Love by the Bucketful
September 1988

“Love by the Bucketful,” Ensign, Sept. 1988, 26–27

Love by the Bucketful

When Idaho’s Teton Dam collapsed on 5 June 1976, our home, on the northwest corner of our sixty-acre farm near Sugar City, Idaho, was slammed by a debris-laden, six-foot wall of water. It shattered the family room windows, allowing a barrage of mud, muck, and entire bales of straw to fill the house.

For weeks after the flood, thousands of volunteers poured into southeastern Idaho to help the victims clean up. Near the end of the second month, my husband was back at work, and the children were dispersed among relatives in Montana and Utah. I was left to supervise the “flood” of volunteers—a hundred in all—who miraculously arrived day after day to help us dig out from under six feet of filthy muck and water. In a matter of weeks, those assigned to our home had scoured every inch of every room except for the crawl space in the basement. Because this space was so inaccessible, I had saved this worst task of the cleanup until last.

There was only a partial basement underneath the house, but the three-foot-high crawl space reached out in all directions. In that hard-to-reach area we had stored boxes of empty fruit jars, painting supplies, nails, screws, an ice-cream freezer, and packages of food too bulky for regular shelves.

A few days after the flood, these buried supplies had been discarded, and all that remained was slimy, mucky mud. To alleviate the stench, it all had to go.

On a particularly hot July day, a volunteer crew from Salt Lake City was assigned to help us. I drove to the church parking lot early that morning and picked up three men and two teenage boys.

When the six of us reached our home, I reluctantly ushered them downstairs to the mud-clogged crawl space. Without a murmuring word, they cheerfully accepted the enormous challenge and quickly organized a bucket brigade. The boys crouched in the crawl space with short-handled scoops and filled the buckets. The men were bucket carriers.

It was a tough job. In the part of the basement that was dug out and cemented, anyone taller than five feet had to stoop to avoid colliding with the floor joists overhead. The boys slid, kicked, crawled, and groped their way under, around, and between water pipes and heating ducts to shovel and fill the buckets. When the buckets were full, the boys shoved them toward a man who carried them to another volunteer halfway up the basement stairs.

He in turn lugged the buckets—one in each hand—to the third man in the family room, who emptied the buckets of mud out the broken windows. This miserable work continued through the whole day. In spite of this, the crew remained cheerful, sometimes whistling or humming while waiting their turn to pass the mud-filled buckets.

I worried about the health of one man whose brow dripped perspiration continuously. With the ninety-degree heat and the heavy manual labor involved, I felt my anxiety intensify with every bucket, particularly when I learned that he regularly worked in an air-conditioned office.

I was grateful for their work and didn’t want to nag, yet I frequently asked all the volunteers to rest. No one paid any attention. None slackened their pace or stopped, except at noon, when they ate cold lunches they had brought with them. All day they labored feverishly, as if their lives depended on the quantity and quality of the work they were doing.

To allow them to meet their bus for the ride home, quitting time was 4:00 P.M. Somehow, by that time, this crew had miraculously extracted all the mud and debris from the hard-to-reach crawl space.

When we arrived at the church parking lot where they were to catch the bus for home, I again thanked the volunteers for their help. The two boys and two of the men marched off toward the row of buses, black lunch pails swinging by their sides.

One of the men hesitated by our pickup, took my hand, and whispered, “You wonderful people. May the Lord bless you and help you keep going.”

Tears glistened in his eyes, then suddenly he turned and joined his comrades on the bus.

I was greatly touched and uplifted. Through this volunteer and his friends, I had felt the Savior’s words magnified:

“A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.” (John 13:34–35.)

  • Nola T. Vance, a homemaker, is assistant librarian in the Rexburg (Idaho) First Ward.