On this same voyage aboard the Joseph and Clara Smallwood, I made the offhand remark over lunch that it would be nice to go up on the bridge of the ship for a look around. This was wishful thinking on my part, of course. Aboard an American vessel, this would be strictly against regulations, and I assumed this would hold true on a Canadian ship as well. There are good reasons for this. Passengers can often prove distracting to the crew. They get in the way. They ask ridiculous questions. They make inappropriate jokes. They touch things that set off alarms. So the best thing to do is keep the passengers in their own areas, off the bridge, out of the engine room, away from the anchor windlass, and so forth. It’s just better for everyone that way.
To my great surprise, Miss Patty replied that visiting the bridge of the ship would be a wonderful idea. She would ask someone about it after lunch. I told her not to bother, for it would surely not be allowed, but she insisted. After lunch, then, and over my repeated objections, she walked into an office labeled “Purser & Steward” and spoke with an important looking figure wearing an impressive uniform. Feeling somewhat embarrassed by what I perceived as a request for special treatment, I waited in the corridor with the children, out of sight but within hearing range.
“My husband is a merchant seaman,” Miss Patty stated. “He has a chief mate’s license, although he hasn’t gone to sea in quite a while. Would it be at all possible for him to go up to the bridge for a few minutes?”
As I waited with the children for the polite but inevitable “No,” I suddenly found myself not trusting my own hearing. “Of course,” came the reply. The man in the uniform explained that this would be perfectly all right, but that we would need an escort to show us the way up to the bridge and then back again. Could we wait for just a few minutes until someone became available?
Well, certainly. We would be happy to wait. After all, this was a golden opportunity! In retrospect, it was good that we had to wait a bit for the escort. I had been so certain that we would never be permitted in any of the crew areas of the ship that I needed some time to recover from my surprise. Presently, then, a young lady came along and introduced herself to us. She was our escort. We followed her through a labyrinth of passageways and stairwells and past several signs that asserted unequivocally, “Crew only! Absolutely no passengers beyond this point!” Finally, she opened one more door. We followed her onto the bridge where she introduced us to Mr. Jim, the mate in charge of the watch. Mr. Jim greeted us enthusiastically and welcomed us into his domain. Evidently he had been notified that we were coming, for he seemed not at all surprised to see us, and he struck up a conversation with me about the shipping business right away.
Oh, how good it felt to stand on the bridge of a ship underway on the Atlantic Ocean again! As far as I’m concerned, there is nothing in the world to beat this experience. I practically forgot about my family as I absorbed the view of the great blue sea and sky from this vantage point. Then Mr. Jim directed our attention to some of the navigational equipment. This ship had everything and it was all state of the art. From electronic autopilot to computerized wide screen displays of the vessel’s track line and position updated by satellite fixes with sidebars indicating speed of advance and rate of fuel consumption—this ship had it all. As if this weren’t enough, the deck was covered in wall to wall carpeting, the bridge wings were completely enclosed, and the mate and the lookout were ensconced in lounge chairs. The Joseph and Clara Smallwood was unlike any other ship that I had ever seen. Never had I experienced such advanced automation and such luxurious surroundings in my seagoing career! But best of all remained the view. Through a wall of windows that faced forward and wrapped around the wings, the sea and sky seemed to be not outdoor elements but extensions of the bridge itself, as if all were unitedly one great element. It was a truly magnificent sight.
We lingered, of course, as we knew this experience would pass all too quickly. We chatted with the mate, who displayed a lively enthusiasm in showing us all his equipment. He obviously enjoyed having company in what can often be a lonely job. I loved it, naturally, as did the rest of the family, although for different reasons. For me, it was a return to the ships and the sea that I have loved all my life. For my wife and children, it was a novel experience, and one in which they saw a side of me that they had previously heard about but had never actually known. They had gone on short ferry runs before, but they had never sailed on the open ocean aboard a capital ship, and of course, they had never visited the bridge of such a vessel underway.
I could have stayed all day, but I also knew that we had to face reality. The mate had work to do, and our escort would also have other duties. As thrilling as it felt to stand at the wall of windows and take in their commanding view of the sea, it could not last forever. We thanked Mr. Jim and bade him farewell. Then we followed our escort off the bridge and back to the passenger area. We went out on the foredeck, from which we could see both the ocean ahead of us and the wall of windows lining the front of the bridge now behind and far above us. The Smallwood still had about seven hours’ sailing left to go, so it wasn’t over yet. I continued to enjoy every moment that the ship was at sea, but I especially savored the time spent on the bridge.
