Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » The Bishop’s Wife

The Bishop’s Wife

By: Ardis E. Parshall - January 19, 2011

From the Relief Society Magazine, 1959 –

The Bishop’s Wife

By Sylvia Probst Young

Marian, with a little smile of amusement, watched her husband eating breakfast across the table. apparently unaware of anything around him, he masterfully managed the eggs and bacon without taking his eyes from the morning paper.

“Typical American husband,” she observed, “without a paper in front of his face he couldn’t enjoy the meal. Why, I could feed him burned toast and scorched bacon, and he wouldn’t know the difference.”

Abruptly the paper was lowered, and two warm blue eyes smiled across at her.

“I don’t advise you try it, Mrs. C. Anyway, it’s your fault for spoiling me these sixteen years.”

“I really have, haven’t I?”

Contentment, warm as the early morning sunlight stealing through her kitchen window, filled Marian’s heart. she enjoyed the early breakfast with Don before the boys were up. It gave them a few minutes alone in the busy day, minutes of mutual understanding, whether for serious contemplation or even light banter as this morning.

“Guess I’d better go.” Don rose from the table, his glass still in hand.



“Will you be real busy today? I need to have a stencil cut. We’ve got to get a letter out about the budget. I’ve written it. There on my desk. And do you think you could go over to the church and run it off? We’ll need about three hundred copies. I want to get it out tomorrow, and I can’t do it tonight, it’s stake Priesthood meeting.

“Oh, and will you call Dell and Willis, tell them I’ll pick them up about 7:45? and, Marian, if you have time, there’re a couple of letters of recommendation I should write, for Dean Clayton and Jack Sawyer. They want to become Eagles. You know, like the ones you’ve written before. They’ll be coming for them, and I haven’t had time.”

He came to stand beside her a moment then.’

“You’re a honey.” He planted a light kiss on the tip of her nose. “What would I do without you, Migs?”

Migs – the pet name brought a rush of tender memories. It had been a long time since he had called her that. He had invented the name back in those World-War days when she had married him, a slim, dark-haired Marine.

From the window she watched him getting into the car. His hair had slipped now, and was graying at the temples, and his figure had lost its boyish slimness. How often she had teased him lately about having just the right figure for a bishop.

But he was always quick to remind her that her own hair had a tint of gray, and that constantly she was fighting to keep her waistline.

How perfectly they understood each other. And how little the physical changes mattered when the depth of understanding and warmth of heart continued to grow.

Marian turned from the window. Life had been good to them. Temporally and spiritually, they had been greatly blessed. She gathered the dishes from the table and put them in the sink.

“What’s for breakfast, Mom?”

Tousle-headed and sleepy-eyed, fifteen-year-old Dave stood tall and blond in the doorway.

Marian smiled at him. It seemed only yesterday that he was a mere toddler.

“Get the other boys up,” she said. “I’ll feed you all at once.”

As she cooked pancakes, Marian wondered if she would ever be able to fill her boys up. Fifteen, twelve, ten, and seven – they were all alike and yet so different.

“Mark, you and Tommy do the dishes,” she announced. “I’ve got some work to do for Daddy, and Dave you’d better get going, Dad will be expecting you. Denny, you play around here, now, so we’ll know where you are.”

“Mama,” it was Tommy calling from the den, “telephone.”

“He usually gets home about six-thirty, but it’s Priesthood meeting tonight,” she answered into the mouthpiece. “No, I really couldn’t tell you. Why don’t you call about seven o’clock?”

Putting the phone back into its cradle, Marian noticed a book laid out upon the desk – Home Memories of President McKay. She remembered Don saying he had promised to lend it to old Brother Marlow.

I could take it to him this morning after I’ve finished the mimeographing, she thought.

At half-past-ten, with Denny at her side so he wouldn’t vex the other boys all morning, Marian was ready to go to the church to run off Don’s stencil. The scout letters had been written, and she had called the counselors’ wives about the Priesthood appointment.

Just as she was ready to go, the Relief Society president called. Would Marian have the bishop call her tonight if he could?

“You’re about as busy as he is,” Marian concluded, after she had talked to Sister Franson a few minutes. “I’ll have him call you for sure.”

She made a note of it. Beside the memo pad was a thick envelope she hadn’t noticed before. Mary Ann Parker’s marriage license. Don had married her and the Hayden boy last week. It was ready to mail except for a stamp. She would stop at the post office.

