“The Best Gift,” Ensign, July 1982, 39
I’m not sure why that day was so special; I only know that I often find myself recalling it vividly. I can still feel the warm wind blowing on my skin, the thick mud between my toes, a strand of dirty white hair in my mouth. And the love.
Daddy was participating in an experimental project for the Idaho Extension Service. He was one of those first farmers to raise the “certified” potato seed which would eventually make Idaho world-famous for its quality baking potatoes. That particular day he came in from the fields to get mama in the middle of the day. He talked her into lugging along her big black box camera. My sister and I tagged along as they walked to the far side of the north field.
When daddy turned to walk down one of the deep furrows, MarJean and I each started down furrows of our own. We carefully scanned each lush green plant for the slightest trace of yellow. After all, we knew how to “rogue” potatoes.
Part way down the row daddy stooped, and with the flat of his hand began to burrow in the ground beneath a large thick potato vine. There he unearthed the biggest potatoes any of us had ever seen. A grin spread over his face and his eyes shone as mama took snapshots of him with half a dozen huge spuds resting in his hands and on his arms. Then she took pictures of my sister and me holding the giant potatoes. I sat in the furrow and made mud bricks, carefully shaping each little square with my fingers until they were as perfect as the miniature bricks grandma kept at her house for us to play with when we visited. Every once in a while I would glance up to see daddy with his arm around mama’s shoulder, his hand lightly gripping the top of her arm. They smiled and talked. I demolished my brick house before we left so it wouldn’t dam up the water the next time daddy irrigated.
That night daddy came in from watering while mama was still washing dishes. I knew he was going to tease her because he had that look on his face. With his hands behind his back, he sneaked up behind her. She really jumped and I giggled when he thrust a bouquet of wild flowers into her arms. He often brought her flowers: dark purple violets, delicate lady slippers, sweet-smelling pale-pink roses, and feathery lavender daisies.
Years later, as a teenager, I ran across the snapshots my mother had taken that day. I was so dirty and ragged! My wispy white hair looked as though it had never known a comb. Shocked, I wondered why I remembered that day as one of the happiest of my life, when I had obviously looked like one of Dickens’s street urchins.
It was not until several more years had passed that a glimmer of understanding came to me when I read the words of Rev. Theodore Hesburgh, who wrote: “The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” (Reader’s Digest, Jan. 1963, p. 25.) At that moment I understood how a single day, bathed in the love of parents for each other, could be one of the greatest gifts of childhood.