Merlin in tux singing
Image of musical notes

Merlin's Notes

Mom and Dad's Wedding picture Family Picture Picture of Shelley and Connie's Double Wedding Four generation picture with Angela, Susan, Phyllis and Lavina (also Cindy, Terry and Merlin) Debbie and Tyler with MacCaw Picture of the Boys at Dad's wedding to Della (Derious, Russell, David, Michael James, Garrett, Ty and Merlin

Marriage, Family and Church Service

Once upon a time – I had my mission over with and my military assignment over with and I went to Weber College in Ogden, and then I came to Provo. When I’d go home on weekends Shirley would always welcome me to church very, very warmly – her parents were very, very nice. They liked my parents, and they liked me, and then I’d go back to Provo, and I’d get involved in school work.

I had to take this one special class which was called Minor Instruments Workshop. Minor Instruments Workshop was a class that you learned how to play the flute, you learned how to play the clarinet a little bit, you learned how to play on the strings of a violin, and you had a little familiarization with all the instruments.

There was one day – the class was always about noon, and I’d finish my lunch and get to school and I’d sit in that class till the teacher came. One day I got there a little too early, I guess, and Phyllis was on the piano, and there was some guy sitting up there on the piano bench and she was playing tunes for him. She began to play some of the most beautiful tunes. As I ate and listened, I became in love with the music and consequently with Phyllis too! I was sitting back in the back of the class looking everything over, and she played “The Nearness of You” the way that only Phyllis can play it, and while I was sitting in that class I said, “I am going to marry her.” We began dating and after returning home to Provo and going to my apartment, I found a large lemon meringue pie in my apartment! I took that as a sign and I asked her to marry me.

Things got better and better. I need to tell you all that this family is one of the things that made me realize that if you marry somebody you marry their whole family, and I was real happy about that. I think I owe Howard Barben (who was then the Stake President of the West Jordan Stake) a lot of credit because he was so warm and so loving as he always has been, and welcomed me in with open arms.

Boy was I nervous – we’d come to family outings – the last girl, and everybody wanted to know what Phyllis had been doing, and ever since then they have been accusing me of fiddling around too much. But I’m not sorry, I realize that each time, when I was first married, and I would come to reunions such as this that I realize that I made a terrific catch because I caught so many people. But I have loved it. Phyllis has been the perfect helper. We have a lovely family, and if I had to do it all over again, I’d just fiddle around some more.

I remember that I fasted and prayed that night she brought over the lemon meringue pie for me. She had been going with a more sedate reserved fellow, John Thompson. She told me she liked me because I was more fun. I purchased an engagement ring from Ralph Boswell who was a member of the Acapella Choir with me. It was an emerald cut with two baguettes on each side. Gradually I paid for it. Phyllis was reluctant to have a ring on her finger that wasn’t paid for, but we managed. I drove to Hunter and gave it to her. She didn’t expect it so soon. She thought my Delta Phi pin was enough at the time.

The wedding at the Salt Lake Temple was great, but I was nervous, scared, but happy! Since it was in the temple at Salt Lake City, I felt assured that it was right! Bishop Gardner and Howard Barben were our witnesses and the whole family was there, except my brother, Ferrell. It upset me but he didn’t have a recommend.

Dr. John R. Halliday, head of the Music Department at BYU offered us his cabin in the American Fork Canyon for our honeymoon. It was during September and it was cold up the canyon, but we didn’t mind not having a fire for we had the fire of love and togetherness.

Phyllis was frugal from A to Z. Going to BYU while married was challenging but she fixed economical meals of tuna casseroles and macaroni and cheese. Our bed was in the kitchen so we had a relaxing and enjoyable time in our kitchen and bedroom combination.

We were married on September 21 on a Friday and enrolled at BYU on Monday morning. We lived in a basement apartment and didn’t have too much of a view from basement windows.

I don’t remember actually talking about starting a family. We both wanted children and after each one we thought we should have another and another. Since Phyllis had 5 sisters and came from a large family, it was part of the influence we felt to provide bodies for God’s spirit children. Seven was our lucky number.

