They Made a Big Deal of It
When I was young, my parents made a big deal about General Conference. In small ways, it was treated like a major holiday. I remember the pleasure of driving clear to Salt Lake City, some 60 miles along State Street, twice a year to join extended family at a restaurant for dinner on Saturday afternoons. This didn’t not happen to us cousins until we turned twelve years old and so was an anticipated event for most of my growing up years. Everyone enjoyed seeing aunts, uncles, and cousins of the same age or older, and then choosing anything our small purses could afford from the menu.
Then the men adjourned to General Priesthood Meeting, while the women visited in the Hotel Utah second floor lobby and shopped down the streets close to Temple Square. My Grandmother Smith was the matriarch of this occasion and dressed neatly in her nicest Sunday clothes. Because we only ate out twice a year in those days, going to General Conference was made most special by these feelings of grandeur and respect.
In addition, on General Conference Sunday my mom usually served my favorite orange jello dessert full of sweet whipped cream, pineapple, and shredded cheddar cheese. Yes, I know you might not have liked it, but she choose the jello dessert that was very popular in my large family. As usual there was a beef roast, potatoes, carrots, and her unique and tasty gravy. Fresh rolls and a freshly frosted chocolate cake filled out this special meal, one we anticipated even as the oven odors filled the rooms where we dressed ourselves and then helped the younger children get dressed and groomed, too.
In those days long ago, we didn’t go to General Conference in Salt Lake City on Sundays. It was a big expense to move our family of eight children anywhere and so my parents opted to have us listen to the Friday and Saturday morning sessions on the radio while we did our weekly household chores. As mentioned before, when we turned twelve, we were allowed to go with Mom and Dad to a Sale Lake City restaurant with relatives and then visit during the evening while the men attended General Conference. We, therefore, wanted to grow up enough to join in this special occasion and act our very best so as to be invited to again and again.
On Sunday morning, we dressed up in our fanciest Sunday clothes and were allowed to do quiet coloring and/or craft projects if we weren’t old enough to focus and learn once the television came on. When we turned twelve, we were expected to sit and absorb as much as we could before distracting ourselves with the activities of the younger children. In this way, my parents created the most pleasant memories of those bi-annual weekends. Somehow, I remember my corduroy red jumper with a black bow at the waist as my favorite attire for General Conference and knowing that because I dressed in my Sunday clothes to “attend” General Conference by watching on television in such an attitude, I was honoring the Prophet and Apostles in my own special way, though I wasn’t there in person.
Although I was raised on the farm, keeping the Sabbath day holy was made easy because my parents kept it so, especially on General Conference weekend. There was little to no work other than the bare basics of feedings and watering the animals. The weeds were left to grow, the laundry was left until Monday, and extended family was usually included in our celebration of the Lord’s prophets and apostles teaching and training us. Thus I have a memory of my widowed grandmother coming to visit with her small red leather suitcase and staying in the bedroom under the kitchen while we doubled up other bedrooms so she could have the best bedroom in the house.
When I was a young mother living in San Jose, California, attending General Conference wasn’t an option either and so I choose to make General Conference weekend special, as I had seen my parents do. I put special decorations on our designated holiday end table about a week before the big event.
For this holiday, I choose a small round world globe that sat on a clear stand that also served as a magnifying glass. In other worlds, it was a decoration meant to be picked up and held by our sons. They did so and we talked about where their dad and uncles had served missions, where their Grandmother Calder had lived in the mission field in South Africa, and how their Great-grandpa Calder had served his mission after his marriage and the birth of their first son. In addition, I framed a photo of the current First Presidency to accompany the world globe and thus the boys learned the names of the prophet and his counselors. In this gentle way, the whole family knew about a week before General Conference that this holiday was approaching.
We had the privilege of going to our local chapel and hearing the broadcast for most of those parenting years, televised sessions not yet being in vogue. We dressed in Sunday clothes and attended our church meeting just like normal, but this weekend, we got to listen instead of see and hear. My husband wisely found a bound green journal book which he used to record special insights that he received during General Conference. As our sons matured, he asked them to listen carefully so they could make an entry in the green General Conference Book. Sometimes the youngest children asked to draw a picture because they could not yet write. And now, we have this little book with elementary drawings and more mature observations by the older boys as they began to understand the stirrings of the Spirit in their hearts.
For each family, in each season of life, there will be diverse ways and means to make General Conference weekend significant. I believe that it will become so if and when we decide to make a big deal of it. How glad I am now that my parents chose to make it a special holiday for our family. In small ways I knew that they believed in Christ, in the restored gospel, and that the fire which burned in their souls was being kindled in my own. I am grateful and always want to make a big deal of General Conference for me and mine. Don’t you, too?