Two Thanksgiving Turkeys
We lost everything after Daddy died, including two of our three farms. Our money had gone to pay Daddy’s medical bills and, eventually, his funeral expenses. By the first of November, we found ourselves living in a small trailer court just outside of town. Each of us tried to find work to help out. I was fourteen and found a job in a fast-food restaurant working seven hours a day after school for $1.30 an hour.
As Thanksgiving approached, I found little in my heart to be thankful for. Mother bought a sorry-looking goose at the grocery store for our Thanksgiving feast. She tried to be cheerful and set a holiday mood. We responded as best we could, but our hearts just weren’t in it. It seemed no one cared about us and that all the promises we had heard at Daddy’s funeral had long been forgotten. We felt totally alone.
Then the day before Thanksgiving, we heard the doorbell ring. Mother went to the door, and the rest of us curiously gathered around. When Mother opened the door, no one was there. We looked around, puzzled.
“Look at that!” shouted my older brother, pointing to a twenty-pound Tom turkey on the front step. Our excitement mounted as we peered into the darkness to try to catch a glimpse of the generous giver. We couldn’t see anyone, so we hastily brought in the turkey. We danced and hugged each other, our faces radiant with the joy of receiving.
Then, quite unexpectedly, the doorbell rang again. We quickly hushed each other as Mother opened the door, and again we found a huge Tom turkey! Again we couldn’t see anyone. We brought in the turkey and set it beside the first one. How wonderfully strange! Two turkeys for Thanksgiving! I thought it must be some kind of dream, yet there they were, two turkeys side-by-side on the kitchen table. Mother got the goose out of the freezer, and we laughed as we compared it to the two heaven-sent birds.
A third time the doorbell rang. This couldn’t be! We looked around in puzzlement at each other. Again the scene was repeated, with one exception—this time there was a basket full of fruit, homemade rolls, and canned goods for our Thanksgiving feast. We stared in awe.
Mother’s eyes were full of tears as she motioned for us to kneel in prayer. She thanked the Lord for his graciousness and great love in sending these gifts to us through good people who cared. When the prayer ended, Mother looked at each of us and said, “Children, someone has made a mistake. We have two wonderful turkeys, and we need only one. Who shall we give the other one to?” Our faces beamed with joy, and tears swelled in our eyes. It was our turn to give.
Once more the scene was repeated, but this time we rang the doorbell. A mother answered the door, with her children curiously gathered around. They looked around—puzzled. They peered into the darkness, trying to catch a glimpse of the givers, but they did not see us. We sat very still in our hiding places, our faces radiant with the joy of giving. We wanted to remain anonymous. If they didn’t know our name, then tonight in their prayer of Thanksgiving, they would give thanks to Him who is ultimately the Source of every good gift.
Sammie—Gift of God
My doctor had been pacing back and forth across the room when he turned abruptly and sat on the edge of my bed. “I’m going to be absolutely honest with you,” he said, taking my hand, “The only possible way to save your life is to perform an abortion.”
For an instant, time stood still and my thoughts were suspended in the quiet room. I wanted to live! I had been married only seven years, and every day the relationship between my husband and me had grown richer. I had a bright, loving little daughter, two and a half years old, and I felt an obligation as well as a joy in rearing her. And my first adult novel had just been accepted for publication. I had everything to live for.
Since the doctor had been able to pick up a heartbeat and I had felt movement, I had stopped thinking of this living, growing entity as an embryo. This little thing whose heart was beating, who could already move, had the right to live. I thought of infanticide as it had been practiced by certain primitive peoples. Babies, girls especially, had been exposed and left to die so that people already making decisions could live.
What the doctor was advising was to me a kind of infanticide. I knew that abortion was sometimes considered necessary to save a mother’s life, but both he and I thought of it only as a last resort.
“It isn’t easy to tell you this,” he said, and I knew it wasn’t. He had been determined to help me bring this pregnancy to full term. “Sometimes I can pick up a heartbeat; sometimes I can’t. You might be sacrificing your life for an infant that isn’t even viable.”
I made no answer.
“I’ll schedule you for Wednesday morning,” he said. “Be at the Memorial Hospital Tuesday afternoon at four.”
If I hadn’t seen the sorrow in his eyes, I might have thought that this was just another medical decision made without consideration of human values. But I knew better. My doctor knew my life story.
