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“Harley-Davidson,” New Era, Aug. 1985, 41


First-Place Fiction

My wayward brother Gus. He loved his Harley-Davidson. And he desperately wanted me to be a missionary.

May 26

… The Jones family haven’t committed to baptism yet, but they want us to keep teaching them.

I have a few minutes and I think it’s about time I wrote about my big brother, Gus.

The day I received my mission call, I drove up to Gus’s gas station. I saw him standing by the cash register counting a wad of money. He scratched his beard and pulled back his long hair as he puffed a cigarette. He looked perturbed, as if he hadn’t made quite enough cash that day. I read his lips as he recounted the money and watched his mouth form numbers and then a four-letter word.

When the wheels of the Martian Mobile (my olive green, ’64 Ford Falcon) rolled over a black hose by the gas pumps, the customer bell rang. It startled poor Gus and caused him to swear again. He jumped when he realized it was me, spit the cigarette out, stamped on it, and crammed the money into the cash register. The entire reaction spanned a time lapse of two seconds.

I watched in amazement. I wasn’t supposed to know he smoked, swore, or worshipped money. What? Did he think I was born yesterday?

He walked out of the station office with his hands reaching into his pockets. He pulled out a tiny can of breath spray and sprayed it into his mouth.

“Hi Paul!” he greeted smiling innocently.

“Okay, ten bucks regular.” I pretended to be gruff. “And make it quick.”

His response came in the character of a southern hillbilly.

“We ain’t serving yer kind here, mister. Only transients, hippies, motorcycle gangs—if they ride Harley-Davidsons, that is—and other general public nuisances.”

I watched as he pumped 12 dollars worth of gasoline into my dilapidated car.

I handed him a ten and two one-dollar bills. He kept the ten and tossed the ones into my back seat. From the time I had started talking about a mission, he’d been giving me two extra dollars worth each time I got gas.

“I sho ’nuff ’preciate it,” he drawled, “but I ain’t receivin’ no charitee’ from some short-haired, prospective missionaree.”

I raised my eyebrow, then asked, “Even if that ‘missionaree’ received his call today?”

I held up the unopened envelope. It had just arrived in the mail from Church headquarters, and I had rushed over to tell Gus.

“You got it?” he squealed, forgetting the drawl. Then embarrassed by his own excitement, he calmly added, “So where are you going, Paul?”

“I haven’t opened it yet. That’s why I came.”

“Well hurry up!” he insisted.

We sat in two greasy chairs in the gas station’s office. He was honestly more anxious and nervous than I was. I patiently held the envelope up to the light, then obnoxiously passed it from hand to hand.

“Are you ready, Gus?” I teased.

“Just open the thing!” he snapped.

He reached for the drawer where he kept his cigarettes, but remembering I didn’t know he smoked, sat on his trembling hands. He crossed his legs, and the dangling foot began dancing anxiously.

My missionary papers had been submitted a month before. I thought Gus was going to have a nervous breakdown as we had waited out the month to see where I’d be going.

Gus’s mysterious excitement about my mission call was something else I wasn’t supposed to know about. One day I had overheard him yelling at the poor mailman about how slow the U.S. mail system was.

He’d lock up his gas station and come home every day at noon, when the mail came, to see if it had arrived yet. I really couldn’t understand why he cared so much.

I opened the envelope and slowly began reading. I stopped cold when I read the place.

“I’m staying in the States!”

“Well, at least it ain’t one of those Communist countries,” he sighed, speaking with the drawl again. “Ya won’t be thrown in jail or come back with some weird disease.”

“You are so strange,” I told him.

He just looked at me for a moment. He took a big breath, uncrossed his legs, settled his nervous feet on the floor, grasped the arms of the chair with his trembling hands, and spoke seriously, no drawl, his voice shaking a little.

“So you’re staying in the good old U.S. of A? Well that’s neat, little brother, that’s really neat.”

