Our Potato-Crop Prayer
Those potatoes changed everything. Early in the spring of 1947, my dad took a week off from his job in the coal mines so he could plant the crops on our small farm in southwestern Colorado. Generally we planted only enough potatoes to get us through the year and used the rest of the ground to raise vegetables for our family—consisting of Dad, Mom, two brothers, and a sister at home—and feed for the cows, pigs, and chickens. Our land was plowed and ready to plant when the missionaries stopped at our house for their weekly meal and visit. Seeing our family, even though we were only partially active in the Church, boosted their spirits as well as ours.
When Dad mentioned his plan to plant the potatoes, the missionaries were eager to help. Dad was nervous about nonfarm men helping, but they were persistent, and he finally agreed. The next morning, the elders arrived just as we kids were getting ready for school. We listened as Dad explained to them how to prepare the seed potatoes for planting. “It’s easy. This is the eye of the potato,” he said, pointing to a small, round bump. “Cut each potato into small pieces and make sure there is at least one eye in each piece. Understand?”
“Oh, yes,” the missionaries replied, and they enthusiastically started working.
Dad left to borrow a team of horses and a potato planter, and we went off to school.
At noon, we arrived home for lunch just in time to view the disaster—the expensive seed potatoes had been ruined! The elders, unaware that each eye needed some of the fleshy part of the potato to nourish its growth, had decided that they would help us by leaving less potato around the eye and more potato for our family to eat. So instead of cutting each potato into seedling cubes with an eye in each cube, they had peeled each potato into very thin circles with an eye in each circle. The rest of the potato was put into a tub so it could be cooked and fed to the family.
Dad was furious when he returned home and saw what had happened. But he did not want to offend the elders, so he dipped the peelings into a solution that protected them from disease and loaded them into the planter. The missionaries, feeling guilty for the serious mistake they had made, waited to help with the planting.
Just before we kids returned to school, we watched our dad drive the potato planter into the field with the elders perched on the back. I knew it would be their job to make sure that only one seedling dropped into the ground at a time. This would be a difficult and time-consuming job, since the planter was designed for a potato cube and not a thin peeling.
The planting was nearly done when we came home from school. Unfortunately, because each peeling had only one eye, not the usual four or five, the potatoes had taken up nearly all of the plowed ground. Where would we plant the corn and wheat we needed for stock feed? Seeing our consternation, one of the missionaries said, “Brother John, may we offer a blessing on your potato crop?”
Dad shrugged his shoulders and said yes. I can still remember the promises of an abundant harvest and great blessings that the missionary pronounced upon our fields. Dad thanked the elders for helping him and invited them inside to share our supper of fried potatoes. After dinner, Mom bottled the remaining seed potato cores for us to eat later, and Dad left to take the horses back.
Dad was discouraged as he returned to his job at the coal mine. He was sure we would have no crops that year. But to our surprise, all the potato plants came up! Our family was flabbergasted, and the elders were elated.
A short time later, the elders were transferred and never knew the outcome of our potato crop. On the Fourth of July, Mom needed something to cook for supper, so I dug the first hill. We were shocked—the potatoes were nearly full-size! Mom said that if the rest of the hills were like this one, we would be able to sell some of them. As we continued to dig up the potatoes, we found about ten pounds per hill! When our neighbors and the general stores found out about our early crop, they bought our potatoes all through July, August, and September. It hardly made a dent in our supply. Not only that, but the potatoes’ taste and quality were superior.
At harvesttime, we dug the rest. What potatoes! Some weighed five pounds each, and none of them were hollow or pithy. I remember one that was eleven inches long and four inches in diameter. We harvested five times the normal amount per acre, and since we had planted five acres instead of the planned one acre, our harvest was twenty-five times what we had originally planned. Word got out, and we sold all of our harvest. Dad had lost his job, but the proceeds from our potato patch paid for school clothes and supplies, feed for the cows and chickens, and our food and fuel the following winter.
But the greatest blessing was to our spirits. To us, those potatoes were a miracle, a testimony that God hears and answers the prayers of his servants. Our family’s faith grew, and we became much more active in the Church.
I Pretended to Be Asleep
I lay there, feeling disgusted with my family’s lack of consideration for my feelings. I had told them that I didn’t want those young men coming into our home and talking about God. I was bitter about religion and had pushed God out of my life. I blamed him for striking me with multiple sclerosis at age thirty-three and then taking my father a few years later, when I needed him most.
