A Message from Dad

By Jay L. Packard

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    I stood silent and watched intently. Dad was sitting on the ground, head bowed, lunch box on his lap.

    I was just finishing my farm work when Mom called. The cows had been taken to the pasture, and the rabbits, chickens, pigs, and horses were all fed. The three cans of milk were on the trailer ready to be taken to the dairy.

    I was fifteen years old then, and it was 1936, one of the hard years for our big family of thirteen. One of my brothers was on a mission, and eight of us were in school. The rest were home keeping Mom busy.

    Mom said, “Jay, I’ll have to keep you out of school today so you can get a ride to the PFE shops where your father is working. I must get this letter to your father. It’s very important or I wouldn’t ask you to do it.” The Pacific Fruit Express shops were repair stations for railroad engines and cars. My father worked there to help support the family financially.

    Mom handed me the envelope. It must have been a very important letter to justify keeping me out of school even for one day. “I’m sorry to do this, Jay,” she said, “but there isn’t any other way to get this letter to him.” She couldn’t telephone Dad because there were no telephone lines to our farm.

    The place where Dad worked was about twenty-four kilometers away. I walked three kilometers to the highway in the beautiful, early summer air and soon had a ride to the next town. After walking through town, I got another ride that brought me to the dirt road leading to the gate of the PFE shops. I stepped out of the car, thanked the driver, and began the twenty minute walk to the gate, surveying as I walked the place Dad had so often talked about—the place that made him so dirty and so tired, the place of work that Mom had said was so important to our large family.

    With new understanding I thought, This is why Dad is only with us evenings and Saturdays and Sundays. This is why it’s Mom who teaches us how to milk cows, to stack hay and grain, to irrigate the crops, to harness the team and make fences, to build hen houses and all the other things that must be done on a farm. This is also why Mom is so good at teaching us the gospel and telling us Bible and Book of Mormon stories while we work with her. Dad was here. And his work was important and hard.

    As I came to the gate, I could see large buildings on both sides of the many railroad tracks. The noise of the railroad cars banging into each other as they were hooked together was loud. There was also noise from steam engines, signal bells, horns, and men working with air hammers and other railroad equipment.

    Suddenly a loud siren sounded, and all the other noise went away. It was noon—lunch time. Men appeared from all over and I could hear hundreds of voices. How will I ever find Dad in all of these people? I wondered.

    I went through the gate and walked toward the closest work area I saw, thinking I might find someone there to ask for directions. There were big stacks of materials and equipment around an open area. As I looked across the clearing, I recognized Dad immediately. I stopped and stood still and it felt as if there were not another person in sight. In a world of our own, it felt as if it were just Dad and me, and I will always be grateful for what I saw. Dad was sitting on the ground with his back to one of the stacks of materials, his legs stretched out, and his hat by his side. With his lunch box between his knees, hands folded in his lap, and head bowed, he was speaking thanks to God for what He was giving him—and for many other things, I’m sure because of the time it took and the feeling I had as I saw him praying. I stood silent and watched intently while the message sank deep within me: There’s nobody here for him to prove anything to. Dad really does believe. When he finished and looked up, he saw me at once. A humble smile spread over his face, and as I approached him tears filled his eyes. “Well, Jay, it’s so nice to see you,” he said. “Come and sit down, son.”

    To this day, I don’t know what the message was that I delivered to Dad, but I’ve never forgotten the one he gave me.

    Illustrated by Paul Mann