“Darwin’s book was rather heavy, but by close application, the young student thought he learned what the scientist was ‘driving at.’”—Nephi Anderson, Dorian
Elder Joseph F. Smith, Jr. knows the Ford Model T as thoroughly as he knows his scriptures, and he knows those better than any man in the Church. So, with the automobile in neutral, he has little trouble guiding Brother Anderson through the process of setting the throttle and choke, adjusting the spark advance, and safely operating the hand-crank.
“You always crank with the left hand?” Brother Anderson asks after the demonstration.
“Always!” says Elder Smith. “If you use your right hand, you could lose your thumb when the engine backfires.”
“Oh, dear,” says Brother Anderson. He removes his glasses and polishes them with a pocket handkerchief.
“The Lord has provided us with a wonderful machine,” Elder Smith says. “Respect it!”
Elder Smith spends the next hour drilling Brother Anderson on the proper care and use of the Model T. They discuss the four cylinder engine, the flywheel magneto, the timer and trembler coils. He demonstrates how to use the foot pedals and handbrake, offers his opinion on gasoline and ethanol. After Brother Anderson successfully starts the engine three times, Elder Smith removes his coat, rolls up his sleeves, and shows how to change a flat tire.
“Extraordinary,” says Brother Anderson.
With Brother Anderson behind the wheel of his new Model T, the two men bump their way down 700 East. From the passenger’s seat, Elder Smith offers instruction about speed control, braking, and how to safely pass slow-moving vehicles. Over the sputter of the engine, he says, “Remember that you have dominion over the road. Nothing matches you in strength, speed, and mechanical sophistication. Even the streetcar, with its petty reliance on cable and track, is no match for you!”
Brother Anderson nods his head and tries to look attentive.
“Even so,” continues Elder Smith, “your dominion must be righteous. You must not lord over the road. ‘The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.’ I have seen it happen before! Just the other day—turn here!”
Applying the brake, Brother Anderson turns haltingly onto 900 South. To his left, he thrills to see the magisterial trees of Liberty Park. With a gloved finger, he points to the park’s entrance, a wide thoroughfare flanked by two stone pedestals. “Shall we take a spin through the park?” he asks.
“Yes,” says Elder Smith, “but I must be at my office in thirty minutes.”
Liberty Park is full of late-summer picnickers lazing in the noonday shade. Brother Anderson steers the car south through its tree-lined lanes and admires how the landscapers have molded and shaped nature to accentuate its inborn beauty. As they pass the zoo, Brother Anderson asks Elder Smith if he has taken his children to see it.
“No,” says Elder Smith.
“You really should,” says Brother Anderson. “The elephants are a sight to see.”
“Yes,” says Elder Smith. “I saw one in a circus once. When I was a child, that is.”
“You really should take your children,” insists Brother Anderson. “My children love the zoo. Have you ever seen a chimpanzee?”
“Amazing creatures,” says Brother Anderson. “They almost persuade me to believe those theories about pre-Adamite man.”
Elder Smith scoffs. “You don’t suggest…?”
“Not necessarily,” says Brother Anderson. “Elder Grant and I attended a lecture in Liverpool on Darwin’s theories some years ago. They’re rather compelling.”
“Let me remind you of your Bible, Brother Anderson,” says Elder Smith. “‘And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.’”
“Certainly,” says Brother Anderson, “but is there no greater metaphor of man’s eternal progression, from lowly intelligence to divinity itself, than the monkey that evolves into a man? Does it not say in Abraham, ‘And the Gods watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed’? Could it be that pre-Adamite man was merely disobedient…”
“And I suppose next you will tell me that these pre-Adamites lived with us in premortality. Perhaps they even pursued each other romantically, like those spirits in your storybooks.”
“Such,” says Elder Smith, “is like saying that a machine as sophisticated as this automobile has the capacity to make itself. No, Brother Anderson. Man had a creator just as the automobile has Henry Ford!”
“I am only bringing this up as a matter of speculation,” says Brother Anderson. “The chimpanzee is no doubt of a lesser order than we who are created in the image of the Father. But still, face to face with a chimpanzee…”
“Remind me,” says Elder Smith, “to give you a copy of my father’s statement on the origins of man when you drop me off at the office.”
With his hat brim low across his forehead, Elder Smith walks hand-in-hand with his daughters through the strange noises and smells of the zoo in Liberty Park. They see an elephant, a lion, some exotic birds, and two chimpanzees. The girls squeal with delight as one chimpanzee peels a banana and smiles at them. “Look, father!” says the youngest daughter. “He eats just like us.”
Elder Smith watches the monkey chew its food. The way its mouth moves, the way it carelessly tosses the peel to the floor of the cage, seems so vulgar and common. Elder Smith stares at the beast until it locks eyes with him. For a moment, he recognizes something in the monkey’s grimace. He gasps as it proudly shows its brown teeth and pink gums.
“Look, Papa!” his daughter shouts. “He looks like Uncle!”
“Silly goose,” he says. “He doesn’t look a thing like Uncle. Uncle is bald.”
“But he does! He does!” says the girl.
“No,” Elder Smith says, looking at the beast. “No. No. No.”
Scott Hales does not usually write fiction, but when he does, he tries to keep it around 1000 words. He blogs at A Motley Vision, Dawning of a Brighter Day, and Modern Mormon Men. He also maintains a personal Mormon literature blog, The Low-Tech World. When he isn’t writing short short stories or blogging or parenting, he is writing his doctoral dissertation on the Mormon novel.
Picture of Model T Ford by Don O’Brien via Wikimedia Commons Images.