Trusted friends who are older than yourself are always invaluable, especially when you are a teenager. Such friends include parents. I am grateful for the close companionship and association I had with my musician-father, George Henry Durham. It began in early boyhood. Its basis was family life, but extensive activity carried beyond the family. I learned to share much of his specialty, music, by attending concerts and participating in choral groups which he led. For five years of my boyhood, during the period of my father’s advanced study, there were concerts of the Boston Symphony. There were notable times each spring when the Metropolitan Opera of New York played a short season in the Boston Opera House. I shall never forget Verdi’s Aida. Later, in high school, I could join in singing choruses from the “Triumph” scene in the second act with the high school chorus my father led.
The old LDS College was a two-year college and a three-year high school with a business college attached. It occupied the space behind the Hotel Utah and the Church Administration Building where the beautiful plaza and highrise Church Office Building now stand. High school classes began at 8:30. Father wanted a school choir. There was not room for such a class in the regular schedule of classes, so he met the choir daily at 7:45 A.M. in Barratt Hall. The first number I remember rehearsing was Beethoven’s “The Heavens Resound.” There followed selections from Handel’s Messiah, Mendelssohn’s St. Paul, especially “How Lovely Are the Messengers.” We had a wonderful songbook called the Corona Songbook, filled with classical music and songs from various nations. It was a rich experience. It formed a special bond with my father. We had mutual interests to talk about.
The bonds extended into Church activity. Father invited me to join the 31st Ward Choir to sing alto. This was before my voice changed! He kindly let me sit between the sisters who sang alto and the men who sang tenor. This removed any sense of embarrassment and gave me a sense of security. When I shifted from alto to tenor, the transition was simple and easy. As the years went by the ward choir undertook performance of Handel’s Messiah one Sunday evening in December.
Choir practice was every Wednesday night in the chapel at 7:30 P.M. By that time I was also a forward on the ward M Men basketball team, athletic manager, and captain of the team. Choir rehearsals and league games were often scheduled on the same Wednesday night. This produced conflicts. One night father insisted I attend choir practice and miss a game. Usually, in such cases, I was excused from choir practice. As I look back, the bitter taste I felt during that particular rehearsal has long since vanished. The glorious sounds of Handel resonate through my soul while my basketball prowess has somewhat diminished!
Talking things over with Mother was always easy. She was an energetic woman, mother of eight. I was the eldest. We enjoyed an unusual relationship. She was my counselor. I was her confidant. With such a large family it was important to get part-time work as I approached high school. We talked it over. She had a great deal of initiative and management ability. We had engaged in a contest to secure subscriptions for the Deseret News. We didn’t win the prize, but my name received “Honorable Mention,” with mother doing most of the work behind the scenes. When it was time to get a paper route, without my knowledge, she called Ralph Whitney, the circulation manager of the Deseret News, and opened the door. The first thing I knew, my solicitations bore fruit and I received Route 11 in downtown Salt Lake City. I could leave the LDS campus on North Main, go to the Deseret News printing press on Richards Street, get my “sheets” as we called them, then proceed down Main Street to 300 South, back up State Street, crisscrossing 200 and 100 South to deliver papers in the various hotels, cafes, and shops that were subscribers.
Mother and father expected dependability from their sons. This led to an opportunity to get a larger route with more subscribers, Route 69. This extended from 800 South to 1300 South in Salt Lake City between 800 and 900 East. Windsor Street intersected and ran parallel to 900 and 800 East. I had nearly 100 papers. Our earnings were one cent for every paper delivered. Subscriptions were fifteen cents a week, or sixty-five cents a month. We were billed for the number of papers sent to us. I did collecting on Saturday mornings when school was out and always tried to pay the bill to Mr. Knight at the Deseret News office on the southwest corner of Main and South Temple by Monday. The bill amounted to nine cents a week for every paper delivered. With six deliveries a week, that meant six cents on each paper, or the magnificent income of about six dollars a week, provided everybody paid his bill! In collecting I met many older friends, principally the mothers and grandmothers who were home on Saturday mornings. They would respond to my knock at the door, come forward with their fifteen cents for the week’s papers, and we would talk. These friends provided much stability for the social environment of a teenager. I learned early in my teens of the value of communicating, receiving counsel, respecting older people, and responding obediently to my parents. It was a great blessing. It provided me with marvelous lessons at home, such as the injunction in one of my father’s songs: “A friend is a present you give yourself.”
