Cove Fort

For many years our annual family vacation each August was to drive to Utah and visit relatives (a fairly common pattern for Mormons living in the Midwest with family back West).  As our kids got older, they started to rebel against doing that every single year.  So we came up with a compromise: we would do Utah every other year, and in the alternate years do something else.  Our first non-Utah effort would be Tennessee; two years later, we would do Washington, D.C. and Virginia.  We enjoyed the change of pace, and they were fun vacations.The year we went to Tennessee, my daughter was in full-on teenager mode.  For purposes of this story, all you need to know is she wore her hair in some exotic, non-natural color (purple? pink? I don’t quite recall), and she was (and is) a vegetarian.  The vegetarian thing became an issue when we ate at a barbecue place in Memphis; the only thing on the menu she could eat was one of those onion blossom things.

Dollywood was fun, but also annoying.  Teenage girls with strange hair are not looked upon kindly in conservative Tennessee.  My daughter absorbed more stares, the occasional rude remark, and religious tracts on that one day than she probably has in her entire life.  She was an object of scorn.  I saw first hand that we Mormons have no  corner on the market for conservative religious judginess (a la that poor recent convert with all the tattoos).

So anyway, the next year as per family agreement we go back to Utah.  I forget why exactly, but for some reason we went to go see Cove Fort.  This was the first and only time I’ve ever been there.

We were greeted by a senior missionary (I wish I recalled his name; I do not).  He showed us around the fort, which I thoroughly enjoyed; I always love seeing Mormon historic sites.  But the fort really wasn’t my daughter’s thing, and like any good teenager she was pretty obviously bored.  This elder seemed to take it as a personal challenge to find some connection with her, and in the course of conversation it came out that she was a vegetarian.  When he heard that, he lit up like a child on Christmas morning, and bade us come with him.

He took us out back and showed us a very large vegetable garden, which the missionaries maintained.  He showed us row by row what they were growing.  He was very animated and passionate about it all; I suspect the garden was in some measure his baby, and that he had done a lot of it in his lifetime.  He explained in detail what they did for the different plants.

While he was showing us the various plants, he would pick samples and put them in a large grocery bag for us.  By the time he was done, we had a large bag filled with fresh vegetables to take with us.  We thanked him warmly and left.

I really enjoyed the personal attention he gave us.  But after the way the Tennesseans had reacted to my daughter, I especially appreciated that he had tried so hard to find a connection with her and make the visit enjoyable for her.  And he succeeded, big time; visiting Cove Fort turned into a highlight of our trip for her that year, something I never would have guessed would happen in a thousand years.

We were all members of record; there was no proselyting involved in our case.  But that senior elder went far out of his way and gave it his all to make an exotic looking teenage girl have a good experience and find something meaningful to her at the fort for which he was a caretaker.  As that girl’s father, I counted him (and do to this day many years later) as a servant of God indeed.


  1. Would that we could all be such gardeners and caretakers of that which it is given to us to tend! Thanks for sharing this story, Kevin.

  2. Such a lovely story; thanks for sharing.

  3. What a great example of service.

    This has brought a new perspective to several online interactions, but I want to think through how to share them while keeping the confidentiality of those involved.

    Until I figure that out, I just want to say that I think we sometimes undervalue (and under-perform) our service to each other, as members. Christ’s life is filled with examples of simply serving others with love. Instead of seeing our relationships to other Mormons as an assignment, (as teacher, leader, VT, HT, etc.) I think we sometimes forget that Christ wants us to *love each other.* The assignments are opportunities to learn to love, and to serve because of that love. The senior missionary was looking for ways to show your daughter that he *loved her,* which is what Christ would have done if He was there.

    When we are baptized, we all accepted a life-long way of living, to love and accept one another, standing in proxy for Christ. By taking His name upon us, we agree to stand in His place, at all times and in all places. We all need to be on the lookout for chances to stand in for Christ, and when we do that, we will find the ways to reach out and connect with others.

  4. What Russell said. And thanks Kevin! Looking forward to the retelling of this story and citing the source.

  5. God bless the good people of this world. Oh, that we all looked for ways to connect with each other for no reason other than the worth of connecting.

  6. I’ve had that teenager on my family vacations too. This brother make me glad to be a member. And inspires my emulation.

