One day as I was looking through some of my father’s belongings, I found two of his most treasured possessions: an old piece of wood and a yellowing piece of paper. Many might have thrown these things away, but tears came to my eyes as I remembered his telling of when the seeds of the gospel were first planted in his boyhood heart. This is his story.
When I was 12 years old my family spent our summer vacation with my grandparents at their cabin along the Snake River, near Yellowstone Park. I loved it there because I felt it gave me a chance to be a real Scout. There were mountains to climb, wild animals to track, and the river to explore. My younger brother and sister preferred to dangle their toes in the river while I went off searching for adventure.
Fortunately, I met a boy my age to share my adventures with that summer. We had many things in common: we were both visiting our grandparents, we both loved to hike and explore, and, best of all, we were both Scouts.
We quickly explored the area around the cabins but soon wanted to see more, and with our parents’ consent, we planned a day-long forest adventure. The night before the big day, my friend told me his 76-year-old grandfather wanted to come along. “My grandfather likes to hike,” he said with a shrug. Not wanting to hurt my new friend’s feelings, I reluctantly agreed. His grandfather will only last a few miles, I thought to myself.
The next morning I arose with the sun and ran to my friend’s cabin. As I waited, his grandfather came out first, and I could hardly believe how he looked. He was tall and thin and wore a wide-brimmed Scout hat, a heavy Scouting jacket, a neckerchief around his collar, knee-length pants, and laced-up hiking boots; he looked like he had just walked off the cover of my Scouting magazine. I was momentarily impressed but still believed he wouldn’t be able to keep up with us for long. After all, how much can you learn from a 76-year-old grandfather? I thought.
As the three of us headed up the trail into the forest, my friend and I tried to walk slowly, but our excitement to explore got the best of us. We had been waiting so long to be free in the woods that we took off running up the narrow path. We felt like real explorers; we were Lewis and Clark. Then we heard my friend’s grandfather calling for us to come back. Walking back down the trail, we wondered out loud how soon it would be before he returned to the cabin.
When we reached him, he pointed to the ground and said, “Look at this.” We knelt down, wondering what he wanted to show us. Beside our footprints, he was pointing out two sets of animal prints in the soft dirt.
“This one is the mother deer,” he explained to his now captive audience. “The imprint isn’t very deep, and the strides are short. That’s how you can tell it’s not a buck; it’s a doe.” He smiled, pointing to the second set of prints. “She has a little one with her.”
“A fawn!” I said. This is great. It’s like being with a real tracker following the trail of a wild animal, I thought.
I glanced at my friend, and his eyes were filled with excitement. “Maybe we’ll stay with you for a while, Grandfather,” he said. I quickly nodded. My friend’s grandfather pointed out different types of trees, flowers, and edible plants, and he talked about tracking an animal by signs it had left behind.
“See this broken branch? It shows that an animal came from this direction,” he said. “Look at the moss on this tree. It’s been rubbed off along here. That means animals use this path regularly. Now, if you wanted someone to find you, you could leave the same kinds of clues.”
We spent a few hours tracking different animals until my friend’s grandfather announced it was time for a test. “I want to see how much you two have learned today,” he said. “I’m going to hide and leave clues so you can track me.”
We closed our eyes and gave him plenty of time to get ahead of us and leave a good trail. Then the search began. “He went this way!” my friend hollered with excitement. “See, this rock is overturned.”
“Yeah,” I said, “and there are some broken branches over there. We’ve got to be close.” We followed little piles of rocks and forked branches that led us in the right direction where the path divided. Every so often we could make out the imprint of hiking boots. We must have followed his trail for over an hour. By this time the sun was beginning to go down, and we still hadn’t found him.
“I’m over here, boys.” We heard his voice a moment before he stepped out of his hiding place near us. “Our day has been a success,” he said. “You boys have certainly learned well.”
Hiking back to the cabins, my friend and I were exhausted. It had been a long day, and we had worked hard trying to keep up with my friend’s grandfather.
When I reached my cabin I could hardly keep my eyes open, but I just had to tell my parents all about our adventures. I told them what a great Scouter my friend’s grandfather was and that I wanted to be just like him. My mother got me into bed by promising that in the morning she would make rolls and that I could take them over to thank him for such an exciting day.
The next day, before I left with the rolls, my mother told me my friend’s grandfather was someone important in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “Maybe you should ask for his autograph,” she said. I grabbed a piece of paper and stuffed it in my pocket as I left the cabin. Picking up a piece of kindling wood, I began whittling it as I walked.
When I got to my friend’s cabin, his grandfather greeted me with a smile. “You are a great Scout,” I said. Then I thanked him for the wonderful day in the forest. Before I left, I held out the piece of paper I had brought and asked, “Will you sign this for me?” He signed the piece of wood and wrote a short message on the paper.
I waited until I left the cabin before looking at the wood and the paper. On the wood was written, “George Albert Smith—Scouter.” The message on the paper, dated 3 August 1946, read, “The pathway of righteousness is the highway of happiness. Don’t lose your way.” It left an impression on me that I have never forgotten. Later in life, when I was ready to hear the gospel, that piece of paper and chunk of wood helped me decide to be baptized.
How grateful I am that President Smith would spend a day in the forest with two young boys, who learned that day to follow a prophet. He was a prophet who took the time to teach by example, to touch a soul, to make an impression. And how grateful I am for his lasting impression that has continued throughout the generations of this family.