Elder Neal A. Maxwell grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, the only son in a family of six children. His father was a convert to the Church; his mother was a descendant of pioneer stock. “I received both the freshness and appreciation a convert has and the steadiness of pioneer ancestry,” Elder Maxwell declared. “I had the advantage of living in a good, nurturing home. Being the only boy, I probably received more attention than I deserved. My sisters were a delight to me, and I felt very protective and proud of them, particularly of Lois, who does so well even with some vision problems.
“We didn’t have a lot of material things, but we were rich in the things that mattered. We didn’t have much land, but we squeezed everything onto it. We had chickens and cows and pigs. Raising pigs taught me how to work, and I learned about the law of the harvest. I also discovered that farmers have to work very hard to make money. After our pigs were sold and the cost of raising them was figured out, the profit on them was very little—sometimes nothing.”
Elder Maxwell won so many ribbons for his prize pigs that when they were pinned to a blanket, they filled its entire surface. “I was proud of those ribbons,” he said. “And I still have that blanket.
“The part I didn’t like about farm work was that you were never through with it. If you milked cows or fed the animals in the morning, you knew that you had to do it again at night. Our irrigation turn would often come in the middle of the night. It was hard work, but it was good discipline.”
One of Elder Maxwell’s earliest recollections is of “seeing the power of the priesthood in action. Once it brought my six-week-old sister back from near death after she had stopped breathing. She had whooping cough, and in those days there were no antibiotics. I saw the power of the priesthood many times as I was growing up, and I knew it was a powerful force, even though I couldn’t explain it.”
Elder Maxwell’s mother was a great influence on him. She not only taught him what was right, but she also helped to give him a love of literature, and she encouraged him to read. Elder Maxwell especially loved The Secret Garden. “Whether it was The Secret Garden or Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped, there was a sense of adventure and excitement about life in the books I read as a child. Life seemed to have an overall, purposeful, and divine design. Some things were right and other things wrong. I don’t know how people cope with the deepening despair that pervades some worldly homes today. However, there was no question in my mind but that there was a Lord and that He was in charge of everything. This idea permeated the literature that I read. Later I became interested in reading things that were political and historical.”
Elder Maxwell recalled a time when his father served as a ward clerk: “After the meeting each fast Sunday, Dad would count and stack the tithing and fast offering money on the round dining-room table at home. I remember the devotion and the carefulness with which he accounted for all of the contributions turned in.”
His father encouraged him in sports participation, and he appreciated the need for sports. Elder Maxwell loved all sports, but particularly basketball and fishing. His uncles especially were interested in his basketball career and planned that Neal would become an all-state basketball player. “Up to about age twelve,” Elder Maxwell recollected, “I think I was as good as anyone in our area. But then I stopped growing. Fishing, however, didn’t depend on size—just interest. We had a little stream that went by our place, and I used to fish in it.
“I was fortunate enough to know two great-grandparents, which in those days was most unusual. My two great-grandparents would tell me pioneer stories about the experiences they had while coming across the plains. Years later I had the privilege of going into a little parish in England from where they and their people had come, and that really gave me a sense of connection with that area of England. I knew all four of my grandparents, but I had a longer association with my grandmothers. Both of my grandfathers died when I was fairly young. Dad baptized his father just a few weeks before Grandfather died—and he’d already baptized his mother—so he brought both his parents into the Church.”
Elder Maxwell would like to impart this message to the children of the Church: “It’s extremely important for you to believe in yourselves, not only for what you are now, but for what you have the power to become. Trust in the Lord as He leads you along. He has things for you to do that you won’t know about now, but that will unfold later. If you stay close to Him, you will have some great adventures. You will live in a time when instead of just talking about prophecies that will sometime be fulfilled, many of them will actually be fulfilled. The Lord will unfold your future bit by bit.
“All the easy things that the Church has had to do have been done, so you’re going to live in a time of high adventure. You were brought to this earth because you can handle that time of adventure, and you will do well.”