We must have been a pathetic sight—me in my Hawaiian loose-fitting dress with wilted flower necklaces still around my neck, and three blurry-eyed, very tired children, the oldest one barely five. It was 2:30 A.M., and the huge San Francisco airport was nearly empty. I felt totally lost and so alone.
I approached a man at one of the service counters and asked how far it was to town. He told me that the last bus was just about to leave, and if I hurried, I might still be able to catch it. He helped me with our luggage, and stopped the bus just as it prepared to leave. I didn’t even have time to thank him before we were whisked away.
The station at the end of the line was dark and closed, and as the other passengers on the bus quickly scattered into the night, the empty bus pulled out to wherever it was going, and left me with three small children, four suitcases, and two small trunks, standing on a sidewalk somewhere in San Francisco.
I was beginning to show signs of panic when a custodian came out of the bus station, locking the door behind him. I asked him if there was some place I could use a telephone to call a cab, or if he knew of a hotel nearby. Blessedly, he knew of a clean little hotel about six blocks away, and he offered to obtain a furniture dolly from the building to take my luggage to the hotel. By 4 A.M. with the children in bed, I sank into an exhausted sleep.
We spent the next two days just relaxing—as much as I could relax under the circumstances. We ate at a nearby restaurant and spent a lot of time at a little park two blocks from the hotel. The children ran and played without a care in the world. I was thankful that they were too young to realize the situation we were in.
We had lived in Hawaii for two years with my husband, their father, who was a student pastor in a small church. But the children had been subject to such constant extreme physical abuse because their father believed “the blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil” (Prov. 20:30) that I could not stand it. As their punishments worsened, I knew that part of my duty as a mother was to protect them from such treatment. So after much soul-searching and prayer, I knew I had no choice but to leave him and make a new and better life for them. My own parents were in the mid-West, but I could not go home. Not only was it a matter of finances, but my father had recently suffered a major stroke and was in no condition to have small children around. I didn’t know a soul in or near the Bay area, and I never felt more alone in my life. Only the fact that the children needed me kept me going.
On my third day, I knew that decisions had to be made. I didn’t know what area of town would be suitable to live in, I didn’t know where to begin to look for work, and I didn’t know what to do with the children while I worked. I certainly could not pick out a name from an ad in the newspaper and feel safe about leaving the little ones with them. I only knew that if we stayed in the hotel much longer, my money would be gone and then I’d have worse problems.
I telephoned three different ministers of the particular church I had been associated with, and assured each that I was not asking for money, only advice. Each man asked me the same question: “Are you a member of our faith?” I answered honestly that I was so bitter and confused at the moment that I wasn’t sure what faith I had, if any. And each one of the three gave me the same response; they couldn’t help me because they had too many of their own people to take care of. My bitterness grew deeper, and I wondered where I could turn for help.
When I had left Hawaii, some friends saw us off. One of them happened to be an inactive Mormon, and when he said goodbye, he added, “If you ever get in a bind and need help, call my church. They’ll help you.”
I knew absolutely nothing of Mormons except that they had a fine Tabernacle Choir. I did not like the idea of begging for help, least of all help from some strange church that I’d never even visited; but I was desperate, and there seemed no other choice. In searching the telephone book, I found an endless number of Mormon churches and listings, so I picked one that was called a mission home. I thought that a mission home would be more apt to be compassionate. A young elder answered the phone, and I told him pretty much the same thing I had told the three ministers: that I did not need money, but I was in desperate need of advice. His reply was that he was quite new to the area and he himself could not help me, but if I would give him my name and phone number, he would have someone else call me. I hung up, half-suspecting never to hear from them again.
To my surprise, within ten minutes I received a call from a lovely lady who listened to my story and then agreed that I could use some assistance. She told me to get all my luggage together, call a taxi, and meet her in thirty minutes at the Berkeley bus terminal. After she described her car and what she would be wearing, she added, “By the way, are you a member of the Church?”
“Here it comes again,” I thought cynically, but into the phone I simply said, “No, I’m not.”
“It doesn’t matter,” she replied, “I just wondered. See you in half an hour.”
I hurried my things together, cleaned up the children, checked out of the hotel, and headed for Berkeley. I was surprised, and a bit suspicious, at the woman’s willingness to help a total stranger, but at this point I was willing to take advantage of any offer.
Her first move was to treat us to lunch. Then I learned that she was the wife of a man named O. Leslie Stone, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy who was then the stake president there. She got us settled into a boarding house and promised to get me the names of some potential babysitters. All this, in spite of the fact that I emphasized to her my strong bitterness toward churches of any kind, and my intention to stay that way. I couldn’t get over it!
She didn’t seem to care that I was so antagonistic, nor did she try to convert me or criticize me. She even seemed to act as though I was doing her a favor by letting her help me. A Bible verse kept echoing through my mind: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:35.)
Over the next few days, Sister Stone came every day. She did, indeed, find me a babysitter, a woman from her church. Also she helped me find and get moved into a small, furnished apartment, and she gave me the name of a man to see about a temporary job. Still she didn’t preach to me. It amazed me; and still that same scripture kept flitting in and out of my thoughts, “if ye have love one to another.”
In the apartment I rented, I found a small Mormon book entitled, Articles of Faith, by James E. Talmage. I never knew if Sister Stone secretly placed it there, or if it had been left by the former tenant. At any rate, I began reading it after the children were in bed at night; not because I was interested, but because there was nothing else to do.
During those first few weeks, not a Saturday went by that Sister Stone didn’t stop and ask if we would like to go to church with her on Sunday. When I would politely refuse, she never pushed the issue; but still she regularly asked. At the same time, I became more and more engrossed in the book. I had never heard of such things as I found in that book, though I had studied the Bible faithfully most of my life. Much of what I read I either wondered about or outright disagreed with, so I started jotting down notes of such items as I came across it.
One Saturday when Sister Stone came by, I still refused to go to church with her, but I did tell her that I had some questions about it, and that if she would send her pastor to talk to me I’d discuss them with him. In just a few days I was visited by a man named Marvin Turner and his wife, who said they were stake missionaries and had come to answer my questions. Almost defiantly I brought out my written questions, seven pages in all, and told them that if they could answer them I would listen to whatever they wanted to teach me. Brother Turner’s response was that he did not have all the answers, but he knew that through the Church he could find me logical, reasonable answers. Through the patience and tenderness of the Turners, I finally reached the time when I was willing to pray about the truthfulness of those things that they taught me. I consented to go to church with them. Some time later, I was baptized. However, when I moved to southern California, I lost track of my new friends. I remarried and had other children.
That was many years ago. Now I sit in sacrament meeting and watch while one of my sons passes the sacrament and another one blesses it; I watch the faith and testimonies of each of the children grow; and my thoughts turn toward people who have joined the church as a result of different ones spreading the gospel; and I think too of our kindred dead who have had their baptisms and endowments and sealings done through our genealogy work.
Ultimately my thoughts turn toward a gracious Sister Stone and a sharing, loving Turner family somewhere among the vast number of Saints who, I have no doubt, are still serving the Lord through loving and caring. I ask myself how I can ever repay those people who cared so much for someone so rebellious long ago. And the answer comes to me loud and clear: “Go, and do thou likewise.” (Luke 10:37.)