I think that eternal life probably has something to do with being a good grandpa.
One thing that I really love about General Conference time is the opportunity to listen to solid, seasoned, and loving men, apostles and prophets of God, who are also grandpas. There is a wisdom and a steadiness that comes to men of God who have spent a lifetime in service to church, community, and most of all their families. I thrill to the words and the wise counsel of President Hinckley. He is a wonderful prophet. But I wonder if perhaps he’s also probably a pretty wonderful grandpa.
Two recent experiences have made me think much about family, heritage, history, and well, especially about grandpas.
The first experience occurred in July when I had the opportunity to visit Washington, D.C. for several days. There I met up one evening with a boyhood friend of mine stationed on Homeland Security duty in the D.C. area, and he took me on a tour of the Pentagon. Heady stuff. But before heading over there we spent an hour walking the grounds of the Washington Temple and going through the beautiful visitor’s center on the temple grounds. In one room of the visitor’s center they had a family history chart highlighting the family linkages of a number of well-known persons including the Prophet Joseph Smith, Winston Churchill, former President Bush, and several others. That was interesting. But what struck me most was the family line in the corner of the chart, which depicted the name and family linkage of Joseph Ira Earl – my own great-grandfather!
The second experience happened when a Meridian reader from Montana responded to a recent column I had written and asked if I was related to any of the Brotherson folks from the Uintah Basin in Utah. We exchanged e-mails and he soon sent me a wonderful memory of receiving his patriarchal blessing from a Brotherson in that area who was his stake patriarch. This was my paternal grandfather, William Napier Brotherson, Jr., and it was striking to receive a personal account of his giving a patriarchal blessing. That experience prompted me to begin investigating his history and resume writing a personal history of my grandparents’ life that I had begun years ago.
Why are these experiences important? They are reminders of the importance of heritage and the legacy that we leave to our children and grandchildren. These grandfathers now sleep, but their quiet goodness lives on-but only if we learn of it and make it meaningful in our own lives. In the recent Priesthood Session of General Conference, Elder Merrill J. Bateman of the Presidency of the Seventy recounted the tradition now established in his own family of ministering through father’s blessings to his children. The beautiful thing about this tradition is that it is not dependent on a man being a bishop, stake president or General Authority-but on his being a dad and a grandpa.
Let’s think a little about the influence of grandpas. I can only use the examples I know best, which come from my own family experience, so I hope you’ll be patient with me as I invite you to think of your own heritage through learning about mine.
My Paternal Grandfather – William Napier Brotherson, Jr.
My paternal grandfather, William Napier Brotherson, Jr., was born in 1910 and grew up in both the Sanpete Valley and the Uintah Basin in central and eastern Utah. He tells the story of a man who knew him in later years commenting that he’d watched my grandpa’s antics in the community as a young boy and wondered to himself, “I wonder if that Bill Brotherson will ever amount to anything?!” He surely did. Grandpa B was a cowboy’s cowboy and a genuine pioneer, and he helped to build the communities of the Uintah Basin over a lifetime of service. He began service as a bishop at the young age of 25, followed by nearly 18 years in the stake presidency or as stake president of the Moon Lake Stake in eastern Utah. I think of his service during the Great Depression years, the years of World War II, and the 1950’s with its growth and optimism. During this time he carved a working ranch out of the high desert country of eastern Utah and worked to raise his family and strengthen his community. These facts I know. But it is the personal insights that I treasure.
My grandpa happened to serve four terms in the Utah House of Representatives from 1949 to 1957, and I have known little about his service. So recently on a trip to Utah I took some time to check out the state historical archives and see what I could learn. I learned first of all that in that first session as a freshman legislator, he happened to serve with another young legislator from the Wasatch Front area who only served one term. A Democrat, that man was James E. Faust. This little fact made clear an association I had wondered about. Over a decade ago I once met Elder Faust and upon being introduced, he asked me if I was related to Bill Brotherson from the Uintah Basin. I confessed the association and he expressed his positive feelings for my grandfather. Now I knew where they had met!
