- Once there was a woman who had five children that she loved with all her heart, and a husband who was kind and strong. Every day her husband would go out and work in the fields, and then he'd come home and cut wood or repair harness or fix the leaky places in the roof. Every day the children would work and play so hard they wore paths in the weeds from running, and they knew every hiding place in two miles square. And that woman began to be afraid that they were too happy, that it would all come to an end. And so she prayed 'Please send us eternal happiness, let this joy last forever.' Well, the next day along came a mean-faced old peddler, and he spread his wares and they were very plain--rough wool clothing, sturdy pots and pans, all as ugly and practical as old shoes. The woman bought a dress from him because it was cheap and it would last forever, and he was about to go when suddenly she saw maybe a fire in his eyes, suddenly flashing bright as a star, and she remembered her prayer the night before, and she said, "Sir, you don't have anything to do with--happiness, do you?"
And the peddler turned and glowered and said, "I can give it to you, if you want it. But let me tell you what it is. It's your kids growing up and talking sassy, and then moving on out and marrying other children who don't like you all that much, at least at first. It's your husband's strength giving out, and watching the farm go to seed before your eyes, and maybe having to sell it and move into your daughter-in-law's house because you can't support yourselves no more. It's feeling your own legs go stiff, and your fingers not able to tat or knit or even grip the butter churn. And finally it's dying, lying there feeling your body drop off you, wishing you could just go back and be young with your children small, just for a day. And then--"
"Enough!" cried the woman.
"But there's more," said the peddler.
"I've heard all I need to hear," and she hurried him out of the house.
The next day, along comes a man in a bright-painted wagon, with a horse names Carpy Deem that he shouted all the time. A medicine man from the East, with potions for this and pills for that, and silks and scarves to sell, too, so bright they hurt your eyes just to look at them. Everybody was healthy, so the woman didn't buy any medicine. All she bought was a silk, even though the price was too high, because it looked so blue in her golden hair. And she said to him, "Sir, do you have anything to do with happiness?"
"Do you have to ask?" he said. "Right here, in this jar, is the elixir of happiness--one swallow, and the best day of your life is with you forever."
"How much does it cost?" she asked, trembling.
"I only sell it to them as have such a day worth keeping, and then I sell it cheap. One lock of your golden hair, that's all. I give it to your Master, so he'll know you when the time comes."
She plucked the hair from her head, and gave it to the peddler, and he poured from the bottle into a little tin cup. When he was gone, she lifted it up, and thought of the happiest day of her life, which was only two days before, the day she prayed. And she drank that swallow.
Well, her husband came home as it was getting dark, and the children came to him all worried. "Something's wrong with Mother," they said. "She ain't making no sense." The man walked into the house, and tried to talk to his wife, but she gave no answer. Then, suddenly, she said something, speaking to empty air. She was cutting carrots, but there were no carrots: she was cooking a stew, but there was no fire laid. Finally, her husband realized that word for word, she was saying what she said only two days ago, when they last had stew, and if he said to her the words he said then, why, the conversation at least made some sense.
And every day it was the same. They either said that same day's words over and over again, or they ignored their mother, and let her go on as she did and paid her no mind. The kids got sick of it after a time, and got married and went away, and she never knew it. Her husband stayed with her, and more and more he got caught up in her dream, so that every day he got up and said the same words till they meant nothing and he couldn't remember what he was living for, and so he died. The neighbors found him two days later, and buried him, and the woman never knew.
Her daughters and daughters-in-law tried to care for her, but if they took her to their homes, she'd just walk around as if she were still in her own little cottage, bumping into walls, cutting those infernal carrots, saying those words till they were all out of their minds. Finally they took her back to her own home and paid a woman to cook and clean for her, and she went on that way, all alone in that cabin, happy as a duck in a puddle until at last the floor of her cabin caved in and she fell in and broke her hip. They figure she never even felt the pain, and when she died she was still laughing and smiling and saying idiotic things, and never even saw one of her grandchildren, never even wept at her husband's grave, and some folks said she was probably happier, but not a one said they were eager to change places with her.
And so it happened that a mean-looking old peddler came by and watched as they let her into her grave, and up rode a medicine man yelling at his horse, and he pulled up next to the peddler.
"So she bought from you," the peddler said.
And the medicine man said, "If you'd just paint things up a little, add a bit of color here and there, you'd sell more, friend."
But the peddler only shook his head. "If they'd ever let me finish telling them, they'd not be taken in by you, old liar. But they always send me packing before I'm through. I never get to tell them."
"If you'd begin with the pleasant things, they'd listen."
"But if I began with the pleasant things, it wouldn't be true."
"Fine with me. You keep me in business." And the medicine man patted a truck filler with gold and silver and bronze and iron hairs. It was the wealth of all the world, and the medicine man rode off with it, to go back home and count it all, so fine and cold.
And the peddler, he just rode home to his family, his great great great grandchildren, his grey-haired wife who nagged, the children who complained about the way he was always off on business when he should be home, and always hanging around the house when he ought to be away; he rode home to the leaves that turned every year, and the rats that ate the apples in the cellar, and the folks that kept dying on him, and the little ones that kept on being born.
- -Nels Heber Nelson, Tales from Utah's Dixie (Salt Lake City: Heritage, 1934), pp. 122-130.
I found the above in Orson Scott Card's Saints. Those that are not grateful of the amazing gift that is life; that take for granted or do not appreciate the joy in the pains and sorrows, trials and tribulations of life, are sadly no better off than the woman in this story--for they are ignorant of their own wealth and well-being.