My greatest joy was when Susan, our first child was born. The fact that I was physically able to father a child was relief and a great thrill! So many things could have gone wrong. But to realize that I had that capability was indeed a great blessing. All seven came through with flying colors. It was a great challenge to rear them in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To see them marry in the temple was another great blessing! I’m still hoping for Cindy and Debbie.

Our first experience in dealing with home ownership occurred in Copperton. We made a loan for the house in Copperton because I was hired to teach school there. Until the VA loan was approved, we lived with Phyllis’ mother, Lavina Nielson in Hunter. Not at any time was there any feelings of antagonism or dissatisfaction expressed by either of us. She did not find fault with us. We didn’t have to pay, as she was so generous and sweet. When Phyllis had a dance job in Provo, which was most weekends, Mother Nielson and I made something for the children. It was usually out of Phyllis’ older clothes and suits. It was indeed a good learning experience.

Since living in Sacramento, Phyllis and I have had missionaries for supper once a week. (editor’s note: I’m not sure when this was, because I don’t remember having them this often.) For years, Phyllis has always liked to cook for them and Della did it also. Since I have been Ward Mission Leader, it has been convenient to have them for dinner before we have gone on splits with them. Some of them are so spiritual, I love being with them. Others are not serious enough about their work and have feelings about frivolous things. Some of them I love as if they were my sons.

As a young person, I was always active in the LDS Church and we had projects on welfare farms of weeding and picking tomatoes. In taking the children, we always stopped at Vic’s Malt Shop for a delicious milk shake on the way home.

Phyllis and I actually had a second honeymoon. Manfried Schildknecht, a member of the church from Germany invited us to spend some time with them in Neumunster. We flew to Hamburg where they met us. They wined and dined us for a week. We had a wonderful meeting with them. We rented a car and drove to Salzburg, the birthplace of Mozart.

My patriarchal blessing states that I would enter the mission field and exert a good influence on others. I really enjoyed my missions, one to Germany and one to Missouri. I had no negative aspects as some missionaries testify. I had the chance to study music in Germany in Berlin and while a missionary, I had the chance to sing in a public concert which was a thrill. Afterwards to give the Joseph Smith story in a pub. Since my mission days, I have continued as a stake missionary with both Phyllis and then with Della.

The Fourth of July was very much fun for our little family. We were very cautious on the Fourth of July. Phyllis just bought sparkers and the children would have 1 or 2 in their hands and would run around and wave them in the night air. I tried to use the cigarette lighter I received as a gift I Korea, but it never w

We had Nielson family reunions every two years. It usually lasted for three days and was filled with everything fun. Sunday was always special because we had our church meetings with all the classes and sacrament meeting. The testimony meetings were the highlights of Saturday. Youth and everyone was involved. We had some terrific shows from all members of the extended families. My favorite was the readings of the Smiths with Hawaiian grass skirt, usually done by Jeanine Smith (Denton)!!

My political feelings have always been republican. I haven’t been too involved in the scheme of things but I have always considered it a responsibility to vote and have always done so. I study the issues and relied on the elected officials to help me decide how to vote. Usually, the number of senators and representatives were helpful in making my choices.

My scouting experience was delayed until I became a scoutmaster. I developed more Eagle scouts than anyone else in the 5th ward. I was determined to succeed and when I didn’t know a particular scouting skill, I saw to it that someone came and taught that particular skill. When we went to Fiddler’s Hill for the Sesquentennial Year, my troop #187 was the highest of 49 patrols.

As for the future, I would like to learn to sew better. Through my married life, I have taken the opportunity to fix my own clothes. This was done by trial and error. I would like to learn the professional way to tailor clothes.

Phyllis had four gals that she lived with while attending BYU. After Phyllis got sick they all came to Sacramento and we ate and visited the whole day and took pictures.

