“Sisters,” Ensign, June 1985, 40–41
My heart was pounding as I awaited my new daughter,
“I must be as frightened as she is,” I thought. “I wonder if she is scared to be joining our family. What will she be like? Will we be able to show her our love? Will she love us?”
It was seven o’clock in the morning, and my husband and I and five of our children were sitting tensely in the chapel. We were waiting for our name to be called to pick up our Indian daughter, Irene.
“This is almost like having a baby!” I exclaimed to my husband. This new addition to our family had just turned eleven and was a fifth-grader in school. Like us, she was new to the Indian Placement Program.
The children, who had traveled all night by bus, had arrived two hours earlier and were now being examined by volunteer doctors and dentists to make sure they were all right. “They must be dead tired, poor kids,” I thought.
At last, Brother Smith from LDS Social Services, who was handling our placement case, called us into his office. His kind face looked weary.
“I have really been praying these past few weeks,” he said, “and have been blessed in finding the right families for all the children.”
I thought back to the events that had led us here. First, there was the interview by a stake high councilor, himself a foster parent in the Indian Placement Program for several years. He shared some of the experiences he’d had with his son—some funny, some touching. As foster parents, he explained, we should uphold the standards of the Church and teach our Indian student both by precept and by example. Knowing that we were far from a perfect family was a little frightening, but we did try to live the commandments. Lately, we had been successful in having family prayers and scripture study every day, and we held regular family home evenings.
“Everyone is going to envy us!” our son Ted interjected. “We’re going to have so many blessings.” Just back from his mission, he knew that to love and serve one another was what the gospel was all about. Our married son, Tom, and his wife, Diana, encouraged us, too.
Then Brother Smith had visited us. “These Indian parents love their children very much,” he explained. “They want a better life and education for them. That is why they are able to part with them to let them come on the placement program.” We were convinced.
After making the decision, we began to prepare. Our nine-year-old daughter, Pamela, worked diligently readying her room to share with her new sister. She discarded all her “baby things” and cleared out two drawers of her dresser for the new occupant. We went through hand-me-downs from our two older daughters, Jill, then a sixteen-year-old, and Diane, away on a Brigham Young University travel study program in Israel. We found a good pair of pajamas, some T-shirts and pants, and a pretty dress that would do while the weather was still warm. We were ready.
“Here is Irene,” announced a teenaged volunteer.
We looked up into the dark eyes of a thin, brown girl. She smiled at us shyly. Her hair was neatly brushed into two long braids. She wore a pair of new jeans, a bright red T-shirt, and a new pair of blue sneakers.
Quickly, we introduced ourselves and I gave her a hug. My husband took the small suitcase from her hand.
From that moment, Pam became Irene’s advocate. At home, she showed her where to put her things, which was her bed and her side of the closet. She showed her how things in the house worked—but the telephone was her favorite. It had push buttons.
Pamela introduced her around the neighborhood, and soon Irene had friends.
Although Irene seemed happy with us, she said virtually nothing at first. She would smile and nod or shake her head to our questions, but she didn’t speak. On the reservation, she spoke only Navajo, except at school. Since Navajo has a reversed word order, I knew Irene was afraid of making a mistake in front of us. I could empathize with her—I had been to Mexico the summer before and felt very timid in using my limited Spanish to communicate.
Since Irene was too shy to speak, Pam became her mouthpiece. “Irene wants her hair up in rollers for Sunday School.” (She had beautiful, thick hair that took a dozen curlers to roll up.) “Irene’s still afraid of Daddy.” “Irene needs a notebook for school … a pair of Sunday School shoes. …” Several weeks went by and occasionally Irene spoke a few words to me, but none to other family members except her roommate, Pam.
Then one morning an amazing thing happened. It was one of those mornings when everyone was in a grouchy mood because of approaching tests and late nights up studying or working. To make things worse, it seemed that everyone needed rides to different destinations at the same time in the only available car.
Pam announced: “Irene would like to say the prayer this morning.” Her eyes were twinkling, and I looked at Irene. Hers were shining, too.
“Would you, Irene?” I asked, incredulously.
She nodded and smiled.
A hush fell over the family. We all bowed our heads, and I could feel the mood of discord change to one of love and caring. Irene spoke slowly, enunciating each word. It was a beautiful, simple prayer, the most words she had ever spoken in our home.
We were touched. There were tears in the eyes of some of us finished. We were bursting with pride.
After the family left for work and school, I went into the room Irene and Pam shared. As usual, their beds were made, their pajamas neatly folded on a chair.
Then I discovered on their dresser a small card. On it, written in imperfect fourth-grade cursive, was the little prayer Irene had just said. In an act of love, Pam had written out the simple prayer to be memorized, spoken before the family and her Heavenly Father, by her sister, Irene.