Strong as Temple Granite

By Ray Goldrup

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    “If those clouds get any darker, I’ll need a light to work by,” grunted the older man who worked alongside Lao Moy. He was placing a low-power explosive into a crack in a mammoth-size granite boulder.

    Twelve-year-old Lao Moy wiped the rock dust from his eyes and squinted into the wintry heavens. The sharp wind that knifed down through the cottonwood canyons of the Wasatch Mountains cooled the sweat on his face. He thought of the high winds he and his father Chen had experienced on the clipper ship that had brought them to America from their ancestral home in China seven years ago.

    Lao Moy’s father had been a fisherman on a sampan in Canton when a terrible wharf fire took the lives of Mother, Grandfather, and his baby sister Sze. Then the lure of gold in a strange, far-off land called America tempted Chen in the summer of 1855 to leave China for the goldfields of California. Perhaps, he thought, I can do better by Lao Moy there.

    But Lao Moy was to discover at a very young age, along with his father, that the Lord makes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. What little gold Chen was able to earn as a mine worker was stolen by his rough, bad-tempered employers. Then had come that awful night when a half-dozen drunken men had broken down their shanty door and killed him.

    Lao Moy stared at the cloud shadows drifting across the canyon walls like a vulture’s wing. He gritted his teeth and his eyes filled with tears. The bitter memory of his father’s death lodged once again in the depths of his heart.

    The immigrant’s youthful eyes shifted to Mosiah Twiggs, the big, bearded Mormon who had rescued him that fateful night. Waves of love and gratitude rolled up the shores of Lao Moy’s sore heart and washed away his tears.

    Mosiah, too, had been ensnared by dreams of gold, so he left the Salt Lake Valley settlement in ’49 to fall prey to the same misfortune that had beset so many others—empty pockets and broken dreams.

    After his father’s death, Lao Moy had agreed without misgivings to return with Mosiah to Salt Lake City, feeling a loyalty to the soft-spoken stranger who had risked his life to save someone he didn’t even know.

    It had been a hazardous journey by wagon from the goldfields of California to the Salt Lake Valley, and they had encountered countless perils. But Mosiah’s promise that the God of Israel would protect them had planted the seeds of a testimony in the boy’s heart. Lao Moy wondered about this man who dutifully paid 10 percent of his earnings to his church for tithing.

    Yet standing in the way of Lao Moy’s spiritual progress was that old bitterness born in the goldfields. It crouched like a great beast over his peace and challenged his moments of newfound joy. He had long wished to rid himself of it, to strike out against it, but something or someone always seemed to stand in the way.

    Mosiah gazed curiously in the direction of the boy’s unbroken stare. “Autumn leaves die beautifully, don’t they, Lao Moy?” he said, his face lifted into the leaf-spattered wind.

    “Yes,” answered Lao Moy, his hurtful thoughts suddenly scattered by his guardian’s grand vision. Autumn was indeed a beautiful time of year, especially in the canyons. Lao Moy’s eyes raced up the huge, yellow red chasms with renewed excitement. He loved these mountains. Mosiah had told him many times about them. How the erosion of long ages had cut deep canyons. How huge glaciers, descending with unyielding power, had broken loose and carried countless boulders, many of goliath size, down the immense mountain furrows. It was these isolated blocks, called erratics, that provided the supply of building stones for the Salt Lake Temple.

    In these canyons, Mosiah, Lao Moy, and many other faithful Saints worked tirelessly to divide the boulders with hand drills, wedges, and low-power explosives. The rough blocks were then transported by oxteam—four yoke required for each block—and every trip was a difficult three- or four-day journey to the temple site some twenty miles away.

    Mosiah touched Lao Moy’s shoulder and brought him out of his reverie. “I’m going to set off the blast, Lao Moy,” he cautioned, and then shouted a warning to the nearby workers. Mosiah lit the fuse and sprinted with Lao Moy for cover.

    Two other workmen held a team of oxen. One of them was fourteen-year-old Corey Atwood. Corey, a tough, stout boy, had long taken pleasure in cruelly funning Lao Moy because of his broken English, his long queue (braid), and his quiet and obedient ways. It was often Corey who kept Lao Moy’s bitterness alive, but the Chinese boy had held it all inside, even when the troublesome Corey had once grabbed Lao Moy’s queue and threatened to cut it off with a knife.

    The blast erupted like the sound of cannon fire over a Virginia cottonfield, and the big piece of granite split in two. Cheers went up, and Mosiah scrambled up the rocks to view his accomplishment. Lao Moy started up, too, but was soon held fast by Corey, who held onto his queue.

    “What’s the matter, Lao Moy,” he chuckled, “somebody got your tail?”

    Suddenly something exploded inside Lao Moy with no less force than Mosiah’s dynamite blast. He turned and struck Corey in the face so hard that the big boy was lifted off his feet and thrown backward in front of the team of oxen. The wide-eyed Atwood looked as surprised as Lao Moy. He wiped at the blood on his mouth and started to lift himself up when a clap of thunder suddenly boomed. As the already spooked oxen lurched forward, Lao Moy sprang for Corey and rolled him out of the path of pounding hooves and grinding wheels.

    For a long moment the two boys just lay there, staring at each other. Finally, a smile broke across Corey’s dusty, blood-smeared face. Lao Moy smiled back, and all the old bitterness in his heart seemed to melt away like ice in a summer sun. A new peaceful feeling assured him it would not return.

    Lao Moy was forty-five years old when the Salt Lake Temple was finally dedicated on April 6, 1893; Mosiah, seventy-six; and Corey Atwood, forty-seven. Corey sat close beside Lao Moy as President Wilford Woodruff offered the dedicatory prayer. A friendship had grown between them, a friendship as strong as the temple granite they had helped to cut. And like that granite, it would last forever.

    Illustrated by Mike Muir