Friend to Friend

From an interview with Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, by Rebecca M. Taylor

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    One winter evening when I was five or six years old, my father took me downtown. This was during the Great Depression, when jobs were few and many people were poor. My father and I were looking at store windows as we walked, and soon we found ourselves in front of a sporting goods store. It was full of fun things like fishing lures and pocketknives.

    A shabbily dressed boy was standing near us, looking longingly into the window. I didn’t pay much attention to him, but my father went over and spoke with him briefly, then put his hand on his shoulder and led him inside the store. I watched as the boy picked out a pocketknife and my father paid the shopkeeper.

    I didn’t get a pocketknife that day, but I did get a lesson. As my father and I walked away from the store, he said, “You have me. He doesn’t have anybody.” Later I realized how generous and how sensitive to the needs of others my father was.

    When I was almost eight years old, my father, a doctor, died of an ailment he caught from one of his patients. A few months later, my mother left my little brother and sister and me in the care of her parents and went away to attend a university so she could earn enough money to support us. But the stress of her husband’s death, combined with the stress of leaving her children affected her health very seriously, and she was placed in the care of a nurse. I didn’t see her for many months.

    I had lost my father, and for a time, I lost my mother, too. I was very unhappy and did not do well in school. I didn’t learn how to write cursive, and to this day I can hardly write in cursive except my own signature. My spelling was terrible,and my math was worse. My teacher would have the class pass their arithmetic papers forward one seat to be corrected; then we had to announce the results out loud. On a 20-problem exercise, I’d usually get 15 or 16 wrong answers. I believed I was the dumbest boy in the room. I remember one occasion when some classmates threw snowballs at me and called me stupid.

    Mother recovered, and when she was able to take care of us, we moved to Vernal, Utah, where Pearl Shaffer became my fifth-grade teacher. What she did for me can never be repaid. She had confidence in me, and as a result I regained confidence in myself. She helped me to learn. By the time I finished my fifth-grade year, I was competing with the better students.

    We all get knocked down in life sometimes. But just because you’re down, don’t assume you have to be there all your life. Just get up, dust yourself off, and go on. Lots of young people feel discouraged. They feel that they’re not very good or that they must be as good as their sister or brother or friend. But we know from the scriptures that everyone has gifts; we just need to find our own gifts and develop them. Everyone has some things they can do well or some traits that stand out. One of the glories of God’s creation is that it is so varied. No one is just like anyone else. Know that you are a child of God and that he loves you. Even if you think nobody loves you, God does.

    When I was 12, the bishop asked me to help him deliver Christmas baskets to the widows of the ward. It was snowing on the day we made the deliveries. The baskets we delivered contained grapefruit and oranges. This was during World War II, when grapefruit and oranges were scarce, so they were quite a treat. The bishop waited in the car while I took a basket up to the door and said, “The bishop asked me to deliver this to you. It is a Christmas basket from the ward.”

    Soon we had delivered all the baskets but one. The bishop took me home, and before I got out of the car, he handed me the last basket and said, “This is for your mother.” Then he drove away.

    I stood in front of our house, holding the basket and thinking. We had been delivering baskets to widows, and I hadn’t thought of my mother as a widow. I had never heard her refer to herself as one. That was the first time it occurred to me that somebody thought of her as a widow.

    I realized that Mother handled that circumstance with a great deal of faith. She taught us that we had a father and she had a husband and that we would always be a family because of her and my father’s temple marriage. I knew other kids had dads who took them hunting and fishing, and I grieved that I had no father to do this for me. But those were war years, so I thought of myself as a boy whose father was away in the war. I felt my father was away because the Lord had called him to another work. It hurt me that he wasn’t there, but I knew that someday we would be together again. Since that time, my testimony of the importance of temple marriage has strengthened. How grateful I am for temple marriage and for the blessing of being sealed together as an eternal family!

    Elder and Sister Oaks

    1. About age 3, with his father.

    2. Playing the violin at age 6.

    3. At age 12, with his sister, mother, and brother.

    Illustrated by Robert T. Barrett