From the Relief Society Magazine, 1938-39:
Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd
By Dorothy Clapp Robinson
“You might as well save your breath. I’m not going.”
I looked up at the rudely defiant girl and caught my words before they were spoken. What a change had come over her. Head up, eyes flashing, cheeks rouged by the intensity of her feelings, she became, on the instant, strikingly attractive. I could hardly believe that a moment before she had been a rather listless, ordinary looking girl. I had always suspected she was capable of a wealth of emotion but why, oh, why, was she so apologetic among people?
“That’s the way she is,” her harassed mother spoke bitterly. “She is always complaining of being without friends and of not being wanted but she won’t try to get acquainted. When anyone asks her to go with them she won’t.”
Mrs. Richards was a widow who had her own living to make and Salle, her only daughter, instead of being a help was fast becoming a problem. That was why the mother had spoken to us about her.
“It’s too bad she can’t fit in with the Mutual crowd,” Rhoda Blomquist, my second counselor, said tactlessly. “My girls have a grand time.”
Salle condescended to cover us with a withering glance.
“Why shouldn’t they? Mutuals are for their kind. They have clothes and position and backing. They live in the right part of town. I don’t, and I am not going where people remind me of it.”
“If she would stay away from that awful Mrs. Grow,” the mother began, but Salle turned to her.
“Don’t you say a word about her.” Then to us, “Of course, women like you would know all about it.” Head high she swept abruptly from the room, banging the door behind her.
Again I caught my breath. This time on a vision of understanding. The girl was being hurt by something and how else could she hide her bruised feeling except behind a wall? Walls could hide many things. How well I knew. then I heard Mary Grosbeck, my first counselor, ask, “Doesn’t she go out at all?”
“Oh, yes.” for a moment the mother struggled with her emotions. “She is running with Nedra Williams and that Mrs. Grow. You heard how she defended her a moment ago.”
At the mention of that woman’s name I felt my face go scarlet. I rose hastily.
“I think we had better go.” I did not like this semi-public discussion of a problem that needed so much tact. True, we were the Relief society presidency, but that meant less than nothing to Salle. Likely she would never forgive her mother for telling us about her. To Mrs. Richards I added, “I would say as little as possible about it to avoid antagonizing her. But any time you think I can help, don’t hesitate to ask me. I’ll talk to the Mutual people. They might be able to get her interested.”
When we were on the sidewalk Rhoda Blomquist said, “If you ask me, I think all that is wrong with Salle is the knowledge that Kent Evans will be home from his mission soon and find she isn’t the girl she once was.”
“That was a very unkind thing to say,” Mary rebuked her sharply, and my heart warmed with her defense. “Salle is a girl of great possibilities but very proud and sensitive; but she is being warped emotionally by circumstances. Your girl or mine might do worse.”
When six weeks before our Bishop had asked me to be President of our Relief society, my first reaction was one of incredulity. I, Dona Maylord, president of such an organization? In comparison with some other women who might have been asked I was almost an infant in experience and age. The more I thought of it the more incapable I felt, but with that ran a bright thread of joy that he had considered me worthy to be asked. I would love the work. I had had some training in sociology and loved to work with people, especially under-privileged ones.
“I am choosing you because you assume responsibility understandingly,” Bishop had said to me. “I have always thought our Relief society could do more progressive work. You have vision to see and courage to materialize your vision. The work is waiting for you.”
That was a big order; but if I did not have those qualities, I had one other that would help me through. It was, Tim often said teasingly, that I did not know enough to give up after I had tackled a problem.
This day we were visiting the ward in preparation for the opening of the season’s work. I felt that to do good work I must know the personnel of the ward as they were in their own homes. Only then would I be able to see their problems as they saw them.
At the second stop from the Richards home was found ourselves facing a small dilapidated house with broken screens and windows and a littered dirt yard. When the door opened to our knock we had to step over an accumulation of toys, old shoes, dirty clothes and dirtier babies to get inside. With suds-soaked hands our hostess cleared three chairs of doubtful dependability, at the same time talking rapidly.
