Usually I didn’t like milking our mean cow Georgina, but the afternoon that Dr. Steed checked Father’s leg was one time when I wanted to be anyplace but in the house. Ever since his accident, Father had been in terrible pain. I prayed that Dr. Steed would do something to help Father, because I couldn’t bear to hear his moaning any longer.
Georgina seemed to know that I was upset—she didn’t cause me one lick of trouble. Grabbing the one-legged stool and the tin pail, I sat down to milk.
Even though I was only eleven, I had been milking cows since I was five. Today, I was milking fast and furiously, my mind a jumble of worries and fears.
Up until Father’s accident two days earlier, everything had gone well for us. Our crops were growing better this year than any time that I could remember. Not a single calf or cow had died during the winter or spring, which was probably a first. Father had even started building a new barn. We figured to have it finished before we brought in the third crop of alfalfa hay in August.
Father had been on a scaffold working on our barn when he slipped and fell 30 feet (over 9 m), landing horribly hard on his right leg.
The first time Dr. Steed looked at Father’s bulging, bloody ankle, he shook his head. “It looks mighty bad. The bone’s shattered. There’s nothing to set—it’s just a bunch of bone fragments.”
“What do we do?” Mother’s face was a mask of wrinkled worries as she clutched Father’s hand.
Father gritted his teeth and managed a faint smile that looked strange and out of place on his gray, tense face. “The good Lord will look after us, Dr. Steed,” he said weakly but confidently. “A busted leg doesn’t mean that the Lord doesn’t have His eye on us.”
I had always believed my father, especially when he talked about the Lord, but I began to wonder how He was watching over us when disaster hung over our home like a thick, heavy black cloud. Was He going to grow Father another leg?
The pain didn’t go away in Father’s leg. It got worse, lots worse! His leg from the knee to his toes swelled up something fierce. It looked as though it was going to burst. The skin turned almost black in places. Father wanted to wait longer to see if his leg would get better on its own, but Mother finally insisted that Dr. Steed take another look.
I closed my eyes and leaned my head against Georgina’s warm flank as the pail started filling up with the white foamy milk. I didn’t know what we were going to do with Father laid up. I knew that I was still too young to run the farm by myself. Maybe I could do it a day or so, but when it came time to cut the hay, harvest the grain, and bring in the corn, I’d need more help than my two little brothers could give me.
The shed door squeaked open. Mother stood there, her eyes wide and her face white as her apron. She wet her lips. “Your father’s leg …” The words died in her throat. She swallowed and tried again. “Charlie,” she got out, “Dr. Steed says your father’s leg has to come off from the knee down.”
“Cut off his leg?” I jumped up.
“Charlie, it’s his leg or his life,” Mother said softly, looking away. “Dr. Steed can’t save it. If he doesn’t take it off soon, your father will die. There’s no other way. Run and get Bishop Hunt. Your father wants a blessing before Dr. Steed starts cutting.”
I raced over to Bishop Hunt and gave him the bad news, but I didn’t go back to the house with him. Instead, I went down to the creek and hid in the bushes, wanting to be as far from Father’s moans and groans as I could get.
It was dark when I finally returned to the house. I crept into the house and stole silently down the hall to Mother and Father’s half-open bedroom door.
Father lay on his back, his eyes closed, his face ashen. Mother sat in the rocker next to the bed, holding his hand. Tears trickled down her cheeks. I studied the blanket covering Father and stared at the horrible empty place where his foot and lower leg should have been.
Mother saw me and smiled weakly. “Dr. Steed thinks he’ll be all right if he can rest through the night. Pray for him, Charlie. The Lord’s blessed us plenty. We need to ask for another blessing from His hand.”
I turned away. “How has the Lord blessed us?” I wondered. “Father is lying there without his leg. We still have the farm and the cows to take care of. The barn isn’t finished. And how can Father do any of those things with only one whole leg?” I fought back bitter tears of frustration and fear, wishing desperately that I were older so that I could carry the load.
