I, came to call him.
Soon it was summer, and our relationship with Mr. Meany deteriorated to the point that the children were afraid to play outside for fear of Mr. Meany yelling at them. Our family felt like prisoners, afraid that anything we did might upset Mr. Meany.
By midsummer, my patience was wearing thin. For the first time in my life, I exchanged harsh words with a neighbor. I came into the house fuming. The following day, I contacted an attorney to see what could be done to let my neighbor know I would no longer tolerate his actions toward our children. I was also thinking about building a tall fence between our properties in an effort to isolate him from our family.
As we sat around the dinner table that night, I mulled over my conversation with the attorney. Still caught up with feelings of hostility, I was anxious to take the attorney’s advice. But my wife, Ellen, who had been silent so far on the matter, responded in her tranquil and even-tempered way, “Why don’t we try getting to know him better and go out of our way to be more friendly?”
I immediately felt guilty for the bad feelings I had. In the presence of the children, I acknowledged my error and agreed that we should extend greater love.
For the rest of the summer, we quit calling our neighbor by his nickname and made every effort to wave and say hello to Mr. Reilly whenever we saw him or his wife in their yard. We forbade the children to play on the side of the yard next to his house or to play too loudly.
For the first few months, Mr. Reilly refused to respond to our efforts, but by late fall we saw a change. One day I was shocked as I watched him nearly drive off the road as he tried to respond to my friendly wave.
Although I had not spoken to Mr. Reilly except to say hello, I was humbled during the next few months as I came home from work and found the snow on our sidewalks continually shoveled. Ellen had taken freshly baked bread to him on occasion and had developed a friendly relationship with Mrs. Reilly.
Come spring, I was in the middle of a project—building a swing set in the back yard for the children—when my neighbor called to me from his yard. To my surprise, his voice was no longer gruff. He asked if he could come over and help. Not being handy with tools, I welcomed his assistance. We spent the next several Saturdays side by side pouring cement, sawing lumber, and drilling holes. I was impressed at how concerned he was for the safety of the children. And his pride was apparent when we finished the project. This was only the first of many projects with which he volunteered to help me.
Over the months, as we spent more time together, I developed feelings of love and respect toward Mr. Reilly. I grew to admire him in many ways. Often, when I am with Mr. Reilly, I have thought about what I would have missed had I not heeded the advice of my wife and made the effort to get to know my neighbor better. I am thankful to Heavenly Father that this simple miracle taught our family the importance of loving our neighbors as ourselves.
They Didn’t Laugh
I’ll admit it. Junkyards have fascinated me ever since I was a kid. I’ll bet plenty of you remember kicking through trash heaps in your younger years, hoping to find treasures someone had tossed out. But my rummaging all those years never yielded much of a prize until one day, at the age of thirty-seven, I finally did find a treasure in a pile of junk.
I was working for the Union Pacific Railroad at the Pocatello, Idaho, yard. Situated on the property is a spot known as the “hole”—a dumping place for railroad garbage. My great find in this heap of rubble came two days before Thanksgiving. It was “Idaho cold” that day, and the snow seemed to be coming down horizontally instead of vertically. As I drove my rig past the junk, my eyes scanned the peaks, crevices, and cliffs as usual. There, huddled around what was struggling to be a fire, was an old man.
From a distance, he looked even more deteriorated than the mounds of debris surrounding him. Call it curiosity, or maybe compassion, but I just had to go over there. Never again will I whimper about the poor conditions I have experienced or have yet to experience. This man had no hat, a sheet-thin jacket, worn-out shoes, and gloves that left his fingers bare at the knuckles.
The fire was almost solid smoke, created by the smelly creosote-soaked piece of railroad tie he was trying to burn. It succeeded only in melting the frozen ground around it into a circle of mud. Crowning the fire was a rusty old frying pan he had dug out of the dump.
In it sizzled a small portion of pork fat—scraps from the local slaughterhouse. His drink simmered in a blackened tin can.
I didn’t even need to ask the question, “Is there anything I can do?” The answer was obvious. I thought of the hearty lunch my wife, Sally, had packed for me. I handed him my leftover sandwich and saw the appreciation light his face as he accepted the other half of the meal I had unappreciatively devoured earlier. Then I left.
Now, I have walked away from many junkyards, but this one seemed to say, “Come back. Just a sandwich? You can do better than that.”
I wheeled my rig into the rail yard amid all the activity and told my burly co-workers about our winter tenant. Rail vagrants are common in the area, and the workers usually just laugh at them, but there was no laughter this time when I described the man’s condition. The freezing Idaho weather brought out the compassion in these rough men. One fellow whom I had considered callous and uncaring began removing his expensive gloves. Another produced from somewhere a fifty-dollar pair of insulated coveralls. An extra pair of snowmobile boots came out of someone’s locker. An untouched lunch and forty dollars in cash were piled in my hands.
These rough-talking men were willingly, generously, genuinely concerned about a man I had only described. I mentally asked for forgiveness for some of the long-standing silent judgments I had made about them.
