Saturday, June 27, 2015

True Service

*A summer re-run.

Once when I was relatively new in the church I learned a great lesson. I learned it in Relief Society.
Relief Society was a unique experience for me back then.  There I found lots of women gathering together without coffee, cake, and canasta!
After a time I figured out that service to others was a big part of what they did there.
In fact, I was told by a sister who later became a close friend, that it was customary to hold a "baby shower" for new Relief Society members.
This was to provide them with plenty of serving dishes to replace the ones they would lose from dragging dinner around the ward all the time.
It wasn’t until sometime later that I figured out that she was kidding.

Another friendly sister did give me some helpful hints though.
She wisely said to buy disposable foil pans whenever they’re on sale. And always check the dishes aisle at Deseret when you’re in there dropping stuff off, because you can pick up casseroles really cheap.
I still do that to this day even though now if I’m asked to provide a meal for someone in the ward it’s most likely going to be take-out chicken.
These things are important to know because becoming a Mormon is more than just doctrine and scriptures, believe me.
For some people it's a whole new way of life.

Well, anyway, one Sunday someone in the Relief Society presidency asked me to help with a new project.
An elderly blind lady, a new convert, had just moved into the ward boundaries. She lived in a little trailer park just across the canal. The sisters were taking dinner to her each night and I was asked to pick one day of the week to be my assignment.
I was assured that this was “easy."  All I had to do was make a plate of food, whatever I was fixing for my family, and take it over to her by 5:30 on my day.

I figured I could handle that so I signed up for Tuesdays.
It did turn out to be really easy and we got into a routine.
On my designated day each week I wrapped up whatever we were having, made a little pitcher of lemonade or Koolaid, took it over to this sister who was always so grateful, and put the food down on her table.  I explained that the meatloaf or whatever was at 12 on the clock,  potatoes were at 3,  green beans at 6,  and roll at 9. Then I left the lemonade on the side at 2 on the clock. Then I asked her if there was anything at all that I could help her with.
She always said the same thing…”No, no, no…you ladies do way too much for me already! Thank you so much!”
Then each week I left and drove home feeling good about myself and my “service.”

Well, one Tuesday in the summer, I was home from teaching, and really busy painting kid’s bedrooms or something, and I was way behind schedule.
I had made dinner in the crockpot and put a salad in the fridge earlier in the day. So now I packed it up as usual but had no time to shower or clean up. I thought I could get away with this because this sweet sister was blind after all.
But on the way out to the car I realized that I didn’t smell exactly flower fresh.

As I was loading up I had an idea.
I stood outside the car and began to holler for my oldest kids.
This was back in the day when parents could let their kids run all around the neighborhood and in and out of friends’ houses without a worry. It was an evening ritual to hear moms and dads hollering from their driveways….. SUUUUUSIE… LOOOORIE…  ALLLLLLLEX…DAAAAAVID……FERNAAAAAANDO… DIIIIIIIINNNER!
Kids would pop out from backyards and houses all down the block and return to their original owners until the next day. Usually there were bunches of kids at our house but I had shooed them all away so I could paint in peace.

Well, my 9 year old son popped out first. ”What do you want, Mom?” he yelled.
“Come home…I need you,” I yelled back.
When he got there I told him to get in the car because I needed him to take dinner in to this sister because I was smelly. He nodded.
I explained how he was to tell her where the food was on the plate…like a clock. Then put the lemonade on the side at 2 o'clock and ask if there was anything he could do for her.  "It’ll only take a minute," I assured him.
“Okay,” he said.
When we arrived he went up the steps to her trailer with the food and lemonade.

Well, he was gone a long time!
I began to fret and just as I was about to go inside despite my lack of recent bathing, he came out the door.
“What took you? I asked him. “Did you break something?”
“No, Mom.  I just did what you told me. I gave her the plate and told her where everything was, like on a clock. Then I asked her if I could do anything for her, like you told me, and she said she lost a slipper under the bed somewhere and could I find it, and she needed a jar of pickles opened, and she couldn’t find the mustard. Then there was a tape from her son stuck in the player. After I got it out we listened to the last part of it. Did you know he used to play in Little League too? He used to play outfield just like me. We use the same kind of glove. He lives in Texas now. I think she misses him. You know, just stuff she needed.”