When it comes to tragedies, the greatest one was when Phyllis died. On June 13, 1994 the family was visiting Phyllis in the hospital. She had to go to the bathroom and “danced” with David to the bathroom. She was in good spirits and told me that I should go to work the next morning. We all said, “good night” and left the hospital. She said she would be alright. After going to work at DMV the next morning, the phone rang and it was the doctor telling me to go to the hospital. I went to the hospital alone and on arriving at her room there was a note on the door saying to consult the nurse. On doing this, the nurse told me that Phyllis had died during the night. I was broken-hearted because I didn’t get the chance to say, “goodbye.” David soon came and comforted me. I thought that she was getting better with the chemotherapy and transfusions.

I am a very tender-hearted guy. My emotions come readily to the front on many occasions. One emotional moment the tears flow in reading a very special story, talking about Phyllis or singing some special song. A very special evening was when Phyllis had died and I went to bed and could not sleep. I went into David’s room and he loved me. I don’t remember praying then, but I’m sure I was blessed and comforted by the Holy Ghost through my son. He is always there to help me still. So is Russell. They are such a strength to me.

I also felt that I had been blessed when I went to Germany on a mission for the LDS church. I felt like I learned the language and could explain the gospel to the people in Germany. I was very discouraged for a while, but each time there was a challenge or a need, I felt that He was there to bless me!

About fifteen months later, I remarried Della Phillips. She had never been married before. It was with Della that I went on my mission to Missouri with (Tulsa Oklahoma Mission).

There is one book that I read which gave me constant inspiration. It was “The Work and the Glory.” I was constantly encouraged to follow the brethren. To read about their hardships and trials made all my troubles seem to disappear and gave me additional faith to succeed and accomplish the best I can. Della listened while I read all four books then, before we went to sleep. Sometimes tears flowed from our eyes because of the trying circumstances of the characteristics in this most wonderful book.

Public speakers have impressed me greatly. The best speakers were General Authorities of the LDS Church. President Thomas Monson and President Hinckley are my favorites because they have committed so much to memory. The spirit was with them in their talks. Paul Dunn was also one of my favorites. If I could have a two hour conversation with anyone I would pick President Hinckley because he was the prophet of the church and his advice would be of great value. I would also compliment him for the biography he wrote. He has always been willing to serve God and his fellowmen.

I would also like to leave a legacy to those who come after me. Because I have been a professional teacher for over 32 years, I would hope that I have taught someone something that has really made a difference in their life. Nothing has cheered me as much as a former student coming up to me and giving me a hug. Hopefully, I taught them something that has bene beneficial to them. In the church I hope I made a difference in their lives.

My most cherished possession was a wooden carving of the Last Supper. Another treasure was a loose leaf full of gospel charts, pictures and other choice items to teach the gospel. It would be almost impossible to replace those cherished items.

In sharing a travel experience, it would be stretching it a bit to say this was a hilarious event, but it was a travel experience. On my air travel, I usually wear a suit with my missionary badge. Each time I change seats I hope someone would stay awake so I could talk to them. On one such trip, I did have a conversation with a young man who asked all the right questions and I was able to satisfy his curiosity about the church. I wish I knew if it lead to further conversations or baptism.

If I had the chance, I would like to meet King David most of all. He was such a great leader and such a friend of King Saul in all his battles. I wonder why his strength was lost to lust. I feel sure his repentance was sincere. I feel sorry he lost so much. I grieve for him and wish the Lord’s forgiveness for him.

In talking about scriptures, none of them really puzzled me! I haven’t decided which wonderful scripture blesses me the most. For in following them you receive the blessing by obeying the principle. “Man is that he might have joy” is an excellent optimistic one that says a lot.

I am most grateful for Bill Nash. He made the most contribution to my life than anyone else. During high school we never were tempted to do anything morally wrong. Even skinny dipping in the Ogden River had not bad effects. His strong decision to go to Provo to look around swayed my desire to go to BYU. His excitement to go on a mission made me excited to go on one too. Because our fathers were drinkers, we gave to each other support not to be like them.

