Friend to Friend

From a personal interview by Janet Peterson with Bishop H. Burke Peterson, First Counselor in the Presiding Bishopric

Print Share
    Bishop H. Burke Peterson

    “Shortly after my parents were married, one of my father’s relatives invited him to Phoenix, Arizona, to work as a carpenter. I was the oldest child in our family, and I lived in Phoenix all my life until I became a General Authority. It was good that my parents moved to Arizona, because there’s something that draws a family together in the mission field. When I was growing up, we had one ward in Phoenix, and the members of the ward were like a big family. We learned to depend on each other. I referred to the men of my father’s age as ‘uncle’ and the women of my mother’s age as ‘aunt.’”

    Bishop Peterson remembers his childhood home as being “a simple home. We ate mush every morning. I still eat it. I’ve been eating mush for sixty years. My parents were never well-off financially, even though my father and mother were very hard workers. Mother made do with things, and my three brothers and I were all taught to work. We ironed clothes, cooked, put up fruit, and did the washing. Father was a stern disciplinarian, yet our home was a loving home. When we needed it, we were disciplined, but I never remember a time when I felt that Father didn’t love me.

    “Our parents were great supporters of their sons. They made us feel important and that we could do anything that we wanted to, even though we didn’t have many material things. Neither my mother nor my father graduated from high school, but they studied books and took courses by mail. Somehow they helped generate in their sons a desire for an education.

    “I never heard my father speak disrespectfully to my mother or about my mother. He never made light of her accomplishments or made fun of her in any way.

    “We were taught obedience in our home, and our parents were obedient too. Anything that they were asked to do by the Church authorities they did without question. I never heard them speak disrespectfully about any teacher or Church leader. In fact, they never spoke derogatorily about anybody.

    “We had prayer in our home every morning, we all paid tithing, and we went together to our church meetings. We expressed our love for each other often. As boys we embraced each other and our father too. Later, when we left home for school or missions or the service or returned, we always embraced each other. We still do.

    “We found out that it was good to have a sense of humor. We learned that when certain things happened in our family it was best just to laugh about them.

    “As boys we had work to do, and we always got it done. We lived in the city on a fifty-foot by seventy-five-foot city lot, so mother had to think of things for us to do. I still have the aluminum bucket that we used to wash windows. Mother would put a little ammonia and water in the bucket. Then she’d give us a rag to clean the windows and old newspapers to wipe them dry. We’d wash those windows and then rewash them just because we didn’t have many other chores. We waxed the floors and rewaxed them. We always had time to play, though, and Mother and Father always let us have a free hand. They let us dig trenches or make underground huts or build tree houses.

    “We swam a lot in the canals and rivers. I remember one time when we were in the water and my youngest brother turned upside down and couldn’t get right side up again. We pulled him out of the water and put him on the bank and pumped the water out of him. When we returned home, one of my brothers shouted, ‘Mom! Dad! Bob fell in the river, and we gave him artificial restoration.’

    “In Phoenix it’s very warm in the evening. Our folks would often put us in the car and drive on the country roads to cool off. We never had a radio in the car, so we’d sing. We’re not good singers, but we enjoyed it. We sang anytime we rode in the car.

    “Every summer, for many years, Dad would drive us to Utah as soon as school was out. The trip would take two or three days, and we would usually stop in Scipio where my Grandma and Grandpa Peterson lived. Then we’d come up to Taylorsville to visit my cousins, whom we were very fond of. Dad would go back to Phoenix, and at the end of summer he’d come back to get us for school. While we were away, Dad wrote letters to us regularly.

    “Dad was a great penmen, and during the fifteen years he was a ward clerk, his minutes of the meetings were beautiful. People made quite a point of his excellent penmanship.

    “My brothers and I were Boy Scouts. We couldn’t afford to buy sleeping bags, so Mother went to a flour mill and brought some empty flour sacks home. She heated water and bleached the sacks in a tub, then dried them and sewed them into the shape of sleeping bags. Then she built a fire and dyed the sacks green. Over another fire she prepared a mixture of paraffin and other things to waterproof the sleeping bags, and she made a woolen quilt to put inside each one. She made those bags fifty years ago, and only last summer she made a new cover for mine, which still has the original quilt!

    “I believe that every child is important to the Lord. I know that children can, just by their example, affect the lives of their peers in ways that they don’t realize. There are those who are timid or afraid to extend themselves. If you don’t feel that you have the talents that others have, I encourage you to develop your spirit, because there are messages from your spirit that are given to others—without a word being spoken—that can strengthen and lift their spirits. I’ve always appreciated the example of Ammon. Before King Limhi ever learned anything about Ammon, he felt a spirit about him that was different from that of anyone else he had ever met.

    “I don’t know of anything that’s more strengthening in this life than fervent prayer. If you ever feel lost, discouraged, or unimportant, pray to Heavenly Father. You are far more important than you may think you are. The Lord has given you individual talents, He wants you to succeed.”