He stood and put forth his greasy, dirty hand. I went to shake it, then hesitated when I realized how grimy it was.

“Oh shake it, ya pansy,” he barked. “Don’t ya know missionaries have to shake hands all day?”

I hugged him. I just reached right up and put my arms around his thick neck and hugged him. I didn’t worry that his greasy overalls would stain my clean shirt. I was holding back tears, and I knew he was too.

“I’m gonna miss ya, Gus.”

He didn’t say anything.

Right then a beautiful blonde in a Corvette convertible drove over the black hose, and the customer bell rang again. He pushed me away. Macho men don’t hug their little brothers. When the girl asked who I was, Gus was embarrassed. I had to chuckle. He’s never been as tough as he thinks he is.

I left him romancing his customer. His charisma is what had made his gas station the “hang out” for most of the gorgeous blondes in town. He does indeed charm the ladies. I hope I have some of it when I’m ready to look for a wife.

I went straight home to tell my parents. They were pleased I had shared the experience first with Gus.

“You’ll reach him yet,” my Dad told me, and that made me feel really good.

The weeks following were exciting. I sold the Martian Mobile to a college kid for 400 dollars and bought missionary suits with it.

Gus came home one day with two brand-new suitcases and a briefcase. His gift really humbled me.

Dad had cosigned so Gus could buy the gas station when he graduated from high school. Business had sometimes been slow, so making the monthly payments on the station and on his prized Harley-Davidson motorcycle took every earned penny.

His “Harley D,” as he calls it, is a “chopper,” which means the front wheel of the motorcycle is extended a foot or two. The back rest is made of chrome formed to look like one of those medieval ball and chains (a mace) which extends over the back wheel. It looks like a weapon just begging for a fight. Let me tell you, it’s one loaded machine.

I knew that buying the luggage was a real sacrifice for Gus.

Gus attended my missionary farewell at the ward. It was the first time he’d gone to church in at least eight years. It really made me happy.

It’s 10:00 P.M. now, so it’s time for missionaries to hit the sack. I’ll write more about Gus tomorrow night.

May 27 (Gus’s story continued)

By the way, we showed the Jones family the Church filmstrip, “The First Vision.” Missionaries show filmstrips when they’ve run out of discussions. I think I saw Sister Jones wipe a tear away. Maybe their hearts are softening.

The last week home was sad. I wasn’t having second thoughts or anything, but I sure was scared, and I realized how homesick I was going to be.

A couple of days before I left home to enter the MTC, I decided to walk from our house to Gus’s station, about two miles away, just to visit him at work one last time.

As I walked, I thought about Gus and myself. We’re the only kids in our home. We’ve always been close, even though we’re so different and he’s five years older.

Gus used to be active in the Church. He had become a deacon. Then about the time he entered junior high school he started to rebel. My parents were patient but heartbroken.

Gus was tough and mean and popular. I was never Paul—I was Gus’s little brother. But that was okay, because the big guys left me alone.

People marveled we were brothers.

When I was a senior in high school I had already decided to serve a mission, so my hair was always cut short—missionary style. That school year Gus and I would always go to lunch together.

He’d lock up his station and pick me up in front of the high school on his mean Harley-Davidson. We sure must have looked funny riding down the street—Gus with his beard and long hair, something out of a motorcycle gang, and me, “Mr. Clean,” your basic prospective missionary.

I approached Gus’s station that day from a trail in back of it and was rounding the corner to go into the office when I overheard Gus talking to someone about me. I stopped to listen. They didn’t know I was there.

“Did I tell you Paul is going on a mission?” Gus asked.

“Yer kiddin?” It was the voice of Rod, Gus’s best friend, my worst enemy.

“Nope, I’m real proud of the kid.”

“He’s a ‘boot licker,’” Rod cynically responded. “You don’t believe all that stuff about Joseph Smith do ya?”

I doubled my fist in instant anxiety.

How would Gus answer the question? Would he say what he really felt to Rod? His influence had always persuaded Gus to do wrong, which was why I disliked him so much.

