“Mother Fed Five Thousand,” Ensign, Aug. 1978, 64–66
There were mornings in mother’s life when she got out of bed with an uncanny desire to “cook for an army.” In our early years we children groaned at the prospect of helping her make huge mounds of potato or fruit salad and pans of meatloaf, enchiladas, or Swedish meatballs. Such large quantities of food dulled our appetites for even our favorite dishes.
Mother never could explain the “why” behind her prompting, but those hectic days often ended with welcome, unexpected visits from traveling relatives, friends, and friends of friends who enjoyed all she had prepared. We children came to know that the still small voice can speak in very practical terms, and that with a trusting response, a modern-day “five thousand” could be fed.
However, one Saturday of special preparations passed into Sunday without a visitor. Then, after sacrament meeting, the phone rang and a neighbor’s voice said, “Beth, some friends sent a family to stay with us while they go to the temple to be sealed. We haven’t room. Have you?”
That was all mom needed. Five minutes later, as ten strangers pulled into our driveway, we children were setting the table for yet another late Sunday supper.
This time was different, though. In the hustle and bustle mom spotted one small pair of eyes that seemed to need attention. Her welcoming words to the family were, “Let’s get that boy to a doctor.”
Dad called a good friend—an eye specialist—who identified a burrowing spore that, he said, would have caused permanent blindness if it had been left untreated any longer.
How thankful we were that even in the midst of confusion mother had heard and heeded the still small voice.
Later that night after the family was bedded down, mother discovered her next challenge. Laundering our guests’ clothes in preparation for the important day ahead, she found that most of the shirts and blouses had not been strong enough to survive one last washing.
Then came a frantic inventory of our closets, late-night calls to neighbors, and an early-morning collection of beautiful, donated clothes. I’ll always remember the pride in mother’s eyes as she sent those parents and their eight children to the temple to be sealed “never looking better.”
We learned later that they had saved money for their temple trip by living in the back of a large truck.
That family retained a special membership in mom’s “five thousand,” as did one of our neighbors, Ern, who lived in a one-room shack. For years his life was a mystery to us, although we knew that he had long been inactive in the Church. Perhaps his inactivity was due partially to his hunched back—the result of a poorly repaired bone fracture—or perhaps it was due to his lack of teeth, or his Word of Wisdom problems. Mom, though, prompted by that still, small voice, helped bring about a major change in his life.
For a long time, Ern declined our dinner invitations. Then mom, aware of his sensitivity over his lack of teeth, started sending Sunday dinner to his home where he could eat comfortably and privately.
But that was not his real “feeding.” That came later in the week when he returned the dishes. Then, with an invitation to visit, he would spend most of a leisurely afternoon talking while mom worked and the younger children played around him. Other relationships developed, and in two years Ern cheerfully exchanged his usual seat on a bench in front of the courthouse for a seat in the temple, doing endowment work. But he always reserved one afternoon each week to return his dishes and visit with mom in the kitchen.
Such experiences over the years proved to us that mom’s desire to “cook for any army” was really the work of an inspired and generous heart. Ern described her as “a mighty fine woman.” She had the capacity to see that people not only needed food for their bodies, but food for their spirits, too.