“The Adoption,” New Era, Jan.–Feb. 1984, 46
I suppose most kids dream about being rich. When I was little, I’d mooch along looking for money on the sidewalk. As I grew, so did my dreams. I’d think, “What if I see an unmarked envelope dropped into the weeds, and it’s stuffed with thousand dollar bills?” Since there would be no way to find the owner, I could keep the whole wad.
I quit looking for sudden wealth, because the most I ever found was a dime, which a bigger kid took away from me, and I began to think about relatives.
What if a great aunt or uncle died and, come to find out, they were not only secretly rich but—even more secretly—I’d been their favorite nephew, and they left me with a bundle.
But since my relatives ignored me, mostly, except to ask, “What are you studying in school?” I decided to treasure hunt.
I’d daydream about going out with a crew, and we’d find a Spanish galleon loaded with gold which had sunk off the coast of Quintana Roo, or I’d fancy myself fighting my way gamely up the Amazon River, where I’d stumble across an emerald mine.
By the time I was 16, I’d about given up my dreams of wealth, and then Mr. Boyd moved in next door.
Dad said the freeway took the elderly widower’s home, so he bought the house which had stood empty for a couple of months. It was a pleasant place, quiet, shaded by old trees and lilac bushes.
Mom said the rumor that got started about Mr. Boyd being rich had variations like a Bach prelude and was more fanciful. She said she was sure Mr. Boyd had as much money as the rest of us—just barely not enough—but I knew better.
To be sure, the car he drove wheezed like an elephant with the croup, and although he looked neat, with his bushy white hair and clear blue eyes, he sure didn’t dress like a millionaire, at least not like I’d dress if I had a bunch of money cornered.
Still, the vibes I got from Mr. Boyd convinced me he was an eccentric who had funds squirreled away in banks all over town. And when I found out he didn’t have any living relatives except for a lady cousin who lived in Arizona somewhere, I decided to become Mr. Boyd’s next of kin through adoption.
The way I had it figured, I would be underfoot in such a persistently helpful and noticeably warm-hearted way that I couldn’t help but be lovable.
I about wore out my eyes watching Mr. Boyd, waiting for chances to be helpful, although what I got in return were corner-eyed looks which told me he hadn’t been around teenagers for maybe 200 years. I could just feel the elderly man thinking I was a pill freak who roared around on a bike when I wasn’t lurking on street corners waiting to snatch purses from tottery old ladies.
That attitude irritated me. I wanted Mr. Boyd to notice I didn’t even own a motorcycle. I’m not big on them. And since he saw me in priesthood meeting every Sunday I felt he should know I wasn’t into drugs or alcohol. But since he never spoke to me, I couldn’t think of any clever way to tell him I could get a high—a near heaven kind of high—from listening to a Liszt rhapsody or looking at dew on rose leaves.
But for three months Mr. Boyd barely nodded to me except for the time I trimmed our side of the hedge, then went around and trimmed his too. Then he did say, “Thanks,” but nervously.
I sighed, because after he said “Thanks” he hurried into his house, and I noticed that the way I happened to be holding the hedge clippers looked a lot more threatening than lovable.
I decided I’d have to change tactics if I was ever going to make myself adoptable, so I began to wait for Mr. Boyd’s car to limp into his driveway. Then I’d dash over to carry his grocery bags, or what ever, into his kitchen. I’d try to make conversation with remarks like, “Awesome day, right? Sort of majestically inspirational,” and he’d look at me like I’d just stepped out of a UFO.
Dad was pleased with me because I was trying to be nice to Mr. Boyd, although of course he didn’t know about my plan. Dad said, “Your neighborly acts are very commendable, David, and don’t get discouraged if Mr. Boyd doesn’t warm up to you right away.” He’d remind me that adolescents take so much getting used to that by the time an adult gets used to them, they aren’t adolescents anymore. That didn’t cheer me up a whole lot.
Still, I went on playing it cool with one ear cocked for the sound of opportunity knocking, which I heard from half a block away one afternoon—a knock from Mr. Boyd’s car, which was then taken with a severe coughing spell at the corner, where it gave up the ghost.
