Grandpa Craven’s gift came to me without fancy ribbons or bows. In fact, it came to me long after he was gone from this earth. Although Grandpa’s life ended before I was born, his gift was there for me when I needed it most.
When I was 17, I began working in a fabric store in Maryland. The fact that I was a Latter-day Saint quickly came up at work. I soon learned that this piece of information meant a great deal to my co-workers, none of it good.
On my first day, Chuck, the assistant manager, sneered at me, “I hear you’re a Mormon. I’m from Missouri—Jackson County, Missouri. My ancestors shot Mormons.” Then Chuck walked away laughing.
As a lifelong Church member, I was certainly used to standing out, but I had never encountered such open hostility. As time went on, things just got worse. I was constantly ridiculed. Chuck always started it, but all of the staff joined in.
I was frustrated and doubtful of my capacity to endure when I discovered Grandpa’s gift—a simple, three-paragraph account of an experience he had when he was just one year older than I was.
My grandpa, Gerald Craven, was 18 when he served in the 52nd-West Yorkshire England regiment during World War I. Before he left home, his father instructed him, “Never deny the gospel as taught by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”
Grandpa soon became sick when the flu epidemic of 1918 struck. He was forced to report to the military infirmary. While registering, he was asked what denomination he belonged to. The persecution of the Church was intense in England then. It would have been easy for Grandpa to claim he belonged to some other church. But remembering his father’s words, Grandpa announced he was a Latter-day Saint. The commanding officer immediately started harassing him.
Grandpa recovered and returned to his regiment. Because there were no LDS services on the base, he had been attending the services of another Christian church. On the first Sunday after he was well, as Grandpa was assembled to march to church with his battalion, the colonel commanded him, by name and number, to fall out. Grandpa was placed on a large box, and the colonel asked the rest of the soldiers what they should do with a Mormon boy who was trying to attend their church.
The cry went out to send him to the cook house to wash dishes. Grandpa couldn’t attend church and was forced to serve tables when the services were over. While he served the members of his regiment, they spit at him, called him names, and did everything they could to make him miserable.
That night Grandpa prayed for help. The next day he bumped into an old friend from home who had been assigned to form a regiment brass band. Remembering that Grandpa played the cornet, he asked Grandpa to audition. The piece Grandpa was asked to play was the last piece he had learned before entering the army.
The next Sunday Private Craven played hymns in a church he hadn’t been allowed to attend the week before. Being in the band may also have preserved Grandpa’s life, as he was never sent into combat.
As I read Grandpa’s words, I could feel the strength of his testimony and the power of his conviction. He hadn’t denied his faith and had been blessed tremendously for it. Suddenly I realized that if Grandpa could withstand all that persecution, I could certainly face my co-workers. After all, wasn’t I Gerald Craven’s granddaughter?
From that point on my perspective changed. The testing and scorn didn’t end instantly, but I felt the love of my grandpa as I tried to follow his example. With time the ridicule turned to respect.
When I left my job to go to college, I left a group of friends who admired the Church because of the example I had set. On my last day, my boss told me that he had believed I would crack under pressure and either quit work or lower my standards. He said he would always remember the teenage girl who had taught him what true commitment was. And Chuck? He hugged me and thanked me for teaching him about courage and virtue.
I am so grateful that Grandpa took the time to record his experience. He might not have realized that a one-page history would hold much value for anyone else but him, but I still gain strength from his story. And the value of Grandpa’s gift will not end with me—it will be cherished and shared for generations to come.