Written by Bill Willson, and previously published in “Angels Watching Over You:True Stories of the Lord’s Tender Mercies.” An anthology by Judy C. Olsen; Covenant Communications Inc. 2013; p-29
In the fall of 1972, because of a downturn in the construction industry in California, I changed my job classification from construction surveyor to carpenter and took a more permanent job with a large power company. Our crew was building foundations for substations, and we moved around a lot.
By the summer of 1975 I was in Eureka working at Humboldt Bay Power Plant. It was a huge job, and we were going to be there for an extended period. I slept in my van at nearby campgrounds, and I was a bit depressed wondering why I was 300 miles away from my wife and three young daughters in Livermore California, and I prayed for the Lord to let me know what I could do in my free time while in this distant place. The Lord tried to tell me but I didn’t listen.
I was married to a wonderful woman who had been an active member of The Church all her life, and she had a mom, dad, and two brothers who were active also. I was the only member of The Church in my immediate family. I was baptized, as a teenager, to the basketball and Saturday night dance part of The Church in 1953. I became truly converted and active at the end of October1961 three months before getting married.
My father and mother separated when I was five, we learned of his death when I was 11, and Mom had died just last year. The only living relatives I knew about were my two half sisters, and a half brother, my dad’s older brother and his wife who lived near us in the San Francisco Bay area. We only had limited involvement with my family during holidays and special occasions.
As winter approached, I decided camping out at night was no longer an option so I looked for a room to rent. Someone gave me the name of a Mrs. Zacardi who rented out rooms, and as I was looking her up in the telephone directory I browsed through the W’s for Willson. I had a habit, of doing this because of the unusual spelling of my last name. I noticed a V.H.H. Willson, and did a double-take. Yes, there really were two “l’s” in Willson, just the same way I spell my name. I wonder how we’re related? The thought passed, and I continued my search for the landlady.
After I made my call, I had a persistent thought to call this Mr. Willson but I worried that he’d think I was crazy. As a convert, I had only limited experience with receiving promptings from the Holy Ghost. Even though I thought several more times about contacting V.H.H. Willson, I couldn’t get up the nerve to call a complete stranger and ask him if we were related.
In February of 1976, I was seriously injured, and after a short stay in the hospital, I was flown back home in a small medical transport plane to the hospital in Livermore. Thoughts of Mr. Willson and the possibility of a genealogical connection faded, and I focused on rehabilitation. I changed job classifications once more because of my debilitating injury, and I went back to work with the power company in an office job; I no longer had to travel.
Several years later Uncle Morley, my dad’s older brother, passed away. We went to visit his widow, Aunt Julie. She asked me if I had ever contacted my Uncle Harold. I asked, “Who is he?”
She said, “He’s your dad’s younger brother.”
I said “I have never heard of him.” So, she gave me his phone number. I called him and found out he was the very same V.H.H. Willson that I had seen in the phone book while I was in Eureka. He was so glad to hear from me that he was crying when we ended the call. We visited him several times over the next few years, and he came to visit us once before he died. We were happy that our kids were blessed to have contact with a grandfather figure on my side of the family tree.
Because of this reconnecting with my roots, I not only had the opportunity, as an adult, to see a glimpse of what my father would have been like if he had lived longer, Uncle Harold was of similar build and appearance as pictures I had of my dad. I also received memorabilia that belonged to my father, which had been in Uncle Harold’s possession. This included photos of my father and the Willson clan clear back to my great grandfather as well as an old miniature family Bible with an inscription from my dad’s grandmother to his father (November 1891), and then inscribed from his father and mother to my father on April 19, 1917, as my then seventeen-year-old father left to go to fight in WWI. This bible became the most precious gift from my father to me by way of my uncle.
One other piece of memorabilia that I treasure is a small ten-inch diameter wooden ship’s wheel with a photo of my father’s last ship, the U.S.C.G.C. Northland. Dad sailed on this three masted ship during the thirties to Alaska to take in mail and supplies, and to bring out mail and passengers.
As I progressed in the Church, I learned to recognize promptings and follow the spirit; this takes some practice. Now I have learned to respond quickly, and not to ignore these promptings, even if I don’t understand the reasoning. If I had been in tune with the Spirit back then, I could have met my other uncle sooner. But the Lord, as always, was kind in giving me a second chance by prompting my aunt to ask me the question, so I could come to know this wonderful uncle. I am also grateful that through meeting him I gathered much needed family genealogy information, which helped me to update my family history and get more familiar with my progenitors. I’m convinced that the Holy Spirit does try to guide us when it is something important.