A Dusty Photograph


When my sister, Estella Torres, was expecting her second child, she suffered from diabetes, toxemia, and high blood pressure. She faced a real risk of death. Though born in El Salvador, she was living in Salt Lake City at the time and so was admitted to a hospital there. She recuperated, but for the first few days her spirits were low. She felt lonely and depressed with no loved ones nearby. Then one morning, a kind nurse, noticing that my sister spoke with an accent, asked her what country she was from.

“El Salvador,” Estella replied.

“Oh,” said the nurse. “I served a mission in El Salvador 35 years ago.”

“Do you remember any names or places?” my sister asked. “Perhaps you knew my grandmother. Her name was Amanda Ernestina.”

“It’s hard to remember names. But I do have an old photograph of one of the Church members I knew. I’ll bring it tomorrow.”

When the nurse brought the picture in, Estella was elated to see that it was indeed our beloved grandmother. The photograph showed a woman of small stature and fair complexion. She wore her long hair caught up in a comb, a style once popular in small Salvadorean towns.

Two sister missionaries from the United States had come to my grandmother’s home one day and gave her a copy of the Book of Mormon. They thought she had no interest in the Church, for she answered their questions with nothing more than a simple nod and a yes. But when they returned the next day, they found she had begun reading the book and could answer everything they asked her. A few days later she became one of the first converts in El Salvador. She was faithful all of her life.

My sister and I cherish our many childhood memories of the things Grandmother did with us, whether it was making a walking cane out of a broomstick, eating her wonderful chocolate, or walking hand in hand to church on Sundays.

Grandmother also composed poems and hymns and was a great example of obedience to the law of tithing. She grew flowers and sold them at market, and from the proceeds kept the Lord’s portion in a little plastic purse. She was deeply spiritual and taught the gospel to all of her family. Once when my father resisted her, she told him that one day he would bear his testimony from the pulpit.

“That’s something you’ll never see,” he replied. But eventually both he and my mother, as well as we children, served full-time missions in different parts of the world, including El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Uruguay, and Spain.

Grandmother was shy and quiet, an example of dedication, patience, and unselfishness. A few days before her death of cancer, she calmly remarked to my mother, “I see that the doors are open.”

“No, I have shut them,” Mother replied.

“I don’t mean these doors,” she said. “I can see the ministration of angels.” A few days later she died in her sleep, passing over that threshold.

Thirty-five years later, my sister and I feel that a dusty photograph bore silent witness that Grandmother is still concerned for her grandchildren and loves us even from beyond the veil. As Estella held that picture in her hands, she was filled with emotion as she remembered Grandmother’s love. I feel that same love whenever I remember my valiant pioneer grandmother.

[illustration] Illustrated by Larry Winborg