I grew up in a rural area three miles north of Idaho Falls, Idaho. I went to school in a little red schoolhouse—Sage Creek District #18. It is still standing.
I walked to school and to Primary with my closest friend, Ralph Frei, who was three or four months older than I. One day in spring we were walking along the gravel road in front of my uncle’s house. Ralph had just recently been baptized, and I sensed a difference in him. I felt as if he had changed. We began talking about his baptism and confirmation, and he explained about the Holy Ghost.
“When you receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, you’ll know you have it,” he said. “It’s just like someone is sitting on your shoulder, whispering in your ear, teaching you the things you need to know.” He said that if we invite the Holy Ghost into our lives, He will guide us.
I never forgot Ralph’s explanation. From that moment, I wanted to have the gift of the Holy Ghost. Four months later I received that special gift as my father confirmed me a member of the Church.
When I was twelve years old, we had a community fathers-and-sons banquet in Idaho Falls. President George Albert Smith, the President of the Church, was the speaker. After the banquet, we lined up to shake his hand. When my turn came, President Smith took my hand and spoke to me. I don’t remember what he said, but I shall never forget what I felt. From that moment, I wanted to be in the presence of the prophets.
I understand now why I had those feelings. It is not because we worship the prophet. We don’t. It is because he is the mouthpiece of the Lord. The prophet is a channel, and through him the Savior’s love is projected to the whole world. That channel is open today. After I was called to be a General Authority, I came early to one of the special meetings in the upper room of the temple. President Ezra Taft Benson was sitting in his place, and as I walked into the room, I looked at him and he looked at me. I wanted to take him in my arms and tell him how much I loved him, because I could feel his love. It was the same kind of love I had felt from President Smith as a twelve-year-old boy. That is why the Saints in South America embrace me and tell me to please give their love to the prophet. They can feel his love even far away. It transcends, or goes beyond, mere miles.
My father was a farmer. His farm was small, but he was a hard worker and very successful. Farmers are builders in every sense of the word: They build the soil. They build families. They build barns. They build granaries. They build, build, build. But building requires resources, such as lumber and nails. When Dad was just starting out at the end of the Great Depression, there was no money for such things. People then had learned to make do with what they had. Dad dismantled an old abandoned schoolhouse and used the lumber to build a farmstead on East River Road—the road on which I would later walk to school.
I remember that there were buckets and kegs of nails—rusty, crooked nails. When I was just a small boy, Dad put me to work straightening those nails with a hammer. Years later, at Dad’s funeral, I reflected on that experience. I realized that he had been teaching me not only how to work but also a basic principle of the gospel.
We have become a throwaway society. No one thinks about straightening nails these days. We throw away anything that is damaged, including human souls. I learned from those hours of straightening rusty nails that even things terribly bent can be saved for a good and wholesome purpose.
Perhaps that discovery was the beginning of my great desire to recover every human soul. I know that they can be recovered, and that lives can be improved, corrected, and renewed to fulfill the full measure of their creation. My father instilled that faith in me.