“End-of-the-Month Bonus Deal,” New Era, May 1996, 38
“Kyle, have you and Brother Wellman visited Christy Hudson and the Longs this month?” Dad asked at the breakfast table as I waited for Mom’s french toast.
“Huh?” I mumbled, not sure what home teaching had to do with getting ready for school.
“Today’s Tuesday, son. Thursday’s the 31st.”
“Brother Wellman doesn’t start worrying till the 29th,” I attempted to joke as Mom set a stack of french toast on the table.
“Steve Wellman’s out of town,” Dad commented. “His wife told me yesterday that he wouldn’t be back till Saturday afternoon.”
I shrugged as I poured syrup over my french toast. “It won’t be the first time we’ve missed. Sara, will you please pass the milk down this way?”
“Just because he’s out of town doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do something, Kyle.”
I looked up, still chewing. “What am I supposed to do?” I questioned, a bit shocked. “He’s the elder. I’m just the kid. I set up the appointments, tag along, and sometimes say the prayer. Nobody expects anything from me.”
Dad was hurrying to get to work, but I sensed a sermon simmering as he shifted in his chair and set his fork down. I regretted being so flippant because I didn’t have time for a lecture. Dad can be a bit hyper when it comes to things like home teaching. I figured it was because he was on the high council and everybody expected him to get excited about church stuff. I didn’t have anything against home teaching. I’d gone since I was 13. But, of course, I didn’t get all agitated over it the way Dad did, either.
“Kyle,” Dad continued, “as a priest you have as much responsibility to watch after your two families as Steve Wellman.”
“Me?” I gave a short, quick laugh. “The bishop’s not going to call me.”
“When you were ordained a priest, you didn’t make your commitments to the bishop or to Steve Wellman or to your home teaching families. The Lord called you. He’s the one that expects you to take care of your obligations, regardless of what Brother Wellman does.”
I smiled, wanting to make my point without dragging out Dad’s morning sermon. “I’m 17, just a kid, and I can tell you no one expects me to make any home teaching visits by myself. When’s the last time anybody called to check if I had done my home teaching? Never. And nobody’s going to check with me this month.”
Dad nodded pensively. “Yesterday when you took the car, you didn’t tell me you were just a kid. In fact, I got the impression you thought you were pretty mature and responsible.”
“Dad, that’s different. I’ve always taken care of the car. You should see how other kids treat their dads’ cars.” The last thing I needed was Dad to get all worked up and put restrictions on my use of the car.
“Actually, Kyle, you’re not all that young in the Lord’s eyes.”
“But, Dad …”
“Kyle, when the Lord has something for you to do, he doesn’t ask how old you are, just if you’re willing.” He picked up his fork so I figured the biggest part of the sermon was over. “Kyle,” he added, “if you need someone to go home teaching with you, I’m available.”
It won’t come as a shock to anybody that I didn’t rush to the phone and call Howard Long and Christy Hudson. I had other things on my mind, and working myself into a sweat over home teaching wasn’t one of them.
The school was right in the middle of student body elections. My best friend, Joel Manning, and I had volunteered to work as campaign managers for Jill Langston, who was running for president. That’s where my concentration was at the end of May, but I’ll have to admit that I was plagued some by Dad’s challenge to me. At different times during the day, I found myself thinking about the Longs and Christy Hudson.
Howard Long was a World War II vet, and he wasn’t in the best of health. Of course, he and his wife, Stella, managed all right. They were pretty independent and really active in the Church. They didn’t need much more than a short home teaching visit to keep their spirits up.
Christy Hudson was different. She was in her 30s and had been divorced ever since moving into the ward with her three children two years ago. She was an assistant manager at a convenience store, but was taking college night classes. She was having a bit of a tough time, but there wasn’t much a couple of home teachers could do, I reasoned.
While walking home from school that Tuesday afternoon, I was mulling over in my mind how to out-campaign Tony Toronto, Jill’s opponent. I was piecing together terse, catchy campaign slogans when I spotted Howard Long a half-block down the street. He was on his front lawn, trying to start his mower. My first inclination was to move to the opposite side of the street and pass by as inconspicuously as possible.
Just as I started across the street, Sister Long opened the front door and called out, “Howard, just leave it alone.” There was genuine worry in her voice. “Get one of the neighbors to give you a hand. You’re going to have a heart attack if you’re not careful.”
“It’s always hard to start,” Brother Long huffed.
