“Pine Chest,” Friend, June 1993, 2
Elizabeth touched the pine chest lovingly. Her fingers sought and found the tiny initials carved into the corner of it: “J.B.” For Joseph Buck. Her father.
“Why can’t we take the chest?” she asked her mother one more time. “It wouldn’t take up much room in the wagon. Papa made it for me. I can’t leave it. I can’t.”
She pretended not to notice the tears that gathered in Mama’s eyes as she continued packing, choosing what to take and what to leave behind.
Elizabeth felt a sudden rush of guilt at her selfishness. But how could she leave such an important part of her father behind? It was the only thing she had to remember him by. “I won’t take anything else, if I can take the chest,” she promised.
“Elizabeth,” Mama began in a tired voice, “it’s not my decision. The Burtons were kind enough to let us travel with them. There’s just no room for the chest.”
Elizabeth knew her mother was right. The Burtons had four small children. Their covered wagon was already filled, with barely room for a few of Elizabeth’s and her mother’s belongings. They would all have to walk by the wagon during the day and sleep under it at nights.
“Do you remember what your father said before … before he died?” Mama asked.
Elizabeth nodded. Just before he died of a fever the month before, he had whispered to her, “Be true to the gospel, child. It will sustain you.”
She’d been eight when she and her parents were baptized three years ago—she could still remember the special glow she felt when she emerged from the water. But what did that have to do with leaving behind the chest? “Did Papa want us to follow President Young’s counsel to go to a place so far away?” she asked.
“Yes, he did,” Mama said, adding gently, “I know that you don’t want to leave the chest behind, but remember that all of us are leaving things we treasure.”
Elizabeth followed her mother’s gaze around their home. It was small but clean and welcoming with its homespun curtains and Papa’s handcarved furniture. “I know, Mama,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m sorry to be leaving our home, too, but there is something even more precious that we are leaving behind.” Her mother led Elizabeth to the window and pointed outside.
Elizabeth saw the roses and petunias first. Though she knew it hurt Mama to leave the flowers she had so painstakingly nurtured, she also knew that Mama was pointing higher, at the Nauvoo Temple.
Elizabeth remembered how Mama had sold her piano and given the money to help raise the walls of the temple that now gleamed softly in the late afternoon sunlight. When Elizabeth had asked Mama how she could sacrifice her beautiful piano, Mama smiled. “It’s no sacrifice, Elizabeth, to give up something precious for something even more precious.”
“What could be more precious than your piano?” Elizabeth had asked. “You loved that piano, Mama.”
“The temple,” Mama had said simply. “I loved that piano especially because my mother gave it to me. But I love the Lord’s house much, much more.”
“Why did we build a temple when we have to leave it so soon?”
“The Lord commanded us to build a temple because it’s an important part of the gospel,” Mama said. “Without it, we couldn’t be sealed together for eternity.”
Elizabeth thought about that as they continued packing. Before she was baptized, she’d asked her father how he knew the Church was true.
He’d taken his time in answering. “I knew that we had found the true church when I learned of the temple.” He’d paused then, and tears had filled his eyes. “And I knew because I felt it here,” he said, touching his heart. “I still do.”
A warmth settled around Elizabeth’s own heart at the memory.
At last they were done. The pile of belongings to take with them to their new home was pitifully small. The house looked empty, forlorn, even though much of the furniture remained. Elizabeth’s pine chest sat in the corner. She trailed her fingers over the design in the pine, her fingers coming to rest again on the initials. After tracing the smooth grain of the wood one last time, she stood. She carried with her something far more precious that her papa had left her. The memory of his testimony, strong and sure, wrapped itself around her heart as she followed her mother out the door.