The Important Thing Is to Start

When a girl passes up a new dress to buy pinto beans, her family starts paying attention

The Important Thing Is to Start

“The Lord could not have put it more clearly when he said, ‘Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?’” (Luke 6:46).

Brother Murray’s talk suddenly pushed through my thoughts of the Civil War and tomorrow’s geometry test.

“For decades He has been telling us to prepare our families for self-sufficiency by putting aside a year’s supply of necessities. We have been counseled to produce as much of our own food as possible. But how many of us are really prepared for any emergency the future might bring?”

Thinking of my frequent errands to the supermarket for mom, I looked along the bench. Mom and dad’s faces were serious. Fourteen-year-old Greg looked deep in thought. Even 11-year-old Corey and Carrie were listening. We all probably had the same thoughts. With six of us in the family, it seemed that food started disappearing as soon as a grocery bag entered the house. Live off our storage for a year? We didn’t even have a month’s supply of most things!

But what could I do—16-year-old Joyce Brown? No part-time job was allowed because my parents didn’t want me distracted from schoolwork and Church activities. My allowance of $5 a week covered lunches, school supplies, and assorted small miscellaneous expenses. And, with the junior prom a month away, I’d been saving all my baby-sitting money for a new dress. I couldn’t think of a single contribution I could make to a storage program for the Brown family.

“Church leaders haven’t prescribed a storage system that fits everyone,” Brother Murray went on. “Each of you, each family using free agency has to prepare in its own way. The important thing is to start! Don’t put it off any longer. If you wait until you can buy a year’s supply all at once, you may still be waiting when the chance for preparation has slipped away.”

Brother Murray’s words bounced around in my head. “The important thing is to start!” “Prepare in your own way.” “Start!”

Opening my hymnbook for the closing song, I vowed that this message would not be hidden away in my mind to be dealt with on a distant, vague someday.

At dinner I mentioned Brother Murray’s talk.

“It was a good reminder,” dad said. “We should start putting something aside for the future.”

“When?” I asked.

“Soon,” he said and finished spooning gravy onto his mashed potatoes. “I think Mr. Blanchard is going to come through with that raise within a couple of months. Then we’ll really have some funds to work with. Please pass the salt, Greg.”

“Brother Murray said we shouldn’t wait until we could start in a big way. We should just make sure we start.”

Mom passed the green beans to me. “It takes extra money to buy extra food, Joyce. Of course, being prepared is important, but—”

She didn’t finish because Corey spilled his water while reaching for a slice of bread.

I just couldn’t push family preparedness from my mind. “The important thing is to start! Start!” But how?

Tuesday after school, mom asked me to go to the store for her. “We’re having spaghetti tonight. I need a can of tomato sauce.”

It’s amazing, but the twins can hear the car keys jingle all the way upstairs in their bedrooms.

“Where are you going, Joyce?” Corey asked, bursting into the kitchen.

Carrie was right behind him. “We want to go,” she said when I disclosed my destination.

“I’m starving,” Corey moaned. “Can I buy a fruit pie to tide me over till supper?”

“Me, too?”

Mom smiled. “It’s quite a while till soup’s on. Go ahead. You can have something, too, Joyce.” When we got home, I handed the bag to mom.

“Joyce, I only need one can of tomato sauce.

You’ve got three in here!”

I smiled at the twins.

“It’s for storage,” Carrie explained.

“Joyce convinced us to give up fruit pies for extra tomato sauce.” Corey was looking in the refrigerator. “We’ll have a jam sandwich instead.”

With a puzzled look, mom put the extra cans on the shelf.

Friday was payday. That meant allowances for everyone. As dad handed me my $5 bill, mom said, “You just might have enough for your prom dress now.”

Dad grinned. “My princess is growing up.”

“Oh, dad!” I smiled.

That evening I spent some time going over my clothes. When I finally pulled out my best go-to-school-dances dress, it didn’t look as bad as I’d thought. In fact, Saturday, when Mom took me shopping for a prom dress, I just couldn’t find anything to top the dress that was already hanging in my closet.

After a stop at the market, we went home.

Dad was in the kitchen. “All right,” he smiled. “Let’s see that dreamy prom dress you picked out.”

I laughed because dreamy is dad’s idea of teenage language. He uses it when he wants to show he’s not old-fashioned. I carefully tipped my grocery sack over and let the contents slide onto the table: 3 large bags of pinto beans, 2 bags of rice, and a box of powdered milk!

Dad just stared for a few seconds. “A very interesting prom dress,” he finally said.

“I decided I’d rather add to our storage instead of buying a new dress,” I explained. “My old one is dreamy enough!”

Dad glanced at mom, but she just gave him her don’t-ask-me shrug. She said, “Find a place for all that stuff.”

I finally fit my storage contribution into the bottom of a corner cupboard. At least it would be undisturbed, unless someone wanted to risk a sprained back getting it out again.

Thursday, after I had maneuvered an extra jar of peanut butter into the storage corner, I unkinked my back, had a brilliant idea, and went to find Greg. He was practicing foul shots on our old basketball hoop in front of the garage.

“Greg, I have this idea. Will you help me?”

