Dear to the Heart of the Shepherd
By Dorothy Clapp Robinson
The telephone jangled impatiently. With a sigh of dismay I wiped my hands and went to answer it.
“It will be Nedra again – or Mrs. Richards,” I thought. Less than an hour ago both of them had called. Nedra had been emphatic. “Salle Richards and Don Grow have gone away together and they are up to something. When I asked to go along they put me off. Probably they have gone to get married. If you ask me, there is something fishy about that Grow place lately. Salle is the only person they will let in beside your husband. I’d keep my wits about me if I were you.”
“What has all this to do with me?” I had asked her, hoping I sounded impersonal. It did dampen her ardour.
“Well,” she finished lamely, “since you are the Relief Society president and a good friend of hers, I thought you would be interested.”
Mrs. Richards had wept. “Someone must stop her. I can’t have her going away with the boy. She likes you and would listen to you.”
Perhaps. I had my doubts that she would listen to anyone. And she was already gone no one knew where. I told her if she found out anything to call me back. But this call was neither of them.
The bell pealed again as I lifted the receiver to my ear. To my “Yes?” a small voice came over the wire.
“Hello? Are you the woman that gives food to the poor people?”
“Yes, I am the Relief Society president.”
“Well, Papa says to tell you the little kids are yelling their heads off for their supper and Papa says to come right away.”
“But it isn’t supper time yet.”
“I know it, but papa says to call you early ‘cause it takes these women so long.”
“Who are you and where do you live?”
“Albert who? What is your last name and where do you live?”
“We don’t live no place. We keep on the move ‘cause it’s easier. We’re at the White Daisy now – second cabin from the end. Be sure and hurry. Goodbye.”
He hung the receiver with such emphasis I shuddered as the sound of it struck my ear. I turned slowly back to my work. In the kitchen my prune conserve stared accusingly at me. It had been in the process of making for two days. then there were two music lessons at four. I just couldn’t leave now.
Transients. Already in my brief term of office, such requests had grown familiar. Probably traveling from town to town on the bounty of organizations. They always made the immediate acquisition of food a life and death matter. I couldn’t go! My car was in the garage for repairs.
I attacked the conserve determinedly. Albert and his papa would have to wait. By morning the conserve would be finished and in the basement.
But in spite of my resolve my hands were soon lagging. Suppose they really were hungry? Suppose there were little children actually crying for something to eat? The words of King Benjamin came to me, “– are ye not all beggars?”
I went to the telephone and tried to get one of my counselors. Mary was not at home and Mrs. Blomquist could not leave. Now what could I do? I sat down wearily. Every hour today there had been something rear its head. I could call a garage and grocery store. With their tank and stomachs full these transients would gladly roll along and leave me in peace.
Hesitantly I picked up the receiver again but instead of calling a garage I called Mrs. Jenkins. Might as well have it over. I’d get no peace until I did. But Mrs. Jenkins was not available, nor could I get Mrs. Richards. Probably she was doing something about Salle. It began to look as if Albert and his papa would not get their supper after all, but in the end I gave in.
“Denise,” I called my six-year-old to me. “Robbie is asleep in the basement. You and Timmie go down there and play quietly until he wakes, will you?”
“Let’s play Pioneer Girl.”
“Very well. Mother has to go a long way to town for supplies.”
“– and pioneer children are not afraid to stay ‘lone. They stay right in the basement and guard their baby brother.”
“And if anything should happen?”
“We send word to the fort for our father to come dashing home.”
“Do you know the number?”
She repeated it. With many admonitions and instructions I left. At the store I told Tim I was called out on a case and collected a few groceries to take. I put them on a slip. “I’ll have the secretary come and pay for them,” I told him.
“Where are you going?” Tim wanted to know.
“Out to the west end.”
“Then wait until the delivery truck gets back. It will be here in an hour.”
“That is too long. I want to get back before Rob wakes if I can.”
“You shouldn’t leave them alone. It isn’t safe.”
His tone hurt. I felt hot tears sting my eyes. to hide my feelings I asked sharply, “Why not? They often play in the basement.”
“But they are alone.”
Acutely aware of his disapproval, made worse by my own conscience, I started down the street with my bag of groceries under my arm. It had been a real sacrifice to leave home this afternoon and Tim might have understood. I wanted to sit down on the sidewalk and cry as Denise had done when she’d dropped a little doll and broken it.
The brisk walk combined with the memory of problems succeeded in crowding my self-pity into the background of my thoughts. Gloria Holsinger had refused to be chorister. So I had to be content with a much less capable leader. Rhoda Blomquist was pleased over the refusal for she had not wanted Gloria.
“I see no reason,” she had declared, “for going outside the organization for help. She hasn’t interest enough to belong.”
“That is a good way to get her interested and think what she could do for the organization.”
“Nothing that a number of others couldn’t do. We have a dozen women who can lead the singing. I think you are trying to make Relief Society take on more responsibility than there is any reason for. We have never expected such a standard before and we got along very well.”
“But you will have to admit she is making the work mighty interesting,” my secretary defended. Bless her heart.
Anyway, our second choice was leading the singing without vision, without purpose, beyond the song of the moment. Practicing to her meant repetition, right or wrong.
Then there were the visiting teachers. We still lacked enough to cover the ward. Some women objected to being just a visiting teacher. When a woman couldn’t do anything else she could do the visiting teaching, had been the accepted idea.
“What is wrong with that idea?” Rhoda had demanded. Any departure from the traditional was upsetting to Rhoda, but in the end she agreed with us.