“Sit down, all of you. Don’t be afraid of the chairs. I’ll sit here on this old couch. You’ll have to excuse this mess but you know how it is when a buddy has so many babies and nothing to do with. The flies are nearly to run us out. I have been wanting to have the screens fixed all summer but the Husband don’t get time to do nothing around home. Seems like it is more than a buddy can do to keep things straight. I tell the children they ought to be ashamed to live like this. My mother never allowed us to strew up her sitting room this way, but I guess poor people have poor ways and it seems like we will never get on our feet.”
Poor ways. Poor mother. through an open door I could see into a bedroom. The bedding was ragged and inexpressibly dirty. From the kitchen came the smell of cold suds mingling with and making more unbearable the acrid odor of long-unventilated rooms. A wave of discouragement engulfed me. Why must there be so much misery in the world? Why must people be forced to build walls and live less than humans?
“Are you washing, Mrs. Holman?” Rhoda Blomquist asked. “If you are, we had better go on and not hinder you.”
I knew she was anxious to get out into the open air, but Mrs. Holman answered quickly, “Oh, you are not bothering me. I have been washing for two days and if I don’t get it done today I can tomorrow. My land, I just love to have Relief Society teachers. They are the only women that ever come near me. Seems like – Susie, behave yourself. I’ll declare, my children don’t show no raising a-tall. The Husband’s mother is all the time telling me how rude they are, breaking things up. O’ course we don’t have much furniture but I do have a piano but it is out to her place.”
“And they won’t let me play it,” a dark-haired girl spoke from a corner where she had been listening.
Here was an opening and I seized it eagerly. “Would you like to play?”
“Uh-huh,” the child’s soiled face lighted with the flame of desire. “I’d love to. I can pick out tunes when they let me.”
It seemed almost fate that gave me such a chance. I am a musician and have a group of students. Nothing would give me more delight than developing this waif – and who knows but it might lead to a way of helping the family.
“If your mother doesn’t mind, come to my place tomorrow at ten o’clock. I will see what we can do about giving you lessons.”
It was hard to tell whose face expressed the most eagerness, mother’s or child’s.
“Oh, she’s smart,” pride softened the strident tones. “My children are all smart. I wish I could do better by them.”
Looking into their eyes I could well believe they were “smart.” As a group they would average high in intelligence. What a crime it would be to have it wasted or perverted.
“Haven’t you a washer?” practical, methodical Mrs. Blomquist was plainly worried about the unfinished state of the washing.
“Yes, she’s got one,” a small boy answered. “But it is out in the back yard and Dad is too lazy to bring it in.”
“Don’t you speak that way about your father, young man.”
“Will too,” the youngster began, but the dark-haired girl pounced on him with a shrill, “You hush,” and he subsided momentarily. her influence was a fact to store away for future reference.
Mrs. Blomquist had risen and Mary looked as if she would like to also, but our work here was not finished. I had been watching th children.
“Would you like me to tell you a story?”
“I’ll tell you about a poor lost sheep.”
“I saw a sheep out to the fair,” four-year-old Susie managed to take her thumb form her mouth long enough to voice the startling fact.
“Don’t like stories of sheep,” the boy declared, and emphasized his dislike by pushing over a chair. It was in the last stage of decrepitude and broke hopelessly.
“Jerold Holman, see what you have done to the poor chair. You go in the kitchen right now.”
“Won’t do it. I’ll break another one.” when he looked about for one, the mother roused from her inertia and tried to take him from the room. He was too much for her but Jeanie rushed to her assistance and soon they had him behind the closed kitchen door. an instant later he appeared at the front screen.
Ignoring the commotion I began telling them the immortal story of the Lost Sheep. I put all I had into it. When I finished there were deep sighs of satisfaction from the children.
“That was our lesson,” I told Mrs. Holman. Then to the children, “When the teachers come again they will tell you another story. Like those you hear in Sunday School.”
“We don’t go to Sunday School.”