  7. Loved this.

  8. Beautiful story. True disciples of Christ like that missionary strengthen my faith more than anything else.

  9. “I counted him (and do to this day many years later) as a servant of God indeed.”


  10. Meldrum the Less says:

    We have traveled the 4000 miles to Utah for family vacations twice a year for around 20 years now. My genius wife used to “guess” which flights would be overbooked. and purposely bought tickets on them. We would go to the airport early and when successful agreed to give up our seats and wait a few more hours for the next flight. We would then be allowed to fly free the next time. We did this constantly for about 5 years, almost never actually paying air fare. Young children learned to perceive the airport as a really cool playground. I don’t think we actually brought the scooters, but we might have.

    After tightened airport security and increasing ticket prices we started driving and taking side trips (but never instead of the family trip). My mother had Alzheimers and we never knew which trip would be the last one she would still be there, even a little, mentally. We were in Utah so much that the Lord easily managed to call her home while we were out there visiting and that was a blessing.

    We have also taken quite a few of the friends of our children with us to Utah to ski or hike and see temple square. This adds an element of interest. When our children started to drive, that made the trips much easier and interesting for them. Between early morning seminary and these transcontinental trips my children are among the best drivers. With several drivers we can leave a motel at about 7:00 am and drive without too much trouble until about midnight, averaging 1000 miles a day and now it only takes us 2 days of driving each way.

    I recall that twilight evening at a gas station in Cheyenne (over 400 mountainous miles from our destination), snow was flying as a blizzard approached. I-80 would be closed in a few hours and perhaps for days. My Southern-raised wife was looking up motels on her phone. I handed the car keys to the musical one and told her it was time she learned to drive in snow for real. Not just a couple of donuts in the church parking lot with cousins. She looked at me like I didn’t know that was going on.

    She was about 19 years old then, a solid driver with 4 years of experience, an inherent night owl with excellent vision and is a talented violinist with incredible hand-eye coordination. I sat up in front and provided running humorous commentary on what she should be thinking about every developing situation. We drove past hundreds of abandoned vehicles that slid off the road and two overturned trucks with hardly more than a fishtail, averaged about 30-40 mph across Wyoming and got there at sunrise the next morning. I consider it among the best spent nights teaching my Southern-raised children a needed skill but also giving them a chance to demonstrate that they are capable and significant.

    My son with the 20 inch in diameter blond Afro (leave that long-haired country boy alone- he is stoned and drunk on physics and math in the morning and the afternoon) eventually had his turn driving across Wyoming in difficult winter conditions. When they ask, as college students, if they can borrow a car to drive to Florida or New Orleans or Chicago or Boston, I say yes as long as YOU do ALL of the driving.

    We took these obstacles of life and made them incredible opportunities to express love, affirmation of individual choice, confidence, and trust in the abilities of our children and that is the message I take from the gardener at Cove Fort.

  11. Mary Jo Anhalt says:

    Beautiful! You’ve made my Day! Thank you! I’ve got memories of family trips through and at Cove Fort and throughout Southern Utah. [Great great grandpa could have homesteaded Bryce Canyon, but was afraid his sheep would get lost!]

  12. Great story Kevin. It’s great when our kids find those links, and in the most unexpected ways and places. I think that missionary, wherever he may be, wears a smile over this.

  13. Sharee Hughes says:

    This is truly a great story. You never know when you are doing a service to someone. A sister in my ward recently staring coming to church after not coming for several years. I invited her to sit by me in Gospel Doctrine and, as we chatted before class began, she told me that her daughter wanted to learn to play the guitar, so she was trying to figure out how to save enough to buy the daughter a guitar and pay for lessons. I said, “I have a guitar you can have.” You would have thought I had offered her the moon! She is a single mom with several children and has a tough time making ends meet, so I know she would have had a tough tie affording a guitar. I haven’t played mine in years and thought it might as well be put to use. We had a welfare assignment Monday morning and she agreed to pick me up (my car having died a week or so previously), so I hauled out the guitar and gave it to her then. One of the strings was broken, so she will need to get that replaced, but that is a minor expense. The thing is, when I mentioned that I had a guitar she could have, I wasn’t thinking about service–it was just kind of an automatic reaction. But her overwhelming gratitude made me realize after that I was serving her, by providing for her something she would have a hard time providing for herself. Now her daughter will be happy.

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