“Oh, okay son. Thanks.” I replied.

On the drive home I remember thinking that it was strange that I always asked her if she needed help and never once had she asked me to do anything for her.

Well, Tuesday came around again and I thought I’d try a little experiment.
After I packed up the food and the lemonade I stood outside the car and called out the mother song..…."KIIIIIIIIIIM…COOOOOME HOOOOME."
She eventually popped out and came running. “What do you want, Ma?”
I explained that I needed her to take dinner in to a sister in our ward because I had a headache and on the way over I told her about the clock and the drink and told her to be sure to ask her if there was anything she could do for her before she left.
Kim said okay and up the steps she went. Well she was gone even longer than her brother. 10minutes…15minutes….20minutes.

No problem. I had brought a book this time.
When she finally came out I asked, “What took you?”
She said, “Ma, I only did what you told me. I put her plate down and told her the chicken was at 12, the potatoes at 3 and everything. Then I asked her if she needed anything and she said that her robe had fallen behind the dresser and could I get it. She needed to pick a sweater to go with the dress she was going to wear tomorrow and she couldn’t see the colors. The aspirin bottle was too hard for her to open and her jewelry box was all tangled up and she couldn’t find the necklace she’d been looking for. We straightened it all out. Did you know that she has a necklace shaped like a heart that opens up and she keeps a lock of hair in it!  It was her husband’s. I think she misses him.”

“Oh, okay", I said.  "Thanks for your help.”

The next Tuesday I made sure that I was all clean and fresh and I took dinner in myself.
After I explained about the food I asked her if there was anything at all I could do for her.
She replied, “Oh no, no, no. You ladies do way too much for me already. I don’t want to be a bother. Thank you so much!”

Later I checked with some of the other sisters who brought dinner.  They were always told that same thing.


After that when I made dinner on Tuesdays, I packed it up with the meat at 12 on the clock, the potatoes at 3, vegetable at 6 and roll at 9. And I made a little pitcher of lemonade.

Then on my way out the door, I called a 9 year old boy or an 11 year old girl to come with me so that they could do the real service.

*Author’s Note
This reminds me of another “Mormon” thing.  Part of the culture, so to speak.
The thing is this.
Bake two cakes.
It's a Relief Society lesson that I learned too late.

That boy I just told you about, well, that same boy came home from school one day to the smell of chocolate cake filling the house. Not an everyday occurrence at our house.
He went straight to the kitchen and there on the counter was a freshly baked cake with gooey chocolate icing and chopped nuts sprinkled on top…..His favorite!!!
I was standing at the sink, very busy, and I glanced over at him.
His eyes looked at me longingly and then he said what every Mormon kid says at a time like that.
You know what I’m talking about, don’t you?

”Who’s that for?”  he asked.

Today I would give practically anything if I’d said the right thing that afternoon so long ago.
Which was, of course, “Why it’s for you, honey. I love you so much and I missed you while you were at school and I wanted to surprise you.”

But I didn’t say that.
I told him it was for the family who just had a baby and I was taking them dinner.
The light went out of his eyes as he went off to do the usual after school things.
And now, so many years later, I still feel the sting of regret.

Regret because that boy is gone now. I’ll never get him back.
In fact he has a boy of his own, growing up fast. I hope he and his dear wife are wiser than I was.

When Kim, his older sister, heard this story recently, she said she knew just what I meant.
She said the exact same thing happened to her when she was baking homemade rolls one day.
Only the boy that came into her kitchen with a light in his eyes was 40 and she was married to him.
She said the right thing though….”Why honey, these rolls are for you. I know they're your favorite and I missed you so much today.”
Then she hurried to make a pan of cornbread for the family that just had a baby in the ward.

I didn’t raise stupid kids you know.