When I was four years old, my father died of tuberculosis. My memories of him are vague, but good. I knew that he was a kind, faithful man, because my mother often talked about the wonderful things he did.
Even though I didn’t have a father as I grew up, I never felt deprived or cheated. My mother, Stella Harris Oaks, didn’t feel sorry for herself, so my brother and sister and I didn’t feel sorry for ourselves, either. One year at Thanksgiving, there was a knock on our door. A ward member handed my mother a basket of food “for the widows in the ward.” I didn’t even know what a widow was, so I had to ask Mother for an explanation!
Mother set a wonderful example of trusting in the Lord and having faith in Him, and I followed her example. I always felt secure and loved, and even early in my childhood, I sensed that the gospel was true. I knew that I could turn to Heavenly Father for love and support.
I also knew that I could turn to my family. We were very close, and even though Mother was very busy because she had to work, we always sat down on Sunday and spent time together as a family. We had dinner and discussed what we had learned in church that day. We talked about gospel principles and questions we had on many subjects. Even before family home evening was an official Monday night Church program, we were faithfully holding our own family evening on Sundays.
Although my father wasn’t alive, there were many male role models in my life. I often spent the summers working on my grandfather’s farm in Utah. I piled and tromped hay, milked cows, and helped out with the chores. My brother, Dallin, and I were like Grandpa’s sons, and we had a very close relationship with him.
My grandparents didn’t have a lot of money. Grandpa and Grandma ate what they raised on their farm and worked hard to make ends meet. Grandma sewed temple burial clothes, and Grandpa sold subscriptions to a national magazine. Sometimes I went with Grandpa on his magazine-subscription visits.
Watching my grandparents and my mother, I learned to work very hard. From their example, I also learned the importance of paying tithing. Even though Grandpa and Grandma were very poor, they always paid a faithful ten percent tithing on everything they earned. During very difficult financial times, many neighbors lost their farms. Grandpa often said that he kept the farm because the Lord blessed him for being obedient and paying tithing.
Grandpa paid us for our work on the farm; we earned ten cents for every row of beets we hoed. I always paid tithing on that money and carefully saved the rest, and it added up. When I was about ten or eleven, our family took a trip back east to visit Church historical sites. We also visited Danville, Pennsylvania, where my father had done an internship. We visited the town librarian, a good friend of my parents when they had lived there.
While we visited her, the librarian brought out a box of books that she thought we might be interested in. Inside the box was an 1830 copy of the Book of Mormon! Even though I was very young, I sensed that the book was very important. When the librarian mentioned she was interested in selling it, I told her I would give her practically all my savings, a whole fifty dollars! She accepted it, and to this day, that copy of the Book of Mormon is one of my most prized possessions.
I’m grateful for my father’s legacy and for all my mother taught me. I am who I am today, at least in part, because of their good, righteous examples.