Friend to Friend: Missionary Memories


Missionary Memories

The rural Whitney Ward was blessed with a bishop who loved the young people and the great missionary cause. As a means of stimulating interest, this bishop had each returned missionary make a brief report in Sunday School to the children and a complete report in sacrament meeting. Although it was sometimes difficult to understand how a mission could be “the happiest two years of my life,” as the missionaries would conclude after recounting their hardships of opposition, the children were stimulated by an early desire to “go on a mission.”

“Father, how old do you have to be to receive a patriarchal blessing?” asked an Aaronic Priesthood youth one morning after Sunday School. My question had been prompted by the report of two missionaries. My father told me he knew of no age requirement, but one should be old enough to understand what the blessing would mean, and, of course, one must be worthy.

I asked him if he thought I was worthy. He informed me that he did think so, but he was not the one to say because that would be the responsibility of the bishop. “Why don’t you ask the bishop if you might receive a recommend for a patriarchal blessing?” he suggested.

This I did. After a careful but brief interview in one corner of the chapel—because fifty or sixty years ago many chapels didn’t have bishops’ offices—the bishop gave me a signed recommend.

When I showed it to my father, he pointed to a tall, white-haired man and said, “Brother Dalley, our stake patriarch, is visiting here today. Why don’t you present the recommend to him and ask when you might receive a blessing?”

The patriarch put his hand on my shoulder and said, “If you’ll come with me, we’ll walk up the road to the home of my son-in-law, Brother Winward, and I’ll give you the blessing right today.”

Up the road, arm-in-arm with this godly man, I went to the farm home. In the parlor, a room used for special occasions, with Brother Winward as scribe, this noble patriarch placed his hands upon my head and gave clear answer to a boy’s prayer. He promised that if I were faithful, I would go on a mission “to the nations of the earth, crying repentance to a wicked world.”

Filled with happiness and assurance that this and other promises in the blessing would be fulfilled, it seemed that I was walking on air during the mile walk to our farm home, where I broke the glad news to the family.

But before my promised blessing came, a rich blessing for the entire family came to us. It was during the time, many years ago, when sacrament meeting was held at 2:00 P.M. in the rural wards. We usually went to meeting in our white-top buggy, which would hold the entire family. But at this particular time there was much sickness—an epidemic—and parents were asked to attend sacrament meeting but to leave the children home, so Father and Mother went alone in our one-horse buggy.

When they returned, we saw something we had never seen before. Both Father and Mother were crying at the same time. Being the oldest, I asked what was wrong. Mother assured us everything was all right.

“Then why are you crying?” we asked.

“Come into the house and we’ll tell you all about it,” she answered.

As we gathered around the old sofa in the living room, they explained the tears.

When sacrament meeting was over, the country store was opened just long enough for the farmers to get their mail, as the post office was in the store. There was no rural mail delivery in those days, and opening the store briefly on Sunday saved the farmers a special trip to the post office.

On the way home from sacrament meeting, they had stopped at the store for the mail. Then, with Father driving and Mother opening the mail, they had found a letter from Box B. This was a call for Father to go on a mission. In those days no one was asked if he were able, ready, or willing to go. The bishop was expected to know, and a mission call came without warning.

Mother said that they were happy and grateful that Father was considered worthy to fill a mission. Father explained, “We’re crying a bit because we know it means two years of separation. Your mother and I have never been separated more than two nights at a time in all of our married life, and that has been when I’ve been in the canyon for poles, fence posts, or derrick timbers.”

Father went on his mission, leaving Mother at home with seven children. The eighth was born four months after he left. Our small dry farm had been sold to finance the mission. A family moved into part of our expanded farm home to rent the row cropland. We children, under Mother’s day-to-day encouragement and Father’s letters of blessings, took care of the dairy herd, the hay, and the pastureland.

It was hard work, but it was a rewarding two years. Not once did we ever hear a murmur from Mother’s lips as she sang at her work the songs she and Father had enjoyed. Letters from Father came from Davenport, Iowa; Springfield, Illinois; Chicago, Illinois; and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. These letters, along with family prayer and unity, brought a spirit of missionary work into our home that never left it. Later, seven sons went on missions from that home.

Many years later at the bedside of my mother I heard her say good-bye to her fifth son as he left for his mission. “Remember, George, no matter what happens at home, I want you to stay and finish your mission.” A few weeks later a telegram from the First Presidency to President LeGrand Richards of the Southern States Mission told of her passing. A year later a second telegram was sent telling of the passing of our father. But true to the wish of our mother and the missionary spirit of the home, George stayed and finished his mission. In the brief will that was left, the first provision for the modest assets was for missions for the two younger sons.

Father, who as a young man had also helped to support several of his twelve brothers and sisters on missions, was described by a prominent citizen, state senator, and nonmember of the Church in these words: “Gentlemen, today we buried the greatest influence for good in Cache Valley.”

How grateful we eleven children are for parents who, by word, work, and example, were always faithful to the great missionary call of the Master.

[illustration] Illustrated by Merrill Gogan