Since we were late marrying, my husband and I had decided that if we wanted a family we would have to begin at once. We drew up a five-year plan which included advanced education for him, publication for me (I had been writing juvenile pieces and had won two poetry awards, but I had a serious novel in mind), and two or three children for both of us.
That was in 1938. In 1942 our first daughter was born—but not to us. My five previous pregnancies had terminated between the third and fifth month. The doctors had said I would never bear a child and we should be satisfied with adoption, so when the opportunity came, we seized it.
It was in September 1944 when I began to feel the familiar pregnancy malaise, and I immediately checked with my doctor. He insisted on a pregnancy test and said I had been expecting for at least six weeks.
This time the morning sickness was relentless—morning, noon, and night—and before long I had lost thirty-five pounds. It then became necessary for me to receive my nourishment by intravenous feeding at the hospital. Finally, my condition was so bad that this procedure didn’t work either, so the doctor had come to my room and given me his best advice.
Still I said, “Let me think about it until tomorrow.”
That night I had an unusual dream.
I dreamed I was walking down Washington Avenue in Ogden, Utah, with my father. He had died in January, but since I couldn’t go 750 miles to the funeral he had not seemed dead to me. My father was wearing his summer straw hat pushed far back on his forehead, the way Mama didn’t like. I even noticed the short, horizontal wrinkles in his trousers that once-a-week pressing couldn’t remove because his too-heavy abdomen rested on his lap when he sat at his desk. My arm was through his as we walked north along the familiar street in companionable silence. When we reached the bridge over the Ogden River, he said, “I must leave you now.” I clung more tightly to his arm, and he said, “You can come with me now if you want to. But if you go back and endure this thing to the end, you will have a beautiful daughter and you will live to rear her to maturity.”
Was it a dream? Was it really a visit from my father? Was it my own subconscious desire to maintain this pregnancy until my baby was viable? Whatever the explanation, the next morning when the doctor called, I said, “I have decided against an abortion.”
He hung up without a word.
On June 13 the baby was born by cesarean section. “She’s perfect,” the doctor said. “All the right number of fingers and toes. A beautiful baby girl.”
“I knew she would be,” I answered, filled with that indescribable joy that comes with the birth of a child.
I saw her only once during the next ten days. She was in an incubator, growing large enough and strong enough to live under normal conditions.
At the end of ten days I stepped on the scales before I left the hospital—just a smidgen under one hundred pounds. I was going home, but the baby had to stay until she weighed five pounds.
It was a good thing she stayed. The next day I checked in at another hospital with thrombophlebitis; then shortly a pulmonary embolism developed. How I clung to that promise, “You’ll live to rear her to maturity.” A blood clot had gone through my heart and lodged in my lung, which made me one of those people who were living on borrowed time.
By the last of August I was home and so was the baby. We took her to church to receive her name and blessing. Of course, she should have been Samuel—gift of God—but that wasn’t suitable for a girl. We named her Samellyn and called her Sammie.
This all happened quite some time ago. Sammie graduated from high school and college with honors. She went on with her education and touched the lives of many young people as a teacher in the Los Angeles schools. Married and living in Portland, she has been able to share her expertise in parenting with hundreds of mothers and fathers. And best of all, she has a fine husband and three children.
What we would have missed if we had kept that Wednesday morning appointment! What she would have missed if she had never lived at all! What all those lives she has touched with her love and compassion would have missed! I’m grateful that forty-six years ago I made the decision to let her live.
Sight As Strong As My Faith
On 10 February 1951, when I was eleven years old, a tragic accident occurred that could have caused me permanent blindness. Instead, it became a lifetime reminder that I have a Heavenly Father who deeply loves me and cares for each of his children.
My sister Josephine and I were returning from a member-and-missionary picnic on the north end of the island of Hawaii in the back seat of the missionaries’ open-air jeep. My fishing spear was tied to the outside of the jeep in a horizontal position. As we bounced along on the rocky mountain road, the rope that secured the spear became loose. When the jeep hit a ditch, the pointed end of the spear dropped and struck the ground. The force caused the spear to bounce back up into the jeep, right where I sat. The blunt end of the spear entered my head above the right ear lobe at a 60-degree angle, instantly blinding me.
Josephine pulled the spear from my head and pressed one of the elders’ handkerchiefs onto the wound. Though it was dangerous to drive with me in that condition, we had to get to the hospital at Kohala as soon as possible. Worried, Josephine asked me to pray. I asked Heavenly Father to let me live so that I could hold the priesthood and become a deacon, but added that it was okay if my time on earth was finished. Josephine realized that a friend lived along the road to the hospital; we decided to stop there and call an ambulance to take me the rest of the way. The bleeding from my wound had subsided, but as we waited it increased. The elders did not have their consecrated oil, but they prayed and commanded the bleeding to stop again, which it did.
