Cold Feet, Warm Heart

by R. John Walker

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At a bitter-cold winter camp, my deacons quorum president did something really cool.

In the 1960s, my family was an early casualty in the demise of the small American farm. Times were grim and we had no choice but to move—with our herd of about 20 dairy cattle—from a 40-acre spread to a five-acre, semi-urban lot with barely enough room for our large family and our cows. We felt fortunate when we had the bare essentials. We were literally dirt poor and the only “farm kids” in our community and ward.

As a new deacon, I desperately wanted to fit in, but it was difficult. I dressed funny and didn’t have the freedom of the city kids because of my responsibilities to help run the dairy. But several special people extended kindness to me.

One of the great adventures of my youth was a winter camp for our group of Scouts. It was a cold, cold winter, so special preparation was needed. The boys bought insulated boots—except for me. We had no money. I pleaded and negotiated with my father. I even asked him to sell a cow to obtain money for boots.

But there was no way. Having survived even colder winters in his youth, my father learned some important tricks. He took me to the barn and showed me how to wrap burlap sacks around my leather shoes for insulation and for a semblance of waterproofing. How appalling! No way would I use them. I’d rather freeze. But Dad insisted that I pack the burlap. I buried them as deep as possible in my bag.

Off to the mountains and the snow camp. We had a great time, but it became bitterly cold. Our common quest became staying warm. I was especially suffering because my leather shoes were now wet. Overnight they had frozen solid.

I knew I could no longer avoid using the burlap, so I went to the tent and lashed the sacks around my frozen shoes. My feet felt better immediately. But walking out of the tent was one of the worst moments of my life. The ridicule was instant and predictable. I was the laughingstock of the camp, and I felt just terrible.

At the depth of my humiliation, my very cool deacons quorum president, Kyle Blacker, came up to me and asked if I had any more burlap. I did! He asked me how to wrap his boots. In that instant, Kyle deflected the ridicule, and I became the second-coolest boy in camp because of his gesture.

I don’t know if Kyle remembers me or his gesture. It was a little thing to everyone but me. To me it was huge. I learned more of goodness and charity in that moment than at any other time in my life. I learned more about humility, kindness, meekness, lack of guile, and gentleness from Kyle than anyone else has ever taught me. I hope his feet were warm for the rest of the day. He lifted me, and I’ve had the warmth of confidence every day of my life since then. We moved again not long thereafter, and I did not keep in touch with Kyle.

I have served as bishop for several years. In my work with youth I have been blessed by my memory of Kyle’s kindness. The greatest application of the lesson I learned has been in my role as a father. My wife and I are blessed with wonderful children, and one of our sons is named Kyle.

Illustrated by Bryan Lee Shaw