“Timmy, Keep Your Head Up!”
Aside from the aroma of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, my fondest childhood memories of visiting my grandparents are of bouncing an underinflated basketball on the cracked and gravelly asphalt driveway behind their home. One experience in particular had the profound effect of bonding me to my grandfather in a way that neither of us could have anticipated.
An unexpected spring snowstorm had made it necessary for a few friends and me to use some old cornstock brooms to clear the driveway before we could begin sharpening our eleven-year-old skills for future careers on the basketball court. The customary “shoot for teams” wasn’t completed when Grandpa’s sun-bleached, lime green pickup truck slowly made the lefthand turn into the narrow driveway and came to a stop near the free-throw line. Opening the door, he lifted his large hands and motioned for me to come over to the truck. “I’ve got something for you,” he said. “If you’re going to play, you’ll need one of these.” And he handed me a brand new basketball.
I can never remember owning a basketball before that day. With five brothers and a sister at home, sports equipment was generally considered communal property. Knowing that this ball may have the same fate, Grandpa had taken special care to write my name in large, two-inch letters on the ball. The new ball was fully inflated, requiring a slight modification in my dribbling technique.
The letters spelled T-I-M in Grandpa’s own distinctive handwriting. His 72-year-old fingers had struggled in keeping the pen steady across the dimply rubber surface of the basketball. The T wasn’t capitalized nor the I dotted. But I would not have traded that three-letter inscription for an autograph written by Bill Russell or Walt Frazier. My only concern was how to dribble it so my name wouldn’t wear off.
Within minutes, Grandpa began his usual coaching clinic. And while I had heard him use the same expression to me hundreds of times before, the uniqueness of the moment, coupled with the closeness I felt with him, seemed to forge an impression that would last a lifetime: “Timmy, keep your head up!” He said it over and over, as if repeating it alone would correct the apparent malady. “Timmy, keep your head up.”
Most people can probably point to an event or series of events that mark the transition from youth to adulthood. For me, one of those events took place not long afterward, on 7 July 1967, when my grandfather passed away. He was sitting in his truck at the crest of a knoll overlooking his farm. We all knew he would have wanted it that way. His great-great-grandfather, David Evans, was the first bishop and second mayor of Lehi. Farming had been a way of life for the Evans family since they settled there in 1851. Even now, when I think of Grandpa, I see him in his khaki-colored shirt and pants sporting a broad-brimmed safari hat, pushing levers and pedals behind a curtain of grain dust, atop his big red combine.
If he had some premonition that his time was short, it was never mentioned. While he was prepared for his death, I was not. Maybe because this was my first experience in trying to comprehend the passing of a loved one. I didn’t doubt that I would see him again, but I was deeply saddened by the loss of someone who I knew genuinely loved me, even though he could never outwardly express those feelings.
The day he died, I sat with the ball he gave me and found my fingers tracing the jaggedly constructed letters. With a heavy heart, I resolved never to use the ball again for fear the inscription would be lost and with it a very special connection to my grandfather, who only a few weeks earlier had encouraged me with his favorite coaching expression, “Timmy, keep your head up!” But the aching in my heart began to subside, and a smile returned.
Years later while serving my mission, I became acquainted with discouragement. Facing the cold northern Michigan winter and a similarly chilly response to our message of the Restoration, my companion and I were despairing at our inability to find the people we knew the Lord had prepared for us to teach.
Following scripture study one morning, I pulled out an early-edition copy of Jesus the Christ—my grandfather’s copy that had been given to me. As I turned the pages, my heart jumped. It had been nearly eight years since the letters on my ball had begun to fade, but I recognized his handwriting in the margins immediately. Those big hands, the khaki shirt, and the broad-brimmed hat were all there in my mind. I didn’t hear his voice; I didn’t need to. The memory of it was clear: “Timmy, keep your head up. Timmy, keep your head up.”
Surely he could not have known in the spring of 1967 that those words would comfort and encourage me in the winter of 1974, far away from the asphalt driveway and the sound of bouncing balls. Thoughts of a basketball career evaporated many years ago, but thanks to good coaching when I was at an impressionable age, dribbling through life’s challenges with my head up has been much easier.
We Looked for More of His Children
A short time after I returned from my full-time mission, I was called to be a stake missionary. I had a strong desire to be an instrument in the Lord’s hands in bringing more of his children into his church.
I fasted and prayed sincerely to know what my companion, Phyllis Heaps, and I should do to best serve Heavenly Father. The thought came to me to set our sights high. So we followed the prompting and set our goal for twelve baptisms in the year 1986—one for each month.
We prayed together for success in our work and for the Spirit of the Lord to be with us, and then we started our missionary effort with great faith in the Lord. Never did we begin our day’s work without a prayer together, asking the Lord for his Spirit to guide us in all we would do and direct us in all we would say.