With the letter and her other things, Marian went out of the house. It was a morning of summer loveliness – pink and gold, and gently fragrant with the perfume of blossoming honey locusts.

Mark and Tommy were working on a bicycle in the garage.

“I’ll be back in time to get your lunch,” she told them. “I’d like you to do your practicing while I’m gone.”

“Do we have to?” Tommy protested.

“Well, thanks for taking Denny, anyway,” Mark called as she drove out.

In the cool quiet of the bishop’s office, Marian sat at the table a moment before getting to the mimeographing. Here, in the quiet of this office, Don, as the bishop, made decisions and gave advice that constantly affected human lives. It was a great and humbling responsibility to serve the Lord in such a capacity.

Denny tugged at her arm. “Let’s do the letters, Mama.”

He was intrigued as the printed sheets slid so quickly from under the roller. In a few minutes they had finished and were out again in the bright sunlight.

Old Brother Marlow lived about a mile from town. His house, of stately gingerbread construction, the color of overcooked tomato soup, stood behind a row of tall Lombardy poplars, cool and reminiscent of a past generation.

Brother Marlow was working in his petunia bed. He was a round, jolly little man, who, Denny declared, looked like Santa Claus.

It pleased him when Marian wanted to know about his flowers. He took her from plant to plant explaining. Especially he was proud of his roses – hybrids, a dozen or more – he knew the name of every one.

“I’ll set you out some slips, Sister Crandall,” he promised. Then he begged her to sit on his old porch, and he talked about his wife and the yesteryears. His great appreciation for the book and the homemade gingerbread that she brought made her realize anew how much personal satisfaction can be derived from the smallest act of kindness.

The boys were clamoring for lunch when she got home, so it wasn’t until later that she found the note by the telephone in Tommy’s round, boyish scrawl. “Mama call IN7-8926.”

Carefully she dialed the number, not remembering whose it was until she heard the voice on the other end.

“Allie,” she cried, “how nice. It’s been ages since I’ve heard from you.”

“Marian, I’ve got the nicest surprise. I just got an airmail letter from the Bronsons. Howard has some sort of a business convention here in town on Saturday. They have to go again on Sunday, but Audrey would like us all to get together on Saturday night. Marian, I thought we could go to that new place up Pine Creek – Silver Lake Lodge. Do you know it’s been ten years since we’ve seen Audrey?”

Audrey – the name brought back memories of a summer at a Marine base in South Carolina, before the war ended. Audrey and Howard Bronson, Allie and Raymond Chesley, Don and she – the six of them had lived at Parris Island. The boys had served together in the same battery in the Pacific, and although the girls hadn’t known each other until that summer, it hadn’t taken long for them to become close friends.

After the war, the Bronsons had gone back to the East Coast. Allie and Raymond lived only fifteen miles away, but Marian and Don hadn’t gone out with them for more than a year.

“Saturday night – that sounds wonderful,” Marian told her friend. “Don doesn’t have a thing that night, I’m sure. It’ll be like old times, Allie.”

“Marian, could you and Don meet here at our place about seven so we won’t be too late? It takes about half an hour to drive up there.”

“We’ll be there,” Marian promised. “I’ll have Don leave the store early. I know he’ll be as anxious to see you all as I am.”

Marian was right in her predictions. Don was enthusiastic about the Saturday night plans. He was home from the store at five o’clock that night and helped Marian with a patio supper for the boys. Relaxing with the newspaper before getting ready, they recalled old times.

“Remember the time we went to Jacksonville in Howard’s old car?”

“Do I!”

“I always thought we had fun at the beach in Savannah, though. Remember how Dave loved the water. He’d have walked right into the ocean if we hadn’t held on to him every minute.”

“Speaking of Dave, remember how our landlord spanked him for spilling the watermelon seeds?”

Don laughed. “Boy, wasn’t I mad! I was ready to spank the old man.”

“Dave was practically a baby – say, we’d better get going.”

Marian followed Don into their bedroom. “What shall I wear?” she asked. “I really haven’t much choice.”

“But I like you in anything.”

“That’s comforting.”

“How about that blue dress? I think you look real cute in it.”

“Okay. The blue it will be.”

They were almost ready. Marian was just helping Don with his cuff-links, when the phone rang.

“Wonder who that is?”

“Probably someone for the kids.”

“Dad,” Dave called from the den, “telephone.”

“Know who it was, Dave?” Marian asked, following Don into the den.