My trigger-quick mind sent me rushing to his aid. While Mr. Boyd steered, I pushed his deceased automobile into his driveway. When the old man got out he said mournfully, “Guess the old crate’s done for.”
I almost asked, “Why not buy a new one?” but I was afraid that would let him know I knew he was secretly loaded. Instead, using my bright and most lovable tone of voice I said, “Let me work on your car, sir. I’m sure I can revive it.”
Actually, motorized objects and I have no special rapport, but Dad thinks an education should be well rounded. His notion had me taking a class in auto mechanics, so I was able to get Mr. Boyd’s car running again.
I had my head under the hood one afternoon, whistling loudly while I gave the spark plugs a final check, when Mr. Boyd went “Harrumph!” just behind my right ear. The sound startled me so much I gave a leap and banged my head smartly on the hood. I was still seeing afternoon stars when Mr. Boyd demanded, “Is that Rossini you’re whistling?”
Rubbing my dented head I said, “Yes, sir. The Thieving Magpie Overture.”
“Good gracious!” Mr. Boyd stared at me as if I’d sprouted an extra nose. “You mean you know opera?”
A bit miffed I said, “Why not? Dad’s a music professor at the university. Opera and classical music got piped into my bassinet.”
Then, for the first time, I saw Mr. Boyd smile. He said, “I thought kids nowadays never listened to anything but that loud noise you call stone.”
“Rock, sir. Anyway, some of that music is very good, Mr. Boyd. There are quite a few groups who really know about music, and I like them, but I prefer Beethoven, Vivaldi, Wagner …”
“Have you ever heard of Enrico Caruso?” Mr. Boyd interrupted, his blue eyes fixed anxiously on my face.
“Sure. Dad says Caruso was about the greatest tenor opera ever had.”
Mr. Boyd trotted toward his house. I followed, wondering what had gotten into him.
The living room of the house was cool, quiet, high ceilinged. Heavy furniture rested on a carpet with roses woven into a soft pattern. Mr. Boyd walked briskly to a corner and put his hand on a tall, boxy object.
“This,” he told me, “is a Victrola which still works.” After he explained that a Victrola is a sort of old-time stereo, he told me he had records for it that were priceless, and the most valuable of the old recordings were those done by Caruso.
Carefully he removed a brittle, black record from a paper envelope, cranked the machine with a handle, and then for the first time I heard the voice of Enrico Caruso. Was he something! Mr. Boyd said that since he could tell I appreciated good music I was welcome anytime he was home to come over and listen to his records.
I grinned. At last! Mr. Boyd was going to get to know me.
One evening I was sitting in front of his Victrola, enjoying the fringe benefits of Caruso, when Mr. Boyd came out of his bedroom carrying a photograph album. He looked edgy, old, and there was a loneliness in his eyes deeper than usual when he asked, like he expected me to back off, if I’d like to see his family pictures.
The truth is I wanted to back off. I had to remind myself sternly about the hard work I’d already put in to make myself lovingly adoptable before I could put the proper enthusiasm in my voice when I cried, “I’d enjoy that!” I jumped right up to sit beside the old man on what he called the “davenport.”
I don’t know where the evening went. Who would have dreamed that a peaceful-appearing man like Mr. Boyd could have lived a life of such high adventure?
He’d been raised in southeastern Utah. By the time he was my age he was already running the Colorado River in a canoe, and that was before they dammed those violent waters. He’d been sheriff of a county bigger than some states. He’d been member of a rescue posse that patrolled the wild Canyonlands, and he’d served as a stake missionary on the Navajo reservation.
He told me about so many exciting adventures that I had goosebumps all over. That evening he showed me only a few of his family pictures, but he did tell me that his wife had died ten years earlier, and that their only child, a son, had been pilot of a B-17 bomber during World War II, and that he had been shot down over Italy.
“Missing in action,” Mr. Boyd said. An old sorrow dimmed his eyes. “Thirty-three years have gone by, and never a word about what happened to our Dan.”
