An old man in a strange house, and we were supposed to go there to collect fast offerings.
You Can’t Fit a Chicken in an Envelope21945_000_014
Brother Baron carried the blue fast offering envelopes into our deacons quorum meeting and set them on the table in the small classroom. He scanned our young faces with a serious scowl. After handing out all the envelopes but one, he patted it in his hand and looked at me and said, “Joey, for five months I’ve been giving you Brother Mumford Grossenheider’s fast offering envelope, but he tells his home teachers that no one has come by. What’s going on?”
I looked at my friend Reggie, who smiled innocently and folded his arms.
Brother Baron sat on the table in front of us and looked at me while tapping the envelope against his knee. “Joey, Brother Grossenheider hasn’t been to church in more than 60 years. We finally got some home teachers that he’ll talk to, and the home teachers asked him if someone could come by to collect fast offerings, and Brother Grossenheider said okay. Have you been going to his house?” he asked.
I leaned forward and looked down at the floor. “Well, yeah, but nobody answers the door.”
“He’s an old man,” Brother Baron said. “He uses a cane. You’ve got to give him time. How long did you wait at the door last month?”
I glanced at Reggie again. He was watching Brother Baron as if nothing was wrong.
“Last month?” I said slowly.
“You went to his house last month, didn’t you?”
“Well, I went the first two months and nobody answered, so …” I looked up into Brother Baron’s disappointed face.
“You haven’t been going?” he said sadly.
“It takes too long,” I said.
“But what’s the big hurry?” Brother Baron asked. “It would only take another five or ten minutes. You can sacrifice five minutes a month can’t you?”
“Well,” I said, “Reggie doesn’t have any hard ones like that, and he always beats me.”
“Beats you? This isn’t a race, Joey.” He looked at Reggie, whose mask of innocence suddenly seemed removed. Brother Baron dragged his hand over his face, flattening his nose. He looked back and forth at me and Reggie. “You’ve been racing?”
After church Reggie and I walked together down Main Street until we reached house number 433, where Mumford Grossenheider lived. We looked at the house together. Brother Baron was waiting for us back at the church, and when we returned, he wanted a report on every house—something he said he probably should have been doing all along.
It was a strange old house. A fence, barely visible behind raggedy bushes and tall yellow grass, surrounded the weedy front yard. There a fat mulberry tree stood with its branches nearly touching the ground, and a shaggy hedge had begun to climb onto the raised front porch, where posts and eaves had long since begun peeling their coats of faded brown paint. As we stood at the front gate, my eyes followed the straight sidewalk, narrowed by overgrown edge grass, to a broken screen door that leaned like a car with a flat tire. The house had a tall narrowness about it—a steep pitched roof with peaks pointing heavenward. The dark windows were covered with heavy closed curtains, concealing all evidence of who lived there.
“This is creepy,” Reggie said. “I’ll wait here.”
I lifted the latch and pushed the front gate forward. It squeaked loudly and wavered back and forth from its open position. Indeed, it was creepy, and I must now confess that I hadn’t actually ever knocked on Brother Grossenheider’s front door as I had told Brother Baron. I had rattled the gate and yelled, “Is anybody here?” then quickly left.
A few steps placed me halfway up the front walk. I hesitated. A breeze started the gate moving, and it slammed closed.
Suddenly the front door of the house opened, and a raspy voice yelled, “What are you boys doing in my yard?”
I froze on the walkway. I heard Reggie’s feet pound the pavement as he ran away. “Run!” he called from across the street. The daylight reflecting on the broken screen door left darkness behind it, and I could not see the angry man, though I imagined the worst.
“Answer up quick, boy,” the voice continued. “What do you want?”
The broken screen door swung suddenly open and out shot what looked like a six-foot arm, but later I realized was a normal arm pointing a cane at me.
I dropped the envelope and grabbed the top of the gate and heaved my body over it, landing on my knees on the other side. I jumped to my feet and ran down the street until Reggie and I met a block away, breathing heavily.
When we returned to the church with our other envelopes, Brother Baron was not very understanding. “Why didn’t you just tell him who you are and what you were doing?” Brother Baron asked. “He probably thought you were just a couple of kids.”
“We are just a couple of kids.”
“No,” Brother Baron said. “You’re Aaronic Priesthood holders on an errand from the Lord Jesus Christ.” Then he looked seriously into my eyes. Finally, he shook his head and said, “I’ll have the home teachers explain it to Brother Grossenheider.”
The next Sunday in our priesthood lesson, Brother Baron told the story of President Spencer W. Kimball’s father, Andrew Kimball, who was called on a mission to the Indian territory in 1884. The summer of that year, both Elder Kimball and his companion got malaria and lay sick in bed for many weeks. Malaria had caused many missionaries to return home early from their missions. Some even died, so the Church sent word to Andrew Kimball that he and his companion could return home, which his companion did. But Elder Kimball sent this message back to Salt Lake: “I have the priesthood with me. I will get well and prefer to stay.” And he did stay for two more years.
“You see,” Brother Baron said, “the priesthood is a great, great privilege. It’s your enlistment into the army of God. And when you are given an assignment, I think the Lord watches as much to see how hard you try as He does to see whether you succeed or fail.”
After church I grabbed Reggie and said, “I’m going back to Brother Grossenheider’s to get the fast offering envelope, and you’re coming with me.”
“No way,” Reggie said. He argued all the way down Main Street until we stopped next to the gate. We stood to the side of the gate, behind the overgrown bushes, unseen by the silent house.
