We traveled to Utah again this month for a funeral—another one. My husband’s grandfather passed away. It’s only been seven weeks since his wife passed. We all felt like he held on for Leola, watched her safely return home, and then finally, he could rest.
There aren’t many people who have lived a life like Stan Smith. A child of the depression, Prisoner of War in WWII, Bishop and Stake President for the LDS Church, successful entrepreneur, church representative for the Johannesburg South Africa and San Diego California Temples, he traveled the world. Stan “retired” to his orchard, gardens and more church service. He was a Temple Sealer, meaning he was authorized to performed marriages for time and all eternity in the Mormon temple.
He married my husband and I in the San Diego Temple which he had helped to build 13 years earlier. At our wedding reception, he presented us with a pristine handmade wooden wall clock. He made one for each of his children, grandchildren, many friends and colleagues, about a hundred clocks in all, according to his reckoning. The clock is a symbol for mortal life, our time together on earth. The temple is a symbol for eternity and eternal life together as a family. He believed in those things fully.
I didn’t know him until he was a full-time gardener, tending a peach orchard with meticulous care. Stan was a precise man. At his funeral, his daughter gave a beautiful tribute to Stan as a gardener, a doer, a leader and a contributor in the community. These are her words:
“It has been my honor and privilege to work side by side, sometimes ladder by ladder, with my Dad in his peach orchard in all the phases of the peach growing process. I have learned many gospel lessons relating to the atonement in the peach orchard. Dad took great pride in his peaches. He knew just what to do and when to do it so his crop would mature into delicious fruit. We truly mourned if there was a late frost that killed the blossoms. He taught us about the law of the harvest and how it meant that we had to work hard to get a good crop.
He taught us to respect the fruit. He didn’t let just anyone handle the fruit. I have finally been promoted to the title of, what is it, Sandy, Expert Picker? This title comes with the utmost respect in our family. You have to prove yourself worthy. You cannot disrespect the fruit by simply dropping it in the bucket; no, you gently set it in there. And you must be careful not to knock the fruit off the branch carelessly while picking. We all hoped Dad wasn’t in ear shot when we accidently knocked fruit off the tree.
Dad even trusted me with judging the fruit’s readiness to pick. He would let me say “this tree is ready” or “this tree needs a couple more days.” Sometimes I was tempted to say “this tree needs another good month at least,” when there were so many trees ready at once. Dad was always patient in letting the fruit take what time it needed to become perfect.
Dad taught me the many different varieties of peaches and that they are valued for different reasons– you’ve got your Hales, Elbertas, Red Globes, Etc.–they ripen at different times so all the fruit is not on at once. Some are just right for fitting through the mouth of a canning jar.
He taught me how to sort the peaches as well–you’ve got your small, middle size, and then you’ve got the ones he called the “Bonnie Bendalls”—named after his next door neighbor. Those are the very best, nicest and most delicious peaches, worthy enough to be given away to his most special neighbors and friends. He taught me that we should only give our very best. On some occasions when I was over at my home just behind Dad’s, there would be slight tap on the glass of the back door and there I would see Dad, standing there with a grin on his face and a great Bonnie Bendall peach in his hand, that had somehow been missed in the picking, and that he had made the effort to bring over just for me to enjoy.How grateful I am that he thought me worthy of the “Bonnies.” He was always trying to figure a way to get his peaches to those members of the family who were living away and wouldn’t be there to enjoy the harvest. I know he was recently stewing over how he could get some of them over to Tyler and Kathy, his grandchildren in Japan.
Dad taught me that all peaches have their worth, even those that have fallen from the tree. There was nothing that made him sadder than when a strong wind storm scattered his ripe peaches on the ground. He showed us that those peaches were worth saving, though, and that with a little extra effort of trimming and washing they could taste just as good as the others. He spent lots of time stooping over to pick up fallen fruit when I thought it was much more noble to focus on the “good fruit” higher up in the nice cool branches of the tree. At one time or another each of us kids has been asked to take one of the “fallen fruit” buckets home and help turn it into something good like jam. Dad hated seeing anything go to waste. He had the same philosophy when it came to people too, and helped many people who might have fallen pick themselves up and turn their lives into something good.
I learned that there is no such thing as having too many fruit trees! I used to raise my eyebrows when dad would say, “I’ve ordered 20 new trees for the orchard.” I’d think, “Why does he need more trees? He’ll never even see them bear fruit.” But he lived by an ancient proverb that I have only just discovered: “A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.”
I am grateful that I knew such a Christlike man.