And When They Are Good
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“And When They Are Good,” Ensign, Apr. 1971, 43

And When They Are Good

Ours is a busy sidewalk where children race past on bikes and roller skates, and where teenagers stroll by in clusters. Over the years I have watched the neighborhood children grow to young people, to young sweethearts, to young parents.

It seems that today’s young people are like the little girl with the little curl right in the middle of her forehead. When they are good, they are very very good. When they are bad, they are horrid.

The horrids make the headlines with their habits and their protests; with their slouchy postures, slouchy attitudes, and slouchy morals. It’s the horrids who have people wagging their heads, clucking their tongues, and locking their doors and lives against the young.

The very very goods are too busy to attract attention. They must be searched out, but they are there.

I’m a determined optimist, and besides, I can count. I count the horrids who slouch past my house, and when I subtract their number from the total throng, I find an impressive number of those who score from good to very very good.

I watch the long, lean boys who keep their hair and their minds trim, and I eavesdrop as they stroll past in the warm evening. They are asking the same questions we asked when we were young, but are they finding the same answers?

It really hasn’t been all that long since I was at the questioning age, but it’s a different world, with new goals and further horizons and bigger questions and answers to come from whetted young minds.

When they are good, they are very very good. They go out to conquer the world and come home bearing trophies and awards and honors and degrees—often to homes that never knew awards or degrees before.

They bring them home to parents who stay home and take care of their kids; who know where they are and who their friends are; who see to it that their bodies and minds are fed balanced diets and scrubbed regularly.

They bring their honors to humble homes where mother makes the new Easter clothes and where Christmas is budgeted for months in advance. These honors-winning young scholars pay for their degrees with money they earn mowing lawns and filling grocery bags and working at the beach.

I watch the fair young girls come home dressed in their new dignity, and I remember when they climbed my trees and played dress-up in their mothers’ heels. They are the more beautiful because I saw them becoming. Their loveliness sits easily on their young shoulders. When they are good, they are very very good.

The horrids throng our streets and parks and get under our feet and destroy what they touch. They get in our newspapers and in our hair.

As I said, I’m an optimist, and I think even the horrids will mostly come around to the good side. In time. Often the difference between the loudmouthed punk and the tongue-clucking middle-ager is about thirty years.

But the horrids may never catch up with the very very goods because too often the big prizes will have been won and only consolations and second places will be left.

The Bible tells us the race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong (Eccl. 9:11), but it’s hard to beat a good head start.

Some of the young people I have watched over the years are my own and some live in other parts of town, but I feel they are all partly mine. I helped raise them. I picked them up when they tumbled off their bikes. I refereed their battles and cheered their ball games. I shook my head over their mischief; sometimes I scolded them and sometimes I sat in audiences and shed a secret proud tear.

I’m not a seer, but I’m going to prophesy. Some of these kids who walk past on my sidewalk will make headlines someday. Not the horrid kind. The proud kind. Then I’m going to say I told you so.

When they are good, they are very very good. I doubt the world has ever seen better. And they will prevail.

  • Sister Bittner, a successful free-lance writer and assistant editor of Sunset News, a neighborhood weekly, has taught the literature lesson in her ward Relief Society for the past eight years. She lives in Rose Park Tenth Ward, Rose Park Stake, Salt Lake City.

Art by Phyllis Luch