I was busy from early morning till late at night, doing my very best to run the farm. Two days after Dr. Steed took off Father’s lower leg, I dragged into the house late, tired clear to the bone. I was shocked to see Father sitting in the rocker by the kitchen table with his stub leg propped up on a pillow in a chair. He looked better than he had since his accident. “Well, Charlie,” he said with a faint smile, “your mother says you’ve been doing a mighty fine job keeping things up around here. You’re a real man.”
I heaved a sigh and felt a hard lump in my throat, thankful for Father’s praise and mighty glad that he was doing better. Even so, I was overwhelmed by the huge job before me. I dropped down on a kitchen chair. Mother set a plate of hot food in front of me. I was almost too tired to lift my fork to feed myself. “I don’t know if I can do it alone,” I gulped.
“We won’t be doing it alone, Charlie,” Father said gently. “The Lord’ll be there. He always has been.”
“How can you say that?” I burst out, my mouth full of Mother’s homemade bread. I couldn’t bring myself to look at Father’s stump wrapped in white bandages.
The younger children were in bed and Mother and Father didn’t say anything while I quietly ate. As I wiped my plate clean with a chunk of bread, I heard the faint strum of a lone guitar. At first I wasn’t even sure I’d heard it until the guitar was joined by the low moan of a harmonica and then a fiddle. There was no mistake about it—there was music playing! Voices began to sing.
Mother and Father looked at each other and then at me. “Who do you suppose that could be?” Mother dried her hands on her apron.
I pushed back from the table and charged for the door. Flinging it open, I peered out into the night.
Four people were holding lanterns, three men strummed guitars, two played harmonicas, and one had a fiddle up to his chin. Crowded around them were other neighbors. All were playing or singing, “Master, the Tempest Is Raging.”1
Then I saw our front porch—loaded with flour and sugar and potatoes—and my mouth dropped open. There was a basket of apricots, fresh summer squash, green beans, and a few ears of early corn, too. There were also a couple pies, a sack of shelled walnuts, and a plate of fudge.
I felt Mother come up behind me. Touching me on the shoulder, she whispered, “I think your father would like to see this.”
It wasn’t easy getting Father to the front porch. With Mother on one side and me on the other, we helped Father out onto the porch and eased him down into a rocker.
“Well, George,” someone called from the crowd when they finished the hymn, “a few of us got together and figured you could use a little serenading. We might not make the best music in the world, but we sing with a whole lot of feeling.”
“We figured you could use a little something in the kitchen, too,” a woman called out. “If that isn’t enough, we’ll bring more.”
“And don’t fret about your barn being half done,” another voice called from the crowd. “There are enough hands around here to make short work of that little project. And when it comes time to mow your alfalfa, there’ll be a crew here.”
I glanced at Father. Big tears coursed down his face. “You folks are …” His voice quavered and the words died in his throat. “You folks are mighty kind,” he started again. “You treat me so fine that I’ll be tempted to go out and break my other leg.”
Everyone laughed, and then they began to play and sing again. They stayed for 30 minutes and serenaded us, singing our favorite songs and hymns. When they left, they all filed past Father, shook his hand and assured him that he didn’t have to worry about things.
When Mother, Father, and I were alone again on the porch, Father turned to me and said quietly, “That was the best music I’ve heard in a long, long time. It sounded like it came straight from heaven.” He took a deep breath and added, “Charlie, like I told you earlier, the good Lord is watching after us. We might stub our toes along the way, but he’s always there to lift us up and help us through.”
Swallowing back the big lump in my throat, I grabbed the sack of flour and nodded. As always, Father was right.
“The gospel of Jesus Christ does not promise that we will be free from tribulation [great troubles]. But it does strengthen our spirit so that we can accept … and face it when it comes.”
Elder Adhemar Damiani of the Seventy
From an October 1999 general conference address.