“Conference Memories,” Ensign, Oct. 1990, 7
Something about hearing Tabernacle organ music brings feelings that well up within me.
Conference! Having grown up with televised general conference, I find the semiannual event a much anticipated part of my life. As much as I enjoy our weekly Church meetings, I welcome general conference as a powerful spiritual revitalization.
Maybe a Utah child could easily take radio and television broadcasts of general conference for granted. But my memories of multi-day conferences are rich—coming home from school to find Mother in front of the television with baskets of ironing or mending and racks of pressed clothes hanging nearby.
Baking was another activity easily combined in those days with weekday conference watching, and in early October and early April the kitchen harbored the heavenly fragrance of fresh-baked rolls or cookies. During Sunday sessions, there was always an aproned parent silently peeling potatoes over the sink, listening while preparing a typical conference-Sunday dinner of pot roast, potatoes, vegetables, and dessert.
There are other images, too. I still recall a Saturday afternoon session, the radio on the patio at its highest volume level, as our parents and several of us raked through crispy abundances of autumn leaves while Elder Sterling W. Sill and Elder Howard W. Hunter encouraged us on.
As we became adept with pencil and paper, Mom and Dad instructed us to write a sentence regarding each speaker’s talk, along with his name, copied when it appeared on the TV screen. Memories are vivid of those no longer with us and of the impressions they inspired: President McKay growing gradually more elderly. President Hugh B. Brown, white-haired and serene. President Harold B. Lee, eyes filled with tears. Concise President Joseph Fielding Smith. Steamrolling Elder LeGrand Richards, breathtaking Elder Bruce R. McConkie. President N. Eldon Tanner, humble, supportive. President Spencer W. Kimball, singing. And all the rest. Fragments of past powerful addresses flash through my mind even now.
As childhood habit and adolescent wondering metamorphosed into real listening, so words became witness, and the Spirit transcended electronics to effect a transfer of testimony.
Upon leaving home as a young adult, I found new conference experiences, such as listening between college tests or attending in person with friends. Still, even though attending was a thrill in its own right, I felt a desire to be at the television to better view expressions and note the passage of time in those faces I had come to know.
With marriage came my departure from the area where all conference sessions are broadcast on TV, and we learned to enjoy traveling to meetinghouses to watch or listen to the sessions.
My children will probably come to treasure their memories of conference as I do mine—the meetinghouse lights dimmed, overflow opened to a crowded cultural hall, the big screen, and asking, each time, if the satellite receiver isn’t really a flying saucer.
When we had only sleeping babies to worry about, we were able to attend all sessions. But now, as our toddlers have learned to loudly display their independence, we have settled for attending one or two sessions as a family and then, as parents, to alternate attendance at the other sessions. Still, we carefully check television listings, hoping that some considerate station will broadcast a session or two. Often we are lucky to get one session per conference on TV, which we appreciate deeply.
One conference Sunday, we dressed and prepared to go to church for the satellite broadcast, having found no notice in the paper. Behind schedule, which was not unusual, I decided to check the television at 9 A.M. before leaving. On a remote channel, suddenly, there was the Tabernacle organ.
“Here it is!” An undignified yell.
“Church? On TV?” The children were incredulous.
“Yes. We’re staying home, so take off your shoes and relax.”
After a brief hooray, the children headed for the toy room.
“No,” I insisted, “we are all watching this.”
I scrambled quickly for typing paper, handed each child a large storybook to be used as a table, and a handful of crayons.
“Watch for the name,” I ordered, “and try to write it down. Then listen to what he is talking about and draw me a picture.”
Eyes fixed intently on the screen, the children let out a mutual gasp when the first name appeared.
“E-L-D” they began.
The eldest, a first-grader, copied the whole word Elder.
“Never mind, I’ll write the rest of it for you. Just listen and draw a picture about what he is saying.”
They went along. Drawings included a temple, a boy pledging allegiance to the flag, and several scribble designs. Best of all, we got a question.
“Mom, Dad, what is he talking about?”
Attention lasted almost half the meeting. In six months, perhaps, they may sit a while longer. Meanwhile, I listened and learned as new memories were made, and new faces became familiar. The feeling was the same as ever. And I felt a sudden urge to peel some potatoes.