The Thomas family lived on a farm about ten miles from town. Although Tommy and Mary loved the trees, the stream where they swam in the summer, and all the animals and chickens, they were often teased about their plain clothes and country ways by their city-bred schoolmates.
Tommy, in the fifth grade, wasn’t bothered much by the teasing, but Mary, only a first grader, almost cried whenever her best friend, Cathy, asked her why she always wore plain cotton dresses and sturdy walking shoes.
One day, when Mary came home from school looking very sad and thoughtful, Mama asked, “Why the long face, Kitten?”
“Mama, why don’t I have any frilly dresses or shiny shoes?”
Mama sat down at the wooden kitchen table. “Honey, sit down, and I’ll try to explain it to you.”
Mary slid onto a chair and propped her chin on her hands.
“Your papa and I both grew up on farms, but we went to the city after we were married. When you were just a baby, Papa and I decided that it would be better for all of us to move from the city, so we bought the farm.”
“Why did you and Papa leave the farm in the first place if you liked it?” Mary asked.
“Remember last week when you went to Cathy’s birthday party and you told me how new and fancy Cathy’s house is?”
“Yes, Mama,” Mary answered.
“That’s why Papa and I went to the city. We thought that people in the city had nicer things than we had. But we found out that the ‘nicer things’ weren’t as important to us as the life-style that we could have on a farm. Papa earned a good salary in the city. I got a job there, too, but that meant that I couldn’t be home with you and Tommy. It costs more money to live in the city and buy all the things that people there tend to think are important to have.”
“But what does that have to do with why I can’t have pretty store-bought dresses?”
Mama continued patiently, “On the farm Papa doesn’t make as much money as he did in the city. And I don’t have a regular, paying job. We have plenty to eat, but the money we make has to go for equipment, mortgage payments, seed, and other necessities. Maybe when we’ve finished paying for some of the equipment, we can buy more things, but we just don’t have money for extras now.”
Mary understood better, but how she longed for some of the things her classmates had! Looking up at Mama, she asked wistfully, “Would Heavenly Father be upset if I prayed for a frilly dress?”
“I don’t think so, Kitten. But remember that Heavenly Father only promises to give us what’s best for us. He doesn’t always give us what we simply want.”
“I understand, Mama,” Mary answered with a smile. “May I go out and play now?”
“OK,” Mama said as she hugged Mary before the little girl scampered outside.
Tommy had come in during the conversation and had stood quietly listening.
“Mama, do you really believe that Heavenly Father will make a way for Mary to get a dress?” he asked.
“I don’t know, Tommy,” Mama said slowly. “But I know that she’s still too young to completely understand why she can’t have one.”
“I understand, Mama,” Tommy said as he banged out the door. “I’m going to help Papa till dinnertime.”
Mama lowered her head and prayed, “Heavenly Father, we thought that we were doing the right thing to come here, but children can be cruel to each other. It hurts me to see Mary and Tommy teased and ridiculed. Please help us. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”
Mama quickly rose from her chair. There was baking to be done. On Saturdays people in town gathered at the community center, where baked goods, handicrafts, and other things were brought to be sold. Mama had learned years ago that she had a talent for baking. And the small amount of money she earned with her baked goods was needed for necessities. Last year’s drought had hit the farm hard.
Papa had often said that she sold her wares too cheaply, but she always replied that she made a fair profit. Papa knew that she gave away a loaf of bread or a cake or a pie when someone looked hungrily at the goods and Mama knew that he couldn’t afford to buy anything. Papa was pleased that Mama did it and that she always masked her charity by saying that the item wasn’t selling well or that it would become stale at home. In that way she made the recipient feel that he was doing her a favor.
That night, as Mama heard the children’s prayers, tears came to her eyes when Mary timidly asked, “Please, Heavenly Father, may I have a frilly dress?” Mama was to hear this plea repeated many times during the next few weeks, for Tommy always included Mary’s request in his own prayers.
Spring planting began, and soon school would be out. Mary was confident that Heavenly Father would provide a fancy dress for her to wear on the last day of school. Mama had racked her brain to find a way to get a dress for Mary, but all the available money had gone for seed and fertilizer. Then, one lovely Sunday afternoon as the family sat in the living room after church, they heard a thump outside the front door.
