Mama and the Heavenly Father
by Alice Gubler

EDITOR'S NOTE: "Mama and the Heavenly Father" was originally published in The Relief Society Magazine July, 1962, vol. 49 pp. 490-494, 1962. It is based on an actual incident from Alice's childhood.

Brigham Young University's Harold B. Lee Library has made digital scans of Relief Society Magazine available online as part of the Relief Society Magazine Digital Project. This article is online there in the original format at:

The article is reprinted here with permission.

The long shadows of the summer sunset were spreading like cool fingers across the fevered brow of day. Summer evenings were a most treasured part of my childhood. Sunset meant homecoming time at our house; it was sort of an unwritten law. However we could play in the lane in front of the house with the other children until we were called.

My cousin Iantha and I were happily squishing the dust in the road between our toes, when a plaintive voice asked, "Will you two walk home with me?"

We looked up. There was Julie, and my goodness, she was fifty miles from home. Well, at least a whole mile, because her house was the other side of town.

"Oh, my, I can't go anywhere now," I said, "because the sun is almost down."

"Of course it is," she said, "that's why I want you to go with me. It will be dark before I get home and I'll be afraid."

Iantha said, "Oh, come on. Let's take her home."

"I can't," I protested.

"If both of you go, then you won't have to come back alone," Julie pleaded.

"No, I can't."

"All right, don't you go with me then," she said with a toss of her head, "but I'll tell you one thing, if you don't, then the bad man will get you."

"He won't, really, will he?" I asked.

"He will, really," she affirmed.

Julie was ages and ages older than I was. She was born the year before I was, and that would make her lots smarter. She probably knew lots more about the bad man than I did.

I looked toward the house where mama would be putting supper on. She would be pouring creamy milk from a pan into the green glass pitcher, and she would put on a plate with a hundred slices of bread on it—well a lot of slices anyway, because it took lots of bread for all of us. When we sat down to eat bread and milk and fruit at nights we circled clear around the big table that Uncle Jake had built for us. You see there were five sisters and mama and papa and a little baby brother, with curly hair, who was the cutest baby in the world, and Grandma Isom. Grandma always fussed over me because I was named for her, but I worried her, too. She would say, "My lands, how that child exaggerates!" I always wondered what she meant.

I had the urge to run fast into the house where the family was, before Julie could say another word, but I didn't.

"We'd better hurry, Iantha, and take Julie home," I said, so the three of us took hold of hands and pattered down the lane.

I was the littlest and the youngest, and I wished they would let me walk in the middle, but they didn't. Julie got the middle spot, and as we walked on each side of her to protect her, she told us spooky tales of things that really, really happened to people who lived right close around.

DUSK was turning into thick black velvet as we scooted along through the tunnel of trees to Julie's house. When we came to her gate we stood under the climbing trumpet vines.

Julie whispered, "And now, because you had to be coaxed, and didn't come with me when I first asked you, I'm going to tell you one thing more. The bad man is going to get you anyway. He won't get you until the first night you sleep away from home."

I pulled away and grabbed Iantha's hand, and in utter fright, we sped down the lane and home.

I slipped quietly into the welcome light of the living room.

Papa said, "This is a fine time to be coming home to supper."

The table was cleared already, and my sisters were washing the dishes. Mama was humming a tune as she kept finding more dishes for my sisters to do. Mama could always find more dirty dishes, even where there weren't any, almost. But you should have heard her sing. She hummed prettier than anybody; soft and clear and sweet. Her cheeks were always pink, too, the kind of pink that didn't scrub off and that made her look special.

I looked at her, and I wanted to run to her and tell her my whole miserable story, but Julie had said the bad man would get me just as soon as I told.

I stood in the kitchen by the stair door feeling awfully little. No one paid any attention to me. The kitchen began to shimmer in front of my eyes and I felt my chin quiver, so I climbed the stairs around the turn and wiped my eyes and hoped no one could see me.

Papa was jouncing Willie, our baby brother, on his knee and singing, "A chicken went to bed but it was no use, roll Jordan, roll." Papa thought Willie was a mighty important baby because he was our only boy and we already had six girls. I guessed I'd better get down off that stairway and go where everybody was.

Grandma was reading the Deseret News and shaking her head every little while and saying, "Tsk, tsk, tsk, what a shame!"

My sister Mildred got out her paper dolls that she had cut from the catalog and asked me to come and play with her. Mildred was always good to me.

Mama came in, sat down at the organ, and began softly to chord, and Papa sang "The Bowery."

Everybody acted as if nothing was wrong. My goodness! You would think they couldn't help but know something terrible was going to happen to me!

Morning came, and a flock of quarreling sparrows, tumbling along the fence in the currant bushes, woke up the sun. I went into the garden with my sisters to pull weeds out of the carrot and turnip row. The terror of last night seemed like a bad dream to be forgotten, until Mildred, yanking on a fist full of grass, said, "I wish Mama would let us go to Oak Creek to see Grandmother Crawford."

Oh my! Why did she say that? Julie's dire prediction loomed before me like a horrible apparition. I couldn't go anywhere! Not ever! All the rest of my life I would have to stay in Hurricane!

I thought of Oak Creek and Grandmother and Aunt Emma. Oak Creek was the prettiest place in the whole world, except for the ranch at Kolob. I closed my eyes, and I could see the high pink and cream-colored canyon walls, and hear the soft swish of the Virgin River through the trees. There was always a cool canyon breeze that carried the fragrance of box elder and Cottonwood.