He bounced the ball a couple of times. “Sorry, Joyce, I’m busy.”

“Not now, I mean tomorrow afternoon.”

“I have a million things to do,” he said, making a basket.

“Nice shot,” I beamed, deciding not to beg. “I can understand your obligations. Just tell me where I can find the hammer and nails.”


“And some nails,” I said with a smile.

You’re going to hammer?” He looked very surprised when I nodded. “Just what are you making?”

“That’s what I was going to get your help with,” I said, starting toward the house. “I know you’ve been doing some carpentry in Careers Ed. I was going to put some of that skill to work.”

“Since you put it that way, I’ll do it, Joyce,” Greg said, following me. “I can make time. I mean, if you really need a carpenter, how can I turn you down?”

After dinner I found dad reading the paper in his favorite chair.



“Greg and I are going to use some of that lumber stacked behind the garage. Okay?”

He didn’t look up. “Sure, honey,” he said without even asking why.

I have to admit, Greg’s carpentry skills surprised me. He had shelves built in half of my closet before dad got home from work on Friday. I was so proud of Greg’s work that I dragged both mom and dad in to show off our storage shelves. The beans, rice, dried milk, peanut butter, and two cans of tomato sauce looked a little lonely, but it would get more crowded as time went on. At least I wouldn’t have to strain and stretch to get things under the kitchen cupboard.

Mom and dad smiled at each other.

“What a perfect arrangement,” dad teased. “If Joyce is going to buy food instead of clothes, it’s only logical to reserve half of her closet for food.”

The next week mom bought a few extra sale items each time she went to the store. Greg gave up a record album and a new sweatband so he could add three cans of honey to the shelves. Even the twins added a jar of jam apiece by giving up ice cream cones.

After a few more weeks, the little bit that appeared on our storage shelves started to really look like something. It was still a little something, but something just the same.

By then, warm spring days were here, and I knew there was one more thing that Joyce Brown could do to help with the family preparedness. One Monday right after school, I got the trusty shovel from the garage and began turning over the far corner of our backyard. Years ago that area was set aside as a garden spot, but something always came up to prevent us from using it.

Greg came out to play basketball, stopped, then sauntered down to me.

“Looking for gold?” he grinned.

“Better than gold,” I puffed. “I’m going to plant a garden.”

“A garden? you’ve got to be kidding!”


“What do you know about gardening, Farmer John, or should I say Farmer Joyce?” He was smiling, but at least he didn’t laugh.

“Not much,” I admitted, “but I can read, and the library is full of books about raising vegetables.”

He took the shovel from me. “We just might make it … if we team up! Farmer Joyce and Gardener Greg!”

We had a pretty good-sized section turned over when dad drove in. He sat in the car watching us for a long time. Finally he walked over.

“Don’t tell me,” he sighed. “A garden, right?”

We both grinned and nodded.

“Just what the storage program needs!” Greg panted and jumped on the shovel again.

Dad went in while we worked awhile longer.

After supper, dad announced, “Special lesson for family home evening, or maybe I should say, emergency meeting!

Emergency meeting? It was all very mysterious, so we got settled in the living room very quickly.

“First of all,” dad started, “your mother and I appreciate the special effort all of you have been giving to a storage program. Joyce and the twins showed real initiative in getting it started.”

The twins beamed at each other.

“Then Greg used his talents to help the project along. Now, if you kids could use some more partners, your mother and I would like to join in.”

Everyone agreed unanimously.

“It looks like the next step is a garden. Joyce and Greg have already started turning the ground in the corner of the yard. I say, let’s all help them and make this an organized Brown family project! Now, I really don’t know too much about gardening—”

Corey interrupted, “Carrie and I can stop by the library after school tomorrow. I’m sure they have tons of books on gardens.”

“That’s a good idea,” mom said. “I’ll find that book on food preservation that Aunt Norma gave us a few years ago so we’ll know what to do when all those lovely vegetables start rolling in.”

For the next few minutes everyone juggled for a time to share their ideas about this family food project. Then dad looked at mom, and she smiled some encouragement.

“You all know how we enjoy a pretty nice family vacation each summer,” he said. “We’ve made some special memories while traveling around visiting new places.”

We all nodded.

“Well … your mother and I thought … that maybe the family would like to think about taking some of the vacation money we’ve saved to really get the Brown family preparedness program heading in the right direction.” Dad looked at us uncomfortably. “You know, plan what we’ll need for a year’s supply, keep track of inventory, build a real storage area—things like that.”

All of us just looked at dad.

“We could take one-day-trips and really explore the area close to home.”

The room was quiet.

Finally I said, “We’re quiet not because we don’t want to give up our vacation but because we think it’s a great idea!”

Greg grinned. “In fact, it’s weird, because Joyce and I talked about the same plan while we were working outside, and then we talked to the twins before dinner.”

“We were worried about what you two would say,” Corey added with a smile.

“We know how much you enjoy those vacations,” Carrie said.

Mom and dad looked at each other and then at the four of us. I think there were tears in their eyes.

Dad smiled. “Even with that money, we will still be working at this preparation business slowly, a little at a time. We won’t be able to get ready all at once, but the important thing is to start!”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Michael Rogan