Gus thought before he answered.

I can’t explain what his words did to me when he finally spoke. There are things in life you’ll never forget.

“Well, Rod buddy,” he said, “let me tell you. I don’t know everything; neither do you. It could be true. All I know is it sure makes a difference in Paul. He loves it.”

Rod continued to attack me.

“He idolizes you, Gus. He’d do anything you told him to, even if he thought it was wrong.”

“No he wouldn’t,” Gus defended. “He’s never been anything like me. If more Mormons were like him, I could maybe stand being around them. Nothing’s worse than a self-righteous Mormon. He’s never judged me. And he hasn’t given my parents nearly the heartache I have.”

Then Gus said something that really made me think.

“Anyway, if I ever caught him doing something wrong, if he ever let me down, so help me, I’d punch him out.”

I left them talking and started back home without them ever knowing I had been there. A lump formed in my throat as I realized why Gus had seemed so excited about my mission. Now I knew why he had always supported me.

You see, he needed me to be strong where he had been weak. I vowed that very day I would be strong for him. I’d resist my temptations. I would not let him down. He needed to know someone could be good. I would be.

It’s late again. I’ll write more about Gus tomorrow night.

May 28, (Gus’s story continued)

By the way, when we went to the Joneses’ house tonight, their minister was there waiting. He wanted to Bible bash, but we didn’t want to have the spirit of contention, so we left. I don’t think he was very fond of LDS missionaries.

I’ve been on my mission for over a year now. Every P-day I’ve written two letters home. One to Mom and Dad and one to Gus. I’ve received a letter every week from Mom or Dad, but Gus has never written. Not one letter! I can’t believe it. We were so close. Mom tells me what he’s doing, but I want to hear from him. They say he hasn’t been to church since my farewell.

I tell them about my experiences, and I bear testimony of the gospel in each letter. Mom said Gus reads them.

That’s all there is to Gus’s story. I wish there were more to tell. I want it to have a happy ending.

I’m going to stop writing now. I feel a real need to pray. I’m a little discouraged. The Jones family won’t make a commitment, and Gus won’t write to me. They will both be in my prayers tonight.

May 29

I can hardly believe it!

When we went to the Joneses’ house tonight, Brother Jones explained that after we left their home last night he felt a terrible spirit.

He actually asked the minister to leave!

We challenged them to be baptized right then and there. And they accepted! Sister Jones was crying and everything. It was great!

The zone leaders will go with us to the Joneses’ place tomorrow morning to hold the baptismal interview. They’ve just got to be worthy or I’ll be sick.

May 30

The Joneses passed! They’re gold! The date has been set. They’ll be baptized June 5th.

I think I’ll sleep well tonight!

June 5

Tonight we held the baptismal service for the Jones family. They looked so beautiful dressed in white.

My companion baptized Brother and Sister Jones. I baptized the children, Mark, Lisa, and Tommy. The two ward seventies confirmed them.

My heart is overflowing with joy.

June 15

I received a very special letter from Mom. She said she caught Gus crying as he read my letter about the Jones family.

June 29

I can’t believe Mom’s letter today!

She said she’s not sure, but she thinks Gus is actually reading the Book of Mormon (in secret of course).

I hope so. It would help him so much.

She also said she hasn’t found any cigarettes in his pockets when she washes his clothes.

If he could just stop smoking! He still doesn’t know we know.

July 6

A letter from Mom. No doubt about it—Gus has stopped smoking. But the secret’s still on.

July 27

Dad wrote. He invited Gus to go to church with Mom and him, like he always does, and Gus actually went! Only he insisted on following Dad’s car on his Harley-Davidson.

During Sunday School he didn’t know where to go for the Young Adult class, and the teacher for the 14- and 15-year-olds (about 4 boys and 3 girls) didn’t show up. Two of the boys had seen Gus drive up on the Harley D. and asked him to show it to them. Before long most of the class was out in the parking lot admiring the Harley D. He even flipped “wheelies” for them. He’s such a show-off.