I don’t know if he knew there were tears on his cheeks, but I knew the lump in my own throat was still there when I went to bed that night.
From then on I hardly bothered to knock before I walked into Mr. Boyd’s house. A special feeling had developed between us. It was like, when we were together, he forgot he was 76, and I forgot I was 16. Each of us was so much aware of what thoughts and emotions were going on inside the other that what was outside didn’t matter.
I can’t remember when it finally began to dawn on me that Mr. Boyd not only didn’t have funds hidden in any banks, nor musty bills in his mattress, but that while his monthly pension check stretched far enough to cover his utilities and groceries, the covering was often skimpy.
The knowledge that my friend was anything but rich penetrated my skull for good the day I asked why he didn’t have a telephone. Smiling, Mr. Boyd said, “For one thing, son, all the people I’m interested in live no further than a brisk walk away. For another, if you let that company install a telephone they begin to expect you to pay for the use of it.”
Then one day, when Mr. Boyd and I were walking home from sacrament meeting, he cleared his throat in a way that warned me he’d been working to get up enough nerve to say whatever he was trying to get out. After another self-conscious “Harrumph!” he blurted, “Son, you got any plans to get married?”
That stopped me cold in my tracks. I squeaked, “Good grief, Mr. Boyd, I haven’t even been on a mission yet!”
He laughed in the hearty way he has that always makes me grin from the inside out. He said, “I planned to come at you slantways with that, not scare you to death, but what I’m trying to find out is if your future plans include a wife?”
I said, “Sure. But please,” I pleaded dramatically, “can I wait to get married until I find a girl?”
As we walked beside lilac bushes in bloom Mr. Boyd put his hand on my shoulder. He said, “Even nice girls can be picky. Maybe the one who waits for you won’t want a lot of old relics, but,” his steps slowed, “I have a few belongings of mostly sentimental value, like my records and Victrola, a copper kettle my great-grandmother brought across the plains in a handcart, similar things I wouldn’t want just anybody to have.”
I stopped to pick a lilac because I didn’t know how I could look at Mr. Boyd when he said what I expected him to say next, which he did.
“I’m making a will, David. I’ll leave my home to Cousin Bertha, but what I own that is really important to me I want you to have.”
I studied that lilac like it was going to help me pass a botany exam, which I’d have flunked because the lavender blossoms kept going blurry on me. I was remembering how I’d schemed to become Mr. Boyd’s adopted son so I would be his heir. Now I could hardly believe I’d ever been greedy and dumb enough to think that money could have as much value as a very special friend.
Pretending a ladybug on my sleeve needed loving care I lifted the orange insect off and placed it on the sidewalk, which gave me time to get hold of myself. But I guess Mr. Boyd thought I was trying to think of how I could tell him I wasn’t interested in his keepsakes, because when he spoke again it was in a slow, explaining sort of way.
He said, “I’ve never worried a great deal about working for material goods, David. I’ve tried to live by what Jesus told us in Matthew, ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven’” (Matt. 6:19–20). Mr. Boyd smiled. “So I haven’t laid up many earthly treasures. I’ve felt the most important work I could do here is to learn how to get back where I came from, and to send ahead what I could.”
I looked with affection at Mr. Boyd’s face, which was lined with age but beautiful with dignified peace. How much he had taught me about what’s important in life and about what doesn’t matter very much, like money.
As his officially unadopted son, Mr. Boyd had already given me many valuable gifts, like the way I was able to understand what he meant when he spoke of treasures, and when his face took on a look of quiet happiness I knew he was thinking about his wife and his son, Danny.
I stopped to pick a few more lilacs, then caught up with Mr. Boyd.
I said, “Sir, I want you to know I’ll be proud to take care of the material things you treasured on earth. And I promise I won’t marry a girl until I know for sure she’ll appreciate them as much as I do.”
Then, with what I hoped was a courtly flourish, I held out the lilacs to Mr. Boyd. There were many tender and loving phrases tumbling around in my head that I wanted to use, but all that came out was a humble, “Thank you.”