Then Miss Patty spoke to me. “Now, aren’t you glad I asked if we could see the bridge?” Of course, I was very glad she did that. I must give credit where it is due. I never would have asked to go on the bridge of the ship, but she did, and she got what she requested. I who had told her not to bother asking because it would never work was happy to have been wrong. And while I did not mention this, I thought of the cardinal rule of a happy marriage: the wife is always right.
In all seriousness, I must admit that she really is right most of the time. This has been more than amply demonstrated in twenty-some years of marriage. One of the things that she was right about was joining the Church. When the missionaries came into our neighborhood, she knew before very long that she would join the Church. She wanted me to join the Church, too, but I required some time to think about it first. This thinking about it took six and a half years, but eventually I did join. The children all joined the Church, too, when they were old enough to understand what they were doing. At an appropriate time after that, we were all sealed in the new Boston Temple.
Those were the big things. Along the way, though, there were many smaller things about the Church, usually involving commitments to and decisions about Church participation. One the first of these was Bishop Carl Belnap’s asking if I would like to be the ward newsletter editor. I was surprised by this suggestion. I didn’t think of it as a “calling” because I was not yet a member of the Church, nor did I have any intention of becoming a member at that point. Nonetheless, it sounded interesting, so I accepted the invitation. Miss Patty assured me that I would do a fine job and that the ward members would all love my newsletters. She was right; they did.
Once the newsletter was established, the opportunity arose to visit some of the new temples that were being constructed. A few of these were within reasonable travel time of our house in Nashua, so we went to see them. The initial motivation behind these journeys combined my newsletter calling and my curiosity about the temples. This started with the Palmyra Temple. We made the eight hour drive to Palmyra, attended the open house, and took the tour of the new temple. Afterwards, I wrote an article about it for the ward newsletter.
By this time, even though I still had no desire to join the Church, I had learned a lot about it through reading the scriptures, meeting the missionaries, attending sacrament meeting, and participating to various degrees in other Church activities. I had never visited a temple, though, and I recognized this as a deficiency that needed to be rectified. My visit to the Palmyra Temple rectified this deficiency in a most remarkable way. The instant I stepped through the doorway and entered the temple, I felt something come over me very strongly. It remained firmly with me throughout my visit to the temple, and afterwards, I had to sit very quietly in the car for a while in order to compose myself before I could do anything else. I realized then that the Spirit had accompanied me on my temple tour. The Spirit went with me into all the rooms in the temple and vouchsafed to my uncertain mind the sacred nature of the both the new temple and the ordinances that would soon be performed therein. I remarked to Miss Patty, “I thought I knew what this Church was all about. But now that I’ve gone in the temple, I understand it—not in a book-learning way, but from experience.” Miss Patty had known that something like this would happen sooner or later, that I would have some experience which would propel me towards membership in the Church. She was right, and besides, it made for a good newsletter article.
A week after my baptism, Bishop Carl Belnap wanted to ordain me. He was a fast worker, actually a bit too fast for me, but not fast enough for Miss Patty. She wanted the priesthood in her home, and she let me know it I held out for another week, and then my ordination to the Aaronic Priesthood took place. In time, the Bishop moved me along to the Melchizidek Priesthood. Miss Patty was very happy then; it was her dream come true after all those years. She had always maintained that the priesthood would bring good things into the house, good things like an increase of family affection and closeness, warm and loving friendships, a greater spirit of peacefulness and contentment, and an ongoing growth in the Gospel for parents and children alike. In all these areas, she has been proved right numerous times.
Since I was now officially a member of the Church holding the priesthood, I received more callings. I did the newsletter in two segments for a total of five years. I enjoyed that very much. Interspersed with these literary pursuits were callings in the Elders Quorum and Cub Scouts. Then, to my infinite surprise, the Stake Presidency summoned me into the office and requested that I serve in the Bishopric of our ward.
