Thursday, February 8, 2007

Brother Cheever's Valentine

by Liz Adair

To understand about Brother Cheever's Valentine, you have to understand how the Gospel came to my family. It came in this way:

My Uncle Curtis Smith was a cowboy. Hard working and a skilled horseman, he had made his own way in the world from the age of fourteen. Everyone loved him. At community events, he could dance, and he could fiddle, and when the inevitable fight broke out in the wee hours of the morning, he was handy with his fists as well.

Curtis left cowboying after he married, and in 1940 he was working in Tucumcari, New Mexico, on an irrigation project. It was there that he met the Mormon missionaries, listened to what they had to say, and accepted it. In fact, he used to cross the vacant lot between his house and my mother's early every morning before work, and as they sat having coffee, he would say, "Lucy, be a Mormon!"

Curtis' baptismal day was set, and he had given up coffee on the very day that he was struck by a car as he was riding his motorcycle. Mortally injured, he lay in a coma for several days while the family gathered. All the Smiths were Episcopalians. Everyone (including me) had been baptized as an infant as the circuit-riding Episcopal priest came around to the tiny towns along the Rio Grande. Everyone, that is except Curtis. At his bedside, My Aunt Elizabeth insisted that the priest come and baptize Curtis before he died. My mother, however, knew that this was not Curtis' choice and, even though she feared for his soul, she stood her ground. My uncle died unbaptized.

The missionaries spent some time with my mother, but they were pulled out of the area, and during the next seven years, Curtis troubled her dreams. One day, in another town, the missionaries knocked on her door, and when she told them about her brother, they explained to her about temple work and helped her get the work done for him. In the meantime, they taught her, and she and my older brother were baptized in Albuquerque. That was in 1948.

Fast forward forty years. (Don't worry, we're coming to the Valentine.) This was during my Business Mogul decade, when I had a small wholesale bakery. I was working about fifty hours a week and suffering from sleep deprivation. Family Home Evening was hard, because Mondays I was up baking at 2 am. I finally decided that if FHE was going to happen, the load had to be shared.

I gave a lesson on delegation and explained the steps, impressing the need to communicate clearly what task was delegated and also the importance of following up. "You don't have to do it all yourself," I reminded the children. "You just have to make sure it's done." Everyone was assigned a Monday, and we began to have some great Family Home Evenings.

One week Clay, age 9, decided to have an 'Old Fashioned Night.' Dad was to do old fashioned songs, Ruth was to do old fashioned refreshments, and I was to tell an old fashioned story with pictures.

The Friday before Clay's FHE we were working in the bakery together, and he checked to see if I was ready with my story. "Not yet," I said sweetly, "but I will be."

Clay checked again on Sunday. I said no, I wasn't ready yet, but I would be when the time came. On Monday afternoon, this brave child tried following up, as he had been taught. We were cleaning up--my least favorite chore--I had been up since two, and I was no longer speaking sweetly when I told Clay I wasn't ready. Yet.

Immediately, I felt bad about my attitude and asked him to go get my mother's picture trunk. Together we sat on the floor and looked through it. I picked up a studio photograph of an earnest young man with his hair parted in the middle and wearing a suit. It was signed, Elder George A. Cheever, Payson, Utah.

It came to me in a flash. I would tell the story of my mother's conversion and use this picture.

As I made dinner, I thought about how I'd tell the story, and all of a sudden, I realized that it would be great to have that story from the missionary's point of view. I picked up the phone and asked for directory assistance in Payson. Sure enough, there was a George Cheever listed. I rang the number, and an older-voiced lady answered. "Is this the George Cheever that was on a mission in New Mexico in the 1940's?" I asked. It was. I asked to speak to him, and when he came to the phone, I said, "Brother Cheever, you don't know me, but you baptized my mother in Albuquerque in 1948."

There was a long pause, and then he said, "I wasn't in Albuquerque in 1948. I was in Tucumcari in 1940." It took me a moment to realize that this was an elder who had taught my Uncle Curtis.

As Brother Cheever and I talked that day and in succeeding days, I found that he had arrived in Tucumcari just days before Curtis was killed. Time enough, though, for Curtis to take him for a ride on his motorcycle. They hit a hundred miles an hour on the flat, and Brother Cheever swore he'd never get on another one.

The last time I talked to him, I said, "Brother Cheever, just think of all the people you've touched because of your mission. My brother went on a mission to Germany; my daughter went to Bolivia, and my son went to Hong Kong. I've got two children who have yet to serve. People all over the world are being taught the gospel because of the seeds you sowed all those years ago."

There was silence on the line, and when Brother Cheever spoke, his voice trembled. "Thank you for telling me that," he said. "I'm seventy years old. We worked so hard, and no one would listen."

Naturally, the night I first spoke to Brother Cheever, we had a spirit-filled, barn-burner of an FHE. But over the years, as I've thought about this, I realize that there was a lot more to this than a Family Home Evening lesson. I think the Lord sent Brother Cheever a valentine, a 'tender mercy' as Elder Bidenaur says. I feel humbled and blessed to have been a participant in the delivery of that valentine, but it never would have happened without the diligence of a nine-year old boy trying to do what he had been taught.

2 comments:

  1. Liz, I so enjoyed your valentine. I don't think we do enough of recognizing the goodness of others' actions (and telling them that). What a blessing to Brother Cheever. We too are converts. Myself, my brother and my mother (the only ones of seven children - and my father never joined either). I think about the links we are beginning to make. My brother married in the temple and I as well (after my husband joined the church). My niece has married in the temple and I have two nephews planning missions. The impact of a couple of missionaries continue to change lives. I am grateful for them and think I might even try to look them up! :)

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  2. Thank you , Liz for this tender story. We do forget to recognize the good in others. I thanked the education counselor last week for always making sure the RS room is organized a ready for Sunday...and for starting on time. She stopped and looked at me in surprise and smiled so beautifully. She thanked me for noticing...and beamed the entire meeting. I tried it with my hubby...praised him in front of friends for never complaining about my housekeeping. Later, I got the biggest hug and kiss as he told me how good that made him feel. Amazing! Thanks for the lesson.

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