Leonard Palmer has been dreading Saturday for a week.
During his years as a bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he grew comfortable with public speaking. And he's not usually intimidated by difficult topics.But when Carol Bishop called and asked him to speak at her son's memorial service Saturday, he was dismayed. What words of comfort can you offer the grieving and confused family of an executed child killer?
The semiretired farmer sat in his easy chair earlier this week, flipping through the June issue of "The Ensign," an LDS magazine.
The table next to his chair was piled with books and magazines. Another "Ensign" lay on the corner of the table, folded back to mark an article. A copy of the Book of Mormon was within easy reach. His reading glasses were on top of the pile.
Palmer had just finished reading an article outlining six myths about handicapped people. The piece intrigued him. It talked about emotional and mental handicaps that are difficult to spot.
"Many people who have handicaps . . . may appear perfectly normal," Palmer read aloud from the page.
"Maybe Art had some sort of emotional handicap nobody knew about," he speculated. "Maybe it was hidden."
Saturday would go more easily if he could believe that.
Palmer was Art's bishop when he was growing up in Hinckley. It was Palmer who called Art on a mission and Palmer who asked him to report on that mission following his honorable release.
He and his wife are close to the Bishops. He worked in the church with Carol. He had lived next door to both sets of Art's grandparents when they were alive.
That long association, coupled with a gentleness and compassion that has made him "Grandpa Palmer" to many townspeople, prompted the Bishops to turn to him when they wanted a farewell for their son.
"I guess speaking at the service is the least I could do. But I probably won't know what I'll say until I get up to say it," he said.
In an effort to get ready, he was doing what Art had spent the past five years doing: searching for some scripture or church talk that offered hope.
"I believe God is just. We get what we earn," he said. "But I can't say that to the family."
They need to believe in mercy right now, not justice.
"Maybe I'll just talk about the Art we knew," he said.
Most of the town still remembers Art as a boy - quiet, studious, anxious to please and always a good student.
"He was a bit of a loner," Palmer remembered. But there was nothing in his reserve to suggest the horror of serial murder.
Right now, for just one day, Hinckley chooses to look past that horror. The town has rallied to support the Carol Bishop's desire for a memorial service.
"Almost everyone I know has been very supportive - especially to Carol," a friend said. "A mother is so close to her children."
Carol and Eugene drove to the Utah State Prison Tuesday to say goodbye to their son.
They had not been able to have a "contact visit" with Art since another prisoner held guards at bay in October during a visit. Embarrassed by the incident, prison officials limited many visits to face-to-face phone conversations through shatterproof windows.
Tuesday, Carol held her son in her arms for the first time in nine months, and the last time in a lifetime.
The Bishops wanted to be with Art when he died, but he asked them to stay away. Doug Bishop, also a prisoner at the prison, offered to accompany his brother to his execution. Art declined that offer, too.
He would be all right, he assured his family. Watching him die would only intensify their grief.
Many of Art's siblings returned to Hinckley, gathering at the tiny family home in the hours before the execution. Carol's sisters came home.
The Bishops' roots run deep in the small community. Both of Art's parents grew up there.
On the west corner of the city park, stands a tall, slim monument to war veterans. It carries the names of all the Hinckley boys who served in every war in this century. The name "Bishop" appears often. They went to war in World War I. Seven went in World War II. Three served during the Vietnam War.
The small cemetery northwest of town is dotted with Bishop headstones. The first Bishop buried there - Martha E. Bishop - was interred in 1899. The town was an infant then, relying on a handful of pioneers - among them the Bishops - to secure its survival.
It's a quiet cemetery, its silence disturbed only by the chatter of magpies and the lyrical whistle of the meadow larks in nearby hayfields.
Art would have been buried there, bringing a decade of anguish and infamy to a close under the row of Siberian elms that shades the graves.
But when he found out how much it would cost to send his body to Hinckley and bury it - in excess of $4,000 - he chose to be cremated.
Art's present bishop, Heber J. Geurts, will drive down from Salt Lake City for the service. Art asked him to take his few possessions down to his mother: a television, some books, a few belongings.
"There isn't much," Geurts said. "They don't let them have much in prison."
Hinckley's townspeople will drive into Delta Saturday. At 11:30 a.m., they will gather at the Nickle mortuary to help the Bishops remember the Art everyone thought they knew.
It will be a quiet, gentle goodbye for a man Hinckley saw as a quiet, gentle man.
For the many who still mourn the deaths of five little boys, that goodbye may bring the balm Art hoped his death would give them: healing and - at last - peace.