I was flabbergasted. Never in my wildest dreams had I thought of being called into the Bishopric. My initial reaction to this call was to think of hundreds of reasons why I couldn’t do it. I hadn’t been a member of the Church long enough. I wasn’t smart enough. I wasn’t good enough. I wasn’t holy enough. I was terrified of public speaking. There were better qualified men in the ward, lifelong members who knew far better than I how the Church operated. Surely one of them would do a much better job as a counselor to the Bishop than I could. But all this was to no avail. Bishop Lance Spencer had prayed about it, and my name had come into his mind. The Stake Presidency supported Bishop Spencer, and there I was listening to President Michael Banks insist that I was the right person for the position. Miss Patty agreed with him, saying that I would be blessed if I accepted the calling. Once again, she was right, and we both knew it.
This calling got off to a rocky start. Simply put, I didn’t know what I was doing, and I felt that I wasn’t doing it very well. In time, I became acclimated to it, although I still missed the newsletter. And yes, both my family and I were blessed for it. The other counselor in the Bishopric, Brother Adam Davis, was also new at his calling. His family and mine became great friends. My children, being older, helped supervise his children during Sacrament Meetings. The two families got together regularly for Sunday dinner; in fact, dinner together became a fast-breaking tradition on the first Sunday of each month. On other days, when occasion called for it, the two families helped each other out with various projects and crises, from laying a new kitchen floor to cleaning up a pine tree that had been blown down in our yard in a windstorm. Actually, a small army from the ward helped out with that, and these good members saved us a lot of money.
Soon after my call into the Bishopric, a new executive secretary, Brother Phil Hibbert, was called. He was an exceptionally brilliant man and a graduate of the University of Heidelberg. He spoke fluent German and happily shared his linguistic expertise with me, whose German has always been at best faltering and ungrammatical. He also volunteered to help my son learn German. Had it not been for Bishopric meetings, I likely would not have had much occasion to speak with him.
Additionally, in carrying out the normal duties of the Bishopric I found myself becoming less terrified and increasingly comfortable at public speaking. My critical moment arrived one day in the summer when the Bishop and the First Counselor were both away on vacation. They had actually left me in charge! On that particular Sunday two of the speakers scheduled for Sacrament Meeting did not show up. After a few of the youth had made some brief remarks about their experiences at youth conference, and after the congregational hymn had been sung, it became my lot to fill up the remainder of the program. Following a quick prayer of desperation, I received the inspiration and guidance I needed to address the ward on a timely topic. I guess it was a good speech, for I received many compliments afterwards. To each of these felicitations, however, I had to reply in all honesty that I had not done it alone.
Soon afterwards, my new level of comfort and poise at public speaking served me well in a job interview for an evening library position. Instead of feeling extremely nervous as I faced a committee of four interrogators, I remained very calm and at ease. I even addressed the group without notes. And I got the job.
Again and again and again, Miss Patty has always been right. Many good things have come my way and my family’s way since I accepted the missionaries’ invitation and joined the Church. Some of these blessings were very basic but nonetheless essential. One of my favorite examples of this is the blessing of tithing. After too many years of trying unsuccessfully to straighten out our finances, we paid tithing as a last resort. It worked where everything else had failed, and in a remarkably short time. I learned from first hand experience, then, the truth of the scriptural promise, “prove me now herewith…if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (3 Nephi 24:10).
This financial blessing took a great weight off my shoulders, of course, but it was not the only blessing to do so. My other favorite example is the blessing of well-behaved children. I have four children, three boys and one girl. They all believe in God, attend church, have testimonies of the Gospel, and govern themselves accordingly. They have never done, are not now doing, nor I expect ever will do anything of which Miss Patty and I would be ashamed. While credit for this achievement must go to several outside parties, such as grandparents and Catholic schools, a very large share of the credit must go to the Church. For in learning the doctrines, values, history, and culture of the Church, my children have acquired the tools necessary to lead not only good but exemplary Christian lives.
Just as Miss Patty proved herself right aboard the Joseph and Clara Smallwood and secured for us a visit to the bridge of the ship—now one of my fondest memories—so also she has proved herself right in the Church. In both situations I was content to leave things as they were, to not make any major changes or request any special favors. But she ventured to do so, and the results speak for themselves. Miss Patty asked, and she received; she knocked, and the door was opened for her (Matt. 7:7). She has always trusted in the Lord, and he has always sustained her. And we all know that the Lord is always right.