“I don’t know, Mom. It was a woman’s voice, sounded real worried.”

Marian looked at Don listening at the phone. His face looked grave.

“I surely will,” she heard him say. “I’ll come right away.”

“What is it?” she asked, when he turned from the phone. “Don, where are you going?”

“Marian,” he turned from the phone, “Ronnie Decker was hit by an automobile. Thrown from his bike. They don’t know just how badly he was hurt. Sister Decker would like me to come to the hospital to administer to him.”

“Don, can’t you send someone else? Dell and Willis could go.”

He shook his head. “It’s my duty to go, Marian. She asked for me. Look, honey, you call Allie and tell her we’ll be a little late, but I should be back from the hospital in half an hour. Tell them to go on and we’ll come soon as we can.”’

He cupped his hand under her chin, reading the dark disappointment in her eyes.

“I’m the bishop, honey,” he reminded her gently. “Sister Decker and Ronnie are members of my ward. I’ll go get Dell, and I’ll be back soon as I can.”

She watched him go and then turned back to the phone to call Allie. The voice that answered was as filled with disappointment as her own.

“We’ll wait for you,” Allie said.

“No, you mustn’t do that. We’ll come just as soon as Don gets back. He shouldn’t be too long.”

An hour later the phone rang. It was Don calling from the hospital.

“Marian, the doctors are still working with Ronnie. You don’t know how sorry I am, honey, I wanted to see the Bronsons, too. But we just couldn’t leave. See you soon as I can.”

The boys were in the basement playing Ping-pong and watching television. Marian changed into a robe and went out on the patio to wait. A full moon was peeking above Mt. Olympus, and a gentle breeze stirred the locusts. Silly to nurse a disappointment on such a beautiful night. She turned her thoughts to the vacation they were planning.

When Don finally came, she met him with a smile.

He put his arms around her. Without saying a word, he knew that she understood his appreciation for her.

“Ronnie’s going to be all right,” he said. “But he was badly battered up, several broken ribs, and his right leg really smashed. He looked so white and little when they brought him into the room.”

“Well, he’s only about eight, isn’t he?”

“That’s right. But do you know what he said after we had administered to him? He said, ‘Thanks, Bishop, I know the Lord is with you.’

“It made me feel so good, Marian. Sister Decker was so appreciative, and her husband – we had quite a talk. I really believe he was impressed.”

“He very well might have been, Don,” she answered.

The next morning Marian learned how right their impression concerning Mr. Decker had been. It was still early when the phone rang.

“Sister Crandall, this is Jean Decker,” she heard the voice on the other end saying. “I want to tell you how much we appreciated having the bishop and Brother Walker administer to Ronnie last night. I know the Lord was with them.

“And, Sister Crandall, you don’t know what an impression they made on my husband. He’s always been so disinterested in the Church. He never would come to meetings or anything. But last night he told me that he had no idea that a Mormon bishop was so devoted to his members. ‘Maybe your church is worth investigating,’ he said.”

There was a catch in her voice. “You don’t know how much that means to me. I want to thank you so much for the sacrifices you make, too. It must be hard to have your husband gone so much, but I’ll bet you’re really proud to be the bishop’s wife.”

Marian felt a sudden wave of love and gratitude fill her heart. Whatever sacrifices she made were doubly compensated by the rich blessings she enjoyed, she had always known that.

“Oh, yes,” she answered humbly. “I’m very proud to be the bishop’s wife.”



  1. Typical American husband

    Huh? What’s typically male about reading the newspaper? Do women not read the newspaper?

    And now that I got that out of my system (a little bit), back to the story…

    Comment by Researcher — January 19, 2011 @ 1:19 pm

  2. Well, there are plenty of cultural touches that would be easy enough to make fun of, but there are also bits that sound very authentic. Having a locally written piece, even if it is not great art, is so much nicer than the canned, generic stories that seemed to run in the Mormon publications 50 or 60 years earlier.

    Comment by Researcher — January 19, 2011 @ 1:28 pm

  3. Yeah … the stories in none of the magazines are going to come off as great art (the Children’s Friend stories are a little better overall, I think), but I like looking for what they inadvertently tell us about, say, 1959 and especially what need they filled for our mothers and grandmothers that they were so eagerly read.

