Mama had said that if I helped cut and spread peaches until they were all out to dry, Papa might bring me a surprise from Salt Lake. I told him I hoped it would be cloth for a pink dress and a hair ribbon. However, Papa insisted that brown or gray was more practical than pink; but I saw him wink at Mama when he said it. I was tired of the bolt of brown cloth we got last year for our dresses and for my brothers’ shirts. Mama thought it was a nice mulberry color, but to me it always looked brown.
Too soon summer was over and the Virgin Ward Primary had started again. Our Primary president, Sister Stratton, announced, “We have been encouraged by Sister Eliza R. Snow to have a fair in January to celebrate the twentieth birthday of Primary in our ward.”
Brother Stratton agreed to show the boys how to notch water willows to build little log cabins. Our teacher, Sister Isom, said that she would teach us how to sew a fine seam so we could make our own dresses when we grew up. “You may make doll dresses or piece quilt blocks. Some of you girls may even want to make aprons.”
Excitedly I drew in my breath. My mind flashed back to a sunset walk with Sister Stratton and her two little girls, Artie and Persis. The sky was turning pink. As it became pinker and pinker, we girls, holding hands, skipped to where the pasture grass stopped, and tumbled laughing in the sand at the river’s edge.
“Just look, we’re in a pink world,” Artie exclaimed.
The pink was not only in the west, but drifting clouds picked up the color in the east and north and south as well. Swallows skimmed the pink sky in their silent search for insects, and the shallow trickle of the Virgin River rippled pink. With upturned faces we looked and looked.
Settling herself on a smooth boulder, Sister Stratton looked up in rapture. “Oh,” she said softly, “how wonderful—how gloriously wonderful!”
“Mama, Heavenly Father is the One who makes the sky so pretty at night, isn’t He?” Persis asked.
“Yes, dear, and how thankful we should be for eyes to see. Eyesight is a precious gift.”
“I’m glad I’m not a mole in a hole,” Artie said thoughtfully.
“Sister Stratton, wouldn’t be fun to have something to wear the color of the sky?” I asked.
“Oh, Mary Ann, that would be lovely. I think I would have a gathered apron to tie around my waist when we come home to Sunday dinner—a long pink checkered apron.” Then she arose and, brushing the sand from her skirts, said, “Speaking of dinner, come along, girls. Your father will soon be in from the field, powerful hungry.”
Light-footed we pattered beside her. No one would think by her lively step that she had a dozen children. Actually, Artie made thirteen, because she came to live with the Strattons when her own mother died. Sister Stratton had room in her big heart for everyone, including me. Persis and Artie were like my sisters, since I was the only girl in our family, surrounded by a whole troop of brothers.
“I feel happy as a meadowlark,” Persis said. And to show that she did, too, Sister Stratton burst into song and we joined in:
Days of summer glory, days I love to see,
All your scenes so brilliant, they are dear to me.
Let your thot’s be ever, pure as yonder sun,
Gentle as the breezes when the night comes on.
Meadow, field and mountain, clothed in shining green,
Little rippling fountains, thro’ the willows seen,
Birds that sweetly warble all the summer days,
All things speak in music, their Creator’s praise.
Deseret Sunday School Songs, no. 169.
(Sing with Me, no. G-22.)
Suddenly I was snapped out of my reverie by our Primary chorister’s voice. “Children, we will now sing no. 169, ‘Summer Time.’” That’s funny, I thought, we’re going to sing the very song that was running through my mind.
After the song Sister Bradshaw played the harmonica and we danced the Danish slide-off. Then Sister Stratton brought out a dishpan full of molasses cookies, and the new Primary season had really and truly begun.
I could hardly wait to get home to tell Mama about the Primary fair and what I wanted to make for our president. “Sister Stratton will be so surprised to have a pink checkered apron made by me. Then she’ll remember our sunset walk every time she wears it.”
Patting my shoulder, Mama said, “We’ll go to the co-op now and find the material.”
