Wayne’s Old Room


I inherited a room. But more than that, I inherited an example.

I still remember my anticipation. The night was warm. An uneven breeze puffed through open window screens but did little to cool the air or my excitement. My own room! My own room! The thought pulsed like a syncopated heartbeat.

Wayne, my oldest brother, was going on a mission, and I was inheriting his downstairs room. If someone had been offering me a gold mine, I could not have felt so rich.

I kicked my single sheet to the bed bottom and flip-flopped with pleasure. Just think, Wayne’s old room! I had always lived with my little brother, Chris. Even after moving to the new house, our room was upstairs, while Rog and Wayne each had their own separate rooms downstairs. Roger alone, Wayne alone, but Brad and Chris always lumped together like a compound word without so much as a hyphen.

It’s not that Chris wasn’t an A-number-one pal. He was always good at bed-to-bed spider jumps or deciphering the secret codes I thumped out on his headboard. It’s just that I was in seventh grade now. A man should have his own room.

“Hey, Brad,” Chris whispered. I hadn’t realized he was even awake. “I’m sure going to miss Wayne. Do you think he’s doing the right thing by leaving?” The wispy breeze stirred the patterned curtains I wouldn’t have to look at for two whole years. I took a final glance around. This upstairs room I would not miss. “Don’t worry, Chris,” I comforted. “Wayne is doing the right thing by leaving, all right.”

In the weeks that followed, my life began to change noticeably. I guess it had something to do with entering junior high school and starting to grow up. All I know is that those funny little marks on my face didn’t wash off, my moods cracked as often as my voice, and what self-image I managed to salvage was as shaky as a skinny kid on the high dive. And I became rebellious.

“Gross—I don’t want to take piano lessons any more!”

“But you’ve always liked piano. Just think how much piano may help you contribute on your mission.”

Everyone I met had the same advice.

“So what? I don’t care about grades.”

“You’ve always had good study habits. You need good grades for the future.”

Even then I knew they were right. These were sensitive years when I most needed the advice and instruction, but outwardly I rejected them.

“Cut your hair,” “Read the scriptures,” and on and on. “Be trustworthy,” “Be loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous …” “Why doesn’t everyone stop hassling me?” I’d complain.

“Go on a mission!” In family home evenings, quorum meetings, and bishop interviews, the message was the same: “Prepare while you’re young.”

Night after night I slumped slowly downstairs feeling pressured and picked on. “No one understands,” I’d moan to the blue plaster walls in Wayne’s old room, a room I was enjoying because my brother was out there “doing the right thing” on his mission. I needed that perspective—weekly letters, pictures, cassettes telling what he and his companions were busy doing , not loud lectures but quiet guides that shaped and influenced me.

Every transfer Wayne had found me in front of the big mission map Mom hung in the stairwell, trying to pinpoint where my big brother was now. You see, I was beginning to enjoy following Wayne.

I remembered Wayne playing the piano for family night, working in the garden, running, studying, and reading. I remembered his straight-A report card Dad would post on the refrigerator. I wondered if anyone had ever called him names or made fun of him. I wondered but finally realized that whether they did or didn’t, it had not changed Wayne’s actions. He chose what was right. He did what was best, regardless of what his friends in junior high might have thought or said.

Wayne never told me not to smoke, but I knew he hadn’t. He never wrote to say, “Don’t skip class, read dirty books, or yell at Mom and Dad,” but I knew he hadn’t. There were no flashy sermons or overbearing orations. Wayne was simply a quiet, constant example.

Exhortations are valuable. My parents’ direction is, and always has been, important. Respected Church leaders, teachers, and friends are heard. Their interest in my life is appreciated. Yet perhaps the one who reached me the most did it quietly, from half a world away while I lived in his old room.

Now, freshly back from my own mission, I am checking right back into Wayne’s old room. My upstairs room is now serving as half den and half toy box for visiting grandchildren. But I like it down here. The walls are the same blue. The wooden shelves and desk are the same ones that held my junior high books. Nothing has really changed except me. How can I ever repay Wayne for the subtle, positive influence he has had on me? How can I show my appreciation for so many who have guided me through their quiet examples? How can I thank Christ who gave the perfect example? What can I do?

“Oh, Brad,” my sister-in-law Moana calls. “Have you seen Janelle?” Mom had been tending my niece all morning.

From upstairs came Mom’s voice in answer, “Don’t worry, Moana, she’s here. Right here in Brad’s old room.”

[illustration] Illustrated by Kelynn Z. Alder