Honesty and the Burning Barn Incident
(Note: This was a talk given by Eva Thora Porter Rawson in connection with a Relief Society lesson entitled: “Honesty.” The older boys were Aaron Osmer (Jerry) Porter and his uncle, Lee Nichols, and the younger boy was Osmer’s younger brother, Sarel Porter.)
The Ten Commandments, The Golden Rule, The Articles of Faith—As children growing up in a righteous home and wonderful Mormon community (Rexburg, Idaho) we were well acquainted with these and many others of the very best of teachings—by precept and example at home, at church, at primary, Religion Class, and in every classroom at school. So there was really no excuse for getting into trouble, such as being dishonest or committing any other serious sin. I remember our father taking each of us aside as we approached the time to be baptized, reminding us of the importance of the ordinance and how we should commit ourselves to be better—more kind, obedient, helpful, loving—from that time forth.
I also remember looking through a book, which no doubt had been laid there intentionally for us children. There were some interesting pictures. I spent some time and thought on one in particular: a boy in a grocery store had just stolen an apple. You could see it partly concealed in his jacket. In one corner was a drawing of a curious and interesting creature. He had horns and a long, curling tail and there was a sharp, sly look in his eyes and a half-smirk on his lips. I knew whom he was supposed to represent and determined that it wouldn’t be very pleasant for me to find him looking at me in some grocery store, or anywhere else.
I did, however come up with one temptation that was always hard to overcome. I don’t suppose many of you remember how most homes were built in the early days here in the West—both my grandmothers’ homes were good examples: long, dark hallways off the kitchen leading to a parlor and many bedrooms. The doors were always closed and the rooms definitely off-limits for children to enter unless invited to do so by an adult. I so wanted to enter and exit from those rooms without detection, all alone. There were books and pictures in the parlor and a piano in one grandma’s; in the other, an organ. How much fun to explore there instead of having to just sit still. In my many aunts’ bedrooms were fancy bottles, come with wonderful smelling perfumes, and boxes of powder—all intriguing to me. There were also numerous high-button shoes with high heels, which I felt it would be a great delight to try on—but, fortunately, I was able to withstand these temptations.
Just one thing regarding dishonesty occurred in our family and I feel I would like to tell about it because we all learned so much from it. The result was a great blessing to us as individuals, as a family, and even as a community.
Generally, in committing a dishonest act we hurt not only ourselves, but others, sometimes many others.
In age I was between two brothers, with a little over three years between their two ages. We had an uncle who was the same age as the older boy and they were constant companions. At about the ages of 10-11, these two found great delight in teasing the younger boy. They would keep at this until the little fellow was so angry and frustrated that he would lose control of himself. He wanted to catch them and “beat the tar out of them,” but they could run faster than he and at a safe distance they would keep up the teasing by calling him names. He would sob and yell out bad words and throw rocks or whatever was handy, hoping to do some damage to them. They only laughed at him and would finally go off, leaving him to overcome his wretchedness as best he could. You can imagine what this was doing to his disposition—ruining it! He became unhappy and sullen. Because he was scrappy and so often felt he had the whole world to fight, he became aggressive, willing to take on just about anyone. He got into trouble with neighbor boys and was taking the blame for most anything that went wrong around the place within several blocks. He was a very unhappy boy. He’d often come straggling in late for the evening meal, dirty and with torn clothing. Then there were scoldings and more anger and tears for all of us. And you can imagine these two boys facing each other in the home, barely able to be civil to each other. All of us were upset because of these circumstances.
Well, this finally culminated in the two older boys one day accidentally starting a fire in Grandpa’s barn, which was located just the other side of our property line and a favorite place to play in. When these two found the fire was out of their control, they made a hasty and undetected exit. Whether they deliberately lied, saying it was the younger boy who had set the fire, or were just relieved and content to let the blame be laid at his feet, I don’t know, but when the younger boy was faced with the accusation—although he denied having done it—he shrugged his shoulders and thought this was just another one of those things he had to take the blame for. Some time went by and he was still taking the blame, but finally his sincere denials must have gotten through to our parents, and they determined to try to get to the bottom of it. When the two older boys were again questioned, being together, they were able to successfully deny having been the cause. But one day, facing both parents alone and being further questioned, our older brother confessed. In telling about it quite a number of years later, he said: “They were pretty rough on me and really ‘laid down the law.’ They threw the book at me, so to speak, pointing out that I must not only go to Grandpa and try to make it right with him, but I must also do the same with my little brother. It wasn’t so terribly hard to face Grandpa and get it over with him, but when I thought of what my brother might say and do to me, I quailed in my boots. He‘d never forgive me; I was sure he thoroughly hated me. Where was I going to get enough courage to approach him! I could expect the pain and mess of a bloody nose as well as sustaining other bad bruises and perhaps some broken bones. I wept over this thing but finally gathered courage and stood before him trembling and blurting out that we had done this deed and I was sorry that I hadn’t told Mom and Dad about it. To my utter amazement and great relief, he gave me a smile and with a shrug of his shoulders, said, “Well, I guess I’m just happy that I don’t have to take any more blame for that one!’”
That day was a turning point for both boys. The older one determined he wanted to be a friend, a support, a confidant, a defender of his younger brother. And to his credit, that was what he became as a result of his efforts in that regard. He gradually turned from constant companionship with his uncle and watched for opportunities to walk home after school with his brother, listening to him, trying his best to be a good pal to him. From that day there was never a discordant word between them. They played together, did their chores together, met any so-called enemies together, joked, laughed and sang together. They grew to respect, appreciate and love each other as only two very fine men and brothers can. Needless to say, the younger boy was no longer in trouble in the neighborhood and some years later became a fine, wise, much-loved bishop of his ward.
You can imagine what this change did for our home-life and even for the community. Had things gone on as they were before, what would have been the result? What kind of trouble would they have been in through their teens? What kind of fathers would they have made, trying to teach righteous principles to their children?
“O, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.
In last week’s Church News was printed an example of how President Kimball desired to be honest and humble in all of his relationships with his fellow men. It was stated that in 1943 when he was called to the Quorum of the Twelve one of his greatest concerns was people he may have offended. He went to various ones, saying, “You and I have had dealings. If there was any injustice, I want to make it right.”
As our lesson today points out there are so many areas in which we may not be entirely honest. To the very end of our lives we will all be in need of repentance.
A short prayer by Socrates: “I pray thee, O God, that I may be beautiful within.” And this gem as recorded in the D&C 121:45: “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God.”