When the lights go down and the curtain rises, the Howard family from St. Anthony, Idaho, is at the theater in force: backstage, onstage, in the concession booth, selling tickets, and in the audience.
There are 11 of them, sometimes more if they have a foster child at the time: Mom and Dad (Donna and Daris), Celese, Annicka, Trissa, Scott, Gavin, Tara, Jenna, Clarissa, and baby Heather. This is the fourth year the whole family, together with members of the St. Anthony community, has taken part in putting on summer shows written and produced by Brother and Sister Howard and performed in the local theater.
The Howards are musically inclined and play many instruments: piano, French horn, flute, clarinet, harp, trumpet, violin, guitar, organ, saxophone—the list goes on. They even have three pianos in their home so everyone who has a moment to practice can find one available.
So much going on makes for noisy living. But noise and chaos can still bring harmony, not always the musical variety, but the kind from which forever families are made.
Ever since their father’s remarkable experience when writing the family’s first musical, the Howards have had deep-rooted feelings about family ties spanning generations. Brother Howard never set foot on a stage as a young man and knew nothing about writing scripts. It was years later, when his children were growing, that he wrote the amazing script that started their performing.
Sixteen-year-old Celese tells the story. “Dad kept getting these promptings to write a play. He thought it was a crazy idea and kept pushing it away. Besides, he was always too busy.”
Brother Howard adds, “It wasn’t until I was traveling to Salt Lake City one day at five in the morning, surrounded by peace and quiet, that the promptings came again—so strong that I couldn’t ignore them. I finally gave in and asked, ‘But what am I supposed to write about?’”
Annicka, 15, joins in. “I can hardly believe what happened next,” she says. “Thoughts kept coming into Dad’s mind. He was supposed to write a play about our ancestors who crossed the plains—the Jonathan Harriman Hale family.
“But the words came at such speed that he could hardly write fast enough to keep up. And then …” she smiles. “Then came the awesome part. A few months later, we were at my uncle’s house for Thanksgiving. This uncle has a lot of family history books. Dad wasn’t feeling too well that day, so he asked for something to read. Uncle Mark offered him a book he hadn’t noticed in his collection before. It was the story of the Jonathan Harriman Hale family. All the things Dad had been writing in the play really did happen all those years ago. Even the names my dad thought he’d invented for the play were actually real people!”
“I know the show was inspired,” says Celese. “It’s called ‘Lilacs in the Valley,’ and the audience laughs and cries in the same minute. It helped one young man decide to go on a mission and has changed many lives.”
“And the music,” adds Annicka, “that’s awesome, too. My mother wrote it, and she’d never had any direction on how to do that. It turned out really good and made you feel everything that was happening in the show.”
Twelve-year-old Scott says, “I think that the way the Lord inspired them is amazing.”
Trissa, 13, says, “One of my favorite things about the Church is knowing I’ll be with my family forever. Family unity plays a big part in ‘Lilacs in the Valley.’” She adds, “It’s cool when we work at the theater. I just love everything about doing it together.”
Annicka agrees. “We all have certain jobs. Someone is in charge of the props, another is in charge of getting the baby dressed and the diaper bag ready, or getting dinner on the table early. Usually, everybody does his or her job, and we’re able to get out of the house on time. Sometimes, though, someone doesn’t do the assigned job, and everyone can tell what a difference it makes.”
The Howard family knows a lot about making a difference—the positive kind. They love supporting each other. Whether it’s a band performance, choir concert, piano festival, stage performance, or sports, they each know the smiling faces and loudest cheers are coming from their own family.
Through togetherness they’ve learned to overcome jealousy. As Scott explains, “If someone gets a part in a play that I want, I find something else and enjoy it just the same. Of course I’m disappointed at first, but I’m into the technical stuff, so there’s plenty for me to do. And I’m certainly not going to sit and mope about it.”
Being the younger brothers, Scott and Gavin have found a few more things to appreciate. “The best thing about having older sisters,” says Scott, “is the way they usually find something to keep me occupied when I’m bored. And they can always offer solutions to my problems. They can frustrate me at times, but they usually get me moving when I need to.”
“We’ve also had many foster children in our home,” Celese says. “I’ve learned a lot from being around them, especially patience. It gets really crowded, but it helps us learn how to get along without killing each other. We’ve taught those children what it means to have a family and be safe and warm. One foster child, who is my age, came back for a visit. He was upstairs while my mother and his aunt talked. He came running down and said to the aunt, ‘Can’t you just feel the love here?’ It was an eye-opening experience for me to realize how blessed I am to have a family and parents such as mine.”
Service, especially when it’s done as a family, comes naturally to the Howard family. Whether it’s bringing enchantment to an audience, the church lawn, or visiting elderly members with a gift of hot bread—somewhere in the process, they give and find the joy that leads to unity in both their home and their community.