“What’s that?” Papa asked as he rose from his chair. He opened the screen door. “It’s a big sack of something,” he called to the others. They crowded around him as he untied the cord and opened the sack. “Pecans!” he exclaimed. “Why would anyone leave a huge sack of pecans at our door?”
Mary, who had watched the sack-opening expectantly, wailed, “I didn’t pray for pecans.” She went back into the house.
“What are we supposed to do with them?” Tommy asked. “They’ll go bad before we can eat them all.”
Mama knew what to do with them. If I can only make my idea work, she thought. Aloud, she said, “Please take them into the pantry, Tommy. I’m sure that whoever left them knew that we would find a use for them.” Her eyes gleamed with hope.
The next morning at breakfast, Mama tried to keep her excitement from showing as she said to Papa, “I’ll need the truck for a while this morning, honey. I’ll be back to help with the planting as soon as I can.”
“OK. What’s up?”
“It’s a surprise,” she answered with a happy smile. “If it works out, you’ll all know soon enough. Right now it’s time for school, kids.” Mama gave them a hug and scooted them and Papa out the door. She was impatient to get her plan under way.
Finally she was on her way to town. She went directly to the small bakery on Main Street. Half an hour later she emerged with several boxes, which she loaded into the truck. Back at the farm Mama hurriedly stored the boxes in the pantry, changed clothes, and headed for the fields, humming a tune.
Papa looked up. “You got back quickly,” he commented. “From the look on your face, I’d say that things went your way. Are you going to tell me about it?”
“Not yet,” Mama replied, grinning. “I won’t be able to help you as much on the farm for a couple of weeks, though, and I’ll need the truck for about an hour every day.”
Each morning, as soon as the children left for school and Papa went to the fields, Mama worked in the kitchen. And each afternoon she put things in the boxes she’d obtained, loaded them into the truck, and went to town, always returning with a happy smile.
Finally, one Saturday morning Mama announced, “I must go into town by myself for a little while, but when I come back, I’ll have a surprise for each of you.”
“Well, Mary, Tommy, let’s get our chores done,” Papa said. “Working will make the time pass faster.”
With everyone helping each other, time did indeed pass quickly. They were setting the dinner table when Mama bustled in with several packages. She handed the first one to Papa, who quickly opened it.
“The new LDS editions of the scriptures!” he exclaimed. “I’ve really needed them in teaching my Sunday School class. Thank you, honey.”
Mama held out a second package, saying, “Tommy, here’s your surprise.”
Tommy’s present was a catcher’s mitt. “It’s just what I’ve been wanting. How’d you know, Mama? I tried not to let on.”
“You’ve been a regular Spartan about it, Tommy,” Mama told him. “But mothers have ways of knowing such things.”
Mama handed the last, and biggest, package to Mary, who had been sitting quietly all this time. “Here’s yours, Kitten.”
Mary slowly opened the box, then squealed with delight. In it lay not one, but two beautiful, frilly dresses—one blue, the other a soft, pale green. “Mama, oh, Mama! Heavenly Father does answer prayers!” she exclaimed as she hugged the dresses to her. “Thank you, Heavenly Father! And thank you, Mama!”
“Now, dear,” Papa said, “tell us how you managed all this.”
“Well, I bake a really good pecan pie, and when Heavenly Father provided that big sack of pecans, I made a deal with the bakery. They furnished all the ingredients except the pecans and ran a special the rest of the month on pecan pies. I did the baking for a percentage of each pie sold, and they sold very well! Even after tithing, I was able to buy these gifts.”
“But, Mama,” Tommy interjected, “where is your gift? You got us what we wanted. What did you get for yourself?”
“I got the best gift of all,” Mama replied.
“What’s that?” Mary asked, puzzled. “I don’t see any more packages.”
“My gift is seeing the pleasure on your faces. I got the joy of giving.”
“I didn’t pray for pecans,” Mary said, “but Heavenly Father knew what we needed and gave us much more.”
“He always does, honey. He always does,” Mama said softly.