I love the principle of food storage, and I love going to the cannery. (If you have ever seen a Mormon’s food storage supply, you have probably seen the #10 cans that we fill and seal when we volunteer at our local canneries.) I love the spirit that is at the cannery — a spirit of industry, unity, obedience. It’s like a beehive, humming with activity. When I work at the cannery, I feel the joy that comes from both service and self-reliance.
There was one time, though, when I found myself wishing I had stayed home.
We were cruising: 50 cans of orange drink, 140 cans of white wheat, many cans of sugar, 50 cans of red wheat….
“How much wheat are you putting in those cans?” the missionary asked the sister across the table from me. [You know the missionaries you see walking two-by-two in the streets? We have older missionaries (usually couples) who serve in the canneries and elsewhere.]
“Five pounds,” was her reply.
He proceeded to tell her that she wasn’t putting enough in. The chart read 5 pounds, 13 ounces. (How did we all miss that?)
A rush of adrenaline surged through my body as I realized what was happening.
“I only put five pounds in the white wheat cans, too,” I confessed. The worst part of it all was that I was the one who had told the sister across from me how much to load.
“You’re kidding?” was all the shocked sister missionary could manage.
I hoped the others at the table had been smarter than I on the white wheat. No such luck.
Suddenly, there was a flurry of activity outside the room as the missionaries huddled together to figure out what to do. The activity in the canning room nearly came to a halt in the meantime.
To say I was embarrassed is an understatement. I was horrified. I heard talk of remeasuring, refilling, redoing. That would mean discarding nearly 200 cans, lids, and oxygen absorbers. That was not exactly a negligible potential loss, one that I felt was largely on my head.
They got us going on sealing carrots. We joked about making sure we had the right weights this time, but it was hard for me to laugh (or to even smile, for that matter). I was fighting back tears as I scooped the crunchy dehydrated tidbits into cans. For all my detail-orientation and hard work, I’d goofed, and goofed pretty badly. (I don’t really need to emphasize how much I hate to goof, do I?)
The sister missionary could tell I was not doing well. She came and put her arm around me, and told me not to worry. (Not worry? How could I not worry?)
But her kindness and love helped. She bore the burden with me, saying that it was as much their fault as mine. (Yeah, well, how hard is it to read a simple chart? Harumph.)
I stayed late to help clean up. Call it self-imposed penance (even as I knew I couldn’t make up for the lost time, effort, and money that I felt had been lost).
As I threw my plastic apron and hairnet into the garbage, I peered through the glass to see one of the sisters who worked in my group, piling cans onto a large dolly. It only took a second to realize what she was doing.
She was cheerfully purchasing every one of those goofed-up cans.
As I looked at her a bit incredulously, she simply said, “Oh, we have our truck out there and we can load it up and I’m sure our ward [local congregation] members will snatch these up in a hurry. Don’t you worry one bit about it.” (She said it as though purchasing nearly 200 cans of wheat was simply like sweeping up a few spilled kernels.)
Even as I think about it, I’m fighting back tears.
If fallible, imperfect people can show the kind of love and mercy that these people showed, what of the love and mercy of our Savior and Heavenly Father?
I think I am glad I didn’t stay home.