From the Relief Society Magazine, July 1960 –
No Comments, Please
by Dorothy Clapp Robinson
Sandra Baker hummed merrily in time to the whir of her sewing machine. Sandra loved sewing. She loved this soft rose corduroy. When made into rompers for baby Cindy, it would make an angel of her for sure. She even loved this sunny – what was it called? – bay window. No matter what service it had given in the past, right now it kept this creepy second-floor apartment from being the worst. Oh, it really was a beautiful morning.
The window recess was large enough for a small table. Sandra could use it for her typewriter, or, as now, for a work table for her sewing. Without moving, she could look up and see, not too far away, the roofs of the university buildings where Van at this moment was struggling with law books. And, though she could not see it, the building where Van worked after school was closer still.
There was always something interesting or amusing to be seen from this window. People, all kinds and ages, were forever climbing the steep grade on which this made-into-apartments house stood. and just as many people were going down it into town. There, now, was the little old woman who climbed it each morning at this time. She walked bent forward as if her shoulders could help her poor old legs. Sandra laughed aloud at a man who had pitted his dignity against the force of the wind and slope of the walk.
Cindy, aged eight months, cried out from the living room. Temper.
“Be nice, darling. Mama will soon have one of these …”
Sandra stopped short. No. it couldn’t be – but it was. Her mother-in-law was tripping up the sidewalk as effortlessly as a twenty-year-old; girl. And the very insouciance of her walk – oh, dear. Why today? In two seconds the machine was closed and every trace of the rose corduroy had disappeared.
It was not that Sandra disliked Gracie, but she felt so frustrated and inadequate beside her. No matter what Sandra planned, Gracie got there first with the best.
There was the matter of baby clothes. Was she allowed to do that anticipated sewing? No, by the time she had found money to buy material, Gracie had made or purchased enough clothes for three babies. When they moved into this apartment there had been no drapes at the front window. A girl friend who did textile painting needed drapes also. They planned to make them together, from unbleached muslin. Sandra was to do the sewing and Marlene the painting. After an afternoon hunt for a suitable design for painting, Sandra came home to find her drapes bought, made, and hung. Also paid for. They were so beautiful and exactly right for the room, but it was a long time before Sandra could look at them without a flare of temper. There were dozens of other little things that she refused to remember, but if Gracie brought another present for Cindy she, Sandra, was going to scream.
Gracie did not bring a present, but there was something in the wind besides dust, Sandra told herself. She met Gracie at the head of the stairs.
“May I fix you something to eat?”
“No, thanks, dear. I have eaten.”
They went into the living room and Mrs. Baker swept Cindy off the floor into her arms. Cindy was the first girl in the Baker family so it was no wonder her grandmother worshiped her. Not that she was called Grandmother – that and Mother Baker were strictly for the birds. She wanted to be called Gracie.
“I don’t think you should let her on the floor, Sandy. There is a cool breeze out, and this old house is full of drafts.”
When the wind blew hard the house was drafty, but Sandra had thought today’s wind was mild and rather pleasant. she was puzzled. Excessive gaiety usually meant something – could it be something about the house?
“Are you sure you don’t want lunch?”
“No. Thank you. I met Mildred Oliver and we had lunch together. We hadn’t seen each other for years, but they have moved back to town. She has a new granddaughter, too. We had the most wonderful time making plans.”
I guess you did. For an instant Sandra thought she had said the words aloud. her face flushed, but Gracie was too involved in her plans to notice. She was so sweet and kind, Sandra thought, but in any project involving the two of them the senior Mrs. Baker immediately became commander-in-chief. Sandra had yearnings toward that position herself.
“Mid told me about the new Clover Arms – grandest apartments just being opened for rent. We went to look at them. I just couldn’t resist.”
“Why would you want an apartment?” Sandra asked. She knew the Bakers owned their home. “Are Bill and Doris coming back?”
For just an instant Gracie’s face clouded. Sandra knew why and really sympathized with her mother-in-law. Bill had taken a less desirable position in another town “so they could live their own lives,” quote Doris.