When two young men offered to talk to my family about their religion, I wanted nothing to do with them. But I was unable to walk out of the room, so I pretended to be asleep as they taught my family about Christ and a book called the Book of Mormon. When they finished, one young man said a prayer, and then my mother gave them permission to return in a few days. As soon as they left, I told her that I wanted no part of religion, and if my family wanted to hear such nonsense, then I wanted to remain in my bedroom while the young men were there.
The missionaries returned three days later. Despite my request, my family left me propped up in a recliner in the living room. Once again, I closed my eyes and pretended to be asleep. The young men came in, asked if they could begin with a word of prayer, then started to teach. Although I tried, it was very hard to shut their words out of my bitter world. They talked about where we came from, why we are on earth, what happens when we die, and where we will go after this life. They also mentioned three kingdoms—not the heaven and hell I had heard about all my life.
The entire discussion fascinated me. And at the same time, it made sense—I knew it was true. Even in my bitter and unforgiving state, I could tell right from wrong, truth from fiction.
I opened my eyes and began to ask questions. Each time the missionaries answered, their faces seemed to glow as they taught me what they knew concerning life and death. I began asking them every question I had ever had about religion.
Before they left, they placed a Book of Mormon on my lap. I wanted so much to read it, but because the multiple sclerosis had stolen most of my vision, I had to wait impatiently for my niece to find time to read it to me.
When the missionaries returned a few days later, I was excited about what I had read, but I had a very important question. The missionaries were Caucasian. I wondered if all members of the Church were white and how they felt about black people joining. The missionaries explained that it was Christ’s church and all were welcome. When they said that three black families were active in the ward, I couldn’t wait to be baptized.
A year after my baptism, after much prayer and a lot of effort on the part of faithful ward members, I was able to go to the Atlanta Temple to receive my endowment. Doctors advised me not to make the five-hour trip, but I knew I had to try.
Eleven years ago, when the doctors diagnosed me with multiple sclerosis, they gave me two years to live. Today, I am still alive, although I am totally paralyzed from the neck down. But now that I have the gospel, I am no longer bitter about my illness or my father’s death. I look forward to God’s promise of eternal life if I faithfully endure to the end.
We Knew the Plane Would Come
My husband’s work with the state of Alaska had brought us, with our two children, to Bethel, a remote Eskimo village about four hundred miles west of Anchorage.
During the summer months when the tundra was ablaze with wildflowers, barges could make their way upriver to the village after the ice had broken up and floated out to sea. But during the long, dark winter months when there was nothing but a vast wilderness of ice and snow, our village was accessible only by air.
It was during one of these winters that I experienced one of the saddest and most sacred events in my life. One evening about midnight, a state trooper brought the tragic news that my father, who lived in Utah, had died unexpectedly from a heart attack.
I called home and talked to one of my sisters, who said the family was in a state of shock and my mother was taking the news very badly. Come home right away, she pleaded.
My husband and I spent the rest of the night packing and getting me ready to leave on the plane in the morning. There was only one flight each day, when the weather permitted. Because the weather had been extremely bad for several days with gale-force winds and whiteout conditions, I was worried that there might not be a flight.
About 6:00 A.M., my husband called the airport to arrange my flight. Because of the weather the plane had not come in for two days, the clerk said, and no flights were expected that day. But we could check back in a couple of hours. We called back every hour throughout the day, but with the same disappointing response.
Grief and despair had overtaken me. I told my husband I just had to get to my grieving mother. “It’s all right, sweetheart. You’ll make it,” he replied. With that, he knelt down in the middle of our living room floor and invoked the power of the priesthood, praying that the plane would come. The simplicity and power of his prayer left me no doubt that his prayer would be answered.
He then got my coat and loaded my suitcase into the back of our old army jeep. I suppose I had expected the storm to be completely stilled when we opened the door, but it was still raging. We could only see a few feet in front of us as we broke a trail all the way to the airport. I told my husband I would probably be the only one on the plane because we were the only ones who knew it was coming.
When we arrived at the little log-cabin terminal, airline employees would not sell me a ticket because they were sure the plane would not be coming that day. But we sat down to wait for the plane that we knew would surely come.
An hour later, there was a flurry of excitement at the ticket counter. They had received word that the plane had just left Anchorage and would arrive in less than an hour. The weather was still extremely bad, but just a few minutes before the plane came, the storm suddenly ceased. In its place came a hush and a few gently falling snowflakes.
The plane landed. I got on it with a few other passengers who had called in that last hour. The plane took off and couldn’t come in again for four more days.