Pa’s Birthday Shirt


He that hath two coats, let him impart to him that hath none (Luke 3:11).

Pa’s Birthday Shirt

Eleven-year-old Hatty pulled the last stitch through the apron. “It’s finished,” she said, tying the knot. “Now can I please make Pa’s birthday shirt?”

“Are you sure you want to try something so difficult?” Ma asked.

“Yes! His birthday’s next week, and I’ve been mending as fast as I can so I’ll have time to make it. Besides, you said his old one was ready for the quilt bag.”

Ma laughed. “All right. You’ve convinced me. There’s some cloth in the box by my bed.”

Hatty hurried to the box and pulled out a large piece of newly woven cloth. “How about this?”

Ma nodded. “That will be fine, but be careful not to use more than you need. It has to last us all year.”

“I’ll be careful.” Hatty spread it on the table.

“The first thing we need to do,” Ma said, “is cut out the pieces. Usually I measure your pa first, but since this is a surprise, we’ll have to rely on my memory.” Ma measured, outlined, and pinned. “It’s your turn,” she said, handing Hatty the scissors.

Hatty cut out the sleeves.

“Good,” Ma said. “I’m going outside now to put fresh straw in the mattresses. Call me if you need anything.”

“I will.” Hatty started on the next piece. This is so exciting! she thought. I can hardly wait till Pa sees—“Oh, no!” she wailed out loud.

Ma ran through the door. “What’s wrong?” Then she saw the large gash. “Oh, Hatty, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have left you so soon.” She folded the ruined cloth and put it into the box. “Perhaps we can use it later.”

Hatty wiped a tear from her cheek. “I’m sorry, Ma.”

“I know.” Ma quickly traced another pattern, and Hatty tried again. This time she was extra careful.

It wasn’t until the next morning that Hatty had another chance to work on her gift.

As she started sewing the first seam, she thought, This isn’t so hard. But after a solid hour of stitching, her hands were sore, her shoulders ached, and her fingers had been pricked five times.

“Let’s see how you’re doing,” Ma said, examining the stitches. “Hmmm, … most of it’s perfect. But see these big stitches? You’ll need to make them smaller, or they’ll come undone while Pa is working.”

Hatty looked at her pricked fingers. “Maybe this project is too hard for me.”

“It is difficult, but I believe that you can do it.”

“You do?”

“Yes. You’ve already done many difficult things. Remember when we crossed the plains? You had to keep our milk cow walking, even when all you wanted to do was sleep.”

Hatty nodded.

“And what about our garden? You planted it all by yourself.”

“Pa helped a little.”

“And I’ll help you with this.”

Hatty looked again at her sore fingers. “Show me what to do,” she said.

The rest of the week, Hatty spent every spare minute working on the shirt. Sometimes she had to unpick her stitches and sew them again, and sometimes she felt like giving up. But, finally, on the morning of Pa’s birthday, she finished it and wrapped it in brown paper.

“There’s a new company of Saints coming through the canyon today,” Pa said after breakfast. “I’ll be spending most of my day helping them.”

“But it’s your birthday!” Hatty cried.

“And I can’t think of a better way to spend it! You know that we’ve always been helped when we’ve needed it, so I’m glad to help others when they need it.”

“What about your present?” Hatty asked.

Pa laughed. “I’ll be home in time for dinner. You can give it to me then.”

When he was gone, Ma said, “Aren’t we lucky? Now we have the whole day to prepare for his party.”

“His party?”

“Yes. We need to make a cake, fix his favorite dinner, and—”

“String wildflowers around the room! Can I do that?”

Ma laughed. “Go ahead.”

That evening, Pa, Ma, and Hatty sat around the table and ate dinner. There was a flower next to each place.

“Happy birthday to you,” Hatty and Ma sang after dinner.

Pa stuck his finger into the cake. “Mmmm. Let’s eat.”

“Presents first,” said Hatty, reaching under her chair.

Just then someone knocked on the door.

“I wonder who that could be.” Pa picked up the candle and went to the door.

Hatty stood on her tiptoes, trying to see who it was, but Pa was too tall. She could hear a man’s voice, though.

Finally Pa closed the door and faced his family. “It’s one of the new settlers,” he said quietly. “He’s out of money, and his clothes were so torn that he didn’t want you to see him. He hid in the bushes all afternoon.” Pa looked at Ma, his eyes pleading. “I have another pair of pants, but …”

Slowly Hatty handed her father the brown paper package. “Happy birthday,” she whispered. “It’s a shirt.”

Pa pulled Hatty into his arms. “Thank you,” he said. Then, he gathered the clothing and gave his gift to the man outside.

Note: Although this story is fictional, in 1852 Henry Ballard, Elder Russell M. Ballard’s great-grandfather, arrived at Emigration Canyon with only rags to wear. Ashamed, he hid until dark, then knocked at the door of a cabin and begged for clothes. He was given some. The next day he continued his journey to the Salt Lake Valley. (See Ensign, July 1995, pages 16–19.)

[illustrations] Illustrated by Mike Eagle