First Things First


One Saturday at the beach wouldn’t hurt, would it? After all, Bill spent most other weekends helping his dad.

First Things First

One thing Bill positively was not going to do was lose his cool when he talked to Dad. He was sensing a new power in their discussions when he could smother back his flaring irritations and cover them with a quiet, logical tolerance of Dad’s opinions. Not that he was giving in, mind you, or changing his stand; after all, he was 15 and capable of making his own decisions, but it was important to convince Dad he was right.

Ridiculous, all this hassle about just wanting a Saturday off for the beach. Doug Anders and Tommy Martin went every Saturday without feeling the least bit guilty—and most Sundays, too, for that matter. Why was it always different for him? Bill knew well why it was different. The Church—that was why. Doug didn’t even go to church, and Tommy only went on Easter and Christmas. Their Saturdays weren’t full of building-fund paper drives, work projects for the widows, or setting up chairs for meetings. Not that Bill would trade places with them. No, the church was important in his life, and he valued it, but this Saturday was something else.

“Hope you’re getting right at the lawn, Bill.” Mother’s voice floated down from the upstairs window. “Dad said it was a must as soon as you got home from school. It will only take a minute if you get going.”

A minute, ha! Little did she know about pushing that mower through the thick, tough grass in the heat! Probably more like an hour. Bill kicked a mud clod into the flower bed with his ragged tennis shoe, dropped his books, and slumped on the cool grass to rest. He sank deep—kinda high all right—should have been cut last week, and it was a cinch Dad had been too busy to do it. He plucked a long blade of grass and twisted it slowly between his thumb and finger. Why did Dad have to be so dedicated to the max—always heading a Church project, going to a meeting, or worrying about someone’s problems when he had a little spare time. And expecting Bill’s help with it! Being the oldest wasn’t always what it was cracked up to be.

“I don’t hear much action down there, dear. Would you like a sandwich or something before you start?” Mom’s voice dripped with sweetness and Bill sensed her effort at nonirritation. He sighed, struggled to his feet, and went for the lawn mower.

It wasn’t so bad once he got started, and as the blades whipped around he started rehearsing ways of convincing Dad about Saturday.

“You see, Dad, it’s like this. There’s a problem about my helping Saturday. Now, it isn’t that I don’t understand—I know you’re on the welfare committee and that your kid should be there helping with the clothing drive. And I realize, too, that I’ve promised the bishop he could count on me. But all that was before Tommy told me about the beach and the surfboard.”

Not quite strong enough, Bill thought, and started again.

“Look, Dad. I know it’s going to be a pain for you, but I won’t be there to help Saturday. It’s time I start doing more with my friends. They’re beginning to think I’m always working on a project. Friendship is important, too, and I’m going to the beach with them.”

That should be convincing, he thought, and smothered a twinge of conscience. Using the friendship angle was taking advantage. Dad was a sucker for friendship. But it was true. Lately there was a definite gap in his closeness with his best friends, Doug and Tommy. They had been so alike all through school, and now it was uncomfortable being the different one, the one making excuses for not trying new, experimental things, the one going to church instead of the drags—the one still in the Scout program that they had given up long ago. Well, he didn’t have to be the one giving up his Saturday for a clothing drive!

The mower hit a rock and froze. Furiously Bill spun it loose and calmed his frustrations with giant shoves into the green mat of grass. Not that he hadn’t tried to share the Church with his friends, Bill reminded himself. But Tommy’s parents objected, and although Doug had showed interest for a while, weekends at the beach had won. And the gap between them was getting bigger. Only yesterday at school Doug had made the situation clear. They were leaning against the old elm tree by the cafeteria, trying to figure a way out of dressing for gym when he brought it up.

“Guess there’s no use asking what you’re doing Saturday.”

“What do you mean—no use asking?” Bill questioned.

“Oh, come off it. You know you’re always tied up with some weird thing or another. My cousin is taking me to the beach for some surfing pointers on his new board. Not any of this wimpy stuff like we do. He really knows how. I can bring you and Tommy, he said, but I knew most likely you’d have something to do for your Dad.”

“Who says I have to do anything? I can go if I want.”

“Well, all right, do you want?”

Tommy joined them just then.

“Well, how about it? Are you on for Saturday?”

“I’ll think about it. After all, I’m picky about who I spend my time with.”

“You said a mouthful,” Tommy added, “and it sure doesn’t seem to be us anymore. You’re getting to be a real drag.”

Bill finished the last swatch of grass, pushed the mower into the garage, and picked up the rake. It hadn’t taken as long as he thought. Mom was right after all. Exposing the clipped green carpet as he heaped the grass into piles brought a warm satisfaction that made him uncomfortable. Why should there be any pleasure in such an obnoxious job? Mom appeared at the back door with two frosty glasses of lemonade, and the warm feeling heightened as she sat next to him on the step, sipping and exclaiming about the beauty of the freshly cut lawn. He fought back the satisfaction and revived his misery.

