There were people everywhere—doctors and nurses in white coats, tired and crying children standing in line to get shots, anxious foster parents searching for their Indian children, and other families happily reuniting. Eight-year-old Rose Begay had been so excited to come on the Indian placement program this year with her older brothers and sisters that she’d hardly slept the night before she was to leave. But during the long bus ride from Arizona she began to realize how far away she would be from the world she knew. She had loved the twinkling lights of the Salt Lake Valley she’d seen the night before from the bus window, but the harsh lights in the building stabbed at her tired, scratchy eyes. When Rose was finally introduced to her new family by her caseworker, Brother Hall, she was so exhausted that the people blurred before her eyes.
“Rose, this is Brother and Sister Robbins, and Julie, Jason, Eric, Scotty, and Susan,” he was saying. They all had blue eyes, freckles, and big smiles. Rose peeked at them through a curtain of black hair, then quickly lowered her eyes and looked at her toes.
The Robbins family lived in a brown house on a quiet circle. Rose gazed in wonder at the large, comfortable rooms and the shiny kitchen with a sliding glass door looking out onto the lawn and garden. In the distance she could see snow-covered mountains. She touched the pink gingham curtains edged with wide white lace in the bedroom she would share with Julie, and her eyes were drawn to the matching bedspreads.
When it was time to be tucked into bed, Sister Robbins had wanted Rose to wear the pajamas she had ready, but Rose shook her head no. How could she explain that the clothes she had on were her only link with home? She looked so tired and ready to cry that she was allowed to get into bed in the clothes she wore. But the bed still felt strange, and she couldn’t get comfortable. She longed for her goatskin rug on the hard floor at home. She squirmed and squiggled. Finally, after Julie had gone to sleep, Rose took a blanket, curled up in a corner on the floor, closed her eyes, and thought about her desert home. She could almost see the piñon smoke drifting through the clear air and feel the gentle touch of a smooth brown hand. At last she slept.
During those first weeks with her new family, Rose had many things to get used to. It seemed strange to be allowed to have cookies and popcorn after school. At the small reservation boarding school Rose had attended for a few months, children could eat only at mealtimes. And, with a twinkle in her eyes, Julie would often remind her, “Oops, you left the fridge open again, Rosie.” Sometimes Rose would eat until she felt like bursting, and still the ache of strangeness was inside her.
One morning there were pancakes for breakfast—crisp and brown on the edges—with hot maple syrup. Rose was just about to pour herself a glass of milk when she noticed that her foster mother didn’t have any and that there was only enough for one glass. “I don’t feel thirsty for milk today,” she said.
Sister Robbins looked at Rose strangely, then glanced down at her own empty glass. “Rose, I don’t want milk this morning,” she said. “I’m going to buy more milk at the store as soon as you go to school.” Rose filled her glass and drank the good cold milk with the hot pancakes.
“Will you vacuum for me today before you go, please, Rose?” Sister Robbins asked after breakfast. She plugged in the vacuum cleaner, turned it on, and showed Rose how to use it. Rose pushed it back and forth, back and forth, back and forth …
Jason grabbed his jacket and hollered, “Hurry up, Rose. You’ll be late for school.”
In desperation, Rose turned to Eric and whispered, “How do you stop this thing?”
Vacuum cleaners and refrigerators weren’t the only strange new things in Rose’s world that gave her problems. She was having trouble in school.
“Why don’t you look at me when I talk to you?” Miss McBunn asked Rose. “And why haven’t you been turning in your assignments?” Rose turned her eyes to the floor and retreated even farther behind the curtain of dark hair. She was embarrassed to tell her teacher that Navajos consider it rude to look right into peoples’ eyes when they are talking to them. Her assignments were all completed as well as she knew how, but she feared turning them in. What if they are all wrong? she thought. I would be ashamed.
The bell rang for their next class.
“Saved by the bell,” Rose’s friend Angie whispered.
“OK, girls, we’re going to run the forty-yard dash today,” the gym teacher announced. When the girls had lined up, the teacher put her whistle to her lips and BLEW!
Rose streaked across the field, her hair flying behind her. She glanced back and saw that she was far in the lead. Her feet went slower until most of the others were even with her.
“Why did you slow down? Why didn’t you try harder to win?” Angie wanted to know.
Rose shrugged her shoulders shyly and said nothing. She didn’t know how to explain that it wasn’t the Navajo way.
After school Hank Holton walked by Rose and poked her with something sharp. He made an imitation of an Indian war whoop and taunted, “Where’s your tomahawk?”
Rose’s heart felt heavy, and her feet carried her home in slow, plodding steps. She felt much better when she got home and discovered that everyone was making preparations for family home evening.
