“And remember, boys, never, ever, give up!”
Brother Wolff’s words seemed to ring in the silent room, silent not from that last few minutes of afternoon that languish before the final bell, but from the rapt attention of the young men. They knew Brother Wolff’s history. He had joined the Church many years ago when he moved to Queensland, only to lapse into an antagonistic inactivity after a simple disagreement with another member. He nursed that antagonism into full-fledged hatred over the years. A loving friend and home teacher had worked consistently with Brother Wolff until that wonderful day when he had, as he himself phrased it, “come home.”
So they knew that the lesson he had given on home teaching inactive families was straight from the heart. Young as they were, they felt his sincerity as he spoke to them of the bitter agony of the lost ones gone astray and the great joy of those who finally come home.
The bell rang, and the boys of the teachers quorum left. But Tommy and Richard hung back. It was their responsibility to return the hymnbooks this week. Tommy was still thinking about the lesson, his face creased in a pensive frown.
“Do you teach any inactives, Richard?” he asked tentatively.
“Yeah, we’ve got Brother and Sister Dunbar, but I don’t know what we’re going to do about them. Brother Dunbar is even smoking in front of us now. Not much chance with him, I’d say.”
“What do you think about what Brother Wolff just said?”
“Oh yeah, that was good, but sometimes I guess it just doesn’t work out that way. Some people just don’t want to come back again, so you’re wasting your time, I guess.”
“Do you really think that?” Tommy’s worried frown had deepened, and he searched Richard’s face. “Really?”
“Well, you have to, don’t you? It’s no use thinking it’s all going to be marvellous when it isn’t.” Richard shrugged philosophically. “Have you finished with those books? I’ll take them back to the library.”
Tommy looked at the pile of books in his hands. “Oh, yes. Here you are,” he said, handing them over. He picked up his own scriptures, but his mind was still on Brother Tregaron. He was a problem with a capital P.
Tommy was going with Brother Carson to home teach Brother Tregaron this afternoon, but it was always the same whenever they went. All he did was knock back everything they said to him. If they greeted him with, “Nice day, isn’t it?” He would reply, “I don’t think it will last—probably have a storm later, I’d say.”
If they complimented him on his garden, he would only talk about the weeds, or the slugs and snails. If they asked him about his family, he would remark that he never heard from them, and why should he when they didn’t care about him anyway. He really was hard to talk to. Tommy always felt depressed when he came away from Brother Tregaron’s, depressed and useless. There didn’t seem to be anything anyone could do with him.
But Brother Wolff had said, “Never give up!” And when he heard him, Tommy felt as if Brother Wolff was begging and pleading on his own behalf again, reliving the alienation he had gone through for so many years, and pleading for someone to care enough, as his home teacher had done, to “never give up.”
Tommy shrugged. Maybe Richard was right. Maybe it was a waste of time. What could he, a mere teacher, do when grown men, even the elders quorum president himself, had failed? There didn’t seem to be much point. He would just go there this afternoon, go through the motions, and leave as usual. Only this time, he wouldn’t feel depressed about it, for now he understood that Brother Tregaron didn’t really want to come back. Yes, that’s what he would do.
And that’s what he would have done, if only Brother Wolff hadn’t come back into the room just then. He smiled at Tommy and gripped his hand. Maybe Tommy just imagined it, but a funny sort of feeling was in his stomach and a prickly sort of feeling around his eyes as he looked into Brother Wolff’s face. No words had been said, yet there seemed to be an understanding, as if Brother Wolff knew exactly what had passed through Tommy’s mind those few short minutes ago.
Later that afternoon, he found himself outside Brother Tregaron’s place. Brother Carson was taking the keys out of the ignition, and Tommy heard him say, “Well, come on, let’s get this one over with first.” Suddenly Tommy felt an overwhelming feeling come over him.
“Brother Carson,” he heard himself say, “could we have a word of prayer before we go in, please?”
