Skull Valley, Utah—that was where I spent two summers as a youth. I lived on Long Island, New York, but my father, who had grown up on a farm in Idaho, told me, “You’re never going to learn how to work until you work on a ranch.” My uncle had a ranch in Skull Valley, and so I, a city boy, was sent to live and work there.
The first few days I spent on the ranch left me exhausted. My entire body ached, and I wondered how I could get through each day. I was discouraged and wanted to go home, but I didn’t tell this to my relatives.
One day I was moving bales of hay with my cousin, and I was having a hard time because I was so tired. My cousin gave me a little push and said, “You aren’t lazy—you just don’t know how to work.” I decided then that I’d learn how to work—and I did. And as I worked on the ranch that summer, I came to enjoy it and my body thrived on it.
I had many aunts and uncles who lived in the Utah area, and I stayed in their various homes throughout the summer months. I helped round up wild horses, bale hay, care for the animals, and do other tasks. We worked from before sunrise until sundown, and as time wore on, I became very close to my cousins. I loved the joy of just sitting and talking with them in the evenings when our chores were through.
During those two summers, I came to appreciate all the work it takes to plant and irrigate, and then, after all of that is done, how hard it is to harvest. The first summer I spent at the ranch was during a very dry year, and the fields were swarming with crickets. The farmers didn’t give up, however, and they didn’t blame God that things were not going well. They just prepared to plant the next year.
Even if conditions are perfect for farmers, there still is an incredible amount of work to do. They know that you don’t get something for nothing. My experience in Skull Valley helped me understand the law of the harvest, as described in Galatians 6:7 [Gal. 6:7]: “For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” We reach most of our important goals only after a great deal of effort and hard work.
While growing up in New York, I had many friends from different countries. I loved to sit in the schoolyard and talk to them about their cultures and beliefs. Some people think that if someone speaks with an accent, or has difficulty with a language, he or she is not as smart. But when we visit another country and we can’t speak the language of that country very well, we’re not suddenly less smart than we were before. It’s all right to be different—to speak differently, eat different foods, wear different clothes, or have different-colored skin. Our different cultures and backgrounds make life exciting and interesting, and when we look beyond differences, we still have the same basic feelings and needs.
I have great appreciation for the teachers I had while growing up. To teach is to sacrifice, especially if a teacher is caring and giving. Listen to your teachers, for many of them know your gifts and talents, and they can help you direct your life.
One important teacher was my neighbor, Mrs. Carey. I was a young boy when World War II was raging, and every day after school she taught me about the war and the countries that were involved in it. Mrs. Carey took me through the war day by day—in Europe, city by city; in the Pacific, island by island—explaining what was happening. In the process, I learned about history and geography. My interest in other countries was sparked during the hours I spent in her home.
Many of my great teachers were my coaches. One was Coach Smith, my baseball coach. One day I was feeling sorry for myself because we had lost a few games. “I’m never going to get any runs,” I said to him. He replied, “You control whether you win or not. It won’t happen if you sit around and complain.” He knew that wins come only after hard work.
Children, don’t let life determine what you’re going to be. The gospel teaches us that we each have our agency. Decide what you want to do, and do it! Listening to your teachers, getting a good education, being willing to improve, and working hard makes this possible.