Upon looking through the House journal for the second legislative session my grandfather served in, I noticed two other things that struck me. First, he served as the chair of the Education Committee in the Utah House that session. Grandpa B had only been able to obtain a high school education, though he was a self-taught man who read widely all his life, but yet he went on to serve as chair of that committee on education in the legislature. That was a marvel to me. These personal insights into the development of our own family members and our heritage mean so much, yet they are only available to us as we ask questions and learn from those who have known personally those who go before us.
One personal insight that I treasure relating to my Grandpa Brotherson came to our family in a unique way.
At his funeral, President Ezra Taft Benson came to speak and represented the authorities of the Church. I was but a boy at the time and remember little of the experience. But years later I happened to attend a conference at Brigham Young University and was seated for dinner next to Reed Benson, the son of President Ezra Taft Benson. We discussed a number of subjects and eventually visited about family history. I mentioned that our family had a transcript of President Benson’s talk at that funeral service for my grandfather, and offered to send it to Brother Benson. He appreciated that and some weeks later he sent me a return note with a photocopy of his father’s journal entry for the day in which he attended and spoke at my grandpa’s funeral. The words on the page were tender and appreciative toward my grandfather in his passing. Again, a personal tie to a grandpa I had loved but known too little as a young boy.
As we pass through life, we ought to think carefully of the importance of leaving something of ourselves behind so that our children and grandchildren might know us. We ought to write our stories, record our thoughts and testimonies, and put down experiences we’d like those who follow us to know. My paternal grandfather left very little in the way of such records, but several years ago my father and I found some written notes for talks that he had given over his lifetime. We treasure his thoughts and teachings. He once stated:
“My advice to you would be to follow the advice of your bishop, our stake president, your parents and the prophets of God. Then within each one of you there is a built-in receiver which operates on the light of the Spirit of Christ. This light of Christ is in all things, round about all things and below all things, and is as real as you yourself. Upon this light travels instruction, advice, counsel, direction, teaching, inspiration, dreams, prophecy, revelation-in fact, all things of a true and righteous nature can come to you through this receiver, if you will but make the Holy Ghost your constant companion and friend. A very rare and precious gift from God is the gift of the Holy Ghost. Seek for him until you find him and he will lead you into the presence of Jesus Christ.” (William N. Brotherson, Jr.)
This is wonderful and inspired teaching and counsel. It is good because it is true. But it is even better because it comes from my grandpa.
Think to yourself of what you know of your ancestors, your grandfather or grandmother, and who they were and what they taught and how they lived. Some of us have more knowledge than others of our forebears, but we ought to seek these personal treasures of insight. And more especially, we ought to think of leaving such treasures from our own lives for others.
My Maternal Grandfather – Joseph Donal Earl
On my mother’s side, I was blessed with a caring and stalwart grandfather, Joseph Donal Earl. He grew up in the little Mormon pioneer town of Bunkerville, Nevada, the nineteenth child in a family of nineteen children. To him, it was an honor and an obligation to bear the Earl family name, and he purposefully passed this sense of responsibility on to his own children and grandchildren. He graduated from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. as a young man, then chose to serve a mission and went to Argentina. He loved the Latin peoples and worked to maintain his Spanish skills all his life. In later years he worked with the Bureau of Reclamation on the massive Hoover Dam project, then settled in Phoenix, Arizona and served as president of the Chile Mission (1969-1972) and as a stake patriarch for Spanish-speaking visitors to the Mesa Arizona Temple. He passed away just before Christmas in 1985.
How important is a grandpa to your life and associations? You just never know. I was attending a conference in Geneva, Switzerland a few years ago on family issues, and one day while walking through a series of exhibit booths I ran into a young woman who was standing by an exhibit for a college (George Wythe College) in Cedar City, Utah. Noticing the Utah connection, I glanced at her badge and noted that her last name was a familiar one-Earl. Stopping to visit, we got into a conversation about our family ancestry and quickly learned that her grandpa and my grandpa were brothers. We went from “strangers” to cousins hugging in a convention hall in the space of about thirty seconds! All because of our two grandpas.