Mama helped me cut out the apron and I folded it neatly in my sewing box along with needles, thimble, and thread ready for the next Primary day. How to keep Sister Stratton from seeing it puzzled me, but I needn’t have worried. She wasn’t there. Persis said her mother was ill.
Sister Stratton wasn’t at Primary the next week, nor the next. Finally Brother Stratton took her to St. George to be under a doctor’s care, and Persis’s older sister Mary had to take care of the family.
I guess the Primary children worked harder than ever preparing for the fair, because everyone wanted to please Sister Stratton. I finished my apron and could hardly wait for her to see it. Besides making doll dresses and little quilts, some of the girls braided doll rugs. The boys made spool wagons in addition to the little water willow log cabins. We were going to have a scrumptious display.
It was on the first Primary day in January that we finally learned something about Sister Stratton’s illness. Sister Gibson told the children that our beloved president had gone blind. I almost couldn’t stand it. I thought of that day at the river and how thankful she was to have eyes to see with. I remembered the times she told the Primary children how beautiful their smiles were. I thought of the fair and how anxious we were to have her see what we had made. A lump as big as a quince arose in my throat as we started the opening song:
Jesus bids us shine with a clear, pure light,
Like a little candle, burning in the night, …
In this world is darkness, so we must shine,
You in your small corner, and I in mine. …
—“Jesus Bids Us Shine,” Deseret Sunday School Songs, no. 183
I almost bawled when they sang “In this world is darkness,” thinking how it must be for Sister Stratton. Then Lucy Jepson recited a piece about the great, wide, beautiful, wonderful world and I broke down. I couldn’t help it.
Sister Bradshaw put her arms around me. “What’s the matter, Mary Ann?” she asked.
“Oh, Sister Bradshaw, Sister Stratton won’t ever be able to see the beautiful world again.”
“I know, Mary Ann; it’s truly sad. But perhaps you’ll feel better after our lesson today,” she said.
The lesson was about Jesus anointing the eyes of the blind man so he could see. After the lesson we were asked to fast and pray for Sister Stratton.
Fast and testimony meeting was the next Sunday, January the sixth, twenty years to the day since Eliza R. Snow and Zina D. Young organized the first Primary in Virgin in 1881. Most of the testimonies were about that first Primary, and I almost wished I had been born sooner. Then Bishop Beebe prayed for Sister Stratton, and the Primary children were asked to stay after meeting.
When we knelt together Sister Gibson said, “Heavenly Father delights in the prayers of little children. Mary Ann, will you please lead us?” Since we always took turns praying in Primary anyway, I was not usually afraid, but this time it was different. When I bowed my head I sobbed and sobbed, and I tingled all over. Finally I gained control.
“Oh, Heavenly Father,” I pleaded, “please heal Sister Stratton because we love her so much and because she loves us so much. Bless her so she can see our smiles and all of the things we made for the fair and the wonderful world and pink sunsets. Please. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”
The Primary fair was the following Saturday and Sister Stratton was there. Standing before us, she said, “Your smiles are as beautiful as those of angels.” She could see! Tears streamed down her cheeks as she continued, “Dear precious children, a wonderful thing happened to me. As I sat by a west window late Sunday afternoon, a feeling of peace came over me. And then, out of the mist of darkness, there came a gentle light, growing brighter; and I saw a sky full of gold-fringed pink clouds and I knew the sun was setting. Over and over I said, ‘Thank you, Heavenly Father, thank you so much for the precious gift of sight.’ And then I learned that at that very hour, you, my precious Primary children, were on your knees praying for me.”
We rushed into her arms and she hugged us, one by one. And then she saw and enjoyed the things we had made. “They are just beautiful,” she said. She enjoyed our singing, reciting, and our dancing, and I just knew it was the happiest birthday party the world had ever seen. Last of all I gave her the pink checkered apron.
“Oh, Mary Ann. Mary Ann!” she cried. “You must have caught a pink cloud right out of the sunset to make this for me.” And we laughed happily together.
I dearly love our Heavenly Father for listening so tenderly when children pray.