My Cork-and-Burlap Treasure
December 1999

“My Cork-and-Burlap Treasure,” Ensign, Dec. 1999, 53–54

My Cork-and-Burlap Treasure

Many years ago I had the good fortune to be a volunteer teacher at a privately owned home for mentally retarded children, where my duties included helping children with their normal daily routines, reading stories to them, teaching music, and creating various forms of entertainment. I was given permission to teach a gospel class to a few of the more receptive and eager students.

My eight gospel students, who ranged in age from 8 to 16, were excited to learn about Jesus Christ. Despite their various capacities to learn, they responded well, each in his own way—except for Freddie.

Freddie was 14 years old, mildly retarded and severely disturbed emotionally. He had been abandoned when he was very young, and no one really cared about him other than the people who worked or lived at the home. For this reason I allowed Freddie to become a class member, even though he was the center of every disruption imaginable. It bothered me that I did not seem to be getting through to my little troublemaker. While the rest of the class seemed to have some concept of who Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ were and what they represented, Freddie seemed oblivious.

Each week it was my practice to present each child with a scripture verse. While most of the children could not read, many taped their verses to the wall above their beds so they could be reminded of it as they offered their evening prayers—a requirement in my class. However, each time I gave Freddie his verse, he would tear it up in front of me. It was frustrating, and I was beginning to seriously consider removing him from the class.

As Christmas approached, I explained to my children the meaning of this special holiday. All but Freddie seemed receptive. Then, a few days before Christmas, the home held a party and invited everyone: staff, volunteers, students, and parents. As I mingled with the guests, I did not see Freddie. I found him in his room, laboring over a very crumpled, worn-looking package that he was trying to wrap by himself. I left him to his task and returned to the party. Shortly after, Freddie approached me and threw the package in my lap and ran away. When I opened the package, I found a ragged piece of burlap, hand sewn at the top, with a piece of cork glued in the middle. It was a wall hanging, and the cork in the middle was to be used to tack up the weekly scripture verses. Later, I was told that Freddie had worked for three months on the gift. It was indeed a labor of love, sacrifice, and patience, for I knew the frustrations Freddie must have suffered in making it. Maybe in his own way Freddie had understood what I had been trying to teach him.

Freddie lives with Heavenly Father now, but the gift he gave me still hangs in my home. Whenever I look at it, I see Freddie once again and remember the sacrifice he made to teach me about patience. The lesson he taught me is embedded deeply in my heart.

  • Dianne H. Despain serves as music chairman of the White River Branch, Indianapolis Indiana North Stake.