“Friend to Friend,” Friend, Sept. 1988, 6
Elder F. Burton Howard was born in Logan, Utah. His family later moved and lived in a number of different places in Utah, Arizona, and Wyoming. “I didn’t know then that moving around so much should have been a problem, so it wasn’t. My two grandmothers then lived in Malad, Idaho, and wherever we lived, we would make a long pilgrimage in the car to see them once a year.”
Elder Howard’s father worked for the Soil Conservation Service, and he would occasionally take his son on one of his work excursions into the desert. “One time when I was five years old, he took me out just so that I could see what a rattlesnake looked like,” Elder Howard said. “We found a big one, and that was very impressive to me.”
“My father was a very good basketball player. In a time when people weren’t as tall as they are now, he measured six feet four inches. In the 1930s he played what was called semipro ball. When I was small, Dad didn’t try to teach me to be a ball player. We never had a basketball standard or a ball; we couldn’t afford them, and neither could anybody else in our neighborhood. But we always had a softball and a baseball and played those sports a lot.
“My mother was an accomplished pianist and singer. During my childhood, she and my father sang in church, at funerals, and in the civic opera.
“I took piano and voice lessons, but I’m sure that I must have been a disappointment to my parents. I didn’t like practicing the piano, but I did learn to read music and sing. I used to play in a band, and I learned to play the piano well enough that I can still play all the hymns.”
Elder Howard is the oldest of three children; he has a younger brother and sister. “My brother and sister and I used to put off going to bed by asking Mother to read us a story. She had an old book of Book of Mormon stories that she’d read to us. Sometimes she’d slip in a story from the Bible. When I was young, I didn’t know the difference between the stories from the Bible and the Book of Mormon. I just knew that they were scripture stories and that I loved them all.
“I was a good reader, and we always had books. Dad made a special effort when we were quite young to buy an encyclopedia for our family. There was a time when I read almost everything that I could get my hands on, but there were still more books in our home than I could ever read.
“When I was in my first year of college at Logan, Utah, I bought an old car for a hundred dollars. I was eighteen and thought that I knew all about driving. It was Christmastime, and my parents were living on a ranch in Wyoming. I picked up my two grandmothers and took them to my parents’ home for Christmas. We had a grand time there. When it was time to return to school, the weather had changed and the roads were treacherous. That morning as we were ready to leave, we held a family prayer in the living room. My father prayed that we would have a safe journey. After we had loaded my car with suitcases, blankets, tuna fish sandwiches, and a thermos bottle full of Postum, Dad walked out to the car and said, ‘I want to talk to you.’ We went over and stood by the fence. ‘You have a very valuable cargo,’ he said, nodding at my grandmothers. ‘I want you to promise me that if the roads are bad and it’s snowing when you get down to Lander, you won’t go over South Pass. I want you to take the long way.’
“I promised him that I would. My parents kissed us good-bye, and we were on our way. We had nice weather until we got to Riverton; then it started to snow. By the time we got to Lander, it was snowing pretty hard. I remembered my promise, so when we came to the intersection where you turn to go up the mountain, I made a conscious turn to go the long way. I remember thinking then that it was going to take us five hours longer to get to Utah. I knew the road, and I was absolutely certain that I had made the right turn. As we drove along, we were joking and laughing, although the snow was getting thicker. Then I saw a sign that read, ‘Historic Old South Pass City,’ and I realized that I had somehow become confused in the snowstorm and had taken the wrong road! I thought, Dad will be angry with me! I don’t know how this happened—it wasn’t intentional. I had only two choices: I could keep on going, or I could turn around and go back. By this time, we were at the summit, so I decided that we might as well keep going and that I would apologize to Dad later. As we came down the mountain, the snow stopped and the roads were clear. We drove to Logan and then to Malad without any problems.
“On my way to school the next day I happened to see the front-page headline of a newspaper: WORST BLIZZARD OF THE YEAR STRANDS HUNDREDS IN CENTRAL WYOMING. I bought a paper, and it was full of stories about people who had been stranded, lost, or killed on the road that I had promised to take. I realized that the prayer our family had offered had been answered. I knew that the Lord had gotten us on the right road, and I realized how He had protected us. I was never the same after that.”
Elder Howard’s message to the children of the Church is this: “Be helpful in your home. Learn to do things well, and always do your best. Read more good books and watch less television. Be truthful and prayerful. Keep the commandments, follow the prophet, and always be proud that you are a Latter-day Saint.”