by Laura Hilton Craner
When they asked for a volunteer to drive the McCumber children on the Primary temple trip, Sister Miller didn’t notice hers was the only hand to go up. She hadn’t had a Primary calling or a Primary-aged child for years, but something had moved her, so she volunteered.
The Primary president sounded breathlessly surprised when she confirmed that yes, Sister Miller had actually volunteered and that this wasn’t a joke. “They don’t come to Church very often but they were there on Sunday,” she said, “and all five said they wanted to come. The youngest, Devon, is still in a booster seat but the rest, well. They won’t…um, they won’t be any trouble.” Her voice went strangely high on the word “any” and seemed to choke a little on the word “trouble.”
That Saturday morning Sister Miller woke up at 6:35 am, read her scriptures, showered and got dressed, and made sure to put on her best broach. Every trip to the temple was special.
She got in the car at 8:45 am and prayed that she would be able to drive safely and that the hearts of the McCumber children would be touched. With a whispered, “Amen,” she was off.
The McCumber children came spilling out the doorway before Sister Miller even put the car in park. She had thought there were only five of them but the way they were running around the yard made it hard to count.
The oldest—or at least the largest—a boy, sat in the front seat. “I’m only eleven,” he blurted out, “But I’m as big as a twelve year old so I can sit up here. My mom always says it’s okay.” Sister Miller thought she could smell Pepsi on his breath.
He scootched closer as a girl, almost his height but not quite, slid in next to him. “Ugh,” she said. “Matthew, you always think you get the front seat but you’re just barely eleven. I’ll be twelve next week.”
Sister Miller was going to ask about the booster seat when she glanced in her rearview mirror and saw four kids—no, three kids and a large neon yellow stuffed rabbit—squished in the back. The booster seat was in the middle and was occupied by the rabbit.
Matthew and the girl seated next to him saw it at the same time. They both turned around and started yelling. Their words were unintelligible to Sister Miller but they must have made sense because the younger ones (Sister Miller guessed they were eight, six, and maybe three years old—all boys) immediately scrambled and in minutes the smallest was in the booster seat with the stuffed rabbit belted onto his lap.
With a prayer in her heart, Sister Miller set off. Matthew and the girl fiddled with the radio, stopping on the loudest stations and arguing about every song. The younger ones whispered back and forth, occasionally poking each other. They had just reached the first stop light when a boy on one side of the booster seat asked a question, “Old lady? What’s a temple?”
Sister Miller decided to ignore the “old lady” and smiled beneficently. She knew this was one of those teaching moments that could plant a seed in a child’s heart. But before she could utter a word the boy on the other side answered, “God’s house. Duh. Where else do you think he’s gonna live? The Motel 6?”
All the kids laughed so loudly they couldn’t hear Sister Miller trying to answer. She began to think that maybe it was a good thing the ride only took about ten minutes. She could answer him when they got to the temple.
She turned left and was about to point out the spire on the temple rising just a few blocks away when another question came from behind, “Old lady? You ever been on a snipe hunt?” Without even pausing for an answer the child began to talk so fast Sister Miller could hardly catch a word, “Snipes-is-these-giant-black-birds-and-they-eat-kids-especially-the-ones-who-like-to-sleep-outside-so-you-should-never-sleep-outside-because-they-could-kill-you-faster-than-a-bear-or-a-mountain-lion-or-a-ninja-or-a-zombie-and-they’re-big-and-ugly-and-my-cousins-told-me-they-saw-one-once-when-they-were-in-Idaho-and-that-people-in-Idaho-give-their-babies-to-the-snipes-once-a-year-and-if-you-don’t-they-leave-you-in-the-forest-to-die-so-that’s-why-you-gotta-hunt-’em-but-only-at-night.”
This was punctuated by a screech of sacrilegious proportions uttered by the littlest one in the booster seat and probably instigated by the brother who hadn’t been talking but was now suspiciously gazing all-too-virtuously out the window. Sister Miller wasn’t sure how to calm the youngest since the neon yellow bunny almost completely hid him.
Just as his wailing, and Sister Miller’s racing mind, reached a fever pitch an acrid stench filled the car. All the children started gagging and pointing fingers.
“Michael! What did you eat for breakfast?” came from the front seat.
“It wasn’t me! The smeller’s the feller, Emmeline!” was the retort.
“I’m gonna barf,” came another voice from the back seat. “That smells like cow—!”
Sister Miller’s jaw dropped and through her burning ears she focused on the sound of her own voice singing, “Let us oft speak kind words to each other. . . .” Just as they pulled through the temple gates a chorus of voices called out, “I’m telling, Mom!!” and “Jeez, Andrew!” and “You said a potty word! You said a potty word!” and “Why you gonna tell Mom? She says that all the time!”
Sister Miller wasn’t sure who said what because she was quite distracted by the sound of the youngest who, no longer crying, was jubilantly singing his own song— a simple song made up of only one word. One incredibly inappropriate, Holy-Ghost-offending word.
She parked the car and all the kids tumbled out just as fast as they had climbed in, paying no heed to the temple landscaping—except for the preschooler who reached sticky hands out from behind the bunny.
As Sister Miller lifted him and the bunny out of the car, he leaned in close and whispered in her ear, “Thanks, Old Lady.” Then, pointing at the temple and nuzzling his rabbit into her neck he added, “Jesus loves you.”