Each time we worked together, our love grew stronger for the people we were working with, some of whom had been referred to us by members of the ward and others by the stake president.
By the middle of November, we had seen nine wonderful people baptized. We hoped for three more before the end of the year, and we worked hard to find them. Finally, we went to the Lord and told him we needed three more baptisms to reach the goal we had set for the year. We told him we relied on him to send them to us. No immediate answer came to mind, and by the end of November, we began to think we would have to be content with working with nine people who accepted the gospel that year.
In prayer one day, we expressed our gratitude for being allowed to take part in missionary work. The next day, a member of the stake presidency called and said, “I know of a woman I would like you to go and see.” The woman had been overheard telling another person that she wanted to get into a good church. So the other person called a bishop, who then called the stake presidency. Delightedly, we went to find her.
When we found her, she was busy and asked us to come back. Realizing the holiday season was a very hectic time in peoples’ lives, we told her we would come back after Christmas.
“No!” she told us. “Oh, don’t wait that long! Just give me two days to finish what I’m doing.”
When we returned to visit the woman, we spent three hours searching the scriptures together as she asked questions. She told us about her two teenage daughters who had met some Latter-day Saint girls at school whose standard of living they admired. She wondered if we could talk again the next evening when they would be home.
The next evening when we met with the woman and her daughters, we felt the Spirit as we talked.
I called the Relief Society and Young Women presidents in the ward in which they lived, and the next day the leaders visited and brought a few girls their ages. They attended Church activities, meetings, and the Christmas party, feeling very welcome.
How pleased I was when their baptismal date was set for 30 December. We were blessed to reach our goal; but more important, the Lord allowed us to share the joy this mother and her daughters found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. As a full-time and stake missionary, I have learned that the Lord does not want us to fail. If we do our best and are prayerful and humble, the Lord will share with us the opportunities to bless others.
Birth on a Stormy Winter Night
A horrible influenza epidemic was sweeping through the country in the winter of 1918. When our town of Burley, Idaho, was hard hit, my grandmother, Maude Brown, in addition to caring for her five children, was expecting a sixth child.
One day just before Christmas, her oldest boy, Howard, came home from school and hid out on the back porch under the coats. Upon finding him, the family was concerned at his strange behavior. When they brought him in, they found that he had a very high temperature. Howard had been hiding so as not to infect the rest of the family. So contagious was this flu that when one person in a family came down with it, it quickly spread to other members. People everywhere were dying from the terrible illness; it was a frightening and deadly thing.
Still, Maude’s family was determined to celebrate the holidays and not be overcome with worry about the danger. Maude made doll clothes and other toys for gifts. She always worked hard getting ready for Christmas, but this time she overdid things and weakened herself.
Next, Maude’s daughter Vera became sick and was in bed for a week. Then on New Year’s Day, Maude became desperately ill with flu. Relatives brought food but were afraid to bring it into the house. Fearing for their own health, they would set the food on the porch and leave.
Soon Maude’s flu turned into pneumonia, and then she started into labor. The baby wasn’t due for another six weeks. The family couldn’t get anyone to come and administer to her because everyone was afraid of getting sick and passing the sickness on. So Walter, her husband, gathered the children around her bed, and they knelt and prayed. Then Maude asked her husband to read from her patriarchal blessing, which promised that she would live to an old age.
One of the boys called the doctor and told him of Maude’s condition, and he said, “Well, Son, there’s no use calling me, just call the undertaker.” But Maude insisted that the doctor come, and when he did, he found her temperature was 106 degrees.
Throughout her labor, the doctor worried that the baby would not live because of the high fever. The infant he delivered weighed only four pounds. Placing the tiny baby in fourteen-year-old Elva’s hands, the doctor again indicated that he was without hope that the baby would live.
Though the baby was tiny and weak—she was unable even to cry—her sisters, Elva and Vera, who desperately wanted a baby sister, were determined to give her every chance to live. Opening the oven door for warmth, they wrapped the baby in a blanket and put her in a shoe box. Feeding her with an eye dropper, they gradually nursed her to health.
That tiny baby grew up to become my mother. She later would write in her journal, “I owe my life to my two sisters, who wanted me so badly.
“But even after I was delivered,” my mother’s journal continues, “Mother was in a bad way. For the next several weeks, Daddy and the five children would kneel around her bed and pray several times a day.”
Grandmother recovered from the flu and went on to rear her family, which grew to include two more children.
The story of my mother’s miraculous birth was told repeatedly throughout her childhood, and she grew more thankful with each hearing. The story and her gratitude were passed on to her own children and will continue to be told with love and appreciation to our children and to theirs.