A Thousand Roses

by Ruth Hammond Barrus

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The knock on the door brought a deep-throated growl from Rags who was lying on the braided rug at Mother Hale's feet. Involuntarily Mother Hale put her hand on the dog's huge head. "Quiet, Rags," she reminded. By this time young Retta was opening the door, and two familiar brethren came in, hats in hand. Rags relaxed as Mother Hale greeted them, "Come in, Brother Thornley and Brother Roskelley. How are you?"

"We are fine, Sister Hale, and we hope you are all well," they replied; then, almost apologetically asked, "Is Brother Hale at home?"

"Why, yes; he's washing up. Retta, go call Pa." But Father Hale needed no summons. He stood in the kitchen doorway, his greying beard (still beaded with water) sharply contrasting with the sun-browned wrinkles on his cheek and around his eyes. The hand he extended also evidenced the toil of a summer in the fields.

When all were seated in the living room, Brother Thornley approached the business of their visit; although everyone in the room sensed their purpose. Katie whispered to Grace, "There goes our new dress." And young Johnny thought to himself - - I hope the hay will last out. Tiny Viola whispered to Retta, "They want some more money."

Brother Thornley was speaking, rather hesitantly, "We know you have paid your allotment twice over for the new church, Brother Hale, but there are always those who feel they can't pay. We feel that you must love the church three times as much as most of us do; so we have come to ask you to pay it once more. If enough of us can do this, the Bishop says we can dedicate the church late this fall."

Father Hale sat for a moment in deep thought, not in deciding whether he should pay or not; for without hesitation he knew he would pay. How to pay it was the problem. It was a difficult task for farmers in 1890 to raise cash. Household needs were secured on an exchange basis. Eggs, butter, and meat were taken to stores in town and exchanged for other necessary articles of food and clothing. His cash supply had been completely exhausted, not only through making extra payments for the new meeting house in Smithfield, but he had also made extra payments toward the large stake tabernacle being constructed at Logan. About all he had left that would bring him immediate cash was the hay. He glanced at young Johnny and asked, "Are those men still in the neighborhood who wanted to buy baled hay from us yesterday?"

Father Hale smiled at the two men, "We can have the money for you by the end of next week."

When the visitors had left, father Hale turned to his family whose frowns spoke complaint. "Is this a house of faith?" he sternly demanded, his black eyes flashing. "Are you the grandchildren of those who sacrificed every earthly possession, even their very lives, that Zion might prosper? We will give this small amount asked of us, and we will give it freely and gladly." Even Rags felt the rebuke, and crawled under mother Hale's rocker to seek comfort. As a goodnight to all, he said less sternly, "We will bale that hay in the morning, children."

The next morning a horse was tied to a pole, which was centered, allowing the horse to go around in a circle. Each time a circle was made, the force would raise, then lower a heavy weight which fitted inside a bale-sized hopper. When the weight raised, a fork full of hay was thrown into the hopper; then the weight would lower, mashing the hay down. When the bale became large enough, it was taken out by a side door and wrapped firmly with wire. This process was continued for several days before enough hay was baled to meet the cash assessment.

By late fall, as the bishop had hoped, the Smithfield Ward Meeting house was ready for dedication. It was a tall stately structure, with many spires extending upward from stone supports on each side. Its elegance, after the small humbleness of their old church, impressed all. The thrill of the first meeting there was dimmed, however, by the confusion of sound in the building. The high plastered ceiling acted as a sound chamber which caught, multiplied, and echoed sound to the degree that it became almost impossible to understand the speakers. Leaders of the ward met to try to cope with this unexpected problem, and it was decided that if ropes were interlaced below the ceiling level and evergreen bows fastened to them, that the reflected sound might be deadened. The Primary President suggested that flowers among the evergreen would be very beautiful.

"As you know," she continued, "young Retta Hale, our primary organist, recently won a church-wide contest for making the best artificial flowers. Why not invite her to make some roses to tie in with the evergreens." The idea struck agreement with all present. Before the meeting was concluded it was decided that a thousand roses would be needed to adequately decorate the ceiling.

A day or two later the bishop called at the Hale home and invited thirteen-year-old Retta to make the thousand roses. He told her that the ward would furnish the material if she would made the roses. He also congratulated Retta on the prize she had recently won, and expressed his confidence in her ability to fulfill this assignment.

Retta was flattered and a little proud of the fact that it would be her roses that would decorate the ceiling of their beautiful new church. Painstaking care went into the first roses, which were double ones measuring five inches across. A variety of colors were chosen, and when she got tired of one color she would work on another. At the end of the first week the hundred mark had been reached. By that time, fingers, back, and patience were strained. Only a hundred! She had ten times that many to make! Occasionally she could coax her unwilling sisters to assist her at her task, but still the amount totaled slowly. She had never realized before how many there were in a thousand. She felt sure that is the roses were laid stem to stem, they would reach the four miles to Smithfield. She not only made roses before school and after school until driven to bed, but she continued to make them in her sleep, and she awoke as tired as she went to bed.

Like a person who has become ill from eating too much candy, Retta became slightly ill at the sight of roses, and the feel of tissue paper sliding between thumb and knife to produce the curled petals made her shudder.

All sense of pride in her work left her, and the roses were put almost automatically together.

Weeks later, it was a tired little girl who put the thousandth rose in a box to be taken to the church. "I don't ever want to see a rose again in my whole life," she sighed as she shut the lid to the box.

"You'll change your mind when you see how lovely they look in the church," mother Hale encouraged.

By Sunday, the aches had dimmed, and when she heard the public congratulation of the bishop and saw the colorful bowery above, she felt rewarded for her labors.

She giggled as she whispered to her friend, Bertha Done, "I believe my hands are almost shaped like a rose."