“Mondays are my favorite times,” she commented to Julie as they put the best red glasses on the table with the good dishes and two tall candles. They were especially excited tonight because Grandma was coming for the evening.
“Be sure to pick all the toys up off the steps so Grandma won’t stumble on them,” Sister Robbins warned Scotty and Eric. But they ran off to play, and the toys were still there. Rose carefully gathered them up and put an extra cushion on Grandma’s chair so that she would be more comfortable. Then Rose went to the kitchen to check on the good smells. “What are you cooking tonight, Mom?” she asked.
“Oh, a special treat,” Sister Robbins replied, “shrimp and french fries.”
Rose had a funny look on her face.
“What’s the matter?” Sister Robbins asked.
“I don’t know whether to be a Navajo or a billigona (white person) tonight. Navajos aren’t supposed to eat fish, but oh, it smells so good!”
“Why, I didn’t know that Rose. I guess you will have to decide.” Sister Robbins gave her a hug.
“Why do white people touch each other all the time—hugging and kissing?” Rose asked with a puzzled look.
Sister Robbins laughed. “I guess it’s just a way we have to show our love for each other. Besides, I think it’s kind of nice, don’t you?”
Rose sat deep in thought for a while, then said, “Yes, I guess it is. One time my grandfather and I were going for a walk together. He held my hand so that I wouldn’t stumble in the holes. It was nice.”
After dinner Julie played the piano and Jason played his flute. Baby Susan clapped with everyone else and cooed.
As Rose watched Susan pick up a toy and play with it, all the lonely, homesick feelings and the strangeness of her new experiences seemed to swell inside her. She wanted to be as carefree as Baby Susan again. Rose reached over and snatched the toy from Susan so quickly that the baby lost her balance and tumbled over backward.
“Why, Rose!” Sister Robbins exclaimed in a shocked voice, “You mustn’t treat the baby like that! What’s gotten into you? Please go to your room and stay there!”
A while later Rose’s foster mother came into the darkened room to find the young Indian girl sobbing in a corner. Sister Robbins gathered Rose into her arms and carried her—even though she was eight years old—to the big rocker. Rose huddled on her lap choking on sobs that wouldn’t stop. “My Indian mother loves me,” she said brokenly again and again.
Sister Robbins stroked the damp hair from Rose’s hot face. “Oh, Rose, I love you, too,” she said soothingly.
Rose looked up and saw tears on her foster mother’s cheeks.
“You have become part of my heart. I don’t know what we would do without our little Rose. You bring a special gift to our family. Tonight I noticed how you cleared off the steps for Grandma and fixed her chair. None of my other children have ever watched to see that I had enough milk like you did this morning. You understand about peoples’ feelings in a special way.” She pressed her cheek against the smooth dark hair on the top of Rose’s head.
“Rose, I raised my voice at you tonight, and I’m sorry. I know that your Indian mother always speaks softly. Many of our ways must seem strange to you. Apples and bananas are not alike either, but they are both good. The gospel in our lives can be a bridge to cross over our differences.
“When I was only a few years older than you are now, I was baptized and became the only Mormon in my school in South Dakota. Some kids called me names like ‘Seagull’ and teased me because they thought I was different. But it didn’t matter because when I read the Book of Mormon, it seemed to fill a longing that had always been inside me. It seemed familiar to me, like my mother’s kiss, warm and comforting, as I drifted off to sleep at night. Your people helped to write that book, Rose. It is a great gift and blessing they have shared with us.”
“It is?” Rose looked up in wonder, her eyes still wet with tears.
“Oh, yes, my little Rose. Long years ago your people wrote that the time would come when we would care for you as nursing mothers and carry you on our shoulders—teach you the gospel. The placement program is part of the fulfillment of that prophecy. Saturday I will take you to Temple Square. You can see how Jesus came to your people long ago and how they gave us the Book of Mormon.” Rose snuggled deeper into her lap. She felt loved and safe as she drifted off to sleep.
On Saturday Rose felt special and important as she and Sister Robbins visited Temple Square. She enjoyed the stories and films about her people. Her grandfather liked to tell stories just like the Indian grandfather in one of the films. Grandfather had taught her to walk in beauty, to see the good and beauty in everything around her.
During the film, she heard the words of the Savior, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (John 10:16).
Rose thought, I know about sheep. I’ve spent many hours tending sheep, finding them shade and water. I may be different from Julie and the others like apples and bananas are different, but I am one of His sheep.
Rose felt a comforting warmth, as familiar as snuggling down under her own goatskin rug or hearing her grandfather telling her stories. She had felt an ache and hunger inside that food could not satisfy, but it was beginning to melt away like the dew fades from the unfolding rose petals reaching for the sunshine.