“Mom, don’t you think a guy deserves Saturday off when he goes to school and works all week?”

“Well, I most certainly do,” she agreed. “Every boy needs some time for himself. You know I always let you off if your chores are done.”

“And don’t you think it’s important to keep in with the guys—you know, be one of them—not an outcast?”

“Of course, it’s important, dear. I’ve always encouraged you to have a lot of friends. Do you have a problem?”

He wished she wouldn’t be so confounded agreeable. It wasn’t giving him any practice for Dad. And, yes, he did have a problem. It would be the same old issue with Dad about what should come first. Church responsibility and dependability would end on top with Dad, and Bill would be dangling at the other end about Saturday. He knew the decision would be his own. Dad was fair that way, but it was uncomfortable when they didn’t see eye-to-eye, and past experience had taught him well what Dad’s way would be. He remembered the years through Scouting when football games at school were scheduled on the same Saturday as a merit badge hike. Dad always managed to help him find a way to make them both—even if it meant long drives to catch up with the Scouts. And it had been the same with the talent show and school play. When rehearsals interfered with Church meetings, they always found away to cover them both with a few short cuts and Dad being there with the transportation. Yes, Dad’s way was definitely on the side of participation and dedication to Church responsibility!

“Better get the rest of the grass picked up,” Mom called through the open window above the grinding garbage disposal. Bill was hardly aware she had gone inside. Always that gentle nudge to get going. Didn’t a guy even have thinking time these days? Well, he would hit Dad with Saturday as soon as he came home and get it over with. Still, his sister was always saying it paid to save the gripes until after dinner, and she did seem to have a way with Dad. He heard the car in the driveway and decided in favor of the waiting. It was a mistake. After dinner Jamie grabbed Dad for help with a math problem, then two telephone calls brought home teaching problems, and he was off to a Scout council meeting. Bill was asleep long before he returned.

“So, what’s the score? Are you, or aren’t you?” Doug mumbled between chomps on his hamburger at lunch the next day. “Not that I really care, just curious.”

“Yeah, what are you trying to do—play hard to get?” Tommy added. “Anyone would think you’re something special.”

Bill squirmed. “Give me a break, you guys. I’ve gotta think. Just because you wimps have nothing more to do than lay in the sun getting burned to a crisp, doesn’t mean everyone can. Someone’s gotta run the country, you know.”

“Well, that does it!” Doug smashed his milk carton and sent potato chips flying, “Let us know when you make up your mind!”

There were no two ways about it though. Tonight he would have to talk to Dad first thing. But Dad was late for dinner, and Bill had to leave for a basketball practice, so it still wasn’t settled. Walking home alone in the moonlight after the practice, he churned the situation in his mind and rehearsed again what he would say to Dad when he got home. It was convincing, he decided, but Dad would have a hard time understanding; since his kicks came from heading projects and doing for people. He didn’t have conflicts and things pulling him in a lot of different directions.

As he neared home and approached the driveway, he could see the garage light burning and Dad inside. At last, an opportunity to get him alone! He hurried up the driveway, but slowed as he neared the door and saw Dad standing over in a far corner—just standing there. Odd, his being there alone just standing, as busy as he was. Bill hesitated and then walked quietly to the doorway for a better look. There was something different about Dad. He looked tired and even a little sad.

Bill had never seen him like that before. The cover protecting a weathered terminal apparatus had been folded back, and he was scrutinizing it with wistful eyes. He finally began gently fingering a screw. Dad had started that invention a year ago. He liked building things and even had a special set of expensive tools that none of them were allowed to touch. He always had an idea for a new invention and Mom kidded him about finishing some of them. Strange he didn’t spend more time in the garage if he had such a craze for it. Why didn’t he? What was his problem? Bill stared at his father again, and then, slowly, a penetrating light, a flood of understanding, began to surface. Why, Dad had to make choices, too! All those trips to the mountains to catch him up with the Church group was time he could have been spending on his inventions. All the nights waiting in the car to take him from one meeting to another could have been enjoyed in the garage. And the way he honored his priesthood in accepting calls and helping people! A wave of guilt surged inside Bill making it hard to breathe. He hadn’t even said thanks for all those catch-up trips! Dad glanced up and smiled. “Well, hello there! Sorry I didn’t get home before you left for basketball. Mother said you wanted to see me about something.”

“I … a … well … I … a … was just wondering what I could do to help you get ready for the clothing drive Saturday.”

Dad walked over and put his arm around his shoulder. “You don’t know what that means to me, Bill. I’ve been wondering how I’d ever get all the calls made to remind the boys about coming. If you could take on a few after school tomorrow, it would really help. I appreciate your continual support so much!”

They walked slowly toward the house together, and there it was again—that maddening warm, satisfied feeling!

[illustrations] Illustrated by Bryan Lee Shaw