Enjoy a sneak peek into the new book Life Lessons from Mothers of Faith: Inspiring True Stories about Latter-day Moms, in which sons’ and daughters’ share stories of their famous and not-so-famous mothers from all walks of life.
“My Mother, the Great Affirmer” by Richard G. Hinckley
When I reflect on my childhood, I realize that wet garbage was my downfall. You see, there were no garbage disposals in those days, so the “wet garbage”—that is, orange and apple peels, lettuce ends, carrot tops, and other waste collected during the preparation of meals—was placed in a little strainer in the corner of the sink, and when a sufficient amount was collected, Mother would say to me, “Would you take out the wet garbage, please?” I was to dump it outside in a little compost pit, where it eventually decomposed and was used as fertilizer for the garden.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t mind mowing the lawn, irrigating the orchard at 4:00 a.m., or mixing concrete for a new retaining wall, but for some reason, taking out the wet garbage defeated me. As we grew older and I outgrew that silly obsession, Mother and my siblings would—with great glee—recount how, when asked to take out the wet garbage, I would lean against the kitchen wall, slide down it, and play dead or writhe with faux pain. Mom, ever patient, would just laugh and say, “Well, when it begins to spill out of the sink and fill the kitchen, I guess we’ll just have to eat in the living room!” No coercion, no raised voice, certainly no corporal punishment; just a shrug of her shoulders and a suppressed laugh. She was not a strict disciplinarian, nor was she a hard taskmaster. And she was never very good at getting mad if we approached our tasks with indolence or even ignored her repeated requests to complete this chore or that. Eventually, I would come around and trudge out to the compost pile, feeling like the most put-upon little fellow in the world, but it was never because of something Mom did or said.
Lest you think otherwise, there were times when we pushed too far. We knew Mom was at the end of her rope when she would say, “I give up. When your father gets home, he’ll have to deal with you!”
When I was very young, Mother once made a casserole for dinner. I had never seen a casserole before, and when it came out of the oven, it must have looked vaguely familiar because I said quite innocently, “Mom, why did you bake the wet garbage?” (Even at that young age, I was apparently obsessed with wet garbage.) She burst into laughter and told everyone about it around the dinner table that night. We all had a good laugh, but I remember feeling a bit silly—not nearly as silly, however, as I felt as an adult when she repeated that story to a large meeting of the Saints. She had a wonderfully cheerful disposition, seeing good in people and humor in life.
One of Mom’s most remarkable gifts was her total inability to criticize others. It simply was not in her DNA. She could only see the good side of people and seemed to be blind to their faults. In The World According to Marjorie Hinckley, everyone was good. She was the “great affirmer.” As newlyweds, my wife and I came home one evening to find our house had been burglarized. Among other things, Jane’s jewelry had been taken. Though there hadn’t been a lot, this jewelry consisted mostly of nice pieces her grandmother had given her. We called home, and Jane talked to my mother, describing piece by piece what had been taken and how sad she was to lose them. Jane said she suddenly realized she was sounding rather worldly and, feeling a bit guilty, quickly added, “Oh well, we can’t take it with us.” Mother responded emphatically, “True, but it’s nice to have while you’re here.” Mom didn’t criticize Jane for feeling bad about the jewelry; instead, she helped her see that at times it’s okay to feel bad about trials in life.
After our oldest daughter graduated from high school, some friends invited her to spend several months in England living with them as a cook and nanny. These friends were serving as mission president and wife, and they needed help. Jennie sent Mother a letter from England for Mother’s Day and then called her. In response, Mother wrote Jennie a long letter, typical of letters all her grandchildren received from time to time. Part of it read, “Dear Jennie, [Your] letter was to warm my heart. This was a letter to make any rough roads we might have traveled to reach the age of seventy-seven worthwhile. You gave me a Mother’s Day supreme. A wonderful letter and a phone call. My heart leaped when I heard your voice. I could scarcely believe it! I ask myself what I ever could have done to deserve such a remarkable and beautiful and wonderful granddaughter. I sometimes think you are too good to be true. . . . I don’t know what to say except I love you, and that seems so inadequate. Thank you for what you are and for bringing such joy into our lives.” What teenage girl’s heart would not burst with joy reading such a letter from her grandma?
When Kathy and I were very young, before our siblings came along, Dad became ill, diagnosed with bronchial pneumonia. There was little physicians could do, so he lay in bed for a month, growing weaker every day. He had never been so sick. I think he had never missed a day of work due to illness. I remember thinking how pale and thin he was. One evening, Dr. Mel Davis, our family doctor, came by the house on a regular visit. After examining Dad—and I remember this very clearly—he said, in effect, “Marge, I have done all I know how to do. I know of nothing more I can do. I would like to give him a blessing.” Those words carried such a sense of finality. Dr. Davis removed his white medical frock. He looked so different from the doctor who seemed to know all there was to know about medicine. Underneath, he was wearing a dark suit, white shirt, and a tie. Our neighbor Wes Osguthorpe came over to assist Dr. Davis with the blessing. Mother didn’t cry, but her worry and anxiety were palpable. When Wes arrived, Mother took Kathy and me firmly in hand to the other end of the house and said, “Let’s pray for your father.” So we knelt in that room—two little kids and their mother—while Mom poured out her heart to the Lord. I don’t remember what she said, but I remember the feeling of desperation and the pleading in her voice, her reliance on the Lord. I will never forget it. Dad got better and was never again that ill until the day he died.
She rarely exhibited what might be called a forceful or dominant personality, but behind those soft brown eyes, just beyond that good-natured humor, ever so slightly beneath the surface, was a layer of iron resoluteness born of a simple faith that God is in His heavens, that He knows us and our circumstances, and that by living the gospel, “things will work out.” I think if she were still here, she might say, with a twinkle in her eye, “And things will work out for you too. But often, it seems to take a very long time!”
Thanks, Mom. You really were one of a kind.
“One of Mom’s most remarkable gifts was her total inability to criticize others. It simply was not in her DNA.”
Top Left: Marjorie holding Richard, sitting next to Kathy, 1943.
Middle Left: President and Sister Hinckley with Lady Margaret Thatcher, 1996.
Bottom Left: Marjorie, 1998.