My childhood was a wonderful, happy one. I was born in Provo, Utah, but grew up in Bunkerville, Nevada. My parents were school teachers in this farming and desert area. Bunkerville was still very much a pioneer town. As children, we sat at the feet of pioneers who told us what it was like in the early days. I can remember sitting at the feet of Mary Ellen Hafen, who had walked to Utah as a young girl.
Everywhere around us, the people had pioneer customs. When I was a young boy, we had no running water in our homes and no electricity. I can remember clearly when electricity first came to Bunkerville. I also remember my father and me taking horses and a big water wagon up to a spring in the mountains and bringing back drinking water to fill our man-made cistern. We would have to clean out the cistern before putting the fresh water into it. When we needed drinking water, we pumped it out by hand and carried it into the house in buckets.
Not having modern conveniences didn’t bother us. That’s just the way it was. People worked together—raising farm animals, harvesting crops, taking care of supplies. And on the Fourth of July, we celebrated together. I grew up in wonderful circumstances. It isn’t what you have that makes you happy.
Growing up in southern Nevada was a great adventure. My friends and I had to make our own fun. We would take our wagons and go on exploration hikes. There were scorpions, gila monsters, black and white lizards, and snakes. But we didn’t worry about them. I don’t remember being bitten by anything. They were just part of our lives. I can remember when we got roller skates. We all skated on the one little road that went through town. We had hoops that we pushed with a stick. We swam in the irrigation ditch. That was cooling in hot weather.
The Church was the center of everything. My father was my bishop from the time I was two until I was nine. Everything revolved around Church and families. I just remember a lot of kind, wonderful people. Everybody was “Aunt” or “Uncle,” and yet they were not literally aunts and uncles. Even though they may have been second or third cousins, we referred to them as “Aunt Mina” or “Uncle John.” That’s how we felt about each other. Life was not easy in Bunkerville, but it was good.
My father and mother were great influences. They were both teachers. My father was always busy. I remember going with him to the bishop’s storehouse, where tithing sometimes was paid “in kind” with squash, grain, or other crops. These were subsequently used for the poor. I remember having to clean out the storehouse with him.
I remember family home evening very, very well. Our parents would tell us pioneer stories about honesty and bravery. I especially remember stories about Jacob Hamblin, the great missionary to the Indians. My mother had served a mission and was a gifted teacher herself. We had a wonderful upbringing and didn’t lack for instruction. My mother was also very conscious of our diet, so we ate well.
We had a wonderful life. We had jobs to earn a little bit of money here and there. During World War II, we collected and sold scrap metal to help with the war effort. I would get my little pile, and we would sell it to a scrap metal dealer for a few dimes. My father would make out a tithing slip for my two or three pennies. He did that with all of the children in Bunkerville Ward, and we really learned about paying tithing. Since we didn’t have a chapel, we held church in the school; the bishop’s work was done in our home. I can remember seeing other children and adults coming to pay their tithing. It was a good lesson, and I’ve never forgotten it.
I grew up with the feeling that the gospel was true. I had strong feelings about the priesthood, partly because we had to rely on it so often. In Bunkerville, we didn’t have any trained medical people. One family in a neighboring town had a telephone. If there was an emergency, someone had to go four or five miles to call for help from St. George or Las Vegas. As a child, I once rolled off the bed onto a gallon pickle jar that shattered and sliced my back open. A doctor came down from another town to sew me up. Another time my brother Doug had sunstroke. In my mind, sickness was always connected with the priesthood because we had no medical doctors. I remember my mother saying to us, “It’s hard to get a doctor, but we always have the priesthood.” I grew up with a deep awareness of the power of the priesthood. In a spiritual way, I had an ideal childhood because the gospel was the center of our lives.
My parents were striving to provide a better quality of life for us. That was one of the reasons we moved to Idaho when I was nine years old. We attended the Nampa First Ward, where they actually had a church building. We had never attended church in a church building before. There were also a significant number of children.
But our lives really didn’t change; they were still family-centered. We had family prayer morning and night. We didn’t work on the Sabbath. We had to milk cows and take care of the chickens and the hogs, and if we had water running, we had to turn it to water our fields. But we didn’t hay, or harvest sugar beets. We did only what had to be done on Sunday.
I remember reading the first part of the Book of Mormon many times. I still remember those early chapters, and Nephi saying, “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded, for I know that the Lord giveth no commandments unto the children of men, save he shall prepare a way for them that they may accomplish the thing which he commandeth them” (1 Ne. 3:7). I had a great desire to do what the Lord wanted.
Children all over the world are so blessed. This is one of the best times to be a child. There are so many good things to learn and so much technology to help you learn. It’s also one of the most difficult times. That helpful technology has to be used wisely. You are exposed to things that I wasn’t exposed to. I grew up in a non-TV, non-electronic world. We lived in a time when we had more time to daydream. Don’t fill your life so full that you have no time to dream.
Children today know so much. So much is happening. It’s the best of times; it’s the most challenging of times for children. If I had one thing to say to children, I would say that with all the noises and sounds that you’re around, the most important sound today is the voice of the prophet. He will speak of Christ. You will hear the voice of Christ through him. You will also hear Christ in the scriptures. You have to be very careful that you hear the right voices, because there are so many voices that are trying to influence you in a way that isn’t good for you.