The Happy Tithe Payer


My sisters came into the living room each carrying a shiny baking powder can. The cans tinkled with the sound of coins that they emptied onto the table to be counted.

“Bishop Isom will pat me on top of the head when I give him my money and say, ‘My what a fine tithing!’” Mildred said proudly.

“Then he’ll say, ‘You are good girls,’” Kate added.

The bishop’s last name was the same as ours because he was Papa’s cousin.

I didn’t have any nickels or pennies. I didn’t even have an empty baking powder can, but I knew a little about tithing. I liked sitting on top of a load of hay as the horses clopped along the dusty road to the tithing barn. And I enjoyed watching Mama push the firm yellow butter out of the wooden mold onto the wrapper. Some of it she set aside for “tithing butter.” And our chickens laid “tithing eggs.”

I went into the kitchen where Mama was mixing bread. “When can I pay tithing?” I asked.

Mama’s dough-covered hands stopped still in the big tin pan. She looked at me for a long minute then smiled. “My goodness, you are getting to be a big girl, aren’t you! You’ll be five next summer. Why of course you want to pay tithing. Tell your sisters to wait until I finish mixing and you can go with them.”

Dancing into the living room I happily announced, “I’m going to Bishop Isom’s too.”

“You can go, but you don’t have any tithing,” Kate said.

“Wait for Alice,” Mama called to my sisters. Then she washed the dough from her hands and said, “Come with me.”

I followed her to the barn where she scooped up a can of wheat, scattering it in the yard. “Here, chick, chick, chick,” she called.

Greedily, the chickens flocked around her, so it was easy for Mama to slip her hands over the wings of a young rooster and hold him firmly while the plump bird squawked in alarm. “Here.” she said, handing him to me, “hold him while I tie his legs.” From a bunch of used binding twine that hung on the corral fence, she selected a short piece. Securing the rooster’s legs she said, “You’ve worked hard feeding the chickens and gathering the eggs. You can take this rooster to the bishop for your tithing.”

“I’m going to pay tithing. I really, really am,” I cried, running to the house.

My sisters giggled at the rooster squirming in my arms.

Purple daisies were blooming along the fences and the leaves of the fruit trees fluttered about us as we walked the six blocks to the bishop’s house. I hugged my rooster and he cackled back at me. The sun on his shiny black feathers picked up glints of green and gold. He was as beautiful as any bird that ever went to see the bishop.

When Bishop Samuel Isom saw us coming through the gate, his front door opened wide. His ample front was made for hugging children. “Come in, come in,” he said merrily. Then, seeing the rooster in my arms, he asked, “Oh-ho, and what’s this?”

“He’s a tithing rooster,” I proudly announced.

“Oh, he’s a real dandy,” the bishop said. Taking the rooster from me he gently set him down on the porch and ushered us inside.

Sister Isom came into the room, tall and smiling. Her neat hair was wound in a bun on top of her head. Over her blue checkered dress she wore a snowy white apron bordered with wide handmade lace. “Have a chair, girls,” she invited.

The bishop sat at his rolltop desk and Kate and Mildred gave him the coins from their baking powder cans.

We sat on polished high-backed chairs, feasting our eyes on the cheerful room while the bishop made out our receipts. I hoped that when I grew up I could have a stairway with such a beautiful bannister sweeping down into my living room.

Tearing out the receipts the bishop arose. “Mighty fine, mighty fine,” he said handing us each a receipt.

“Will you please read my receipt for me?” I asked, looking up at him.

“I’d be glad to,” he replied. Taking it from me he read, “Alice Isom has voluntarily contributed to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints one young rooster.”

I sucked in my breath. “Oh, my!” The Church of Jesus Christ was so big and I was so small. I had really and truly contributed to this great big wonderful Church. Happily I took my receipt out onto the porch. “Look, rooster,” I said, holding it in front of him, “you belong to the Church now, because I contributed you. That makes you a Mormon rooster.”

Bishop and Sister Isom were in the doorway laughing heartily. I skipped to the gate ahead of my sisters, feeling that I was the happiest tithe payer in the whole town of Hurricane, Utah.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Howard Post