I'm told when Austin was dropped off by his aunt and uncle, this particular stripling warrior looked terrified.
I suppose that is reasonable because the 19-year-old was diving into some really dark water. He was leaving for his mission. His folks bundled their oldest boy on a plane in Oklahoma City to meet his aunt and uncle in Salt Lake City, and they deposited him at the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah.
Austin is my senior grandson, and by any standard he is a winner. He is intelligent, respectful, impressively spiritual, and except for an inclination to be somewhat lead of foot while driving — a condition I can testify he inherited from his dad — he is law abiding.
This past week he became the first of his generation to enter the mission field. He is on his way to Chile with a relatively short stopover in the Provo MTC.
It is a strange feeling having the son of my son going into the field. To begin with, I don't feel anywhere near old enough to have somebody who calls me Grandpa putting on the white shirt and tie uniform of his calling. I also can't help but wonder what the poor kid is going to do with his thumbs over the next two years. Austin — do I have to call him Elder Aylworth now? — has been a dedicated texter. It seems like every time I've seen him recently, he was in the midst of some sort of an electronic conversation with somebody, almost always female.
I'm working on the assumption his mission president will want him focused on endeavors more spiritual, and I truly have no doubt that Austin will follow mission rules precisely. Having said that, we still have the problem of his unoccupied thumbs. Maybe he could learn to do finger puppet presentations of Book of Mormon stories?
While four of my sons served full-time missions, Austin is the first to go out since electronic communication became the universal constant. Austin sent me his mission e-mail address, so I will be able to write him on a regular basis, but in the olden days, when the people who called me Dad were in the mission field, one of the joys was to send them food, little presents, and things both useful and worthless through the mail.
As far as I can discover there is no effective way to pack a couple dozen chocolate chip cookies into an e-mail. This may not be a negative from my missionary's point of view. I remember the day Paul sent us a letter asking — no telling — us to refrain from sending baked goods. He said the arrival of carefully boxed cookies that in route had turned into "science experiments" or fungal farms, just weren't much fun to receive.
I have to assume the travel time between Northern California and Chile would just about guarantee the arrival of inedible goo.
To make matters a bit more confusing, at least for me, Austin will be in the southern hemisphere, so he will be leaving winter in time to arrive for late summer as far as the climate is concerned. It's halfway around the year, seasonally speaking, so February would be like August. We will send him warm socks in June and fans in November.
All of these alleged concerns are tiny items on the edge of a great central core of grandfatherly pride. Austin is an exceptional young man with the heart and spirit of a giant. He will never say so – it really would never cross his mind, but he will be a great missionary. He will teach with power and conviction, and within a couple of months he will be able to do it in passable Spanish.
I will miss him. I will miss the intervening two years, during which this exceptional youth will mature into a stalwart man, but it is a sacrifice I'll make to hear him tell me sometime in 2013, "These were the best two years of my life!”