At the hospital the doctors could do nothing. I needed brain surgery at the better-equipped hospital on Oahu, but bad weather prevented us from flying there.
For almost a week I lay in this remote country hospital, waiting to be transported. The injury to my brain caused me to sleep almost all the time. I remember speaking only once, when I awoke suddenly and told my mother that the body of John Mitchell, a ward member who was serving in the U.S. Army and who had been reported missing overseas, had been found. I told her that someone from the U.S. Army would visit his family the next day to tell them. This did happen.
I was finally transported to Shriners Hospital in Honolulu, where the doctors said surgery might cause permanent blindness. While we were deciding whether or not to have the operation, Elder Matthew Cowley, then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, stopped in Hawaii on his way to the South Pacific. We were unaware of his visit, but somehow he heard about my plight, came to the hospital, and gave me a blessing. He said I would live to hold the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods, that I would fill a mission among my people, that I would see again, that my sight would be as strong as my faith, and that I would attend a Church college in Hawaii.
After the blessing, my family consented to the operation. In front of his colleagues, a distinguished brain surgeon knelt at my bedside before the surgery and prayed for guidance. During the operation, he discovered a foreign object which had lodged in my brain and had miraculously aided in restricting the bleeding. The spear had severed 90 percent of my right optic nerve and half of my left optic nerve. The doctor did not charge us for the operation because he felt the Lord had guided his hands as he performed the surgery.
Other doctors told my mother that I should attend a school for the blind, but because of her faith in Elder Cowley’s blessing she refused. After I returned home, my sight gradually returned. I received the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods and served a full-time mission in New Zealand. Not only did I graduate from the Church College of Hawaii, but I also served on a building mission to help in its construction. My life with my wife and four children has been rich and fulfilling. I have served in many ward and stake positions, unhampered by my limited vision.
A New Life for Sister Elliott
When I was assigned to home teach a sister whom I shall call Ruth Elliott, she was relatively new in the ward and I did not know her. By talking with her former bishop, with her daughter who lived in another ward, and with others who could give me information about her, I was able to learn a little about her before I first called at her home.
She lived in a small apartment in a nice neighborhood. The apartment had been fashioned from the bedroom of a home and had its own outside door. The closet was used as the kitchen and was fitted with a small stove and a sink. The room was furnished with a broken-down upholstered chair in which Sister Elliott spent most of her time when she was not in bed. She seldom left the apartment and had no outside interests. Her days were spent alone at home.
This sister smoked and depended heavily on medications. Through the years her doctors had prescribed a number of medicines, and she continued to take many of them. Moreover, her appearance, manner, and conversation reflected a bitter attitude toward her life and circumstances. She harbored desep resentment toward her father and others, and an unfortunate incident with a Church member had wounded her deeply. Altogether, her life did not appear to be a pleasant one. I prayed fervently to know how best to serve this troubled woman.
Shortly after my call as her home teacher, an opportunity came. Her landlady was having the apartment painted, but Sister Elliott was responsible for moving her furniture out to the patio before the work could be done. Our ward’s high priest group leader and I pitched in to move the furniture out and then back in after the paint had dried. In this way we were able to be of service, although it was sad to see how little she owned and how meager her circumstances were.
On another occasion, while Sister Elliott had gone for a few days to visit with family members, my wife Virginia and I went to her apartment and “confiscated” the broken-down chair. It had a good frame, but needed new padding and fabric. Virginia did an excellent upholstering job on the chair, and we had it back in the apartment before Sister Elliott returned from her trip.
My junior companion and I visited this woman regularly, and Virginia and I also went often to visit, talk about the gospel, and offer a simple prayer. Gradually, Sister Elliott began to accept and return our friendship, and we became closely involved in each other’s lives.
One spring, just before surgery that our new friend needed, Virginia and I spent many hours with her, on the phone or in person, taking her to church, to the doctor’s office, or shopping. We kept in touch daily. For a time she would call each night before going to bed; she was lonely and needed a listening ear, and we were somehow able to fill part of the void and provide a needed close association.