“Oh, no.” Gracie recovered her poise quickly, but she kept her head turned. She was tying a lace on Cindy’s shoe. “I was thinking of you and van.”
“I like this apartment.” Sandra kept her voice level. “It is close enough to school that Van can walk, and we both have positions in the ward.”
Gracie swept the objections aside. “You would soon be put to work out there. I hear they are just organizing a ward. And Van could do without a Church position until he is through school. he would have to drive back and forth, but the Clover Arms is so new and exclusive, and the living room of the one I …” her voice broke but she hurried on, “is large enough for a piano.”
“You didn’t rent us an apartment?”
“No … I just asked him to hold it until I could come talk to you.”
“But we haven’t a piano,” Sandra’s voice was beginning to show strain, “and we are in no position to buy one. Are you sure you wouldn’t like a cookie and a glass of lemonade?”
“No, dear. I must watch my weight, remember? I was going to say, if you had that larger apartment, you could have my piano. Van could keep up with his music.” Sandra ignoring the “larger apartment,” started to say that between school work, and Aaronic Priesthood responsibilities, Van would have no time for practice, but Gracie hurried on, “Besides, there is Cindy.”
“What do you mean?”
“She must have lessons. That is why we must start planning early. See, her fingers are long and slender like her Daddy’s.”
For a second Sandra was beyond speech. “Why … why,” she spluttered, “Cindy is only eight months old.”
“I know, but there is a new music professor living at the Closer Arms. he is a refugee, but already has a waiting list of pupils. It is not too soon to get Cindy’s name on the list.”
Sandra’s voice rose in spite of herself. “When Cindy is ready for music lessons, I will find a teacher. You don’t want us to be a family, at all …”
Instantly Sandra regretted her words. It was awful to see Gracie’s bright gaiety fade so quickly. Without a word, Gracie put Cindy on the floor and went fumblingly down the stairs. From the window Sandra watched her go down the street. She almost looked her age.
I shouldn’t have spoken so. I should go call her back and apologize. But Sandra made no movement to do so. Then, when the drooping figure was out of sight, she thought, anyway, it is the truth.
But being the truth did not help much. It did not take away the memory of Gracie’s face nor the droop of her shoulders. Nor did it bring peace to Sandra.
When she had Cindy down for her nap, Sandra tried to study a Bee Hive lesson, but finally had to close the book. She went to the window and looked out. The wind was blowing, she noticed. She took out the rose corduroy, but she made so many mistakes she soon put it away.
Gracie would be such a wonderful woman if only she would not spend so much on them, would not try to dominate their lives. That she could afford to give was beside the point.
In her own home Sandra had been held to a very strict accounting on the matter of money. Whatever she received, be it only a dime, must be divided into three parts. One cent went into her tithing bank, five cents went into her savings, and the other four pennies she could spend as she wished. It wasn’t that her folks had been particularly hard up. They were frugal and saving.
“Why, honey,” Van had said to her once after shopping for groceries, “I didn’t know I had married such a beautiful Scrooge. We shall be rich some day.”
As the afternoon waned, Sandra’s anger waned and her confusion increased. Van would never approve of what she had done – but he didn’t know half of what went on. There was the sweater, for instance.
Van had been in need of a sweater. Sandra, without telling him, did some typing for a woman downstairs. Each page she typed she laid aside with the exhilarating thought of the surprise and pleasure Van would know on his birthday.
She had priced sweaters carefully and lovingly. The one she wanted to buy was $39.95. The one she finally bought was $24.95. Placed beside the more expensive ones it looked shoddy, but when she compared it with cheaper ones it looked quite respectable.
Van’s parents had dined with them that evening. When Sandra had seen the box Gracie brought, her spirits had panicked. surely Gracie had not brought a sweater. She just couldn’t – but she had, the very one Sandra had wanted to buy. Sandra had slipped her box back into the closet and kissed Van and told him that was her present to him.
