“And please, Heavenly Father, bless me to know what our family can do to help build the temple,” Mama prayed. Phoebe looked at Mama’s face and saw tears rolling down her cheeks, dripping onto her faded blouse. “Into bed with you now,” Mama instructed.
As she pulled the covers up Phoebe asked, “Why are you crying, Mama? Is it because Papa’s on another mission?”
“I do miss Papa. It will be a glorious day when we’re all together again,” Mama said. She tucked the quilts around Phoebe, tight against the bitter night. “But we have so much to be grateful for—our house here in Nauvoo, and six healthy, beautiful children. The Lord is watching over us, Phoebe.”
“But why are you crying, Mama?”
Mama sighed. “I just want so much to help finish the temple.” Mama stood up. “Good night, sweet Phoebe,” she said, and snuffed out the candle.
Phoebe found it hard to sleep. Her arms ached from scrubbing, wringing, and hanging laundry. Her thumb throbbed from pricking it again and again while mending. Even her back was tired from carrying wood.
All of Nauvoo was busy as the Saints worked to finish the temple. While the men did the heaviest labor of hauling and hammering, carving and cutting, the women and children helped by spinning, weaving, knitting, and embroidering the finest additions for the inside of the temple. They also kept the workers fed. A warm feeling filled Phoebe’s heart as she remembered dishing the soup from the big pot at the temple grounds.
“Over here, little sister,” a worker had called to her.
As she offered the soup to the stonecutter she noticed how he held the steaming cup in both hands, soaking the warmth deep into his freezing fingers. The workers only took a moment to relax, then back they went to the next task. “Thank you, little sister,” the man had called.
And with that memory, Phoebe was sound asleep.
As the sun lightened the sky, Phoebe awakened and began to prepare for church. Sunday was the day she missed Papa most. But there were many things she loved about the Sabbath. She loved how everyone looked their best for church, and she loved how even the babies quieted when the Prophet Joseph Smith stood to speak.
This morning the Prophet thanked the Saints for their hard work on the temple and hoped they would double their efforts. Tears formed in Mama’s eyes again, and Phoebe imagined she could hear her mother praying, “How I wish we had more to give.” But they had given everything. How could Mama’s prayer be answered?
Driving home in the wagon, Mama suddenly yanked back on the reins, jerking the wagon to a stop while straining to see something near the roadside. Phoebe peered over the side of the wagon and saw two brown, furry heaps.
“Why, there’s the answer to our prayer,” Mama said. She pulled her sewing scissors from her bag and asked the older children to help her.
“Buffalo,” said little Sarah, pointing a chubby finger.
Two dead buffalo lay in the underbrush and Phoebe wondered where they possibly had come from.
“Help me, children,” Mama directed. The older children pulled at the long mane hair and Mama cut and snipped until they had a large bundle of brown, coarse hair. It took a long time, but their work had just begun. The next day, they washed the hair squeaky clean with strong lye soap. Next, Phoebe brushed and brushed the hair with the carding comb till it was straight and tangle free. Mama spun the hair on a spindle, making yards of dark brown yarn.
All the while Phoebe held back the question until she couldn’t wait another minute. “What, why … how could we ever use such ugly, coarse yarn for something as beautiful as the temple?”
“You’ll see,” Mama replied.
At last the yarn was ready. As Mama began to knit, Phoebe watched in fascination as it slowly took shape. Suddenly, the image of the stonecutter’s cold, red hands came clearly to Phoebe’s memory.
“Mittens!” Phoebe exclaimed. “Mittens for the stonecutters. Now they won’t have to wait for a bowl of soup to warm their hands.”
By the time Mama finished she had knit eight pairs of brown mittens. “They’re beautiful,” Phoebe sighed as she touched each pair. She felt as if her heart was wrapped up in a warm mitten. Mama’s prayers had been answered and their buffalo mittens would help build the temple.
“When we seek inspiration … the Lord gives gentle promptings. These require us to think, to exercise faith, to work, to struggle at times, and to act.”
“Learning to Recognize Answers to Prayer,” Ensign, Nov. 1989, 32.
Illustrations by Maren Scott