Six O’Clock Missionary

By Nanette Larsen Dunford

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    Your hearts might be prepared to bear testimony (D&C 58:6).

    All seven of us were crammed into our Primary teacher’s old van. The heater was going full blast, but my toes were still cold. I could see wisps of snow in front of the headlights.

    “Mrs. Tillman lives right down the road. Maybe we could visit her for a minute before we go milk Betsy,” suggested Sister Allred.

    “At six o’clock in the morning?” burst out Tony.

    “Mrs. Tillman used to go to work at four in the morning,” replied Sister Allred. “She still likes getting up early. Besides, I want to drop her off some homemade breakfast rolls. And … well … I’d like to give her a Book of Mormon, too, and maybe share my testimony of it with her.”

    “A Book of Mormon?” screeched Tony.

    “She’s the last person I’d give a Book of Mormon to,” I said.

    “She’s the meanest lady in town!” exclaimed Jimmy.

    Sister Allred smiled. “Is that so? Well, I’m sure she would love to meet you.”

    All five of us boys gave each other worried looks. Even “Sweet” Emily Clawson looked troubled.

    “I’ll tell you what,” said Sister Allred. “This time I’ll drop you off to milk Betsy. You’ve milked her enough now that you don’t need my help. Today’s kind of a special day for me, and I really do want to give Mrs. Tillman this Book of Mormon.”

    I didn’t have time to wonder why today was Sister Allred’s special day. She’d already come to a stop in front of the Millers’ snowy mailbox. We piled out—all except redheaded Brian. He wanted to meet the meanest lady in town.

    Pulling my parka hood closer around my face, I trudged through the snow. In my mind, I pictured Mr. and Mrs. Miller strolling down a warm beach in Hawaii. I was beginning to wish our Primary class had never volunteered to milk their cow while they were on vacation.

    Suddenly, an icy hand stole inside my hood and smashed a snowball against my neck.

    “How about a snowball fight, Phillip?” Tony proposed mischievously.

    “We have to milk Betsy,” I retorted, trying to brush the dripping snow from my neck.

    “Aw, it’s too cold for cow milking,” said Tony. “Why don’t you and Emily take care of it.” He grinned at the other boys.

    The snowball fight was soon in full swing. Tony and his gang didn’t care where they aimed—or maybe they did. Most of the snowballs sailed at us. When one splattered on Betsy’s nose, she jerked up her head and trotted away.

    “That’s not fair,” shouted Emily. “We can fight back, but Betsy can’t.”

    I was surprised to hear her talk so sharply. I was even more surprised to see Emily let loose with a snowball that landed smack on Tony’s head.

    Tony only laughed.

    I grimaced. Tony had calmed down since Sister Allred had become our Primary teacher. But now and then he forgot that he was no longer the terror of the Primary. Today I wanted no part of his pranks. For one thing, I was in a hurry to get Betsy milked. Mom had promised me waffles, bacon, and hot chocolate when I got home.

    With all the snowballs flying around us, it was all Emily and I could do to get poor Betsy into the barn. Even then, she kept stamping her feet and eyeing us uneasily.

    “You give her some grain,” I told Emily. “I’ll start milking.”

    “Don’t you think you’d better let her eat a little and give her time to settle down?” suggested Emily.

    “No time today,” I snapped, still thinking about the breakfast my mother had waiting for me, and wishing my feet were not so numb.

    I put a bucket under Betsy and pulled up a stool. I purposely “forgot” to wash and dry her udder first. I began to milk, but hardly a trickle fell into the bucket. I sat there for a long time, squeezing and squeezing. There was still only a dribble. Exasperated, I stood up. “Well, you’ve had your chance. If that’s all the milk you’re giving today, I’m done with you.”

    Betsy rolled her eyes toward me, but I didn’t pay any attention. Yanking up the bucket, I marched around behind her—smack into Sister Allred! The bucket slipped from my cold fingers, and milk spilled over Sister Allred’s boots.

    My Primary teacher looked at the bucket. “Well, it doesn’t look like you had much milk to spill. Are you having problems this morning?”

    “Oh,” I answered, “Betsy just didn’t have much milk to give this morning.”

    Sister Allred smiled. “Maybe we should give Betsy another chance.” Stroking Betsy gently, she spoke to the cow. “What’s the matter, old girl? Don’t you want to give your milk this morning?”

    Soon Sister Allred was sitting beside Betsy. Still talking soothingly, she carefully washed Betsy’s udder in warm water. Milk started streaming thick and warm into the bucket. By then Tony and the other boys had crept in from their snowball fight.

    Sister Allred was smiling wistfully when I looked at her again.

    “What are you thinking about, Sister Allred?” I asked.

    “Oh, I was just thinking about my son, Todd. When we had our farm, he was the best milker of all. I always told him that he’d grow up to be a great missionary.”

    “What’s milking got to do with missionary work?” I asked.

    “Milking a cow is pretty impossible unless she’s ready to let down her milk. Usually a cow will let down her milk when she’s contented and calm—maybe after a little grain feeding or someone washing her udder or when there’s a little soft music in the barn. Todd was gentle and patient not only with the cows but with everybody. I knew that he would be such a gentle, loving missionary that people would naturally let down their barriers against believing the gospel. Todd was gaining a strong testimony of the gospel too.”

    “So where did Todd go on his mission?” I asked.

    Sister Allred replied quietly. “One day when Todd was just about your age, he and his dad were delivering a load of cattle to a farmer. On a steep grade, the cattle suddenly shifted to one side, and the truck veered on the icy road and rolled into a ravine. Todd and my husband both died.”

    “Oh!” we said together. Then we were silent, listening to the soft sounds of the last of Betsy’s milk filling the bucket.

    “When I started teaching you,” Sister Allred continued, “I thought that maybe I’d be helping prepare some missionaries, after all.”

    No one said a word until I asked, “Sister Allred, why did you say today was a special day for you?”

    She smiled. “Today is Todd’s birthday. He would have been nineteen.”

    “So that’s why you wanted to be a good missionary to that mean old lady?” asked Tony.

    Brian burst out, “Mrs. Tillman isn’t mean. She sat and talked to us and gave me hot biscuits and honey.”

    My stomach growled.

    “Best of all,” he added, “she’s going to church with us this Sunday.”

    “She is?” we chorused.

    Sister Allred chuckled. “I tried to give her the Book of Mormon, but I was too late. She read it a long time ago. She’s thought about going to church but has never wanted to go by herself.”

    “So how did she get a Book of Mormon?” I said.

    Sister Allred got a strange misty look in her eyes. “All these years, I didn’t know—Todd gave her one when he was only nine years old.”

    My breath caught in my throat. I patted Betsy and looked down at her fresh, warm milk brimming in the bucket. I wondered if I could learn to milk as well as Todd. Most of all, I wanted to gain a strong testimony of the Church so that I could be a good missionary too.

    Illustrated by Dale Kilbourn