“Eh?” Brother Carson seemed puzzled, and Tommy knew it was because he had never been asked that before. Usually they had the prayer inside with the family they were teaching—all except Brother Tregaron, of course. But Tommy felt an urgent need for a prayer and repeated his request, “A word of prayer, please.”
“Oh, yeah, sure.” Brother Carson leaned back in his seat and nodded at Tommy. “Perhaps you’d like to offer it?”
Tommy felt strangely nervous, and his palms were sweaty, but he started the prayer, not knowing quite what to say or why he had even asked for it. Afterwards, he couldn’t quite remember what he actually said, but he did remember the look on Brother Carson’s face when he had finished. It reminded him of Brother Wolff.
Albert Tregaron opened the door to them with his habitual scowl and invited them in with his usual terseness. They followed him down the passageway into the small living room, and Tommy saw that nothing had changed much since the last time they had been there. It was a large, untidy room with a forlorn air about it. Tommy could almost feel the usual depression settle about his shoulders like a heavy cloak, and it took a great effort on his part to shrug it off. Never give up, he reminded himself.
Brother Tregaron was saying, “You’d better sit down, I suppose.” Brother Carson chose a big, faded armchair and perched gingerly on the edge of it, saying, with a hearty smile, “And how are you this month, Albert?”
“Okay, I guess,” came the reply. Brother Carson shifted uncomfortably and caught Tommy’s eye. Tommy could sense the hint of despair in his attitude, but it didn’t prepare him for Brother Carson’s next words.
“By the way, Albert, Tommy has something he’d like to say to you, wouldn’t you, Tommy?” Tommy felt his jaw drop as he met Brother Carson’s strained, jovial smile.
Hey, come on, Brother Carson, don’t leave it all up to me, thought Tommy desperately. His gaze swung from Brother Carson to Brother Tregaron’s face, which now had a speculative look on it.
“Well?” Brother Tregaron asked, mildly curious.
“Well, er …” Tommy fought desperately for the right words to say. Help me, Heavenly Father, he pleaded within himself. What shall I say? Then he heard himself saying, “Well, there’s an elders quorum activity this Saturday. It’s a picnic, and there’s going to be some rafting and games and so on, and we, that is my family and I, thought you might like to come with us?” I must remember to tell Mom and Dad, he thought to himself.
“Ah, no, that’s not my idea of spending a Saturday …” started Brother Tregaron, but Tommy was already brushing aside his refusal.
“Oh, please, Brother Tregaron. See, Dad and I wanted to be in the tug-of-war against the Williamses, but we haven’t got quite enough for our team. Wouldn’t you make up the numbers for us?”
Again the shake of the head came, but still Tommy persisted.” And the deacons reckon you were really good with the rafting competitions at one time.” Brother Tregaron’s head slowed its shaking and tilted to one side, his eyes narrowing as he looked at Tommy.
“Why are you doing this, boy, eh? Why do you want me?”
Tommy stopped in mid-sentence, dumbstruck. Why was he doing it? What answer could he give? What should he say? Then he said something he immediately felt was the stupidest thing of all to say, “Because you’re my brother.”
He flushed crimson. What a stupid thing to say! He began to think of all the things he could have said, should have said, but his mind had gone blank. He was about to apologize when he noticed that Brother Tregaron’s face had softened and there was a hint of a tear in his eye. The silence stretched into infinity as they looked into each other’s eyes.
At last, Brother Tregaron broke the silence with a mumbled, “Well, I guess I could see if I’m free.” It was more a question than a statement. Tommy felt his heart swell.
“Sure, Brother Tregaron! What time shall we pick you up?”
“Hang on, young man. Not so fast. I only said I’d see if I was free.” But there was a smile in his eyes that hadn’t been there before, and the stern lines of his face were relaxed. Tommy grinned and looked across to where Brother Carson was sitting, but in his mind, he saw only Brother Wolff looking at him. He heard him say again, “Never, ever, give up on anyone.” And as he turned back to Brother Tregaron, he knew that despite the heartaches that might lie ahead, he never, ever, would.