Generally I was on the shy side, especially around adults. But for some reason I cut back to the sidewalk running past the Longs’ front yard. “Hi, Brother Long,” I called out awkwardly. He looked in my direction, nodded and smiled. “Could you use a hand?”
Howard took a breath and shook his head. “Oh, I think I can get it, Kyle. But I appreciate your asking. I just …”
“Howard,” Sister Long cut him short, stepping out the door and onto the front step. “Don’t be so bullheaded. Let the boy help you.”
Brother Long glanced over his shoulder toward his wife and then looked back at me, winking. “Well, if you don’t mind,” he conceded, stepping back. “I better not rile the boss. I wanted to get the lawn mowed before the garbage truck comes tomorrow.”
I didn’t say anything. I just grabbed the pull rope and worked on starting the motor. It wasn’t long before I was wiping at my brow with the back of my hand. “Doesn’t look like it’s going to start, Brother Long,” I concluded.
“It was getting a little sluggish last fall,” he admitted. I could see the worry in his eyes.
“Look, my friend Joel Manning knows a bunch about engines,” I offered. “If it takes gas, he can fix it. I’ll give him a call.”
“Oh, we don’t need to bother you anymore,” Sister Long said. “You’ve got plenty to do without worrying about us. We’ll make out.”
“It’s no problem. Can I use your phone?” I asked, moving toward the house.
A moment later I jabbered into the phone. “I need your help, Joel, old buddy. I told the Longs you could fix anything that guzzles gas.”
“Get over here. Their lawn mower’s dead and I’ve been bragging about you so long and hard that they insist you come over or they’ll call me a liar.”
“That sounds like your problem.”
“Come on, Joel. You’ll be helping me make my home teaching visit,” I joked.
Fifteen minutes later Joel and I were hunched over the mower. Joel figured out the problem right away: a loose spark plug connection. He was magic. It wasn’t long before that mower was just humming. The Longs didn’t have a huge yard so while Joel mowed, I grabbed a leaf rake and cleaned up the dead grass. There were also some leaves and branches in the backyard, so we hauled those out to the curb for the garbage truck to pick up the following morning.
It was pushing 6:30 when we finally finished, and both Brother and Sister Long were shaking their heads and apologizing for taking our whole afternoon. “I just didn’t know how Howard was going to get all of this done,” Sister Long commented in amazement.
Brother Long pulled out his wallet and started digging for a few dollar bills. “How much do I owe you?” he asked.
Joel turned to me with a quizzical expression and asked seriously, “Does your bishop let you take money for home teaching? Mine doesn’t.” He winked and grinned.
I coughed and shook my head, trying to appear serious myself. “I don’t think we accept pay for home teaching unless we get it done the first part of the month. Maybe next time.”
Turning to Brother Long, Joel said, “I guess you got the famous end-of-the-month home teaching bonus package. It’s a special deal for families that have to wait to the end of the month for the home teachers to show up,” he joked. “I figure that Kyle’s families probably qualify for this bonus package every month.”
I felt good leaving the Longs’ place that afternoon, but I didn’t think any more about further home teaching. After all, it wasn’t something that preyed on my mind often. I had lots of other things to worry about.
Thursday evening Joel and I were going over to Jill’s place with a bunch of other kids to make campaign banners. Joel picked me up and we were talking campaign strategy when we zipped past Christy Hudson’s small house. When I saw her little red car in the driveway I recalled Dad’s home teaching challenge.
“Hey, Joel. Want to play home teacher again?”
“Home teaching! It’s the 31st today. I’d be embarrassed to go home teaching on the last day of the month. Besides, we have a …”
“It’ll just take a second. I could use a story from seminary for the lesson.”
“Who do you home teach?”
“This lady in my ward and her three kids. We’ll be in and out of there in ten minutes and I’ll have 100 percent home teaching. It will shock my dad right out of his mind. He won’t believe I actually did my home teaching on my own.”
“On your own? I’m the one that’s done it for you.”
A moment later we were knocking on Sister Hudson’s door. As soon as I knocked I wished Joel had talked me out of coming. I could hear a kid bawling and a couple of others talking really loud. Then I heard Sister Hudson telling everybody to quiet down. When she came to the door, I could tell she was embarrassed. I felt horribly awkward.
“Hi there,” I stammered. “I know it’s a bit late but we haven’t done our home teaching for the month so I was wondering if we could come in for a second and give you a short message.” Even while I was saying it, I knew how dumb and empty it must have sounded to her.
“Well, I was just …” She cast a quick glance over her shoulder at two of her children wrestling on the floor and then heaving a defeated sigh, stepped aside, and motioned with her hand for us to come inside. It wasn’t exactly a warm welcome, but what could I expect on May 31st?