“Perhaps that is the reason visiting teaching is not more popular in so many places. Teachers are our contact with the ward and the world. We must have the finest we can get.”
Gradually we were getting them, women of unquestioned spirit who could enter a home with poise and grace and leave it with peace and good will; women who could spread the vision and magnitude of the work. For Teacher topic leader we had the most capable the ward afforded. She was teaching them ways of entering homes and concrete methods of putting over their objective.
From there my thought skipped to Salle. She had been in the background of my thoughts all day. There was no reason why I should consider her my problem, but the mere thought of her brought black despair. I tried to walk fast enough to forget her.
At the tourist park I easily located the family. The White Daisy was a shabby, unkempt place frequented by people such as I was hunting. Undoubtedly the telephone numbers of charitable organizations were furnished by the proprietor.
It was, as I had expected, a typical case. The father was sitting on the ground with his back to a small bare tree that grew in the center of the scant parking. Five children sprawled or gamboled about near him. They all stopped their play and turned their attention to me. Contrary to the average case they were clean and patched and, I had to admit, looking not too well fed.
As I approached, the man shambled awkwardly to his feet. He was large, at one time he had been powerful and, I guessed, a farmer. There was a hang-dog expression mixed with defiance about him that gave me hope. He had not reached the point of callousness yet.
“You sent for me?”
“Yes’m,” he admitted reluctantly, then added hastily, “do you want to see the wife?”
“I’ll talk with you first.”
He squirmed uneasily but I was adamant. He was the head of the family and as such, responsible. Before I had asked him half a dozen questions I began to doubt if he were a Latter-day Saint.
“Do you hold the Priesthood?” I asked.
Again the man squirmed. “No,” then he brightened with a happy thought. “My wife does.”
I turned to go and speak to the wife and made short shift of my business since they so obviously were not my responsibility.
“She’s in here.” The children, with Albert in the lead, marshaled me into a small, close cabin. The husband sank back to the parking with a sigh of relief. In the room the mother lay on the bed with her face to the wall. As we entered she turned and I thought I had never seen such abject hopelessness before. A flush swept her face, then receded, leaving it white and drawn. I began to doubt my decision.
“I am the Relief Society president.”
The woman on the bed bit her lip but remained silent. Her hurt was too deep for tears. That was apparent.
“Have you some meat in that sack?” one of the boys demanded suddenly. “Papa has to have meat and we won’t eat brown bread,.”
That brought me quickly to the business at hand. “go outside, every one of you. I want to talk to Mother.”
“We want to listen.”
“Run along.” As the woman on the bed said nothing I literally brushed them from the room. then I fastened the decrepit screen. “Now you may tell me all about it.” I went back to the bed.
The story like the demand had a familiar ring. They had been farmers. Hard times had brought discouragement. town had beckoned, but once there work had been scarce and the husband rapidly succumbed to the cancer of an unearned living.
“But, oh, sister Maylord,” now that the woman’s reserve was broken she could not tell me enough. “I don’t want to live like this, and I must not bring up my children in idleness. Mr. Peters doesn’t belong to the Church, so rightly we are not your responsibility, but can’t you help us to get ourselves out of this rut?”
I had been thinking rapidly. The easy thing would be to send them on, but here was a chance to make concrete my vision of Relief society. Already a plan was forming in my mind, but I must have time to consult the bishop.
“I’ll leave these groceries,” I said at length. “There is enough to last you until morning. I will come again then. Keep cheerful, and go outside if you can. It is close in here.”
Her eyes begged for hope but training told me to perfect my plan first and tell it afterward.
I was hurrying quickly down the street when I heard a car honk beside me. Startled, I whirled about. It was Dave Holsinger, husband of Gloria.
“May I?” he asked, opening the car door.
“You certainly may.” I stepped in and sank into the cushion with a sigh of relief. I hadn’t realized how tired I was.
“What are you doing in this part of town? Don’t you know ladies do not rush about until their faces are red?”
“In that case I am not a lady, only a Relief Society worker.”
He laughed, a merry contagious laugh that scattered my load of responsibility. “That means you have been helping someone. Why confine your efforts to the poor? I need help two ways.”
Sincerity lifted its voice above the banter. I thought, “he is worrying about Gloria.” Aloud I asked, “What may I do for you today? How could I help a self-sufficient business man?”
“I have an office girl that is ruining my disposition.”
“My advice is – get rid of her.”
“Good advice, but she is the niece of a director. Then who wants to break in a new girl?”
All this was just to pass time. He was quite capable of handling his help.
“What about the other problem?”
“I am afraid even a Relief Society president couldn’t help with that.”
“Then you help me.”
“Persuade Gloria to be our chorister.”
“She’s much too busy,” he answered too promptly. “Her clubs and her Pekingese are just too, too demanding.”
I had felt it all along. Conditions were fast approaching a crisis with these two. Did I have any right to help them make an adjustment? Would I know how to help such people?
At home I found Tim on the basement floor playing with the children.
“Tim! On a busy afternoon!”
“Someone had to be here,” he answered shortly as he rose and brushed his clothes.
Later as I guided little minds and fingers through the intricacies of a music lesson Tim’s disapproval and the condition of the Peters family struggled for dominance of my subconscious. Did Timothy think I was neglecting my family? Surely not, and he wanted me to do my relief work well. There was something about the Peters family that stayed with me. How wonderful it would be if I could plan a future for them.
“Do you know where there is a small house for rent?” I asked Jeanie Holman, who was the last of my pupils. Jean was such a joy. Already she was showing unusual promise.
“There is an old one near us,” she answered, “but it is a shackly old trap.”