    Not that I wouldn’t mind if we occasionally had a blast picking a story to pieces — Murphy’s Law says that would be the time when a descendant of the author discovered us making fun of Grandma’s effort — but it’s the “what were we like” factor that prompted me to post these.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 19, 2011 @ 1:47 pm

  4. It’s funny how things change. I could see a similar story used nowadays to illustrate what not to do as a bishop.

    Comment by John Scherer — January 19, 2011 @ 2:03 pm

  5. You mean the failure to delegate (marriage license mailings) and sacrificing family to office (the broken date) and laying bishop’s work on his wife (running off the programs, writing the letters) and … and … Yeah!

    I wonder how much of this was realistic, and how much was dramatics to heighten the effect of the heroine’s coping?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 19, 2011 @ 2:22 pm

  6. My best friend is currently serving as a bishop and I know that his wife feels like his 3rd Counselor, 2011 updates to bishops’ responsibilities or not.

    The single best modern innovation to freeing up bishops’ families is the invention of the cell phone. Our bishop’s wife has made it pretty clear that she does not manage his schedule. If you want to speak with him and he’s not available, she’ll direct you to his executive secretary. She will not take messages unless they are of a personal nature. And honestly, that’s the way it should be.

    Comment by queuno — January 19, 2011 @ 2:55 pm

  7. I had to chuckle a bit about this story, thinking about my tenure as bishop a few years ago. My wife did not run off programs, mail marriage licenses, or write my letters. She was, however, very supportive of the calls at all hours, and especially about all the things I could not talk about. She also found that when she approached groups of women in the ward, they often stopped talking and just smiled.

    Now the shoe’s on the other foot. My wife is the RS president, in addition to teaching junior high math, so I dutifully answer the phone, help her make runs to the bishop’s storehouse, set up tables and chairs for RS functions, and banish myself to the nethermost regions of the house while she is having RS presidency meetings in our dining room.

    I do think the toughest part of the whole bishop’s wife experience, though, is that we’ve always shared everything, and suddenly I couldn’t do that any more. It took some adjusting for both of us. Now, she can’t share everything with me, but it isn’t so hard now.

    Comment by kevinf — January 19, 2011 @ 3:15 pm

  8. Egads! So even in 1959 the clouds of error were swarming around us, clouding up the useful distinction between the uninterested and the disinterested.

    Other than that, the echoes of my childhood were interesting. Phone numbers beginning with letters, mimeograph machines, complete with cut stencils, men in early middle age who all seemed to have the shared experience of “the war.”

    But, my dad was a bishop six years after that–and I don’t remember my mother acting as his secretary! Telephone messages–certainly.

    And a morning paper? If the Mt. Olympus is the one just east of the Salt Lake Valley, does that mean that the good bishop is reading the Tribune??

    Comment by Mark B. — January 19, 2011 @ 8:38 pm

  9. Except for getting up early to make breakfast for him (or myself or the kids), it sounds just fine. Although, I would have let him go to the hospital and gone to the friend’s alone.

    Comment by jks — January 19, 2011 @ 11:52 pm

  10. Something silly that sticks with me is picturing the mimeograph machine, and remembering what it was like to watch teachers use it when I was in elementary school. And the awful smell of the ink.

    Comment by michelle — January 20, 2011 @ 12:40 am

  11. Michelle, you may be thinking of spirit masters (A.B. Dick), the usually purple-line, quickly fading duplicating process that was quick and easy and usually what teachers used because it didn’t require the cutting of a stencil, just drawing or writing on a special waxy carbon paper — the solvent used for that truly did smell chemically awful!

    Or maybe I was so used to the smell of mimeograph ink and the waxy stencils for them that I like the smell — we had a mimeograph machine at home that was in almost weekly use all the time I was growing up. The only thing stinky about true mimeograph supplies was the blue correction fluid used if you made a mistake while cutting a stencil.

    (Sorry — my mother had a snobbish pride in using the technically much superior printing process of a mimeo and hated it when people called those tacky purple spirit masters stencils — I guess I’ve inherited her snobbery!)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — January 20, 2011 @ 6:02 am

  12. Denny just wanted to smell that mimeo ink.

    Also, “IN7-8926” would likely have been spoken as “Ingersoll7-8926.” My Grandparents had the Ingersoll prefix, we had a Crestwood (CR) number back in the day.

    Also, I definitely need Sister Crandall as my PA.

    Comment by Mina — January 20, 2011 @ 7:02 am

  13. The only true and living exchange was Franklin (FR)!

    Comment by Mark B. — January 20, 2011 @ 8:30 am