Adult leadership is available to all of us. I shall never forget our ward M Men leader, Leo B. Sharp. He taught our class at Mutual every Tuesday evening at 7:30. He was one of my newspaper customers. He never missed our basketball games and would usually sit on the bench with the coach and the “subs.” We played our games usually at Westminster gym, nearby and easy to rent. It meant much to us on the floor to have Leo watching us and being our friend. He loved us. He knew us. We respected him.
Then there was our bishop, Leo’s older brother, Bishop June B. Sharp, also one of my early subscribers. Bishop Sharp was our priests quorum president. We saw him Sunday mornings. He was our friend. He knew us. We could approach him on any matter. At a ward dance, and they were frequent in those days, you could always see Bishop Sharp dancing with his wife, Ida, bobbing up and down over the floor to a fox-trot or gliding to a waltz. And they would smile and greet us. They were our friends. As I write this, he is still alive and active at age 91, having served as a temple worker for many years and, after serving as bishop, presiding over the South African Mission. Like my parents, his smiling face and figure have always been a visible presence in my consciousness.
Then there was our stake patriarch, Christopher E. Layton, a son of the great pioneer Christopher Layton. He was also the custodian of our ward meetinghouse. He was our friend. He knew us. What a privilege it was to be greeted by him, respond in turn, and shake his hand. Later, when we went to him to receive a patriarchal blessing it was a crowning experience. He was available to us in a different way than Bishop Sharp but stood high in the galaxy of senior friends whose experience, wisdom, and judgment were available.
There were many, many more, too numerous to name. I hope that each of you takes advantage of reaching out, cultivating, and becoming better acquainted with many senior friends in your ward and in your community. They will be complimented and appreciative.
There were many senior friends among the great women of my circles. They were examples during my growing-up years. There was Verna W. Goddard, neighbor, wife of one of our stake presidents. She was the Gleaner leader in the ward (young women 17 to 25). Her home was open to us, and we took advantage of it. By the time we were adults she was a member of the General Presidency of the YWMIA. We were grateful that her leadership was now extending throughout the Church. There was our ward Relief Society presidency: Sister Brinton, the president; her counselors, Sister Michelson and Sister Josephine Matheson. These were beautiful, stately, dignified, cultured women. Although the ward was large, 2,000 members, it was good to get acquainted with such senior friends and feel their influence. Of course, there were always the returned missionaries, a younger group of “seniors” that we looked up to. None of them disappointed us. Although they were several years older when we were 17 or 18, they never approached us as anything less than equals and friends. What a thrill it was to have their friendship, be greeted by them, and sometimes be invited to accompany them in their automobile, or even as one grew a little older, on a date.
Friendship extends horizontally and vertically, up and down the age ladder. Neither dimension should be ignored. One soon finds that some of those “young kids” become very important in one’s own life. It is wonderful to have not ignored them as being “too young” or unimportant when they are 12 or 13 and you have reached the “advanced” age of 16 or 17. The same applies to those who are seven, eight, or nine! And so it goes.
The purpose of this little essay has been to point out the special value of senior friends. I hope that every reader will make it a point to get acquainted with available senior friends, beginning with father, mother, aunts, uncles, and the adult leaders in your ward. It will help stabilize your life. It will add significant dimensions to your social education. It will help open doors of opportunity for your future service. Do not ignore them! Be grateful for the opportunity of developing friendships with senior friends.