Boat Ramp

By Janet K. Roberts

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    As a child of God, I’ve learned this truth: A fam’ly is forever. (Children’s Songbook, page 95.)

    David dove off the boat ramp into the deep, green water, down and down, looking for the happiness he’d always found when swimming in the pond. The pond was on his grandfather’s land, and he was staying with his grandparents, at least for now. He burst through the surface and gulped down the warm June air. The cows, which had followed him to the pond, looked startled at his sudden appearance from under the water, as if they hadn’t seen him do this a thousand times before. They were lined up on the wooden ramp like a row of animal bathing beauties on a diving board.

    David chuckled at them and rolled over onto his back, remembering how it was when he was only five and his mother was teaching him to swim. He had clung to her, scared but excited, until she finally went under the water and he went under with her, holding his breath for the first time. When they came up, he was laughing so hard that he couldn’t stop.

    “What’s so funny?” she’d demanded. “You—your hair was going straight up!” It was the first of many days spent at the pond, giggling and splashing and laughing.

    That summer his grandmother had planted yellow willows along the banks. Now they had grown up tall, just like David. On one side of the pond, his grandfather had given the willows a haircut, cutting their weeping branches off evenly six feet above the dusty path. On the other side, the willows were long and trailing, their leafy tips dipping into the green water. David caught some of these with his toes as he floated by on his back. He pulled them along with him for a little while, shaking the leaves higher up on the tree. He hadn’t found what he was looking for; he knew that he wouldn’t now. Even the combination of the warm sun and the cool water wasn’t enough to make him happy again.

    Still floating, he looked straight up into the open sky and squinted at a passing bird. He could hear his grandfather working with his hoe. Even though he was eleven years old, his grandfather still stayed close by when he was swimming. He wondered how much longer he and Dad would stay with Grandpa. They had come to the farm as soon as school was out for the summer, because Dad knew it was David’s favorite place.

    When his mother was still alive, the pond was the best place in the world. But Mom had died in the spring, and he missed her so much that his head ached from it. He wanted a whole family with a father and a mother. The sky suddenly blurred as if he were under water again. He desperately wanted to feel better, but he didn’t know how.

    “Shoo, you moos!” He waved his arms. “Go on, move!” The cows lumbered off, settling down under the willows. He climbed onto the ramp and lay there, making a wet silhouette on the boards, and thought of his mother. She had been the only member of the Church in the family. He had gone to Primary, and Dad had listened to the missionary discussions, but neither he nor his dad had been baptized.

    After she died, Dad talked with him about joining the Church. “Davy, I’ve decided to be baptized. I’d like you to be baptized with me, but you are old enough to decide for yourself.”

    “I’ve already decided. I don’t want to be baptized with you.” David turned away so he wouldn’t see the disappointment in his father’s face. He didn’t know then—or now—exactly why he answered the way he did. He wasn’t sure of anything.

    “All right,” Dad had said, “but will you think and pray about it while we’re at Grandpa’s? You know that if you’re baptized, we can go to the temple next summer and be sealed together as a family.”

    David knew about the temple. He had learned about it in Primary, but all that he cared about now was that Mom was gone, that she wouldn’t swim and laugh with him again.

    Dad was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on a Saturday afternoon, and the smile on his face as he came up out of the water was one of a very few that David saw anymore.

    He was still thinking about that rare smile, when a bee buzzed close to his ear. He sat up. His swim trunks were nearly dry, and the planks of the boat ramp were getting hot in the sun. He remembered Grandpa telling him the story of building the boat ramp on the little pond.

    “When Grandma and I were first married and bought this farm, Davy, there was no ramp, just a pond. Grandma said that she wanted to swim but that she wasn’t going to get her feet muddy getting out of the water—you know your grandma. So I went up to the lake to see how it was done, then came back and built Grandma the boat ramp.”

    “Is that when the neighbors started to tease you?”

    “Yes.” Grandpa laughed, remembering. “They wanted to know when I was going to bring my yacht up to our watering hole. But it didn’t matter. I loved your grandma so much that I would do anything for her. I still do.”

    Now Grandpa’s words repeated themselves inside his head: “I loved your grandma so much that I would do anything for her.” Did Dad love Mom that much? He thought about his father’s plan to go to the temple next summer. Yes, he loved her enough to study and pray about the Church and then be baptized. What about me? he wondered. Do I love Mom that much?

    The tune to a Primary song came into his head. Its last few words floated like a whisper into his heart: “A family is forever.”

    He bowed his head and put his hands in his lap, praying for the first time since Mom died. “Heavenly Father, please help me to know what to do. Please help me to feel better. Please help me!”

    Suddenly he was warm all over, with a feeling that started somewhere near his heart and spread out to his fingers and toes. He felt reassured and relieved, just as he had when he was learning to swim and felt Mom’s arms around him. There was something else too. He knew the gospel was true, and he wanted to be baptized and go to the temple the next summer with Dad. He would tell him tonight.

    All at once he jumped up and took a joyful flying leap off Grandma’s boat ramp, making a gigantic splash in the pond. He rose quickly to the surface, breaking through the water with a grin on his face. The cows looked at him in surprise, as if they had never seen him do it before.

    Illustrated by Larry Winborg