“Well,” the mother defended herself, “the Husband won’t let me send them unless they look just right, and how can I keep clothes on their backs without money?”
How could she, indeed. How could anyone? It was hard enough to keep up a home when one had a modest salary to use. This woman had six babies and no certain income. Only a strong woman could handle such a problem.
We had hardly reached the sidewalk when Rhoda expelled her breath with gusto and then drew her lungs full of afternoon air that was so clean and fresh.
“What a relief.”
“Wasn’t it pitiful?” Mary asked. “But you can’t blame Mr. Holman too much for staying away from home the way he does.”
No, I thought, one couldn’t blame him too much. Each was seeking release in the way they knew. They were children of the ward and would have to be helped to a solution.
Our next hostess made no effort to express an opinion or ask a question. She listened quietly until we asked her to come to Relief Society and then the words fairly tumbled over each other in her eagerness.
“No. I am not going to that meeting again. I went a number of times when we first moved here, and I might as well have been to a meeting of South Sea Islanders. If I have to be alone, I’ll stay home for it.”
“The first thing we will do, tomorrow,” I said, when we were back on the sidewalk, “is organize a committee to welcome the women – especially the strangers.”
“Some people need so much attention.”
“Perhaps you have never had the experience she spoke of. I have, and it wasn’t pleasant.”
“We’d better go in here.”
I had been walking with my thoughts on the problems when Mary spoke. I looked up quickly at the house indicated.
No, no!” I cried involuntarily. “I couldn’t go into that house. I just couldn’t.”
“Why, what is the matter with you?” Mary demanded. “She belongs to the ward no matter what people say of her.”
“And they say plenty,” Rhoda added.
By that time I had control of myself. My personal likes or worries had no place in this work I had assumed. Besides there was no reason why I should dislike Mrs. Grow. Tim laughed and joked with many who came into his store.
As we turned toward the house we met Mr. Holman coming out. But there was no answer to our knock.
The next three places we visited were like refreshing rain after a drought. Clean, well-ordered homes; smiling hostesses who received us gladly and from their own experience enriched us. Such women, I knew, were the salt of the organization and I gave silent thanks that they were in the majority.
Our last visit that day, while not far in distance, was far removed in appearance and atmosphere from the rest of the district. We were admitted by a maid and led to a small music room where we waited. When the hostess came, a vision of loveliness, she greeted us laughingly.
“How lovely to see you. Dona, don’t tell me you have decided to work with me! You know I strayed from the fold long ago.”
I watched her closely as she spoke. She was beautiful. Too beautiful, almost, to be true. But her eyes were too bright and there was a metallic ring in her voice that had not been there when I had last seen her.
“Our lesson today is the parable of the Lost Sheep. it might point a way back.”
“I am very happy where I am, thank you. But I will gladly listen to your message.”
“We are not district teachers this time, Mrs. Holsinger. Mrs. Maylord is our new president and we are her counselors.”
“How splendid. I always expected such things of you, Dona.” This time there was a genuineness in her voice that had been lacking before. “We have come a long way since high school days, haven’t we? You have worked so hard, and I have had such fun.”
Yes. We had each gone a long way since we had been pals in school, and I suspected Gloria Holsinger’s way had not been too satisfying.
“I shall probably call on your for help, Gloria.” Again she laughed. “You’d lose your position if you did. Imagine me in Relief Society. But I really would enjoy your lesson.”
She made a gesture of settling herself comfortably, but I knew her too well to be deceived. There was a controlled nervousness about her that set me thinking. When the lesson was finished I said,
“Sing for us, will you? I’ll play for you. It will be like old times.” I went to her beautiful piano and struck the opening chord of “Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd.” Without a word Gloria came to stand by me, and the way she sang that beautiful old hymn brought peace to my heart for the first time that day. The thought came suddenly to me, “Why not use her as chorister?” What poise and what vision she could bring to our organization with her music if she only would. Mentally, I made a note of speaking to my counselors and the Bishop this very night.
Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd were all these blindly wandering sheep. God grant me the power to point out to them the vision of returning paths.