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April 1, 2010
In The Village
Father's history inspires
by Orson Scott Card

It was more than ten years ago that my father's high priests group began an oral history project.

I'd been after my parents for years to write or speak their memoirs. They always agreed to do it, and they meant it. But we all know the barriers that get in the way.

The biggest barrier is that you think you have to write an autobiography -- start at the beginning and write the definitive account of your life. But you run into a couple of dates or an address you can't be sure of, and you think, "I've got to look that up," and the whole project dies right then.

If you record it orally, you stop to think but the recording continues, so you've just preserved a minute and a half of nothing. With nobody listening except a machine, it can feel pointless and foolish.

My dad's high priests group had a good solution to help the quorum members get started. They'd gather on Sunday evening and make a fireside of it -- one quorum member's oral history at a time.

So there stood my dad in front of a microphone, with slides and prints of old photographs. But now he was talking to real people, who were listening, who responded. It became, not a "project," but a conversation.

My dad, half joking, began with his surgical history. Starting with his tonsillectomy as a child, he moved on through the many spinal surgeries, the gall bladder removal, the three lens replacements (he joked about three lenses for two eyes). Two heart attacks with bypasses and angioplasties.

Then he moved on to a short summary of his ancestry, places he had lived as a child, schools he had attended, friends from childhood, teachers that had an impact on him. He could have done an hour at least on every one of these subjects -- but he raced on ahead.

He told of being one of the first flying-model-airplane builders in Utah. He tried to take pictures of his planes, but found that his family's little box camera couldn't do an adequate job. So he began his lifelong study of photography.

He told of his mission. His marriage to my mother within a week of coming home, and then volunteering for the Navy in World War II ("because I liked to sleep in a clean bed every night"). His damaged spinal disk, undetected by the radiologist who cleared him for military service, dooming him to a life of agonizing pain.

When he got home after the war, his daughter's first solo steps were taken as she toddled to meet him in the train station.

Very little of his life was really under his control. All the moving around in his early years was decided by his parents. The Church sent him on his mission; the war put him in the Navy; the Navy put him on ships and planes, sent him to Guam. After the war, he started college but interrupted his education to support his family.

In jobs at the Hanford Works near Richland, Washington, he developed his artistic talent into the skill of sign painting. He started a sign-painting company in San Mateo, California, because his father-in-law had some warehouse space he could use. More back problems forced him to close the business and return to school.

Through all of this, I saw, not an ambitious young man with a grand design for his life, but rather a good young Latter-day Saint who took on whatever challenges came along and applied whatever skills he had to every opportunity he saw.

And I thought: His wasn't a well-planned life. Planning wasn't even possible. But he had his priorities straight -- God, family, work, Church. And where my life has gone well, it's because I followed his example. Take what comes; seize the day; care for and love those who need you; improve your talents all the time.

That oral history night was in 1997, thirteen years ago. We got our CD of my dad's presentation only last week, and listened to it for family home evening.

Already I could list more operations he didn't know he had coming: the knee replacements, the appendectomy.

When he enumerated his grandchildren, and mentioned that the oldest and youngest of them had died, we knew that as he spoke, there was yet another death of a grandchild ahead of him.

His history didn't end in 1997 when he took part in his quorum's oral history project. It goes on, and will continue to go on. He'll be there for some of it -- but his history won't end with his eventual passing from this world.

All that he helped to set in motion here will continue without him; and he, leaving us behind, will rejoin family members who have gone before, making new history with them.

If I can keep my feet as true to the path of righteousness as he has, I will have done well, as he has done well.

But that hour-long presentation in 1997 isn't even a tenth of the stories I wish I had from him.

Plug a mike into your laptop, Dad. You've only just begun.

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