Long rows of the finest vegetables grow in the rich desert soil of southern California’s Imperial Valley. Fine people grow there, too. One of them is Darla Miles (9) of El Centro. El Centro is 45 feet (about 14 m) below sea level, but Darla’s goals are as high as the land is low. She loves the San Diego California Temple on the other side of the mountains and plans to be married there someday. In the meantime, “I want to go to college and get a good education. Then I want to go on a mission like my tía (aunt).”
Darla’s mom, Alma Puga, and her dad, Blake Miles, were both single parents when they met, fell in love, and married. Blake was the father of Jordan, and Alma was the mother of Pedro, Daniela, and Gabriela.
Later, when Darla was born, she became another strong bond binding two families into one.
Darla is easy to get along with and eager to make others happy. If a plateful of cookies is swiftly disappearing, she is sure to take one—not for herself, but for her dad. She is a natural peacemaker, and a little bit of a matchmaker, too. She often grabs her mom’s hand and puts it on her dad’s hand. Other times, she’ll write her mom a love note as if it came from her father, and then write a note to her dad from her mom.
If she should have a disagreement with a brother or sister, she’ll ask, “Will you forgive me?” Then, she says, “I’ll draw something for them or write them a note. If Mom and I are unhappy with each other, I’ll write a note to her and ask a brother or sister to give it to her. Then she will write a note back to me, and we’ll get together.”
These same tender feelings reach to heaven. “I love Heavenly Father because when I can’t find something or when I cry or when I’m scared or feel really bad, I pray and He helps me a lot. When somebody else is sad, something inside me tells me to go do something for him or her. One time, my sister couldn’t find a library book. She was sad because she thought she would have to pay for it. I prayed for her, and then I found the book. I’m thankful for my great mother and father and all the things Heavenly Father has made for us.”
She likes learning about some of those creations in school. A good student, she especially enjoys reading and math. She stays ahead of her grade level in most subjects and usually gets 100 percent on spelling tests.
Darla is responsible for dusting, cleaning her own room, and taking care of her many small fish, all of them named either Cheetah (boy fish) or Xena (girl fish). Without being asked, she has started feeding Marcy, the family dog. Sometimes she also takes care of Mizzy, the neighbor’s pup who thinks she belongs to the Miles family and keeps digging under the fence to join them.
The whole family enjoys reading, especially the scriptures. Darla received a set of scriptures when she was six years old and immediately began reading the Old Testament.
They are all musical, as well. Darla plays the piano, as do her brothers and sisters. Everyone enjoys camping, too. They often camp among pine trees in the mountains or go four-wheeling on nearby sand dunes. One year, the family went on a trip to Washington, D.C., and Church history sites without once staying in a motel. They were plagued by mosquitoes but enjoyed the wonder of fireflies. Darla’s favorite part of the trip was visiting the Sacred Grove in Palmyra, New York.
The Mormon Battalion came through the Imperial Valley in 1847. The family often joins a hike retracing a part of that historic trek. Darla has been three times on a nine-mile (more than 14 k) segment of the hike, which takes place at night to escape the fierce summer heat.
When she was eight, Darla was baptized by Jordan and confirmed by her dad. “I felt good,” she recalls. “I felt clean.” At the baptism, Brother Miles demonstrated how not to pray for inspiration, using a telephone as a prop. He picked up the receiver. “Hello. Good-bye,” he said and hung up. He explained that it isn’t enough to ask for help. We must also listen for the answer.
Christmas is Darla’s favorite holiday because it celebrates Jesus’ birth and because she likes to make presents. On Christmas Eve, her mom lets her stay up late to make pictures for everyone in the family. She gives them out on Christmas morning.
The family really celebrates two Christmases. They celebrate a “Rubio Christmas” on Christmas Eve. The Rubio Christmas includes a large, extended-family fiesta with piñatas, singing, and such delicious foods as homemade tamales and menudo soup, Darla’s favorite. Menudo is made from cows’ intestines. Tamales are made with meat, potatoes, olives, and seasonings wrapped in cornmeal and steamed inside corn husks. They are far better than the canned or plastic-wrapped tamales in stores. Another Christmas favorite is champurado, a drink made with chocolate milk and coarsely ground meal.
On Christmas morning, the immediate family members exchange gifts the American way. Then they enjoy an American Christmas dinner of mashed potatoes and gravy, yams, and turkey with cranberry sauce. The season is twice blessed by the two cultures.
Above all, Christmas and every day is blessed by Darla’s love for Jesus Christ. “Jesus is my Friend and my Savior.” Just as the waters of the Colorado River make it possible for crops to grow in this desert, His gospel has helped Darla grow into the wonderful person she is.