"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
April 9, 2009
Lifetime of conference memories
by Orson Scott Card

We were told several times at the most recent General Conference how important it is for us to go to the temple, do missionary work, get our houses in order.

None of the speakers reminded us of how important it is to listen to General Conference. I suppose that's because all the people who would hear them were already in attendance.

General conference has been part of my life since my earliest memories. When we lived in the Bay Area of California, come April or October our parents would pile us in the car and, taking shifts, drive over the Donner Pass and across Nevada (which, contrary to the maps and satellite photos, is wider than Siberia) till we got to Salt Lake City.

We'd stay with "the Folks" -- my dad's parents, Nana Lu and Grandpa. We California kids, growing up basementless, would take turns leaning out over the banisters and diving down the stairs; I explored their library of Reader's Digest Condensed Books; but the most important thing we did was watch Conference, every session as it was broadcast on local TV.

Most of the sessions we watched on TV. It had a different meaning in their house. Sure, it was the same television broadcast we got in California, but since Nana Lu was Lucena Richards Card, Elder LeGrande Richards was "Uncle LeGrande," and since Grandpa was Orson Rega Card, whose sister Zina was married to President Hugh B. Brown, he was spoken of as "Uncle Hugh."

It made it seem like Conference -- like the whole Church -- was a sort of family matter, rather like the Book of Mormon. It made me wonder what it would be like if I grew up and one of my brothers became an Apostle, or one of my sisters was married to one.

I couldn't imagine that when they were children, any of LeGrande's twelve living brothers and sisters would have guessed that he would grow up to be an apostle. Then again, they were all children of Elder George F. Richards, so I suppose they really thought of General Conference as a family matter!

A few times, Mom got a few of us up early and took us to the Tabernacle Choir broadcast of "Music and the Spoken Word" with Richard L. Evans. Then we'd stay for the morning session -- a long time for a child on those hard benches in the Tabernacle. But Mom used to sing in the Tabernacle Choir, so for her it was like homecoming.

Even when we stayed home in California, though, Conference was sacred. We all sat around the television or radio and were expected to pay attention. We had our favorite speakers, and between sessions we'd talk about what they had said.

After my mission, one of my earliest jobs was as an assistant editor at the Ensign in 1976 and 1977. For the magazine staff, General Conference was a time of intense work. We got the talks in advance, so we could do a pre-edit, looking for typing errors.

Then we'd sit through every session, comparing what they actually said with what was written on the paper. Every change -- even an obvious mistake -- was duly noted on the manuscript. Later, the speaker would go over the manuscript and decide which changes to keep, and which to discard.

Except Elder LeGrande Richards. He didn't write out his speeches. He just stood up at the podium and spoke from the heart until they started blinking the red light at him.

He was one of the old-time orators in the Church, from the days before television and split-second timing. I wonder how many choir numbers were deleted from the program over the years because Elder Richards ran long!

The translators must have gone crazy trying to keep up. But it was no problem for us on the Ensign staff -- Elder Richards's secretary would transcribe the talk and we'd edit it after the fact.

The other exception was Elder Thomas S. Monson. His talk was submitted in advance, but when he delivered it, he always paraphrased so that the language was fresh and never sounded like it was being read.

It made him an extraordinarily natural and effective speaker -- but for the editors, it was a nightmare of scribbling in all his changes as he moved rapidly through the speech. We were all relieved when he finally gave instructions that we were to print what he wrote and not worry about his paraphrases. From being the most frantic for the editors, his talks became the most relaxed.

I got into the habit then of listening, not as a child does, tuning in and out, but with intense concentration. Even after I left the magazine to be a freelance writer, I still listened to Conference with my notebook open, jotting down ideas.

I married a woman who was every bit as intense about General Conference as I was. When the children were little, we would each have a conference project -- needlepoint or cross-stitching for her, embroidery or some kind of drawing for me, except when I took notes. We both listened better with something to look at and keep our hands busy.

When we moved to Indiana and then North Carolina, local stations only rarely carried Conference sessions, so we would pile the kids in the car and head for the church to watch on satellite. This was quite an operation, with one of our kids, Charlie Ben, in a wheelchair.

He couldn't sit through two solid hours, so we'd make a bed for him on the floor of the Relief Society room, and then we could all listen as the kids did their own Conference projects.

As my parents and my wife's parents had done, we talked about the Conference talks with our kids. It pleased us how much they heard and understood at an early age.

It was a relief when DISH Network started carrying KBYU and we could count on getting every session of General Conference at home. In recent years, as all but one of our kids moved away, we've kept the house full at Conference time by inviting some good friends to watch with us.

Our General Conference tradition now includes dinner and conversation between sessions. And since four of the people present at this last Conference are students in my wife's seminary class, they were conscientiously taking notes for the Monday class discussion.

Because of General Conference, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve are not just names and pictures to us. We know their voices, their words, their styles of speech. With each one of them we have an ongoing relationship.

Naturally, there are speakers we look forward to with more excitement than others, based on the talks they've given in past years -- but we're always prepared to be happily surprised by any talk. We love hearing talks from those with foreign accents, because it reminds us that what once was a Utah church, and then an American one, is now truly worldwide.

This year I was under the weather and didn't want others to catch whatever it was I had, so I stayed upstairs for most of the sessions, listening to Conference on a laptop on my bed.

As with temples, which are now so much more easily within the reach of most Latter-day Saints, it is effortless for most of us to take part in General Conference.

Twice a year, a banquet is spread before us. Every time, I'm surprised at how spiritually hungry I had become in the intervening months, and how glad I am to be invited to the feast.

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More by Orson Scott Card

About Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card is the author of the novels Ender's Game, Ender's Shadow, and Speaker for the Dead, which are widely read by adults and younger readers, and are increasingly used in schools.

Besides these and other science fiction novels, Card writes contemporary fantasy (Magic Street, Enchantment, Lost Boys), biblical novels (Stone Tables, Rachel and Leah), the American frontier fantasy series The Tales of Alvin Maker (beginning with Seventh Son), poetry (An Open Book), and many plays and scripts.

Card was born in Washington and grew up in California, Arizona, and Utah. He served a mission for the LDS Church in Brazil in the early 1970s. Besides his writing, he teaches occasional classes and workshops and directs plays. He also teaches writing and literature at Southern Virginia University.

Card currently lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with his wife, Kristine Allen Card, and their youngest child, Zina Margaret.

More about Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card currently serves as second counselor in the bishopric.

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