The Last Quarter Mile


The private road ran through a swamp. You didn’t go there unless you had a good reason.

The last quarter of a mile to Steve Davis’s house was a real killer. It was a private lane that left the road about a mile beyond the Baptist church and ran through a swamp. And when it rained, which was often, the road became part of the swamp. If you wanted to get to the end of that lane you parked your car and walked, as Steve and his dad always did. You could try it on wheels, but your vehicle could also become a permanent part of the local ecology. It was a pretty enough place, with shafts of sunlight filtering through the tall pine trees, but no prettier than a lot of places you could visit more easily. It was a quarter mile you covered only if you had a good reason.

Steve and his father were inactive. They lived 30 miles from the chapel where they were supposed to attend, in a different county. Thirty miles and a quarter mile of bad road.

Steve Davis and his father were members of the Brooksville Ward, Tampa Bay Florida Stake. And although 17-year-old Steve hadn’t been coming to church for a while, he still had some good friends in the priests quorum. He had enjoyed a lot of wonderful times with them. They hunted rabbits in the woods and cast nets for mullets in Crystal Bay. Once they had netted a small shark. They also played softball and basketball together.

When it was starting to look like Steve might just stay inactive, a call came from the stake leadership. Each Aaronic Priesthood quorum in the stake was to choose someone to reactivate. Steve’s quorum, which consisted of Joe Beggs, Billy Mantooth, and Dennis Hunter, had no trouble choosing. They wanted their good friend back with them on Sundays. They had also been missing him on their basketball and softball teams.

The stake suggested that quorums visit the person they had chosen at least once a week. Fine, but there were the 30 miles—and the quarter mile of bad road. That didn’t seem like much of a problem to these young men. So every week they traveled the 30 miles to his lane and then the quarter of a mile of muck to his house. Usually they walked down the lane. Occasionally they revved up the engine and took a chance.

For his part, Steve had been wanting to come back for some time, but after being away for a while it isn’t always easy. Still, each time his friends showed up it started seeming more and more possible.

It wasn’t always easy for the visitors either. Billy Mantooth would remember afterward, “It really seemed like the devil was working against us. Things would always come up so we’d feel we couldn’t go to his house, but we’d end up going anyway. Sometimes we wouldn’t get there until ten o’clock at night, but we’d go.”

Once there they expressed love but didn’t push. “They told me everyone missed me, but they didn’t pressure me to come,” Steve remembers.

It was obvious that these young men really cared. Just how much they cared became evident one night when they decided the four-wheel-drive vehicle they were in could handle the lane just fine. They were half right. They got in okay, but on the way out they slid off the road into the deep stuff. Steve and his dad came to help them. Finally, about 3 A.M., they got out. By then they all looked like lumpy mud statues. The reactivation squad was so dirty, in fact, that they had to take off their muddy clothes before they climbed back in the Blazer. But if their faces were covered with mud, it just made their smiles stand out more. The four young men who rode home in their underwear that night were very tired but very happy. They could tell they were making a difference with Steve. And the next week they were back again. They were not young men to be conquered by a mere quarter of a mile.

Steve was happy too. One Sunday not long after that memorable night, he showed up at church, and his father was with him. Their attendance was a little sporadic at first, but the friends kept visiting them until old habits of attendance were reestablished.

Steve says, “I love them all. I’ll always be grateful to them. If it weren’t for them, I’d probably still be inactive. My whole life will be different because of what they did.”

A quarter-mile lane is not very long, especially compared to a 30-mile drive. But often it’s the quarter mile thrown in at the end that keeps us from going the 30 miles. It’s just the sort of thing that makes most of us decide to do the job tomorrow, or next week, or sometime when it doesn’t look like rain. But Steve and his dad will always be grateful for friends who realized that the extra mile can sometimes be a quarter of a mile long.

[illustration] Illustrated by Richard Hull