A favorite story of mine about my Grandpa Earl is from the time that he attended his first General Conference after being called as a stake patriarch. This conference was the first after President Harold B. Lee became the President of the Church, and so a solemn assembly was held for him to be sustained by the church membership. My grandfather was unable to be in the Tabernacle when this was taking place, and so he tells of how he and a fellow friend and patriarch from Phoenix, Edwin Thomas, stood in their hotel room and raised their arms with the patriarchs as a group to sustain the new prophet of God. Why do I love that story? Because I want to be that kind of man. I want my children to have that kind of faith and love and humility. And knowing this story helps us to know what Grandpa J might have done.
My Own Father Now a Grandpa
I’ve noticed one thing about grandpas, at least a lot of the good ones that I know, and it is that they get pretty soft-hearted as they grow older. They are more likely to slow down and share a story and even shed a tear. I see this in my own father, Jack D. Brotherson, who probably doesn’t want me writing about him but whom I love and admire. He’s been a great dad. But now he is also a grandpa, and it’s fun to watch him do things that, well, only grandpas can really do.
During our lifetimes, we each do many things that tend to become the focus of a history or a biography if it is written. Working in a particular business, attending meetings, receiving awards-yet these are not the really good stories. My own dad, for example, has taught for thirty years at Brigham Young University and done interesting research and served in the Church-but the stories about him I like best relate to his “grandpa work.” These are the stories that most people do not know and will never know, but which we as children and grandchildren should strive to learn, for they are our true heritage.
Dad has a passel of grandchildren now and he is a pretty diligent grandpa. My two favorite examples right now are simple but great.
Jackson is one of my nephews and he lives pretty close to Grandpa Jack. They’re just buddies. One of their favorite activities that they do, just the two of them, is to jump in Grandpa’s pickup truck once or twice a week and go to a little place called “Der Wienerschnitzel” for hot dogs. Just the two of them. I called my father recently and he soon said he had to go. “Why?” I asked. It was to keep his appointment to go and get hot dogs at Der Wienerschnitzel. That, I think, is being a great grandpa.
The second example is with my own oldest daughter. She has this thing for horses, and last year was trying to figure out every which way she could to get more time with horses. A conversation with Grandpa solved her problem. One conversation with his oldest grandchild and pretty soon my dad became the funding source for a few months worth of horseback riding lessons. It was a quiet thing. It was a little thing. But it is something that a grandpa could do for a granddaughter that maybe only a grandpa could really do. The light in her eyes is a testimony to that quiet act’s lasting effects.
Grandpas. I know that not everyone has the benefit of a relationship with a loving and caring grandfather. But I want to honor the contributions of those men, those patriarchs, those grandpas who look down the rivers of time and live so as to bequeath an honorable heritage to their children and grandchildren.
The Doctrine and Covenants, in Section 121, speaks of the priesthood and notes that “the rights of the priesthood are inseparably connected with the powers of heaven” (verse 36). Think of that. That is why I think eternal life probably has something to do with being a good grandpa. Good grandpas honor the priesthood and bring down the powers of heaven, the power of heaven’s grace and goodness and love, into the lives of their children and grandchildren. They take seriously the admonition that the “powers of heaven cannot be controlled nor handled only upon the principles of righteousness” (verse 36). And so they seek education. They share their testimonies of God’s truths. They stand to honor the leaders of the Church. They go to lunch with grandsons and they fund horseback riding lessons for granddaughters.
The Spirit of Elijah has found another convert. I want to know about my grandpas. Not only of their lives in general, but of their thoughts and experiences and the stories that provide personal insight and understanding. I share these stories with you to prompt you to think about what you know or want to know, about your own or others’ ancestors. And to encourage you to share. How much I appreciated hearing from a Meridian reader about my own grandfather – I hope to hear more stories! But more importantly, it has prompted me to begin looking for others who I can learn from about my own ancestors and also to begin actively sharing with others my own experiences with family members or ancestors they love. So, think of a grandpa-and share!