Elyssa Portillo (9) of Tucson, Arizona, has many talents. She dances, sings, draws, crochets, cooks, and acts out plays she makes up herself. But her greatest talent may be the talent of gratitude. She is grateful for good friends, good food, and the beautiful desert scenery that surrounds her home. “And I’m thankful for the Prophet Joseph Smith, President Gordon B. Hinckley, the Church, and the Book of Mormon,” she declares.
“Most of all, I’m thankful for my family. I’m thankful for my mom. Whenever I need her, she’s there. I’m thankful for Nana (her grandmother). She’s a teacher, and whenever I need help with my homework, she helps me. I’m very thankful for my dad. I like to take walks with him. I’m thankful for my tío (uncle). I like to sing with him while he plays the piano. I’m thankful for my dog, Pixie. I love them all.”
Elyssa lives in her grandmother’s home with all these loved ones, who love her right back. “When Elyssa’s around, we’re always laughing,” Uncle Eric says. “She makes us laugh when we least expect it. She’s very creative, and you never know what she’s going to do next.”
Nana recalls, “When Elyssa was young, instead of watching TV we just sat around watching Elyssa and her puppy. She liked the attention and started creating games and plays. She would dress up as Cinderella or Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz and act out the part. She filled the whole house with her personality. When she went out, the house was empty and too quiet.
“She’s sensitive to others and sees people’s needs. If I’m walking, she makes sure that I don’t trip: ‘Nana, wait. There’s something in your way.’ She often reminds her mom to put on her seat belt and to not lock her keys in her car. She likes to open doors for the elderly, and at church, she’s always helping mothers with their young children. I feel very safe with Elyssa around.”
“I love her dearly,” her mom says. “She’s my little companion, my little shadow. Everywhere I go, she’s right behind me. She’s a happy child.”
Elyssa also loves her tata (grandpa). When Elyssa was a baby, Tata would play the guitar for her. Later they sang together. Tata was with her a lot because he developed a serious disease and couldn’t go to work. Each day, he picked her up after school and took her to eat at a place of her choice. When Pixie was missing one stormy night, Tata comforted Elyssa, prayed with her, and kept searching until her beloved pet was found safe several days later.
Since Tata couldn’t go to work, he did much of the cooking at home and became a really good cook. Elyssa helped him and became a good cook herself. Their specialty was empanadas, a sort of meat pie that is held in one’s hands. Nana remembers her working beside Tata, flour all over her little face.
“They grew very close,” Nana recalls. “She was his life.”
When Elyssa was eight years old, Tata died suddenly of a heart attack. Elyssa took it very hard. “I felt lonely inside and was crying in my heart. I had a hard time at school. But the teachings of Jesus Christ have helped me to know that someday I will see my tata again. I know that if I keep the commandments, I can be with my family forever.”
In spite of having felt grief—or perhaps because of it—Elyssa has developed a talent for feeling joy. She remembers her baptism as an especially joyful experience. “I’m thankful that I get to have the Holy Ghost with me all the time. Every child in the world deserves to be blessed with the Spirit.” She was grateful that her dad and his parents came to the service to show their love and support, though they are not members of the Church.
Elyssa likes to use her talents to help others feel happy. She studies the violin and guitar and sings in the Little Mariachis at school. (Mariachi bands play traditional Mexican music with brass and string instruments.) Like her dad, she draws well, and she uses this gift to create greeting cards for her friends and family. She uses another talent to crochet purses for people.
She also helps her friends by setting a good example and sometimes by reminding them to choose the right. One day, she came home and reported, “My friend said a bad word. I told her that she shouldn’t say those things.”
A good student, Elyssa isn’t sure yet what she will do when she grows up. Three possibilities are “a police officer to protect the community, a firefighter so I can help others, or a teacher like Nana because I like to help people learn things.” She plans to follow the example of Uncle Eric by serving a mission. “And I plan to get married in the temple and raise a righteous family.”
In the meantime, in the words of a proud Nana, “Elyssa brings us all a lot of joy. We love her, and she knows it.”