“Timmy, Keep Your Head Up!” Ensign, July 1993, 50–51
Aside from the aroma of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies, my fondest childhood memories of visiting my grandparents are of bouncing an underinflated basketball on the cracked and gravelly asphalt driveway behind their home. One experience in particular had the profound effect of bonding me to my grandfather in a way that neither of us could have anticipated.
An unexpected spring snowstorm had made it necessary for a few friends and me to use some old cornstock brooms to clear the driveway before we could begin sharpening our eleven-year-old skills for future careers on the basketball court. The customary “shoot for teams” wasn’t completed when Grandpa’s sun-bleached, lime green pickup truck slowly made the lefthand turn into the narrow driveway and came to a stop near the free-throw line. Opening the door, he lifted his large hands and motioned for me to come over to the truck. “I’ve got something for you,” he said. “If you’re going to play, you’ll need one of these.” And he handed me a brand new basketball.
I can never remember owning a basketball before that day. With five brothers and a sister at home, sports equipment was generally considered communal property. Knowing that this ball may have the same fate, Grandpa had taken special care to write my name in large, two-inch letters on the ball. The new ball was fully inflated, requiring a slight modification in my dribbling technique.
The letters spelled T-I-M in Grandpa’s own distinctive handwriting. His 72-year-old fingers had struggled in keeping the pen steady across the dimply rubber surface of the basketball. The T wasn’t capitalized nor the I dotted. But I would not have traded that three-letter inscription for an autograph written by Bill Russell or Walt Frazier. My only concern was how to dribble it so my name wouldn’t wear off.
Within minutes, Grandpa began his usual coaching clinic. And while I had heard him use the same expression to me hundreds of times before, the uniqueness of the moment, coupled with the closeness I felt with him, seemed to forge an impression that would last a lifetime: “Timmy, keep your head up!” He said it over and over, as if repeating it alone would correct the apparent malady. “Timmy, keep your head up.”
Most people can probably point to an event or series of events that mark the transition from youth to adulthood. For me, one of those events took place not long afterward, on 7 July 1967, when my grandfather passed away. He was sitting in his truck at the crest of a knoll overlooking his farm. We all knew he would have wanted it that way. His great-great-grandfather, David Evans, was the first bishop and second mayor of Lehi. Farming had been a way of life for the Evans family since they settled there in 1851. Even now, when I think of Grandpa, I see him in his khaki-colored shirt and pants sporting a broad-brimmed safari hat, pushing levers and pedals behind a curtain of grain dust, atop his big red combine.
If he had some premonition that his time was short, it was never mentioned. While he was prepared for his death, I was not. Maybe because this was my first experience in trying to comprehend the passing of a loved one. I didn’t doubt that I would see him again, but I was deeply saddened by the loss of someone who I knew genuinely loved me, even though he could never outwardly express those feelings.
The day he died, I sat with the ball he gave me and found my fingers tracing the jaggedly constructed letters. With a heavy heart, I resolved never to use the ball again for fear the inscription would be lost and with it a very special connection to my grandfather, who only a few weeks earlier had encouraged me with his favorite coaching expression, “Timmy, keep your head up!” But the aching in my heart began to subside, and a smile returned.
Years later while serving my mission, I became acquainted with discouragement. Facing the cold northern Michigan winter and a similarly chilly response to our message of the Restoration, my companion and I were despairing at our inability to find the people we knew the Lord had prepared for us to teach.
Following scripture study one morning, I pulled out an early-edition copy of Jesus the Christ—my grandfather’s copy that had been given to me. As I turned the pages, my heart jumped. It had been nearly eight years since the letters on my ball had begun to fade, but I recognized his handwriting in the margins immediately. Those big hands, the khaki shirt, and the broad-brimmed hat were all there in my mind. I didn’t hear his voice; I didn’t need to. The memory of it was clear: “Timmy, keep your head up. Timmy, keep your head up.”
Surely he could not have known in the spring of 1967 that those words would comfort and encourage me in the winter of 1974, far away from the asphalt driveway and the sound of bouncing balls. Thoughts of a basketball career evaporated many years ago, but thanks to good coaching when I was at an impressionable age, dribbling through life’s challenges with my head up has been much easier.