1976
The Day They Gave the Park Away
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“The Day They Gave the Park Away,” Ensign, Aug. 1976, 35–36

The Day They Gave the Park Away

Last year the county bought a saltwater park on Port Susan, a deepwater bay on Puget Sound. It is a lovely spot, but when it was privately owned we couldn’t afford the entrance fee.

Now the painted green sign said “County Park.” It looked inviting, so I cranked our old car toward the entrance.

On the cliff to the right were some giant trees of the past: firs that would take at least three pairs of arms to encompass. To the left we saw a curve of beach strewn with sun-and sea-washed driftwood. The children immediately envisioned fortresses, castles, hideouts, and jungle gyms. When the car stopped, both doors flew open as one, and we raced over the logs, jumped into sand, picked up loose pebbles, and cupped our hands to make leaky buckets. All the while we laughed and thanked God for his goodness.

We went to the park many times after that, and found others enjoying it, too. The leaves changed from green to a blaze of gold, brown, and orange. School, chill breezes, and football interfered; fewer people went. But we kept going.

Last Monday, five-year-old Amy prepared our family home evening—a lesson, a story, and some games. She proposed we have it at the park. The vote “for” was unanimous.

Monday came; so did the clouds. Monday evening arrived; so did the rain. I vacillated, then said, “Come on, let’s go anyway.” My wife, Ann, hesitated, knew she was outnumbered, and headed for the closet to get the coats.

The rain had settled the dust on the gravel road between the park and home, and a clean, damp smell rose in its place. As our little car jounced over the washboard road, we sang, “Give, Said the Little Stream” because it had a verse about rain in it. The tune wandered at times, Jill was half a verse behind, and squeals from the baby punctuated here and there, but sing we did while the one remaining windshield wiper beat time. We were finishing “Oh, Beautiful for Spacious Skies” (there was a small disagreement between Joel and Amy over whether that song could be sung on a rainy day) as we drove into the park entrance. One sweeping glance revealed something missing: not one car, truck, or camper was there to blot the landscape. No moving soul was there. The whole panorama was ours, unfettered and free.

Our balding tires squeegeed on the wet blacktop as we rolled to the beach and ran for the sheltered picnic table. One by one we found a place and waited to see what Amy had prepared for home evening.

Amy loved her role of conducting, and with solemnity and an air of importance she called on someone to give the prayer. She led the opening song while I dashed after Jason, who had toddled toward the incoming tide during the prayer.

Amy, with the help of Mommy, gave a skit about reverence in sacrament meeting (no small problem for our children), and then led a discussion about working out a job chart. After that everyone played “Simon Says.” The children loved it and so did we.

Ann’s treats were gobbled up faster than you can spell disaster. Then, while she held the baby (who was getting fussy by now), the rest of us played hide-and-seek in the dusk.

My lungs hurt from hard running as I wove in and out of the trees lining the beach drive. I found a trunk with a girth that exceeded mine and pressed myself close to hide from my pursuers. The rough-channeled maple bark gave off an aroma of wet moss and nutty autumn, and I relaxed to capture this moment as I tried to still my errant breathing lest the enemy should hear. It was then the thought came firmly to my mind:

“The family is a divine unit; family home evening has been given you for your joy and your salvation.” The thought burned through me. I knew it was true.

“We see you, Daddy,” the children squealed in delight. I let out my best lion’s roar, and their shrieks filled the empty park. I bent down to catch a girl under each arm, while Joel scrambled on my back. With a full heart I hobbled back under my delightsome burden.

As we scrambled into the car and started chugging up the hill, Joel turned and waved, “Goodbye, Park!” We all looked back. The breeze-tossed branches returned the wave.

  • Jack R. Jenkins, a freelance writer and film producer, serves as Aaronic Priesthood director and Sunday School teacher in the Marysville Ward, Mt. Vernon Washington Stake.

Illustrated by Janet Fountin