“I don’t care what everybody else is doing,” I snapped, charging from the barn where I’d been gathering eggs with my older sister, Minnie.
“Nobody needs my eggs.”
“But they do, Penelope. They don’t want all your eggs—just the ones the chickens lay on Sunday. It’s to help rebuild the church.”
One of the first things the people of Snowflake had built when they first settled here along the banks of Silver Creek was the church. We’d all been proud of it. Two weeks ago it burned.
I glared at Minnie standing in the barnyard with her bare feet peeking out from under her skirt. “I’m not giving away my eggs.”
“But Bishop Hunt wants you to give your eggs.”
I shook my head furiously. “Right in church yesterday, he said that nobody had to give their eggs. He said that the Lord doesn’t want anything from anybody who doesn’t want to give it. That’s how I know He doesn’t want my eggs.”
“But that’s being horribly selfish.”
“Minnie,” I exploded, “I have plans for my eggs.” I thought of the catalog at the general store, where eight months earlier I’d seen the prettiest pair of black, pointed, high-heel shoes with buttoned laces on the sides. I wanted those shoes more than anything so that I could go to church in something really nice. But they cost five whole dollars. In 1894 in Snowflake, Arizona, five dollars was a lot more money than any ten-year-old girl had.
I had even prayed about those shoes, and two days later, Pa gave me an egg. I called it my treasure egg and kept it warm in a rag by the fire. It hatched in three weeks, and I had my first chicken.
I took really good care of that chicken. It wasn’t long before she was laying eggs and having chicks herself. Now I had sixteen chickens, all laying eggs. I’d just started selling those eggs for ten cents a dozen. I knew that when I sold enough eggs, I’d be able to buy that pair of black, pointed-toe shoes.
“What about the church?” Minnie demanded.
“Minnie,” I grumbled, “my few eggs won’t get the church rebuilt any sooner.”
“You’re just thinking of those black shoes in the catalog.”
“What if I am? I want something nice to wear to church.”
“Except there won’t be a church for you to wear them in because you won’t help rebuild it.” Minnie stalked back into the barn.
Snowflake’s Sunday egg project was Sister Ballard’s idea. She was the Relief Society president and had asked all the people in Snowflake to donate the eggs that their chickens laid on Sunday. The Sunday eggs were to be sold and the money given to rebuild the church.
Any other time, I’d have joined the Sunday egg project, but most of my chickens had just barely started laying and I’d need every dozen eggs I sold to buy my shoes. Last Sunday, my chickens had laid twenty-one eggs, a real record!
Minnie came stomping out of the barn with a wooden bucket in each hand. She held one out to me. “Will you at least go around town to collect eggs from everybody else?”
“I can help collect the eggs,” I muttered. “I’ll be helping with the project then. That will be more important than my few eggs.”
“Have you gathered your eggs yet?”
I swallowed and pressed my lips together. “I’m going to do it right now.”
After I’d looked in every single nest, I charged out of the barn. “You stole some of my eggs, didn’t you? I have only nine eggs, not even a dozen! Just last week I had twenty-one. You must have taken some of mine.”
Minnie wagged a finger at me. “I didn’t touch your old chicken eggs.”
I went with Minnie and my best friend, Harriet, to collect eggs that Monday morning. I had never seen so many eggs. I was afraid that we were going to break half of them as we lugged our buckets around town. I told Harriet all about the fancy catalog shoes. “Nobody’s going to have shoes as nice as mine,” I boasted.
“They do sound like mighty fine shoes, Penelope. I can hardly wait to see them.”
Just then we passed the church. The thick adobe walls were still there, but the roof was gone and there were ugly black holes where the windows and doors used to be. I could hear the men working inside, and suddenly I felt a worm of uneasiness wiggle inside me. I looked away. “I can hardly wait to get my new shoes,” I repeated awkwardly to Harriet. She just stared sadly at our poor church.
“Why, you girls have surely been busy this morning,” Sister Ballard greeted us. “I can’t believe how well the chickens have been laying since we began our Sunday egg project. We’ll have that church rebuilt before you know it.”
