I don’t have any photographs of myself as a child. One afternoon during my senior year in high school, my mother, who was a school teacher, and I were driving home together after my basketball practice. We lived on a ranch about three miles outside of the small town of Lima, Montana, where the school was located. As we neared our home, we could see smoke billowing up from the house. I was driving and rushed to get home. When we got there, the house was already engulfed in flames. Fortunately my stepfather and little brother were safely out working in the field. But everything that we owned, everything, burned in the fire. That was a very traumatic experience for me. I was sixteen years old, and to be left with nothing was a very, very lonely feeling.
Friends came that night and put my family up in their homes for a few days. I was distraught from worrying about what our family would do. I stayed awake most of the night, worrying and occasionally weeping. I remember that my mother came into my room about four o’clock in the morning and said, “My dear son, everything will be all right. As long as we have family, friends, and the gospel, we have everything.” That was a marvelous lesson for me to learn.
Many years later, in 1976, my mother and stepfather were living in Sugar City, Idaho, when the Teton Dam broke, and once again, everything that they owned was lost. After the flood, Mother walked into my home (I was married by this time) with a little plastic clothes basket that contained everything she had in the world—except for her family, her friends, and the gospel. These were difficult experiences, but with my mother’s help I learned a lot about the kindness of people and about seeing events in an eternal perspective.
Another learning experience happened after I graduated from high school in Lima. I went to Ricks College on a basketball scholarship. I had the opportunity to go to other schools, but I went to Ricks because my parents moved nearby. Basketball and baseball were all that I was concerned with at that age. I loved playing. The fall that I arrived, to help me with my finances, my coach got me a job outside of Rexburg, working at a beet dump. The first day of work, I rode there on a motorcycle with another team member. On October 15, 1951, we finished work at 10:30 P.M. and were coming back into town, going about fifty miles (80 k) an hour. It was storming, and we ran head-on into a car. I was thrown about seventy feet through the air and landed on my back on the pavement. As I flew over the top of the car, my right foot went through the windshield. I broke a number of bones and came within a fraction of having cut off my right foot.
At the hospital, the doctors decided that they would have to amputate my foot. My mother stepped forward and said, “Not until he’s received a blessing.” So my bishop and my stepfather gave me a blessing. My bishop told me that I would keep my foot and that I would be able to run and enjoy many of the things I’d always loved. The doctors then decided to try to save the foot. After they operated, I was in bed for three months, then spent six months on crutches, waiting for my foot to heal. It did. I never was able to compete in sports as I had before, but I could still play.
That accident caused me to think of things I’d never really thought much about before—like going on a mission. Because of that accident, I did go on a mission, to Texas. It was the most wonderful experience of my life. For the first time, I really stopped thinking just about myself, my basketball, and my baseball. I started thinking about other people. I saw the gospel come into their lives; I watched them change, and I saw how excited they got. I got excited with them. It was the most joyful thing that I’d ever done. The excitement and joy have never left me. I still love missionary work; I love to see people embrace the gospel.
Two months after I got home from my mission, my wife and I were married. Of course, the mission was wonderful, but my wife’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me. And being married has helped me to realize that the most important thing in this life is to cultivate love for family. It is more important than anything else we’ll work at. The family unit is eternal if we keep the commandments of the Lord.
Eternal families don’t just happen. We have to put forth much effort to find good things about each other and to love one another. Ultimately love in a family unit will help us keep the commandments and achieve exaltation. I have told all my children that that’s what I want more than anything—to be an eternal family together.