The Seaweed Boy

“The Seaweed Boy,” Friend, Mar. 1983, 2

The Seaweed Boy

The Irish wind moaned outside the cottage and whipped the cold rain against the windowpanes. Inside, Patrick McEntree was warm. The branch members were gathered for sacrament meeting around the flickering peat fire on the hearth. Yet Patrick was warmed not only by the fire but also by the words of the tall, young missionary with the American accent. “I know the gospel is true,” he said, “and I’m grateful to serve the Lord here in western Ireland.”

Patrick knew the gospel was true too. Suddenly he couldn’t wait until he was nineteen to be a missionary. He had to tell his friends now about the wonderful Book of Mormon he was reading. He clutched his copy tightly. The beautiful, leather-bound book had been sent to him personally from Salt Lake City by the missionary who had taught his family the gospel.

Patrick’s donkey, Flopps, stood waiting outside the cottage as she did every Sunday. Even the typically blustery Irish weather did not keep her away.

The meeting over, Patrick’s father donned his cap and hurried out with the rest of the family.

Patrick strolled home more slowly beside Flopps. “You know, Flopps, I want to be a missionary,” he said. “How am I going to tell Tom and my other friends about the gospel?”

Flopps only flopped her ears and blinked at Patrick.

“No answers for me, Flopps? Well, you’re a good friend anyway, even if you don’t understand.”

A few days later, Patrick weaved his way through the mooing cattle, bleating sheep, and squawking chickens on the village street. Flopps trotted close at his heels. It was fair day in the village, and everyone had come from miles around to barter their goods. Patrick wanted to find his friend Tom and tell him about the branch activity that evening. Everyone from the youngest child to the oldest grandfather would gather to dance the traditional Irish jigs and reels. It might be a first step in telling Tom about the gospel, he thought.

Patrick saw Tom at the open fruit market, but his way was suddenly blocked by Michael O’Brien with a huge creel of seaweed strapped to his back. Patrick ducked around Michael and his seaweed only to find that Tom had disappeared. Patrick grimaced and looked back at Michael. Even in school Michael smelled vaguely of seaweed. Most villagers gathered seaweed in the early springtime to fertilize their rocky potato ridges; Michael gathered it year round to dry and to sell to the factories.

A strange feeling came over Patrick, but he pushed it aside. No! He definitely did not want to invite Michael to the branch activity. They weren’t friends. In fact, he didn’t even like Michael. Michael often played pranks on the teachers at school and laughed when they asked him questions.

Stubbornly, Patrick looked straight ahead. “Come on, Flopps, there are other people who deserve to hear the gospel more than Michael.”

But Patrick couldn’t get Michael off his mind. The next morning he hardly remembered hitching Flopps to the cart and going to the bog with his father to cut peat to dry for fuel.

“Ah, my boy, you have been quiet today. Where are your thoughts?” questioned Patrick’s father as they unloaded the last of the peat beside their cottage.

“Father,” Patrick asked slowly, “do you think Heavenly Father sometimes asks us to do things we don’t want to do?”

His father raised his eyebrows. “Why, yes, I think He sometimes does.”

“I think He’s been telling me to be a missionary to Michael O’Brien. But I don’t like Michael. Sometimes he’s mean.”

“Mmm, well now,” mused Patrick’s father, “I suppose if God waited until His children were always good to love them, He would love very few of us on this earth. In fact,” he said winking at Patrick, “He might not love you all the time—I’ve known you to be naughty on occasion. But since we know God loves all His children, I’m sure he wants Michael to have the gospel too.”

“Do you think praying would help me to like Michael?”

“Yes.” His father nodded toward the lane. “But you’d better do it fast.”

Patrick turned around. Trudging up the lane was Michael, on his way to gather seaweed while the tide was down.

Patrick looked at his father for courage.

“You can do it, my boy.”

Patrick swallowed hard and, with a prayer in his heart, called out, “Michael, would you like some help gathering seaweed? I could help you cut it, and Flopps is all hitched up to the cart, so you wouldn’t have to carry it yourself.”

Patrick and Michael sliced their knives through the strands of wet seaweed draped around the slippery rocks, while Flopps waited patiently for them to carry the dripping bundles to her cart. Hour after hour they crouched over the rocks, unaware that the raindrops splashed ever harder and that the wind drowned out the sound of the sea. Only when Flopps began braying did Patrick notice the wind and the chilling rain. The night and the tide were creeping in.

Patrick shouted above the gale, “Michael! I think we’d better stop.” He saw Michael suddenly teeter on a slippery rock and fall. Patrick scrambled to help him.

Michael gasped, “My foot’s caught between these rocks!”

Patrick took hold of a slimy rock and heaved. It didn’t budge. “Can you move your leg at all?”

Michael tried, and his face twisted with pain.

The tide was now lapping around the boys’ legs. What can I do? Patrick agonized. Abruptly, he blurted out, “I think we should pray!”

“Pray?” repeated Michael incredulously through his chattering teeth. The jeering laugh that Patrick disliked so much started out of Michael’s throat, then stopped short. “OK,” he agreed quietly.

Patrick prayed until his fears were gone and he knew exactly what to do. He unhitched Flopps from the cart and coaxed the reluctant donkey out onto the slippery rocks. He tied a rope around the rock and attached it to her harness. At first Flopps didn’t want to pull. She pawed at the water rising around her legs and switched her tail in annoyance.

“Come on, Flopps, you’ve always been my friend,” Patrick urged her.

Flopps pricked up her ears and moved forward. The rock moved too.

All the way back to Patrick’s cottage, Michael kept saying, “I can’t believe it. When you said that prayer, I had such a calm feeling. I just knew everything was going to be all right.”

Patrick’s mother served the two shivering boys steaming bowls of oxtail soup.

“Flopps and I will make sure you get home safely, Michael,” said Patrick’s father.

Michael was hobbling out the door when Patrick noticed his Book of Mormon lying on the table. Impulsively he grabbed it and called after Michael, “Here. Take this. You might want to read it.”

It had been two weeks since Patrick had gathered seaweed with Michael. Patrick fiddled with Flopps’s harness and wondered why he had given his precious Book of Mormon away.

“Hurry up, Patrick,” called his father. “We’ve lots of hay to rake and pile today.”

As Patrick led Flopps along the rock fence toward the hayfield, he saw a woman with a baby coming up the road. Stopping on the other side of the fence, she shyly said, “I’m looking for Patrick McEntree.”

“I’m Patrick.”

“Oh. I wanted to thank you for giving my son that book—the Book of Mormon. Ever since my husband died last year, I have been looking for it. Someone gave me a copy many years ago, and I just laid it aside then. But when my husband died right before the baby came, I had to put most of the work on Michael. My whole world seemed to fall apart. For some reason, I just knew I had to find that book again and read it. Now that I have, I feel much better. Thank you so much.”

Patrick could only stand with his mouth open.

The woman paused and hoisted the baby farther up in her arms. “Could I ask for one more favor? Would you teach me more about your church?”

The next Sunday Patrick went with the two missionaries to Michael O’Brien’s home. When he walked into the cottage, Patrick gulped in astonishment. The room was packed with people! He sat down beside Michael and whispered, “Where did all these people come from?”

“They’re my cousins from Dublin. They come every year at haying time. They want to hear about your church too.”

Patrick watched Michael smile as the missionaries talked about the gospel of Jesus Christ. He was beginning to understand why God loved Michael so much.

Patrick noticed his leather-bound Book of Mormon on a table near the glowing fireplace. Someday, he thought, I’ll get another leather-bound Book of Mormon. He was glad now that he had given his first one away.

Illustrated by Dick Brown