Brother McAllister moved into the house down the street from my family at about the time my father died. Mom told me Brother McAllister had been a patriarch in a stake across the mountains, and that he and Sister McAllister had moved to our town to work at the temple. At that time I thought a patriarch was an old, old man. And Brother McAllister fit the description. He seemed about as old as a man could be.
I saw him just about every day, but I never spoke to him. I guess I was a little bit afraid of him. It was partly because he once yelled at me for hitting his window with a green apple I had aimed at a neighbor girl. But I was afraid of him mostly because he reminded me of a skeleton. He was so frail and thin that he looked like he might tumble over at any moment. And his eyes—pale blue—set in his square face burned with a fierce energy.
Early every morning he walked out of his house in a stiff, slow-motion gait wearing an immaculately pressed old-fashioned brown suit. Then he helped Sister McAllister get into their car before he drove away at a snail’s pace toward the temple. In the evening, he put on coveralls and worked in his yard. I wondered why he bothered, since he obviously didn’t have long to live.
When it came time for me to be ordained a teacher in the Aaronic Priesthood, I told the bishop I would accept a home teaching assignment. I was assigned to go home teaching with Brother McAllister.
The first time was very awkward. I had forgotten he was coming, so I wasn’t ready. I put on a clean shirt and walked behind him to his car, feeling like I was being taken to the gallows. The way he did everything so slowly nearly drove me crazy.
Our first appointment was with Brother Tuttle. On the drive to the appointment, Brother McAllister told me Sister Tuttle had recently died and that Brother Tuttle was very lonely. I didn’t say anything. I knew Brother Tuttle as a grouchy old fellow who lived near my grandmother’s place. Once he had chased me out of his raspberry patch, and more than a few times told me not to play in his tumbledown barn. I was surprised when he greeted me warmly and told me a story about my grandfather. When he and Brother McAllister began discussing the lesson, I found myself staring at my companion’s carefully polished high-topped shoes. I noticed he put the laces in them so they went straight across instead of crisscross. Obviously, I wasn’t listening.
It went on like that for months. All the people we visited were old. They talked a lot about aches and pains, but were concerned about other things, too. Brother McAllister brought up the subject of dying, and said he was trying hard to get ready to meet the Savior. At first it really bothered me when he said things like that, but after a while, it didn’t. He seemed totally at peace with the idea. He talked about it the same way I talked with my friends about going on to high school. We were a little worried, but anxious to move on to something better. Slowly I began to understand why the pioneers and early Church members were willing to put their lives on the line for the gospel. Brother McAllister’s testimony had simply taken away all his fear of death.
Before long, I began to enjoy our visits. Even though I didn’t have much to say, I still felt like these people enjoyed having me come to their homes. Listening to Brother McAllister bear his testimony made me feel more confident about mine, and hearing talk about growing old gave me a totally different point of view.
I began to be ashamed of the pranks I had sometimes played on elderly people. When one of my friends suggested soaping windows or stealing fuses, I would picture Brother Tuttle or one of my families sitting alone in the dark, or trying to clean up the mess. I decided I would begin volunteering to chop wood or mow lawns for the widows in my neighborhood.
When Sister McAllister died, I attended her funeral. It was the first funeral I had dared go to since my dad died. Soon after her death, I was given another home teaching assignment. I didn’t speak with Brother McAllister much after that, but I noticed he still put on his brown suit and went to the temple every day. I marveled at how tidy he kept his yard, and wondered how he found the strength and determination to keep going. He even built a new carport.
The year I was picked as seminary president, Brother McAllister moved away to live with one of his children. I thought about him occasionally, especially when we had lessons about resurrection or the temple. Shortly after I entered the mission field, Mom wrote to tell me Brother McAllister had died. I thought about him that whole day, feeling sure he was happy and at peace. Later that night, I thought of him again when I found myself telling an investigator how a testimony of Jesus Christ and the ordinances of the temple could remove his fear of death.
I was still thinking about my home teaching companion when I said my prayers before going to bed that night. As I arose from my knees, I looked at my polished shoes and something dawned on me. I realized why it was I liked to put the laces in with the strings going straight across instead of crisscross.