Sad Birthday

“Sad Birthday,” Friend, June 1995, 40

Sad Birthday

They lived for glory; they died for glory; and glory is their eternal reward (D&C 135:6).

Nancy Lovern was excited. It was June 27, and today she turned five years old. In some ways, the day had been just like any other. She’d fed the chickens and collected their eggs, slopped (fed) the pigs, and helped Mama clean the house. But in some ways, it was different. Everyone had sung “Happy Birthday” at breakfast and paid extra attention to her all day long.

Now it was late afternoon, and Nancy couldn’t help peeking out the window every few minutes. Papa had promised to bring her a surprise from Nauvoo. Mama was making a special dinner and a dried-apple molasses cake. There would be a grand birthday party.

The hour grew late. Long shadows spread across the barnyard, and still Papa didn’t come. Nancy thought that she would burst. Mama just laughed and said, “Staring out the door won’t make Papa get home any sooner.” When Nancy could wait no more, she went out to the road that led to Nauvoo. She was swinging on the gate when she finally heard the clippety-clop of horses’ hooves and the rattle of wagon wheels. She saw a lone figure driving slowly down the dusty road. It was Papa! He must be dawdling to make me wait longer for my birthday surprise, she thought, running to meet him.

She was stopped short by the sadness on his face. And he was crying! Nancy didn’t know what to do. Papa never cried except when he bore his testimony. She was surprised to feel tears in her own eyes. “What’s wrong, Papa?”

He climbed down from the wagon and held her close. “They did it, Nan—they killed Brother Joseph!”

Nancy completely forgot her birthday. She loved the Prophet. He always took time to talk with her whenever he visited her parents. She truly felt that he was a prophet of God.

Sorrow was thick in the house as Papa gathered the rest of the family around him and told how an angry mob had stormed the jail in Carthage, killing their beloved prophet and his brother Hyrum, and seriously wounding Brother Taylor.

The next day Nancy’s family filed through the Mansion House to pay final respects to the slain leaders. Later they listened to Brother W. W. Phelps preach the funeral sermon. Sorrow hung like a heavy fog over the whole community.

Nancy celebrated seventy-nine birthdays after that eventful day, but never without some melancholy recollection of her birthday in 1844.

More than one hundred fifty years have come and gone. Nancy has thousands of descendants, most of whom faithfully sing praises to “the man who communed with Jehovah”*—the prophet and martyr who was killed on her fifth birthday.

Nancy Francis Lovern Oliver was a real person! She was my great-great-grandmother. When my grandmother, Lenna Kathryn Bryce Blain, was a little girl, she sat by the fireplace on cold winter nights and listened to pioneer stories told by her Grandma Nancy. Grandma Lenna said that she couldn’t remember all the stories, but she would never forget the one about the death of the Prophet. This fictional account is based on that true story.

Illustrated by Mike Eagle