I looked at the forty dollars in my hand and then at my supervisor’s office door. How I got up the nerve, I’ll never know, but I went in and asked him if I could leave work to give that old man our gifts. Wouldn’t you know it, the supervisor’s boss was there. But I asked anyway, and, to my surprise, they both said, “Go ahead, Dean.”
So I left and bought a sleeping bag and some groceries for the old man. When I returned and gave him the gifts, I saw that junkyard camper in a different light. He was no longer a vagrant but a friend—a child of God. As he pulled on the snowmobile boots, he told me his name and said this was the best he had felt in months. Apparently having lost count of the days, he looked at me and asked a question we all should ask more often: “It’s about Thanksgiving, isn’t it?”
Safe at Home
“Is that it?” I said rather naively. “All you want me to do is coach a softball team of Cambodian boys? Sure. It sounds like fun.”
When the first practice rolled around, I had great expectations. I had managed to round up a few gloves from secondhand stores and friends’ garages. I already had some bats and a couple of softballs. “This can’t be too bad,” I thought. “Certainly these kids have played softball in school.”
Then the stark reality of the situation hit me. Only three boys showed up for the practice. After our introductions, I realized that my first hurdle would be to remember these strange names and faces. Maybe nicknames would help, I thought.
“Almost all great American major-league ball players have nicknames,” I told them. “So let’s all choose a nickname.”
The boys, who wanted to learn American ways, accepted this logic.
“Chang Pion, from now on we will call you ‘Champion’; Vichet, we will call you ‘Fidget’; and Boon-Rat, we will call you ‘Boon-Rad’ or maybe just ‘Rad’ for short.” Champion, Fidget, and Rad. They were not exactly Willie, Mickey, and Duke, but they were all I had.
Now I had to find out what they could do. Nothing. We spent the balance of the time learning how to grip a bat, wear a fielder’s glove, and stand near the bases. Even though the boys were inexperienced in the game of softball, they were still exceptional athletes with strong wills to succeed. I showed them how to field a ball and swing a bat, and they could do both after a few tries.
As our first practice ended, I called the boys over. “Tell your friends to come and play,” I pleaded. “We need more players. We’ll meet here again in two days.”
My spirits lifted as I approached the field two days later—there were twelve boys warming up for practice.
Champion greeted me. “We bring our friends,” he said. “Yesterday we practice, too.”
The boys stood in line, and we gave everyone a nickname: Ban-Rah became Band Saw; Triang became Big Train; Tao Rud became Howard; and Boon Ru became Boonie. Standing at the end of the line was Mop-Mao. Smaller than the rest of the boys, he became Mop.
We started some batting practice, and I noticed a sharp improvement in their skills.
“What gives?” I asked Rad. “Why the sudden improvement?”
“Yesterday, we practice four hours,” said Rad. Then he pointed to one of the new boys. “Rang play two years Little League Chicago. He teach us to hit and catch.”
Ah, I thought, a veteran. He would make a much-needed addition to the team.
As we approached our first game, I was in awe of the team’s courage and desire. What they lacked in talent, they made up for in energy and spirit. Yet I knew we were far from being able to compete. The game of softball, though relatively easy to learn, can’t be mastered in a couple of weeks. These Cambodian boys had been preoccupied with finding food and staying ahead of invading armies during the same years that their young American counterparts had been tutored and nurtured in the game. And as luck would have it, our first game was against the defending stake champions.
We were on the wrong end of a fifteen-to-zero score—and that was only in the third inning. I soon came to realize that victory for us would be just to finish the game in one piece. My heart ached for Train, our third baseman. Frustrated by his inability to field the blistering ground balls, he resorted to blocking the balls with his chest, picking them up, and then throwing the ball to the base. Even though large welts appeared on his upper torso, he refused to be taken out of the lineup.
When the game ended, the final score of twenty-nine to four wasn’t the real story. The cheers and handshakes from the opposing team indicated that the boys were beginning to become integrated with the other boys in the stake.
As the weeks went by, the team continued to lose one game after another, but the boys practiced every day for long hours. I finally had to tell them I couldn’t spend that much time. That didn’t matter to them. They continued to practice by themselves.
One day during practice, a low-flying passenger jet flew directly over our heads. Little Mop, who was playing outfield, fell to the ground in terror, screaming, “Bombs! Bombs!” as the deafening engines roared overhead. When he remained on the ground, I realized that this was no joke. I ran to him and held him in my arms for a minute to calm him. I could only guess at what terrible scene from his past had caused him to react with such fear.
I couldn’t keep that experience out of my mind. I tried to imagine what kind of background these boys had come from. Then it struck me that nearly all of these boys were fatherless. I tried to imagine the death and destruction that each boy had already witnessed in his young life. Coming to America must have been like a new birth. I doubled my determination to help them succeed.
The season continued until the final game of the year against the same stake champions who had soundly defeated us in our first game. They won again, but this time by only one point—fifteen to fourteen. The final out of the game was made by little Mop attempting to score the tying run at home plate in the last inning. But even in defeat, the boys had won the respect and friendship of the players and the spectators. Perhaps more important, in the larger game of life that had begun for them years ago in their burned-out villages in Cambodia, these boys had circled the bases and were at long last safe at home.