The Sunday School president had a conniption when he caught them.

The kids all wanted to sluff sacrament meeting and go motorcycle riding, but Gus calmed them down and got them reverently into the chapel for the meeting. It’s great!

August 5

Dad wrote again. Last Sunday Gus was ready for church before he and Mom even woke up.

When they arrived at church (this time Dad made him leave the Harley D. at home), the panic-stricken Sunday School president confronted Dad and Gus and begged them to substitute teach the 14- and 15-year-olds because the teacher didn’t show up again. Dad accepted and was surprised to hear Gus accept.

When they got in the class, Dad couldn’t get the kids to pay attention, so Gus stood up and there was total silence.

Then Gus told of a certain friend of his (he gave no name) who had started smoking when he was 14 and who was completely addicted by the time he was 24. He told how his friend couldn’t stop smoking, no matter how hard he tried, until he went to the Lord in prayer. And then his friend was given the strength to quit. Then Gus bore testimony of the Word of Wisdom.

Dad said it was the best impromptu lesson he’d ever heard. The kids loved it. He said he’s proud of Gus.

Now I just wish Gus would write. What’s going through his mind?

September 8

My eyes are full of tears as I write this evening. I received a letter from Gus. It’s the very first since I’ve been out.

He began by apologizing for never writing. He confessed he used to smoke. He said he’s never told anyone but the bishop and me. He asked me to never tell Mom and Dad because they’d be so hurt. If he only knew.

He told me he has fallen in love with the ward and never misses church. He and the bishop have had many talks, and Gus feels he has found a new friend.

He announced he has read the Book of Mormon from cover to cover. He bore testimony of its truthfulness and expressed his appreciation for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

He says he’s trying to get his friend Rod to talk to the missionaries.

And the most special news is that my big brother Gus will be ordained an elder this coming Sunday by my Dad.

The Lord answers prayers.

October 4

Gus has shaved his beard and cut his hair! Mom sent me a snapshot of him. He looks so funny! I’d forgotten what a baby face he has without whiskers.

October 28

Another letter from Gus! He says even though he’s 25 years old, he thinks about serving a mission once in a while.

He said he would probably go anywhere in the world but Japan, because, though he loves the people and culture, he is still not sold on Japanese motorcycles.

November 2

I almost can’t believe I’m writing this! Gus talked to our stake president! The missionary papers have been submitted. He’s actually waiting for his call. He says he’s going crazy waiting. I can relate. I’ve been there.

He’s really going on a mission. Gus, a missionary!

November 12

A telegram from home! Gus is going to Japan. That’s about the funniest thing I’ve ever heard.

They’re not giving him much time. He enters the MTC December 3rd. I’ll barely miss seeing him. I don’t get released until December 20th. That’ll make four years before we see each other. Four years! I’ll go crazy. A guy could get married in four years! Kids, college, we’ll be strangers.

But you know what? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

November 20

A letter from Gus. He’ll sell his gas station and the great and irreplaceable Harley D. to pay for his mission. What a sacrifice! I’m so proud of Gus.

And get this! He says he’s going to try to save money so when he gets back he can buy a Kawasaki motorcycle. He calls it “cultural appreciation.”

November 30

Mom wrote. Gus’s farewell testimonial was great. She said at least 20 platinum blondes were in attendance.

His testimony brought tears to many eyes. What really humbles me is Mom says he told everybody he loved me and expressed thanks for my example.

Gus. His story is a miracle.

December 20

To my posterity:

I’m going home. The flight is bumpy, but I hope you can read what I write today. It’s important.

There may be times in your life when someone you love will fall away from the truth.

Please don’t resent them. Don’t judge them. Don’t be self-righteous.

Be patient and be a good example and pray for them with all the faith of your heart.

Your lost sheep just may come back to the fold, too.

Illustrated by Richard Hull