The place was a bit of a mess—not dirty, just disorderly. Sister Hudson swept toys off the sofa and asked us to sit down while she gathered her kids.
“Sorry for coming so late this month,” I remarked haltingly. I know you’re busy so we won’t take long. Is everything okay?”
“Sure.” She looked about her chaotic living room. “Everything’s fine.”
There was a strained silence. “Do you need anything?” I ventured, not really thinking about what I was asking. I was just making talk to ward off the silence.
After a long pause, Sister Hudson commented plaintively, “I was going to register for a night class, but they close in a few minutes and my baby-sitter fell through.”
“Shoot, we can watch your kids,” Joel said.
She looked up, genuinely surprised.
“Sure,” I added, “we’ve watched kids before. That’s what home teachers are for.”
Sister Hudson shook her head. “I couldn’t ask you to do that.”
“You don’t have to. We just offered. It’s part of our end-of-the-month home teaching bonus deal. You know, if we don’t get here before the first of the month, then we throw in a little extra service. It’s a special home teaching incentive plan.”
“But you two have things to do and …”
I began taking Jenny, the three-year-old, from Sister Hudson’s arms. “I’ve got a little sister about Jenny’s age. I know what to do. Now you better hurry before the place closes.”
Five minutes later Joel and I were alone with the kids. “Hey, what do you say we straighten this place up,” Joel said to the two boys, Blake and Tyler. “We’ll really shock your mom if the place is clean when she gets back.”
All of us pitched in and did a quick clean up, and the kids didn’t seem to mind. We even washed the dishes in the sink.
Sister Hudson took a little longer than any of us had anticipated, but Joel and I did fine. We were playing a board game with the children when Sister Hudson burst through the front door, gasping embarrassed apologies. “I had no idea it would take this long. I tried to get here as …”
“You should have stayed longer, Mom,” Blake groaned. “We’re just getting into our game.”
Sister Hudson reached for her purse. “I want to pay you for this. I know you had other things to do.”
Joel and I laughed as we walked toward the door, ruffling the kids’ hair as we went. “Home teachers don’t get paid. Especially the last day of the month. Like I said before, this is a special home teaching bonus deal.”
I felt good as Joel and I walked to the car. I was glad we had stopped. Just then the front door opened and Sister Hudson came charging out of the house with a five-dollar bill in her hand. “You’ve got to take this. I didn’t realize you’d cleaned the house.”
I smiled and held up my hands. “It’s all part of the end-of-the-month home teaching package. You ought to see what we do when we come at the first of the month.”
“You sure are lucky you’ve got such a good back-up home teaching companion,” Joel said with a wry grin as he got in the car. “I expect you to include me in your report to your bishop.”
The rest of the week was a buzz of activity. I aced my biology test, and Jill Langston won the election by seven votes. I stayed up late for the election dance, and Saturday night I worked until midnight on my research paper. By Sunday morning it was all I could do to keep my eyes open in fast and testimony meeting. I was leaning my head on the bench in front of me when somebody started talking about Brother Davidson. People were always talking about my dad. The woman was explaining how Brother Davidson was an answer to her prayer when he had gone over and helped start their mower and cleaned …
Suddenly I straightened up. Sister Long was speaking. And crying. And she wasn’t even talking about Dad. Nobody had ever called me Brother Davidson. I was just Kyle, Frank Davidson’s kid. And as far as I knew, I had never been an answer to anyone’s prayer.
A few moments later Christy Hudson was at the pulpit, dabbing at her eyes and fighting back tears. “I felt so alone,” she explained, “like no one cared and there was no one to turn to. I was angry with the Lord, the bishop, and everyone else for leaving me stranded. Then Brother Kyle Davidson, my home teacher, showed up with his friend Joel. They were like two angels. Nothing has seemed quite so dark and dismal since Thursday evening. I couldn’t ask for a better home teacher.”
My hand went to my eyes and I felt the lump in my throat. Dad reached over and squeezed my shoulder, and I knew he understood what I was feeling.
Thirty minutes later as I was leaving the chapel, someone called my name. I turned to face Steve Wellman. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there with you, Kyle,” he said quietly. “Sounds like I have a lot to learn. Let’s go early this month. I’ll make the appointments. You just tell me when.”
I looked over at Dad, and for the first time in my life I understood why Dad got all choked up and hyper about home teaching. It was then that I discovered that my home teaching families were not the only ones who had received the home teaching bonus deal.