Any traditions I would pass to my children would be to have effective Family Home Evenings. The effect on testimonies is very effective. Just ask Susan for she felt that her testimony was really strengthened each Family Reunion. It gives everyone a glimpse into subliminal feelings and you can also sense how someone is growing and developing good traits. As for a trip I would always want to have a toothbrush and razor for a clean feeling, some men’s cologne for a pleasant odor, glasses to see better and a credit card for unseen expenses and some scriptures to have God’s leadership over you.

Christmas traditions we would pass on would include the children baking cookies and taking them to their teacher and other friends. We would use our Christmas Book in reading different Christmas ideas, stories and songs each day like advent. Find someone who needs something and take a mystery bucket for them. Sing to Julie Tingey as a family. She was one of the ladies I home taught. David especially liked going there to sing to her. I have been in many Christmas programs, singing alone or with a choir. I like singing “O Holy Night” very much. Mother Nielson requested it every Christmas we were at her house. I loved reading my favorite stories to my children. Even though there were tears, the message of Christmas came through loud and clear. Having dinner on my birthday was special with the family. My favorite Christmas Carol is “O Holy Night.” All the carols bring a lot of sentiment because Phyllis played them all so well. The sing-a-longs around the piano were something special and the “Christmas Waltz” was a very special one for me.

One of the best presents I ever received was to have Lehi’s dream framed and illuminated. Della also gave me a lovely robe which I really loved. Also in Utah after searching for a book which had “The Chocolate Christmas,” a story of the GI’s in Korea was given me at Christmas. While the children were young we would make the trip to Utah to Mother Nielson’s house. We had a program and dinner. I always sang and people would talk about the first family Grandma Day had in which 4-5 children died of diphtheria. She finally left one to die and left to start a new family. Mother Nielson was part of that second family. They were all buried in the local cemetery.

Phyllis gave me my first 3 in 1 (triple combination scriptures) for a present and I use it still. It is a wonderful book that gives me strength and confidence.

The most wonderful Christmas present to me would be to have all my children in the temple together, including their families. This would be my death wish.

What I would like to see in the world would be a cure for cancer. There are so many people dying from cancer. They found a cure for polio. I would also like to see violence stop in the world. Maybe the gospel will help that problem. The conference in Geneva is November 1999 is an attempt to focus on family issues throughout the world with the church involved it will be closer. I would also like to go on a mission with Della. This was done before she died and she was a great missionary. As I look forward I would like to see the number of missionaries increase, also the number of temples. This currently stands at 134 throughout the world. The church is receiving so much attention now that they are doing so much good. I all affects our lives very remarkably. Medical science is doing rather significant things too with the discovery of polio vaccine and penicillin, so we need something for cancer.

I have had several surgeries. The cardiac bypass was the most serious but because I had never smoked or drank, I was in excellent health and recovered faster than the other men in the same room. It was close to b trip going to sing at Carnegie Hall and everyone was helpful and kind to me. I really enjoyed being in Carnegie Hall in a tux and singing even though it wasn’t a solo.

I have always supported ball teams. Most of the teams I have supported had an acquaintance on the team, most family members. Whether it was Little League or a high school team we tried to encourage someone on the team, by attending as many games as possible, especially when the kids were young. Later, I enjoyed watching the A’s play or the Sacramento Kings, especially when they won!

I would still like to go on another mission to help the gospel become effective in more people’s lives. I would also like to sing something that would bring more people closer to the Savior.

My favorite way to spend a rainy day would be to read an interesting book about missionary work throughout the world. I believe that enthusiasm best describes me no matter what I do. Music also because it is so much a part of me. Love because I have such a strong love for my family.

If I could carve one more face on Mt. Rushmore, I would carve the face of Jesus Christ on it because of His influence and teachings. This might increase the help to those who come to visit Mt. Rushmore. His teachings and parables could be part of the stone Memorial at the National Monument. In that way His gospel could be shared with all the visitors who come to visit there.


Back to top