We were vacationing when Sister Elliott had the surgery, but we called her at the hospital to offer words of encouragement and cheer. She had received a priesthood blessing and felt that the Lord would watch over her. Moreover, following the operation she determined to stop smoking, which she did successfully. Before entering the mission field, a grandson had asked her to give up this habit—and she was able to accomplish the task through help from the Lord and her own strong desire to please her missionary grandson.
As the months passed, Sister Elliott made new friends and found outside interests. Her Church attendance improved, and she began to pay tithing. I recall accompanying her to tithing settlement: at first she protested that she was ill and did not want to go, but I asked her to be ready and I would pick her up. Returning home afterward, she radiated happiness. She had paid a full tithing for the first time in her life.
By now, her attitude toward life had changed dramatically. The bitterness was gone, replaced by a humble and contrite spirit. She had forgiven those who had offended her. Relations with her children improved, and there were changes in their attitude and behavior toward their mother, prompted by her increased tolerance and love for them.
This good sister was eventually able to move to a new apartment, furnish it attractively, and make new friends in her apartment building. A new physician, determined to correct her dependency on medication, insisted that she rely on her own strength to cope with problems and would not allow her to use medication for that purpose. Through his diligence and the power of the priesthood to bless and strengthen, she was able to endure a difficult period of withdrawal.
The blessings that have come to the “new” Sister Elliott have been many, including participation in the sacred temple ceremonies with her family and friends. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity which has been mine to serve as her home teacher. Indeed, I loved the “old” Sister Elliott as much as the “new” Sister Elliott—but now I need not feel sad because of her meager and dreary life. Today it is full and pleasant, enriched by the blessings of gospel living.
That “Incorrigible” Class!
What! Me teach that class of incorrigible teenagers? Trouble comes in bunches! I thought as I walked out of the bishop’s office. My husband was serving a tour of duty in Okinawa, and I had come home to be with my grandmother, who had terminal cancer. Two active preschoolers, a new baby, a ravenous old furnace that required hand-shoveled coal in subzero weather, Grandma’s failing health, and now the thought of one more responsibility were more than I could bear.
I cried all the way home. I had heard all about that Sunday School class of sixteen-year-olds. But the bishop told me that the bishopric had fasted and prayed about what to do and “the Lord had sent me.”
At first I was bitter. But eventually, as I prayed, I began to remember the things the Savior had done for me. I realized that the least I could do for him was teach that class. Though the idea still seemed overwhelming, my attitude changed, and I went to work. Before long, I was anxiously trying to reach the teenagers in my Sunday School class. As the months passed, I came to know and love each of them.
Still, with all the other pressures I had, Christmas that year found me in anything but a joyous mood. That Christmas Eve, I sat alone near the Christmas tree in my living room trying in vain to put together a train set for my little boy. I could see the heavy snow falling outside, and suddenly a terrible aching filled my heart. I felt alone. I thought I had been doing better, but tonight, with my husband halfway around the world, my burdens overwhelmed me. Seeing Grandma slipping away, caring for the little ones, putting up with the weather, feeding the furnace, struggling with the train—again, it all seemed more than I could bear. I bowed my head and tearfully cast my burdens on the Lord.
As I knelt there, I heard a knock at my door. It was past midnight, and I wondered who on earth it could be. I opened the door to find three of my boys from Sunday School standing there, completely covered with snow. They had been sledding and had seen my light and decided to stop in to wish me a merry Christmas. I invited them in and filled them up with hot chocolate and pie.
Soon, they had the train set together, and we finished wrapping the Christmas presents. Everything looked beautiful. Each boy hugged me, thanked me for being such a good teacher and friend, and wished me Merry Christmas before they left. I stood watching them go under the street lights. Suddenly my burdens felt lighter, and that night I knelt to thank Heavenly Father for sending them to me.
A few weeks later Grandma worsened and had to be hospitalized. It was necessary for me to stay nights with her there, and I cherished these last hours alone with my Grandma. The girls from my Sunday School class took turns staying with my children while I was at the hospital. Another girl came after school every day to cook dinner for my family so I could get some rest. The boys built a coal shed and rigged a chute so I didn’t have to carry coal anymore. They tended the old furnace and did all the heavy work. I was surrounded with love and caring from each one of those young people. I couldn’t have made it without them.
My Grandma died in May, and my husband eventually returned from Okinawa. It has been years since that winter when my class of “incorrigible teenagers” helped me, but I will never forget the lesson I learned. I know far better now that we can do anything the Lord asks us to do and that the blessings we receive from our service far outweigh our efforts.