I guess it is time for yet another ‘Kevan story’.
In order to understand the full impact this story had on my extended family, you have to know my mother-in-law. Terri’s mother, Nancy, is a very cultured woman that was brought up to act with class and grace at all times. She is the type of woman that serves guests with china and crystal glasses in a formal dining room.
I first got to know Nancy while serving in Pennsylvania on a full-time mission for the Mormon Church. One of the things that Nancy used to do was to invite the missionaries over to a formal dinner, and then teach them how to act at a formal affair, and how to eat a dinner at the most formal of occasions—with all the numerous forks and spoons and plates and napkins and dinner courses, etc. We all loved both the attention and the knowledge gained!
One senior companion I worked with while in Philly went home from his mission while serving there. When he was asked what he wanted before he left—what kind of gift or party could we give him as a good-bye gift and reward for his faithful service—he had only one request: he wanted to eat a formal meal at Sister Hopkins! She had made that experience so special for every missionary; it was a treat to eat at her home, and an honor to show her what we had learned.
So, with that background, on with the story!
When I was a child, I loved to lick the spoon when my mother made a cake, or lick my bowl to get the last drop of ice-cream missed by my spoon. It just seemed such a waste to leave anything behind! It became somewhat of a habit when I was a child.
When I was a teenager I rebelled against my parents and became a hippy. It may be hard to believe now, but at one time I had long, naturally curly red hair, that came down to my shoulders, and wore bell-bottom pants and psychedelic tie-dye shirts. Like many of that generation, I took drugs and dropped-out of society. In fact, I actually lived in a commune for a while!
Some of my friends (both girls and boys) decided that living at home with mom and dad was just too restrictive, so after a number of them moved in together into a large old mansion, and invited me to join them; I jumped at the chance and moved in with them.
We thought it was Nirvana! At first, we each paid $25 into a common pool, and that covered both room and board. Later, after deciding we wanted to eat better, we each began to pay $50 a month into the common pool—then we could eat steaks and have ice cream every night! There was a 24 hour party at the house, as friends came in and out of the house at will.
Since part of the concept of leaving home was to get away from all responsibility, none of us liked to wash dishes or do any household chores. I will let your own mind create the picture of what it must have been like to live there, and what the house must have looked like after 6 to 10 people lived there for a while!
To protect our own ‘space’ in the home, we each had our own dish to eat off of during meals. I eventually learned the most practical way to eat dinner, and clean-up at the same time: after eating, I would simply lick my plate, rinse it off, and it would be ready for the next meal!
Having done this as a child, it was an easy habit to fall back into as a teenager. And after living this way for some time, it became a habit.
So, with all of that background, now for the infamous incident…
After repenting of my sins, and becoming a member of the Mormon Church, one Sunday I was asked to come to dinner at the home of a High Counselor and former Bishop. His son happened to be in the same Sunday School and Priesthood classes as I was, and he had heard lots of ‘stories’ about me from his son. He decided that he wanted (perhaps that should be 'needed') to get to know me better…
My introduction to this wonderful family was this invitation to a very formal Sunday dinner. They were wealthy and their home was very large—it was clear as soon as you walked into their home that the family was very high-class and proper. The dining room was of the most formal kind, with china plates and crystal glasses, paintings on the walls, cloth napkins, etc. It was quite intimidating just to walk in the home, let alone know that you would have to eat and have ‘cultured’ conversations with them!
As a very new member of the church, I had not yet learned to control my tongue, and still swore like a sailor: I could just see myself letting loose an F-bomb in front of this highly religious family, and on a Sunday! I decided I should say as little as possible, and try my best to behave myself.
After the first couple of courses of food were served, everything was going fine. I had carefully answered questions asked of me, and simply tried to duplicate the actions of their children while eating—using the fork they used, and the spoon they used, etc. Yes, everything was going just fine… the problem was that the mother was a wonderful cook. It had been a long time since I had eaten such a wonderful meal! Each course seemed to taste better than the previous one. Then it happened!
I had become so enthralled with the food I was eating, I lost track of place and time. The main entrée had a wonderful sauce that you poured over the meat, and it was just out of this world! I remember asking for more meat just so that I could pour more and more sauce on my plate! As I finished my meal, I just couldn’t let all of that wonderful sauce that was left on my plate go to waste, so I lifted up the plate and began to lick it…
I’m not sure how long it took me to realize something was wrong. We have all had the feeling that comes over us when we know someone is looking at us! As I was busily licking my plate, I realized that it had gotten quiet, and I suddenly felt uncomfortable. As I lowered the plate just far enough to look over the top, I could see that the entire family had stopped eating and talking, and were all looking at me with astonished faces.
I could feel my face flush, and with my long red hair framing my now ruby-red face, I must have been quite a sight! I quickly put my plate down and mumbled something about how good the meal was. The mother was quite kind, and quickly drew attention away from me by talking about what was for desert and asking some of her children to help with the plates—while I sat uncomfortably playing with the few utensils I had left.
This incident cured me forever from licking my plate. By the time I had been in the Church long enough to go on my mission, I did pretty well when I was first invited to the Hopkins for dinner. I remember how excited I was to be able to learn from Nancy how I should have acted at that formal dinner. Over the years, Nancy, and her daughter Terri, have attempted to complete my cultural training… I’m sure they would both tell you that it is an impossible, never-ending task, and that I am a project they are still working on!
Believe it or not, I have learned that embarrassing moments, big mistakes, and even serious sins, can be wonderful teaching tools! It did not take me years to break the habit of licking my plate…it took just one embarrassing moment.
Often, we will repeat small mistakes over and over again because the consequences of those mistakes are too small to affect our lives. But big mistakes usually have big consequences, so we always tend to learn much more from those events. The same is true of serious sins. They have such severe consequences; we cannot not help but learn from them never to sin in that way again!
Fortunately, we have a loving Savior that, like Nancy, stands ready to teach us, and train us how we will need to behave if we expect to live (and dine) in Heaven. Rather than condemning us for our lack of culture or knowledge, we can be gently taught the ways of that Celestial culture.
Remember, it is not the mistakes we make along the way that are remembered, it is whether or not we finally reach the destination! When we are sitting at that Celestial table, celebrating the victory of God and His Christ, and our own entrance into the kingdom, the only thing that will matter is that we are there to share in that moment!