Minnie laughed cheerfully. “The chickens must know we’re using these eggs for the church, because they’re laying more than ever on Sundays.”
“I certainly hope you’re right, Minnie,” Sister Ballard chuckled.
I had a little notebook under my pillow in the loft. On the first page, I kept a record of how many eggs my chickens laid each day. Before the church had burned down, my chickens laid heaps of eggs. But since the egg project began, it was as if they dried up. I fed them and coaxed them to loosen up, but they sure had a hard time.
There were other troubles. Three times during the week, skunks prowled around the barn at night and scared the chickens until Mustard, our dog, chased them off. Another night, a coyote sneaked in and ran off with one of Pa’s best laying hens. And Silas’s dog next door got through a crack in the wall and gobbled up half a dozen of my eggs.
With everything happening, my chickens were so nervous and afraid that they practically stopped laying eggs altogether. In fact, the next Sunday, they laid only four eggs among them. My notebook showed that they didn’t do much better all week.
Monday morning when it was time to gather the Sunday eggs, I told Ma that I wasn’t feeling well, so she let me stay in bed while Harriet and Minnie collected the eggs. I wasn’t exactly sick, but I was miserable. I didn’t want to ask other people for their eggs when I wasn’t willing to give up mine.
In the distance I heard the hammering and the sawing at the church. It was a horrible, annoying sound. I ducked under the sheet and buried my head in my pillow so I wouldn’t have to hear it.
That afternoon, Ma sent me to the store to buy two cups of sugar. Before I got it, I took another peek in the catalog. For some reason, my shoes didn’t seem as pretty and fancy as they had.
Saturday night, as I studied my egg record for the week, I frowned. I had gathered only twenty-two eggs all week—not even a whole two dozen. I remembered the Sunday I had gathered twenty-one eggs in one day. Tears welled up in my eyes. It wasn’t fair—I was working hard, but my chickens weren’t cooperating.
I thought about asking the Lord to bless my poor chickens. After all, I’d prayed to get my treasure egg in the first place, and He had answered that prayer. But then I got a sick feeling in my stomach. How could I ask the Lord to help my chickens so I could get some fancy shoes, when I wouldn’t even share my eggs to help Him rebuild His church?
I looked at my record again. The Sunday before, I had gathered six eggs. “I can give the Lord six eggs,” I muttered to myself.
As soon as I said those words, a warm, peacefulness suddenly drove away my misery. I dropped to my knees. I didn’t ask the Lord for one thing. All I did was promise that until the church was rebuilt, I’d give away all my Sunday eggs.
As soon as I pushed up off my knees, an ugly thought pushed its way into my head. What if tomorrow my chickens lay another twenty-one eggs? I closed my eyes. I could give six eggs away, but could I give twenty-one? For a moment, I wondered if I should go back to the Lord and change my promise. The old misery started twisting in my stomach again. I clenched my fists, closed my eyes, and stomped my foot. “A promise is a promise,” I whispered firmly. “I don’t care if the chickens lay a hundred eggs.”
The next day, I was tempted to check my chickens, but I didn’t. Monday morning, I was up bright and early and charged out to the barn. Before I slipped through the door, I said a little prayer, reminding Heavenly Father what I’d promised and letting Him know that no matter what, every single egg belonged to Him.
What if there are only five eggs? Or even four or three? I asked myself. I suddenly felt horrible and closed my eyes again. “And if there aren’t very many,” I whispered softly, “Thou canst have some of my Monday and Tuesday eggs, too.”
I didn’t have to worry, though, because those silly chickens must have known what I’d promised. When I went around to their nests, they’d been working overtime. I collected twenty-two eggs!
I gathered them as fast as I could, and without waiting for Minnie or Harriet, I raced down the street to Sister Ballard’s house. I wanted mine to be the very first eggs she collected that Monday morning. As I ran by the church, the men were already working. I could hear the saws whine and the hammers bang, and it was beautiful, soothing music in my ears. It was my music because my few eggs were going to help it keep sounding beautiful and soothing until the church was finished.