“Paolo’s Birthday,” Friend, Apr. 2006, 20–23
Paolo trudged home from school.
Saturday was his tenth birthday. Back home in Mexico, his family had celebrated birthdays with a big party, inviting many of their friends and relatives. His mother would prepare a large meal of wonderful foods, and his father would give special presents.
Ever since his family had moved to a small town in Colorado last fall, money had been scarce.
It was not the big party he would miss or even the presents. It was the way of life—the traditions and customs—that tugged at the empty place in his heart. His family still practiced some of the old ways, but it was not the same.
He stopped at the bakery where his father worked. Though his father had been a professor at the university in Mexico City, he had not been able to find a teaching job in the United States. He’d taken a job as a doughnut and bread maker at the local bakery.
“No work is to be ashamed of if it is honest and helps people,” his father had said when Paolo asked him about it. He’d pointed to the loaves of freshly baked bread. A rich, yeasty smell filled the small shop. “I bake good bread. It helps the people who buy it, and Mr. Patterson, who owns the store. Someday, I might be able to teach in the United States, but until then, I am content.”
Paolo had nodded, but he wasn’t convinced.
He thought about that as he stepped into the small bakery. He inhaled deeply, savoring the aroma of cinnamon and sugar.
His father smiled. “Paolo, I am glad you came.”
Paolo climbed on top of a tall stool and watched as his father wiped down the counters and polished the glass display cases until they gleamed.
“There.” His father hung up the towel. “Would you like to try my new creation?”
Paolo bit into the savory pastry his father handed him. “It is good.”
Paolo and his father walked home together. Someday, maybe, there’d be enough money to buy a car. For now they walked or took the bus.
Paolo waited until they were almost home when he said, “We do not live like we did in our country.”
“You will have a birthday party this year,” his father said, guessing Paolo’s thoughts.
“It won’t be the same,” Paolo muttered.
“Because we do not live in a big house?”
Paolo started to deny it and then hung his head. “I wish we had never left Mexico. That was our home.”
His father stopped and gestured to their modest one-story house. “This is our home now. It is a good place.”
Paolo looked at the rented house where his family lived. It was small and run-down. He had not invited any of his friends to visit because he was ashamed of it. In Mexico, their home had been much nicer, a place he could be proud of.
He hadn’t told his parents of his feelings. He knew they would be hurt.
“Paolo, you have not invited anyone to your birthday party,” his mother said as he set his books on the kitchen table.
He pretended to be very busy in making himself a snack, avoiding meeting his father’s gaze.
“What is it, Paolo?” his mother asked. “You do not laugh or smile as you once did. Are you so unhappy here?”
The worry in his mother’s voice caused him to flush with guilt. “I am happy. I just haven’t made friends yet.”
That was not true and his conscience nagged him. David, a boy at school, had invited Paolo to his home several times. David lived in a fine house. Paolo could not invite his friend to the shabby house where his family now lived.
His mother’s eyes were shadowed with pain. “You are ashamed of your papá and me. Of where we live.”
“No, Mamá. I could never be ashamed of you.”
“But you are embarrassed by our home, aren’t you?”
He wanted to deny it. A look at Mamá’s face convinced him she would not believe him. “I will invite someone,” he said.
The pain in her eyes eased. “Good. I will prepare a special meal.”
“Ten is an important age,” his father said, his dark eyes serious. “Two years ago you were baptized. In two more years, you will receive the priesthood and be ordained a deacon.”
The words of the blessing his father had given him at the time of his baptism sounded clearly in Paolo’s mind: “I bless you with the knowledge to choose your friends wisely. Remember that the friends you make can influence your choices. Be an example to them and let your light shine.”
At the time Paolo had thought the blessing was to warn him of those who might try to tempt him to forget his principles. Last year a boy in his class had dared Paolo to steal something from a store. Paolo had walked away and avoided the boy after that.
For the rest of the afternoon and evening, Paolo worked hard to help around the house. He polished the furniture, swept the kitchen floor, and washed the dinner dishes while his sisters dried.
“Thank you, Paolo,” his mother said, looking up from where she was rolling out pastry. “We will have a good party on Saturday. You will see.”
The following day at school Paolo asked David, “Would you like to come to my birthday party on Saturday?”
A smile creased David’s face. “Sure.” He punched his friend lightly on the arm. “I was wondering when you were going to ask me over to your house.”
When David arrived on Saturday afternoon, Paolo tried to see his home through the eyes of his friend. Richly woven rugs brightened the floor. Pillows, embroidered by his mother, covered the furniture. The house smelled of frijoles and spices and simmering meat. The old house no longer appeared so shabby as laughter and the aroma of good food filled it.
He introduced David to his parents and little sisters and was pleased when David joined in the fun of knocking down the piñata.
Once again Paolo recalled the blessing at the time of his baptism. Now he realized that, in addition to the warning, the blessing also encouraged him to make and appreciate good friends like David.
“Your family’s great,” David said between bites of frijoles.
“Yeah,” Paolo agreed. “You’re right.” The things he had worried over no longer seemed important. He had what really mattered.
“The greatest treasure in this world is not fame or wealth, but rather, a sense of well-being and the inner peace that living the teachings of the gospel can give to us.”
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “Behold, He That Hath Eternal Life Is Rich,” New Era, Dec. 1977, 5.