Alison and Dad chatted about ballet, school, and work as they crossed Topham’s Bridge on their way home. Then Dad asked, “Alison, would you like to go with me to Birchington Ward this Sunday? President Hicks wants me to see how everything’s going there. I also have some interviews there for temple recommends and Melchizedek Priesthood advancements.”
“Just you. You’re pretty good company.”
“Sure!” Alison was pleased that Dad had asked her. In all the years he’d been on the high council, and now as a counselor in the stake presidency, she’d never gone on a trip with him by herself.
“It’s a good hour’s drive up to Birchington, and I ought to get there a little early, so we’ll need to be ready to leave by 7:30 A.M. You might want to bring along a book or two for company.”
“OK,” Alison agreed cheerfully. She was eager to visit another ward and to spend time with Dad.
By seven-thirty Sunday morning Alison had eaten breakfast, brushed her teeth, dressed in a skirt and jacket Mom had made her, and combed her hair. She had also gathered her scriptures, a notepad, a pen, and two library books.
“You’re really guarding against boredom!” Mom said, smiling as she looked at the bulging shopping bag. She smoothed Alison’s hair and gave her a kiss. “Have a good time.”
Alison pulled out a book as soon as they were on the interstate highway, setting it down occasionally to look at farms and forests. Once they were in Birchington, she put the book away so she could watch for the meetinghouse.
“It’s not hard to spot it,” she remarked as she glimpsed the steeple through some trees. “Most LDS meetinghouses look alike.”
“Yes, they do,” Dad agreed as he parked the car. In the building he knocked quietly on one of the office doors. In a minute a tall, gray-haired man Alison recognized from stake conferences appeared and warmly welcomed Dad with a burst of greetings, comments, and questions.
Alison shifted from one foot to the other, feeling a little awkward. Dad reached out and pulled her close to him. “This is my daughter Alison, Bishop Nightingale.”
Alison politely shook the bishop’s hand.
“So you’re the youngest of the Tanner bunch,” he said. “Nice of you to come. It’s always nice to have visitors. I like to have them speak.” He winked at Dad. “It’s a change for the ward, and it means I don’t have to talk so much.”
Alison looked at Dad and smiled. He was always being asked to talk—so often that he would joke, “I feel like a walking tape recorder! Just plug me in, and I speak. Rewind me every so often, and I’ll even repeat myself.”
Dad and Bishop Nightingale disappeared into the office, and Alison strolled curiously up and down the halls, examined the items on the bulletin board, and then settled down in a chair to read. The foyer gradually filled up with people. Soon Dad emerged from the office and, in between shaking hands and chatting with ward members, told Alison, “Meet you up on the stand.”
The stand? Alison walked slowly into the chapel and up the aisle. She rarely got to sit up front, and she was both excited and apprehensive. It was fun to be able to see all the ward members—but then, they could all see her too!
As she got settled, Bishop Nightingale leaned over and shook her hand again. “Remember what I told you about visitors,” he said.
Alison smiled and nodded, but she didn’t know why he was making such a fuss about it. Dad was used to speaking.
The meeting proceeded smoothly until the bishop introduced the last speaker on the program—and added, “Before our closing song, we’d also like to hear briefly from Alison Tanner, who’s here from New Salem Ward with her father.”
“I didn’t know he was going to do that, honest,” Dad whispered, putting his arm around her. “I’ll talk if you’d rather not.”
“I should have guessed,” Alison whispered back, remembering Bishop Nightingale’s comments and his twinkling eyes. Why had she been so quick to assume he’d meant Dad was to speak? She rubbed her hands, suddenly cold and damp, on her skirt. Her heart was thumping wildly. It would be easy to let Dad talk, but if she did, she’d never be able to face Birchington Ward again. “What can I say?”
“You could tell a scripture story or tell something you learned in Primary. And give your testimony. You’ll do OK; you’ve given talks before,” Dad whispered reassuringly.
Just in Primary, not in front of a whole ward! And not without any time to prepare, Alison thought. She pressed her trembling legs together and thought desperately. Primary—scriptures—Nephi! That’s it! We talked about Nephi not too long ago. She quickly opened her Book of Mormon.
“Amen,” the speaker said, and Alison swallowed hard. Dad gave her a reassuring pat, and she stood up. Reaching the podium, she waited while Bishop Nightingale adjusted the microphone. The chapel was a sea of faces—smiling, pleasant faces. Alison took a deep breath and began.
“One of my favorite scripture stories is about Nephi and about how he and his family left Jerusalem.” Alison briefly retold the story, managing to include the most important details. She finished and was momentarily tongue-tied. Primary! she remembered, relieved. “I’m glad I can go to Primary each week and learn about Nephi and other people; and I’m grateful for my teachers and for my family …” She concluded with her testimony, then, still feeling shaky, sat down.
Dad hugged her as the organist began playing the closing hymn. “Fantastic!” he whispered. “You handled it like a real pro!”
Alison leaned against him and whispered back, “I did it! I can’t believe I did it!”
After the meeting everyone on the stand and many people from the congregation congratulated Alison on her fine talk. When the bishop approached Alison, she tried to frown at him, but he looked so cheerful that she couldn’t.
“I was scared to death!”
“Now, now, I warned you. And you did a tremendous job. Next time it will be much easier.”
Next time? Alison thought as she walked down the aisle. Of course, there will be a next time—if not in Birchington or New Salem, then somewhere else.