Editor's note: Second in a two-part series
Uncle Joseph Fielding Smith was available and he agreed to perform the sealing for myself and my husband, James, in the Salt Lake Temple.
Four years earlier, when, with feverish work, our little ward had completed and paid for our chapel in Rockford, Ill., I had written saying how grand it would be if Uncle Joseph could somehow come out to do the dedication.
He arranged it, asking for the assignment of stake conference in Chicago, and combining the two. How tenderly did he encircle me and my sisters with his affection and concern.
During that whole weekend, whenever he spied us, he would turn from what he was doing, come over and hug us. He knew we needed it, I am sure, living with an excommunicated stepfather, as we were. His love was both soothing and empowering, and it has remained with us all these years.
Soon after, when my big sister Jeannine was called on a mission to Mexico, Joseph Fielding set her apart. In the prayer he told her that one day Spanish would be the second language of the LDS Church. We thought that a strange and rather meaningless statement then – nearly 50 years ago.
James and I had one of the smallest sealing rooms that October morning in 1964, for our family group was modest. After completing the sealing, Uncle Joseph said, “You may kiss her now,” then turned aside.
I was kneeling too tightly on a fold of my dress and could not move much, and by the time we had awkwardly reached across the altar, our lips meeting, Joseph Fielding turned, assumed we were still kissing, and said, “Well, you don’t have to devour her!”
I was mortified at the time but find it interesting in light of his own experience. When he married Jessie, President Heber J. Grant, who performed the ordinance, said, “Kiss your wife, Joseph.” And Joseph Fielding told of his reply: “He said it as if he meant it, and I have been doing it ever since!”
We visited often with Joseph and Jessie during the early years of our marriage. After our first daughter, Heather, was born, we would take her along with us. As soon as we entered the apartment, Uncle Joseph would whisk her out of my arms and go to the opposite side of the room with her — and that was all we saw of either of them. He played with the baby while James and I talked with Aunt Jessie.
Our relationship was interrupted when James took a teaching position in Illinois, and for four years, letters were our only contact again. During this period President David O. McKay died and Joseph Fielding became the prophet. I remembered Jessie telling us tenderly of the many times President McKay would ask her husband for a blessing. After one such occasion he had said, “Joseph, if you keep giving me such beautiful blessings, you will never be the president of the church!”
My mother told me how the mantle of this sacred calling had transformed Uncle Joseph in a physical, as well as a spiritual, sense. He seemed more vital, looking younger. Even his voice had more youth and vibrancy to it.
We came home to Utah. We now had two little daughters, and we saw less of Uncle Joseph and Aunt Jessie. Their lives were more demanding than ever before, but I knew he had faith in me. I felt it strongly the first time I was in his presence following my return.
Aunt Jessie died in August 1971, less than a month after the birth of my first son. Joseph Fielding was devastated, seeming at a loss without her. As I put my arms around him, I marveled at the tender vulnerability of mortal love and loss.
He lived a little less than a year without his companion, dying on July 2, 1972, just weeks before his 96th birthday. He was a 1-year-old when Brigham Young died in August of 1877.
A crowning testimony came for me during his funeral services in the Tabernacle. I was young, in my 20s still, and in the back of my mind I was hoping to hear magnificent, brilliant praise of this man I loved.
As the brethren spoke, I at first felt a twinge of disappointment. Then realization swept through me. They knew what was of essential, eternal importance. With reverence in their voices they paid homage to Joseph Fielding Smith for his excellence as a husband and father for his devotion to family, for his example to them of what is finest and most worthy in a man of God, a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Humbled by the Spirit, I remembered the words of Brother Brigham, quoted by his daughter, Susa Young Gates: "Father was great in his handling of large affairs, in his infinite power to mold men and measures; but if he had failed, as he himself once said, in his duties as husband and father, he would have waked up in the morning of the First Resurrection to find he had failed in everything." (Gates/Widtsoe, 340)3 comments on this story
I am blessed to know this humble prophet, Joseph Fielding Smith, who followed in the footsteps of his own noble father, and filled worthily the divine role as head of that sacred unit, the family — the one enduring, eternal organization that will grow in glory and happiness — that will continue on and on.
Susan Evans McCloud is the author of more than 40 books. She has published screenplays, a book of poetry and lyrics, including two songs in the LDS hymnbook. She is the mother of six children.