I loved Brother Hanson. He had a story for every situation, and one of his favorite things to say was, “There is a lesson to be learned here.” Then he asked you what you thought the lesson was, and if you didn’t know or if your answer wasn’t what he had in mind, he’d let you know what it was.
One time he had all the Boy Scouts helping him build a garage. It was a gray, bitter kind of day, and the wind howled around the corners of the building and practically knocked us flat. It didn’t seem to bother Brother Hanson much, though. He was bundled up in a huge goose-down jacket that made him look like a polar bear.
After a while we started to complain. Bryan even suggested that in this wind the garage might easily blow over and that perhaps we should leave the work for another day.
That’s when Brother Hanson gathered us all together on one side of the building, where we were partly protected from the gale. He patted the concrete foundation. “Feel this.”
We all felt it.
Then he patted the ground underneath. We felt that too. It was, being late autumn and the soil being rather clayish, about as bendable as a steel beam. “There’s a lesson to be learned here,” he announced.
We all groaned.
“In the scriptures—” he began.
“In the Book of Mormon?” asked Bryan, who was always eager to know what came from where.
Brother Hanson nodded. “In the Book of Mormon as well as in the Bible, it says that if you build your house upon a rock, which is the gospel, and the rain descends and the floods come and the winds blow, which are the trials and temptations of life, your house will not fall. That’s a good lesson, don’t you think?”
We all agreed that it was.
Then, just to emphasize his point, he sent us all back to work in the wind.
It was nearly three months later that Brother Hanson took us on a winter Scout camp. The entire object of the outing was for us to learn how to build a fire so we could cook and keep warm in sub-zero temperatures. We hiked for what seemed like miles, and even though Brother Hanson was close to seventy years old, we had a difficult time keeping up. Finally he brought us to a place where there was a frozen pond beside a clear spot in the trees, and there he turned us loose to build our fires.
It didn’t take long for us to discover that the frozen pond was much easier to clear off than the lumpy rock-strewn ground. In no time at all most of our fires were constructed on the thick, just-offshore ice, ready to go.
That’s when I noticed Brother Hanson. He was going to all the extra effort of clearing snow down to the bare dirt before laying out his wood. I stood and watched him for a minute, knowing him well enough to realize that he never did anything without a reason. Then I moved my pile of sticks over beside his and proceeded to do exactly as he was doing.
A while later, Brother Hanson and I were enjoying roasted hot dogs and warming our cold toes next to the crackling flames, while the rest of the troop ran frantically in circles as their fires flickered to death in pools of puddling ice.
“There’s a lesson to be learned here,” Brother Hanson stated matter-of-factly.
The boys practically howled.
Brother Hanson leaned back on his log and stretched his huge feet out lazily in front of him.
“You tell me what the lesson is,” he said, nodding at Bryan.
“Fire melts ice,” Bryan declared wisely.
Brother Hanson glanced toward Jonathan.
“That you should always build your fire on solid ground,” Jonathan concluded.
Brother Hanson looked directly at me. “Philip, what do you think?”
I quoted his own words, as if reading from a book, “‘If you build your house upon a rock, which is the gospel, and the rain descends and the floods come and the winds blow, which are the trials and temptations of life, your house will not fall.’”
What followed was a moment of surprised silence as Brother Hanson stared at me. Then, when I started to fear that he was angry and that I shouldn’t have been quite so cocky, I heard a deep rumbling sound, which I realized was actually Brother Hanson chuckling.
The chuckles soon turned into outright guffaws that made his face go red and caused his breath to come in ragged gasps. Pretty soon all the rest of us were laughing right along with him. After a few minutes he stopped, pulled himself up straight on his log, and wiped his face with his sleeve. “That’s what I like to see—a boy who learns his lesson right the first time!”
Spring came late that year, and by May it was still cool and rainy. One night Brother Hanson had an artery burst in his chest. He died before any of us had the chance to even see him.
Our whole troop attended the funeral. We sat together on the bench in our Scout uniforms. Troops from the community were there, too—in fact, one whole side of the chapel was a sea of Scouts.
Afterward, my family took me out to the gravesite. My mom kept looking at me out of the corner of her eye like she was worried. I stood silently and stared at the coffin lying above that deep, empty hole.
“Would you like to stay a little longer, Philip?” she asked before she left for the car.
I nodded. I stood until I was the last person left. The rain dripped into my eyes and dribbled down the back of my collar, but I hardly noticed. It seemed to me that the earth was grieving for what it had lost, for what we had all lost.
I kicked at the dark sodden ground with my toe. It was good dirt, and very solid. I knew that that would have pleased him. I whispered my last and only good-bye, then turned for the car and home.