I once asked my dad why we went to Malta every summer growing up. His answer, “I wanted you to get to know your grandmother, Hope.” While I saw the wisdom in that, the reason I went was to watch Grandpa.
Growing up, Grandpa’s father lost all his wealth and so at 9, Fred went to work on the sheep farms of northern Utah and southern Idaho. Sheep camps, sheep dogs, living in trailers, dealing with horses, herding and being on his own were his lot for most of the next 30 years. He was successful in these ventures and by 40 owned quite a bit of land, a home and a business.
When he was 40 he met, fell in love and married Hope Hulet. The next year he lost his home, lumber mill and all his accumulated wealth. He also lost his cigarettes. To be more precise they were taken away. Out on the open range he got into the habit of smoking. The year he got married the church leaders ended years of controversy by making the word of wisdom a requirement to enter the temple. One day, after being sealed in the Temple, Hope found Bull Durham in his pocket, while doing his washing. She informed him that either the cigarettes or she would be leaving. He dropped smoking and they lived together for the next 40 years.
I got to know Grandpa during his last 10 years. Each summer we would drive to Malta and spend a week or so eating, visiting, and exploring the farm.
The home had five rooms, two of which were bedrooms. With a bathroom, that left a small kitchen and front room for everyone to congregate. The tiny front room contained a round table, couch, bookcases, end table and a heater. When all of the aunts, uncles, siblings, and cousins descended on my grandparents it was cozy.
It was also easy to keep track of where everyone was. I kept track of Grandpa. Where he went, I went. Next to the back door were pegs where his coat and hat were hung. When the screen door slammed shut I knew Grandpa had plucked his hat and coat from the pegs and was on the move. So I followed.
I heard him whistle for his dog. Grandpa unlatched the gate and we’d search for the cows. The dog would bark and snap at their heels and slowly the cows would gather, and meander back through the gate into a ramshackle shed where grandpa would clamp the milking machine sucking tubes to the utters of the cows. After a while Grandpa would shout at the cow to move, rap her across the back and she’d slowly move out of the shed. Grandpa would then pour the milk into large galvanized milk cans, slam the lid on, plunk them into the back of his truck and we’d be off to Malta, a mile down the road. There he’d deliver the milk to the Whey Station. Just sitting next to Grandpa as the pick up bounced across the dirt or gravel roads with the cans banging around in the back was good enough for me.
One night my dad put Sandy, Mark and I into the old 56 Ford Station wagon and we followed Grandpa in his pickup out onto the prairie. We drove along, no headlights, bouncing and teetering on the edge of giant road ruts. Suddenly we stopped, flipped on the headlights and Grandpa, Dad and Frank pulled out 22’s and began plugging rabbits. The lights mesmerized the rabbits, which stood to attention as they were being slaughtered. Grandpa later explained that the local farmers had killed all the coyotes leaving the fields of wheat and alfalfa open for the rabbits to ravage, which they did. This was Grandpa’s solution. To a 12-year old’s mind this was pure genius.
Sometimes when it was warm we’d all sleep outside under the trees next to the stream that flowed next to the house. One night I remember having a big bond-fire and roasting hot dogs in the cool Idaho air. We were all snuggled down in our sleeping bags when Grandpa came out. He picked up a willow, pulled out his knife and whittled a whistle. He told a story and part of it had to do with that whistle. We were all wide eyed.
One night most of the kids had been put to bed and I was left up with the adults. The heater was radiating plenty of heat. There were lots of aunts and uncles in the room. Grandpa was talking. He told us that many years ago he was praying about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. He decided to go to Conference in Salt Lake City. He was with one of his brothers, Charles or Clarence. Antony W. Ivans was speaking on the Book of Mormon. Grandpa was sitting in the bottom section toward the back. As the talk went on Grandpa looked up and saw two personages standing in the air above the podium on either side of the speaker. They were dressed in what Grandpa said were Nephite clothes. Of course he was shocked and turned to his brother and said, “Do you see that?” When he looked back it was gone.
After telling this story, his children asked a few questions and then he directed his attention to me. He said, “Kent, This really happened to me and I want you to always remember what I have told you.” That was it. My grandfather had had a vision and he wanted me to remember.
Apostle Anthony W. Ivans
A year or two later my grandfather died of a heart attack.
Recently I was visiting some cousins in Arizona. There I met Fred’s sister-in-law Bernadene Gardiner. She is 89 and she told me that when the Salt Lake Temple was dedicated, Fred, 14, and Clarence, 12 sat on the steps during the actual dedication and heard the Hallelujah shouts emanating from inside the temple. They must have shouted pretty loud to make it through the thick walls.
My dad told me that whenever my Grandfather would come in from working on the field, or milking the cows or driving to Malta and sit for lunch or dinner he would grab the scriptures. He would prop them next to him and read and ponder as he ate his meal. This was a habit. I’ve wondered since then if the seed of that habit came from his sheep camp days or possibly from what happened to him in the Tabernacle. Who knows?
In any case I miss Grandpa. I miss following him around the farm, the sound of his voice, the strength of his hands and his bright whistle. I can still see his dog bouncing around him as he pushes the gate open and heads out to the field.