“First Things First,” Friend, Jan. 1993, 8
Becka stood at the kitchen sink, looking through snow-covered pine trees at the sloping meadow beyond. She was dreaming of using her brother’s old skis.
“Honey, when are you going to gather the eggs?” her mother asked. “I’d like to make some custard pies.”
Becka turned from the window with a sigh. “I’ll get them now,” she replied. “I just wish Tim had shoveled the walk before he decided to go somewhere.”
Mother chuckled. “He didn’t just ‘go somewhere.’ He’s helping your father with the snowplow. They’re both out working in this cold right now. That’s more important than clearing a path to the barn, don’t you agree? First things first.”
Becka shrugged and went onto the sun porch. “I suppose,” she mumbled as she rammed her feet into her fur-lined boots and shoved her arms into the sleeves of her jacket. Wrapping a scarf around her neck, she called, “Need anything else while I’m out there?”
“Potatoes and a cabbage,” Mother called back. “I’ll make a pot of ham, cabbage, and potatoes for later.”
With a sigh, Becka grabbed the egg basket and opened the door. Winter greeted her with a blast as she stepped out onto the drift-filled back steps. Grumbling, she struggled through the snow toward the barn. It wouldn’t have taken Tim very long to clear this snow, she thought as clumps of it fell into her boots.
Becka forgot all about Tim and the cold when she saw fresh tracks leading to the back barn door and disappearing inside! She put her boots next to the tracks and saw that they weren’t much bigger than her own. The wind rose and the door swayed slightly.
Quietly Becka stepped over the worn threshold. The farm equipment stood silent guard by the back doors, and everything seemed in order. Not even the straw on the floor seemed disturbed. Still, Becka knew that someone was in the barn with her. She tiptoed forward past the empty stalls. Hearing potatoes rattling in the bin, she quickly ducked into the last stall and peeked cautiously over its side. Someone with his back to her was taking potatoes. Becka counted one, two, three, as they dropped into a burlap bag. Then the intruder turned toward the apples—it was Scott Halligan!
Scott counted out three apples, then moved on to the carrots. He smoothed the dust from one long tender carrot and bit into it. He chewed thoughtfully, then took a handful of carrots and a handful of beets. Finally he stood upright and threw the bag over his shoulder.
Becka couldn’t believe it—Scott Halligan was stealing food from them! She wanted to say something but waited to see what he would do next. When he stooped and crept through the door of the attached chicken coop, she tiptoed forward and pressed an eye to a knothole.
“Sorry, old girl,” Scott said gently, to a chicken, “but Gramps is sick and we need food. He’d kill me if he knew what I was doing, but you understand, don’t you?” He took an egg from a nest. “Two more and I’ll be gone.” Scott wrapped the eggs in a ragged towel and nestled them gently in the burlap bag.
As he turned to leave the chicken coop, Becka flattened herself against the wall and squeezed behind an old butter churn. She watched him leave the barn, then thought about what she’d seen.
She didn’t know Scott very well. All she knew for sure was that his cranky old grandfather had taken him and his little brother to raise after their parents were killed in an automobile accident late in the fall. Scott sometimes wore ragged clothes to school, but they were always clean.
Now she hurried out of the barn and followed his tracks through the snow to the thicket at the edge of the fence. When she heard Scott ahead, she crouched behind the snow-covered branches. Scott was kneeling in the snow, tying the burlap bag to a sled. That done, he pulled it carefully toward the hill that joined their properties. Becka watched him quietly. Scott hadn’t taken much.
Becka hurried back to the house. She clomped inside the sun porch and stood in the doorway of the kitchen.
Mother looked up and smiled. “Did you get the eggs, cabbage, and potatoes, honey?”
Becka shook her head slowly. “No,” she said in a whisper. “I didn’t.”
“Becka? What’s the matter, honey?” Mother stopped stirring, sat down with the bowl on her lap, and called Becka to her.
Becka’s eyes sparkled with tears. “I just saw Scott Halligan stealing food from our barn,” she said quietly. “And I didn’t stop him.”
Mother’s eyes widened. “What?”
“Scott Halligan. I don’t think you know him—he and his little brother live with their grandfather, Mr. Kelly.”
“You mean Seth Kelly, who lives over the hill?”
Becka nodded. “I’ve only seen Scott at school. He’s real quiet there, but I heard him tell our chickens that his grandfather is sick and they need food. I didn’t stop him, Mom. I know stealing is wrong, but we have so much. …”
Mother pulled her close. “You did the right thing, honey. Now the right thing for me to do is to make a phone call.”
“You won’t report him, Mom!” Becka pleaded.
Mother smiled. “I’m calling the Relief Society president. I don’t think finding out that he took food is nearly as important as finding out that they need it. We’ll get a basket of food ready and pay Mr. Kelly a neighborly visit. He’s never wanted to bother with his neighbors, but it’s time for us to bother with him. I don’t think a custard pie would go to waste there, either,” she added.
Becka grinned. “Thanks, Mom! I hoped you’d feel like that. I’ll get those eggs now.”
“Bring extra potatoes and another cabbage, Becka,” Mother called.
Becka waved and hurried back outside. She looked at the snow-clogged path and smiled. “Then I’ll clear this walk,” she said happily. “First things first.”