“The Lord gave us an errand,” I said. “Now let’s finish it.”
“It was your errand to start with, not mine.”
“Well, we’re both deacons. We both have the priesthood, and I need your help. Brother Baron made you my official companion.” I reached for the gate latch.
“Hold on a minute,” Reggie said.
“What?” I said, actually relieved to postpone our entry.
Reggie exhaled a great breath and looked around the vacant street. “We could call him on the phone from my house,” he said and looked at me with a fresh smile.
I nodded. “But then we’d still have to come and get the envelope.”
We looked at the raggedy house through the equally raggedy bushes.
“Let’s just do it,” I said.
“Well, what’s the plan?” Reggie asked. “Walk up to the door and ask him for it?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “I guess so. It’s like Nephi going to get the brass plates from Laban. We’ll just have to let the way open up once we get there.”
“Oh, brother. That won’t work for us. We’re just kids. Nephi was a prophet.”
“We’re deacons. And besides, Nephi was a kid, remember?”
“Yeah, but a ‘large in stature’ kid.”
“Come on. Are you a Laman or a Nephi?”
“That’s not a fair question. I’m kind of a Nephi-in-the-making, you know, but I’m not quite there yet. And besides,” he mimicked me, “Nephi went alone, remember?”
“Well, I’m not going up there alone. You’re coming with me. Now, let’s go.”
I grabbed the gate latch and Reggie’s arm at the same time.
“All right,” Reggie said, still resisting me as the gate swung open and I pulled him through. “But if he’s passed out like Laban was, no way are we going to …”
“Shhh,” I said.
We slowly moved up the narrow walk to the porch steps and stopped, looking at the shabby house.
“Boy, does this place need paint,” I said.
“And a weed whacker,” Reggie said.
As we carefully proceeded up the steps, the top step flexed and creaked louder than a doorbell when we put our weight on it, announcing our presence.
“You boys!” a voice suddenly said from behind us. As we turned, Reggie slipped, sitting on the top step and bouncing his way to the bottom.
Brother Grossenheider was sitting in a lawn chair in the shade of the overgrown mulberry tree near the front gate. The bushes and weeds had kept him out of our sight. He had been there the whole time, even as we had been talking.
Reggie stood quickly and rubbed the back of his pants.
“H-hello, sir,” I said from the top step.
The old man reached into the big pocket of his faded overalls, and Reggie motioned to the gate to run for it, but Brother Grossenheider pulled from his pocket the blue fast offering envelope. “You looking for this?” he asked.
He was a very old man. His cane leaned against his chair. The top of his head was bald, the sides covered with thin gray hair. Small wire-frame glasses rested on the end of a large hooked nose. With his chin down, he watched us over the tops of the glasses but beneath the bottoms of his bushy white eyebrows.
“I found this on my walkway,” Brother Grossenheider said and shook the envelope at us as if it were evidence of our guilt.
“Y-yes, sir,” I said nervously and came down the steps next to Reggie. “We, uh, left it for you last week, and, uh, we’ve come to—to get it back.”
“So you’re deacons, are you? From the Church? Why didn’t you say so last week?”
I looked at Reggie, and we smiled sheepishly together, and I asked, “You didn’t hear us talking outside the gate, did you?”
He nodded slightly and looked at the envelope.
“We didn’t mean that you are like Laban, Brother Grossenheider. It’s just that …” I shrugged my shoulders.
“I remember that story of Nephi,” Brother Grossenheider said in his raspy old voice. “I was a deacon once, you know. But I was 16 or 17 years old. I didn’t know they sent young bucks like yourselves to do this kind of work.” He squinted at the sky. “I haven’t been to church in 60 years. But I remember doing fast offerings a few times when I was a deacon.”
He paused. “I’d forgotten all about that.” He turned the envelope over and over in his hands and examined it. “That used to be an important job, fast offerings. The bishop took us around in a wagon, and we loaded that wagon with eggs and tomatoes and carrots and meat, sometimes a chicken or two. And we drove right over to the people who needed it and gave it to them. They surely were glad to get it. Nineteen thirty-six, it was. Lots of people out of work. The Depression, you know.”
He looked keenly at us over his glasses. “No, I guess you don’t. But it was an important job back then. I suspect there’s still people in need, eh.” He looked at us sharply. “You boys look mighty young to be doing important business like this.”
We didn’t answer.
He shook the envelope at us again. “Can’t fit a chicken in here. How does this work?”
Reggie and I exchanged glances. “You just put some money in it,” I said and shrugged again. “Whatever you can afford.”
“Yep,” Reggie said and put his hands in his pockets. “And then the bishop takes care of it from there.”
The old man nodded and thought for a moment. “So I’m Laban, eh?” he said and squinted his eyes at us.
We looked at the ground, embarrassed, and adjusted our feet.
He took a dollar bill from his pocket. “I don’t have much,” he said and slid the dollar into the envelope. Then he stood and slowly walked to us with the envelope, his cane supporting his left side.
“You’ll be back next month?” Brother Grossenheider asked, handing me the envelope.
“Yes, sir, we will,” I said.
He worked his way up the porch steps with his cane, groaning as his legs lifted his body to each level. At the top he turned around and paused as his hard breathing settled to a quieter mode. “You boys close that gate when you leave, will you?”
“Yes, sir,” I said, and we did.
When we got to the street, Reggie said, “You know, I was thinking how the quorum needs a service project. Maybe next month we could ask Brother Grossenheider about helping with his yard. What do you think?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Let’s go tell Brother Baron.” I turned and ran. “Last one there is a rotten egg!”