My heart felt all twisted with longing. There was no place so good as Grandmother's home in the summer. She let us gather eggs in the barn, and we could always find a handful of sweet, everbearing strawberries in her garden, and she had yellow currants. We had only black ones at home. The cookies she made were big and golden brown, all sprinkled with sugar and nutmeg. They were as much a part of being at Grandmother's as the blue willowvvare dishes in her cupboard.

Aunt Emma was a part of Grandmother's home, too. She would let us play with her little wooden dishes, and her tiny little clock, and she had some angels that twirled on a spindle that made chimes ring. She reminded me of those angels. She smiled when she spoke, and it was always of happy things she told us, and her dark eyes would shine. Her voice sounded like music that sort of belonged with Oak Creek and the gentle canyon breeze.

I wished Mildred hadn't thought of Oak Creek! Mama just might let us go, if Uncle Louis should come down with a load of grist for the mill. She sometimes did. We would ride back in the wagon on the sacks of flour, and stay a week, sometimes, and play with our cousins in Oak Creek and Springdale. Our cousins were lots of fun. Uncle Louis didn't come—but wouldn't you just know it!—Mama and Papa planned a family vacation—the very first one in our lives! We were going out to Moccasin to see Aunt Lavern Heaton's family. Moccasin was out of the State even. It was clear off in Arizona.

MY sisters were as excited as if Moccasin had streets of pure gold. Just when I would start to get excited, too, then Julie's dark prediction would stare dismally at me. I suffered!

Mama baked things in the kitchen that smelled good all through the house. Everyone was busy and happy helping get ready to go. That is, everyone but me. I helped, but I wasn't happy. When I smiled I just turned it on like a mechanical thing. I wished time would stand still, but it would not. Jesse Spendlove drove up to our house in Uncle Ren's wagon, and our bedding and grub box and supplies were loaded in, and I knew that this was the very last day of my life. But, suddenly, I decided to get just as excited as my sisters.

It was great to be perched upon a pile of bedding with the other children in the wagon. We laughed and talked, and guessed what we would find around each turn in the road ahead. Far out across the stretches of wasteland were gray forms racing wildly with the wind. I asked Papa if they were wolves, and he said no, they were tumbleweeds. Pretty soon we came to a fence that had a lot of them caught in it.

Way out against the sky was a blue mountain. It was as blue as Pine Valley Mountain at home. I asked Papa if we would go over the mountain and he said we would tomorrow. Oh dear! If only I were going to be with the family tomorrow I could see what the rocks on the blue mountain looked like when you came to them. From home, Pine Valley Mountain looked as if it must have blue glass rocks on it, but it was too far away for us ever to go over and see. I wished I was going to live, because then I could gather my lap full of blue rocks and take them back home to show to Iantha. My heart ached with re- grets, and I became engulfed in a tide of misery.

The sun went down, and Papa said the horses needed to rest. Jesse pulled them over onto a flat place that Papa said would make a fine camp. He took off the harnesses and rubbed the dust off their sweaty flanks, and they snorted as if it was a mighty fine feeling.

WE ate our supper around the campfire and then made a big family bed on a canvas on the ground. When we were all tucked in, I lay listening to the contented sound of the horses munching grain in their nose bags.

My emotions swung like the pendulum of a clock between fleeting surges of happiness and utter misery. These things were dear to my heart—the embers of the campfire, the sound of the horses, and sleeping under the stars; but all was not serene. I studied the dark bushes around us, and I knew that lurking behind one of them was the bad man, waiting for the folks to fall asleep so he could get me.

This was the zero hour. It didn't matter what I did now. I could shout to the hills the whole tale of my misery if I wanted to. Nothing would make any difference.

I crawled out of my warm spot between my sisters and snuggled down under the covers by Mama. There was no use to tell Papa, because he would only say, "That's all a pack of nonsense. Go on back to your bed and go to sleep," but Mama would listen.

"Mama, the bad man is going to get me tonight," I whispered.

She gave me a little squeeze. "Of course he isn't," she said.

"Oh, yes, he is," I insisted.

"Who told you that?" she asked.

I blurted out the whole, miserable story to her.

She said, "Don't you ever let anyone tell you a think like that again. When things trouble you, always come and tell me. It is not wrong to tell something to your mother." She gave me a hug.

"Oh, Mama!" I whispered, though my voice was choking, "do you mean I will really go to Moccasin with all of you?"

"Of course you will. Patsy," she chuckled. Patsy was a pet name mama used when things were really, really all right. "Now go on back to your bed and say your prayers. You must remember, the Heavenly Father is someone you should always tell your troubles to." She took my face between her hands and kissed me.

Oh, my! The big load had dropped from my shoulders. I wanted to sing and shout and turn somersaults in the sand, but everyone else had gone to sleep. I crawled out of Mama's bed and the breeze fluttered my nightgown. I looked up at the sky, and there were at least two hundred stars. Grandma wouldn't think I was exaggerating this time, because the sky was full of stars.

I wanted to tell every star that I was going to Moccasin for really and truly, and the bad man wasn't going to get me. Why hadn't I thought of telling Heavenly Father about this? I always said my prayers, but I hadn't asked the help of Heavenly Father. I breathed deep, and kneeled down in the sand. It didn't matter if it got on my nightgown now. The only thing I could say was, "Oh, thank you, Heavenlv Father."

I snuggled down between my sisters and looked up at the wonderful, beautiful sky. Each star seemed to wear a halo, then I realized that I was looking at them through a blur of happy tears.