Linda just came home a week ago from a lovely visit with our daughter Lia, who currently resides in Maryland. She gave me good reports on the progress of Lia's six children, along with the news that they now have a cat in the family. She also told me that granddaughter Annika had given a talk in Sacrament Meeting this past week and that I was featured in the talk. As I understand from Linda, Annika described me as the first of her ancestors to join the church. While I am very happy to have been mentioned in Annika's talk, I feel I must set the record straight. I am not the first Mormon among Annika's ancestors. That honor actually goes to my sweet wife who was baptized into the church at the age of eight and a half. I believe her baptism was delayed a few months so she could be baptized by her new step brother, Steven, upon his return from a mission to Samoa. I'm not sure of the exact date of Linda's baptism but I know it was before I was baptized in October 1962.
I can't even claim to be the first person baptized in my own immediate family. My mother and father were both baptized a week or so ahead of my brother Paul and me. I would like to tell a little bit about how I came to be a Mormon. These are the facts as I remember them. Since I was only ten and a half years old at the time, Grandma Cozette could probably provide more details.
1962 through 1963 was a time when we moved a lot. My father was working as an iron worker. When work was scarce in the local area they would sometimes travel or "boom out" in ironworker terms to work in a different union "local". In this instance my dad decided to bring the whole family with him as he followed the work. We were living in a trailer anyhow, so he just bought himself a truck that was large enough to pull the family home. I guess this would be the human equivalent of a snail. When you don't like the neighborhood you simply pick up your home and move. At the time the government was building a lot of underground missile bases throughout northern states like Montana and the Dakotas. That meant a lot of work for ironworkers in places where not many people lived. Consequently, over the course of a year or so we lived in Sun River , Montana, Windham, Montana, Pines Bluff, Wyoming, and Rapid City, South Dakota as my dad followed the available work.
In the fall of 1962 we were living in Sun River, Montana. This is a small town about twenty miles east of Great Falls. We were living in a small trailer park. I don't remember much about Sun River other than walking to and from school when the weather was bitterly cold. I also remember getting to see a lynx at a nearby gas station that someone had shot. I'm not sure how long we lived in Sun River, but I doubt it was any longer than six months, It was in these circumstances that a couple of Mormon missionaries, Elder Gibson and Elder Prestridge, knocked on our door. They first came during the day while my dad was at work. Mom told them to come back in the evening when her husband would be home. She told me that she had expected my dad to send them on their way. Amazingly, he not only invited them in, but listened to them.
I don't remember a lot about the missionary lessons. I do remember their flannel board and the particular lessons they taught about the apostasy and the plan of salvation. I also remember that Elder Prestridge was from Nauvoo, Alabama and had a strong southern accent. While I can't recall a particular instance when I first knew the church was true, I can't remember a time since then when I didn't believe it was true.
I can remember a few things about the day I was baptized. My brother Paul was baptized on the same day. I believe it was the Sun River branch rather than ward and a very high percentage members of the branch had the last name Christensen. I think a boy named Lemoine Christensen might have been baptized on the same day, but I'm not completely sure. I know that my parents felt welcomed by the members of the branch. I also remember going to primary. Sadly, we moved a few months after our baptism. I remember attending a branch new years party so we must have moved sometime in January, 1963. Because we were living in small towns over the next two years, the nearest branch was usually not very close or convenient. I do remember attending church a few times when we lived in Pine Bluff, Wyoming. At least once we drove into Cheyenne to go to church and at least once we drove the other direction to Kimball, Nebraska to attend church. We didn't really get active in the church until a few years later when we moved back to Richland, Washington.
I will always be grateful to my father that he welcomed the missionaries and listened to their message. That allowed to gospel to come into my life at a much earlier age than might have happened otherwise. Consequently, I was able to attend seminary, serve a full time mission, marry Linda in the Salt Lake Temple, and have my children all raised in the gospel. The gospel has made such a difference in my life. I cannot imagine what my life would have been like without the influence of the church.