The precise events that make up my childhood are somewhat unclear.  I have only a handful memories before age 11, and some stories from others, but both can be fallible. 

When I was about 3 my mom and dad separated.  He’d had a vision that he was going to be a prophet, and was told to sacrifice me to prove his worthiness.  My mom thought that was a bad idea, packed up my sister and I, and we moved away (to his disappointment… but he’d show up later).

We moved to a small, inconspicuous town in Southern Utah called Panguich and “settled down” for a couple of years.  With my mom working as a hotel maid, we lived about as you’d expect – without much.  I remember starting school there, not fitting in, and not being very smart.  I remember my grandma pulling my hair to try to teach me my alphabet, probably the only way to get me to learn.

At some point, my mom remarried (“dad” #2).  I remember he was really severe.  We lived in the basement of a house, and I remember setting up traps (hangers dangling from a thread tied to my door knob) so I’d be awake to know whenever he’d come in my room.

At some point, my mom realized he wasn’t the right guy so we left.

We moved to another small, unassuming town called Oak City, and got a little trailer house.  My mom started singing and playing guitar for work.

By now I was in grade school.  I was the really poor kid, and was a loner.  I remember hiding at recess from the bullies, except once, when after school one of them pushed me down.  I grabbed a big rock (it seemed big to me at the time), and smashed his bike.  Then I ran home as fast as I could, terrified, but feeling vindicated.

My mom found another guy, and decided to get married (dad #3).  We moved to a tiny town in Montana called Marion where we were really poor.  In fact, I remember one time finding a dime on the road.  I went home and showed my mom, and she sent me down to the little town store, where I bought one of those Atomic Fireballs.  I brought it home, and we broke it apart and shared it.  At one time we lived for a while in a tent in the forest.  I remember once my mom brought home a box of Bisquick mix that was about a quarter full.  My step brothers and I mixed it all up and were preparing to cook it on our propane stove, but we never got that far.  We ended up just sitting around the tin bowl scooping it out with our hands and licking it off our fingers.  Bisquick never tasted so good.

My dad worked on an oil rig, and was always gone.  He’d come home on paydays, and would drink a lot.  He was a mean drunk, and so after a short time, we left him too.

We moved into a little trailer.  Money was tight, so my older sister went to live with my grandma.  The trailer didn’t have electricity, or running water.  I remember not showering in the winter, unless I could manage to stay at a friend’s house, so I’d go to school stinky.  As you can imagine, I was expertly avoided.  In fact, my teacher got this little partition and put it in the back of the room and put a desk in it.  When I arrived in the morning, she would send me straight back to my little desk, then close the partition around me, and I’d play with Legos or a Matchbox car I would have brought in my pocket.  I was always prepared.

One time I walked in and my teacher made some comment about my clothes, or my smell, I can’t remember now, but I do remember hauling off and punched her – again, scared but vindicated.  Of course that got me suspended, which wasn’t good, because the one thing about school, was that they provided lunch.

By now my mom was travelling a lot, and would be gone for several days at a time on singing gigs.  I’d be home alone in our little trailer, with some blankets and my best pal, a little dochsund named GiGi.  I remember often going to sleep cold and scared of the freaky noises inherent to the back woods of Montana.  I was about 11.

One day my mom came home early from one of her trips with some guy, we packed our stuff into 3 or 4 black garbage bags, put them into the back of his pickup, and drove away.

She dropped me off at my grandma’s house.  Eventually she told me she was leaving to try to get some money so we could be together again, and left.

My grandma and grandpa were already taking care of my sister, and I was a growing 11 year old boy who really needed a full-time dad (and some structure), so we drove to Idaho where we visited my Aunt and Uncle with their family (6 kids, an already large family). 

I didn’t know them very well.  In fact I only ever remember being with them on one Christmas at my Grandmas.  So here I found myself in another completely foreign place.  But alas, I figured we were only visiting, and at least I had my grandma, who seemed to be my one “constant” in life.

That made it very difficult when she pulled me aside to tell me that she was leaving me there.  Watching her drive away – my last vestige of familiarity was one of the hardest moments of my life.  That and the day I actually came to grips with the fact that my mom was never going to come get me. 

Now the point to all this…  Those two events were probably the most challenging of my life, but were probably the two most important things that ever happened to me.

The family that took me in ended up being exactly what I needed.  As you can imagine, it wasn’t easy, for me or for them.  I came in as an 11 year old boy, with no structure, no discipline, and… well, a lot to learn.  I was now the oldest of the kids. 

Just try imagining that for a minute.  Picture an 11 year old boy that you know (think of how naturally awkward they kind of are at that age), now picture having that person come in to live with you, not for a while, but for the rest of their childhood, and when you already have 6 kids.  It’s a sacrifice they made that I’ll never fully appreciate nor understand.  And we didn’t always get along, for a long time I clung to the fantasy that my mom would come get me, and that prevented me from adapting better.

But I had reliable shelter, heat, food, clothes, and all the material stuff I’d never had.  But more importantly I had structure, and got to see a real family function.  And most of all, they introduced me to the church.  They taught me the gospel,  gave me my own set of scriptures (a copy with an upside-down cover – I still have them today), and set me on a path that would lead me away from my past.

Fast forward to today.  I’m married to a beautiful and inspiring woman.  I have 6 amazing kids (5 boys, 1 girl).  I’ve succeeded in business as an executive (VP) for one of the largest and most influential real estate software companies in the nation.  I served a full-time mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons), speaking Mandarin Chinese in Sydney Australia.  I live in a beautiful house on the foothills of the Rocky Mountain range in the Salt Lake area. 

I could go on and on about the wealth of material blessings we enjoy, but those can be gained by anybody.  More importantly, I’ve been given perspective.  I’ve been able to see two polarizing sides of life.  I’ve lived and breathed poverty, and as such have a burning empathy that only comes from personal experience.  I’ve seen firsthand what broken homes do.  What broken marriages do.  But at just the right moment, at the most critical point in my life where perhaps I was at the tipping point, the Savior lifted me out of that life, and placed me in an environment that would show me the other side of life.

I did a post here about a cartoon that was once sent to me that I loved.  It shows a man carrying a cross along with a bunch of other people, each carrying their own crosses.  Along the way he keeps cutting his down to make it lighter and easier to carry.  But soon he comes to a chasm in the road.  The others, who had accepted the struggle of the crosses given to them, were able to use their cross to bridge that gap and cross the void, but his was too short.  It was followed by the statement “we often complain about the cross we bear, but we forget that it is preparing us for the chasm that only the Lord can see”.

The burdens I had have prepared me to be who I am.  I wouldn’t be the father I am today, nor would I have the testimony I have, had those experiences not been mine.  They have prepared me for life in a uniquely compelling way.

And finally, they have shown me that no matter what our circumstance in life, current or historical; we can overcome any and all obstacles.  It is not our past that matters.  No, our future is determined by far more substantial things than memories.  It’s our perspective on life, our perseverance, our will to succeed, our attitude, and most importantly, our ability to hope and to trust in God.  These are the things that shape our future.  Past is past.  Dwelling upon it only results in an ever inhibiting cycle of self-imposed limitations, as we convince ourselves that we are stuck within it, but we’re not.  Life is what we make of it.

My experience has taught me that. 

Rusty

P.S.  Feel free to comment here, but most of the comments on this page can be found on the posted version here, if you’re interested.  There I’ve explained a bit more about what happened with my biological father.

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