Over and over all the little disturbing details of her association with Gracie marched through Sandra’s mind, but the words she had said to Gracie overshadowed everything. On a sudden impulse Sandra went to the telephone. her mother would understand and say words that would take the bitter taste from her tongue.
“Sandy, has something happened?” It was wonderful to hear that voice. it was easy to pour out her story. When she had finished, there was silence at the other end of the line. Sandra hastened to her own defense.
“Can’t you see, Mama? I had to say something. She wants to do everything for us. I couldn’t stand it any longer.”
“Is that why you called me? to assure me you had to say what you said?”
“Yes, but – but, Mama, don’t you see …”
“I see that you did something very rude and now you want my approval.”
“But – Mama …”
“You have a problem, that I will admit,” Mrs. Shelton went on, “but you will never solve it by such actions. I think you should go and look out of your big window for a while.”
Sandra did go stand by the window. She looked at the buildings. She could see only parts of the close ones, but those farther away could be seen in their entirety. It was some time before she knew why her mother had asked her to do this.
“How are my two best ladies?” Van had much of his mother’s happy disposition. He swung Cindy into his arms and hugged Sandra at the same time. Instead of returning his kiss, Sandra buried her face in his shoulder and burst into sobs.
“Hey, what goes? Sit down, nuisance, while I investigate.”
Cindy did not want to be put down. She added her protests to her mother’s sobs. Van tried to turn Sandra’s face, but she refused to look up.
“Let’s have a stop to this – right now.” he used both hands to lift her face and his tone stopped both sobs and protests. “What is wrong, sweetheart? Tell me what happened.”
As Sandra told her story, Van pressed her close against his shoulder.
“Please,” he said at length, “give me credit for having a little perception. I know how mother takes over. I even know about the sweater, but,” his voice hardened, “we have a long time to live together and we won’t have feelings. It was pretty dumb, don’t you think, to go so far out over something six or eight years in the future?”
“But she is having an apartment held for us.”
“So what? We don’t have to move, but you didn’t have to be rude to her. Don’t you think you owe her an apology? After all, she is my mother – and a wonderful one.”
Sandra nodded without speaking.
“Then go wash your eyes and put on your face while I put Cindy into her togs.”
“But – but dinner is ready.” Sandra was a little awed by the note of authority in her husband’s voice. It was the first time she had heard it, and for some reason it lifted her spirits. “Couldn’t we …”“
“We are going now.”
Sandra did not entirely erase the effects of her unhappy afternoon, but she helped her looks. Van had Cindy in one arm and started for the stairs when his parents walked in.
Sandra stared at her father-in-law. The kind, gentle look was gone from his face, and she knew instantly where Van got that tight muscle around his mouth.
“Mama has come to apologize,” Mr. Baker said without preamble.
“We were just leaving for your place,” Van answered. “Sandra wants to apologize.”
“Mama will apologize.”
Sandra looked from father to son and back again. She could not believe what she was seeing. She looked at Gracie and saw the same thing she felt. She started to giggle, then the two women threw their arms around each other and laughed hysterically.
The men looked bewildered and lost. When Mr. Baker muttered, “Ridiculous way to apologize,” Van started to laugh.
They had finished the delightful dinner Sandra had prepared when Mr. Baker reverted to the subject of the dispute.
There was no tension in his voice and none in the room. “It was my fault, really. I knew Mama was going overboard, but it was so easy to agree with her. Give and take in moderation is the word from now on.”
Sandra turned to see how Gracie was taking the pronouncement. Gracie’s face was glowing, she was really beautiful.
“I bought some lovely rose corduroy with the money I saved from the sweater, Mother Baker. Will you help me make rompers for Cindy?”
“I’d love to. All my life I have wanted a little girl to sew for.”
“Dad said it was a ridiculous way to apologize,” Van said, later that night. “I think it was more ridiculous to dispute over music lessons for a child eight months old. The way you women …”
Sandra put her lips on his. “No comments, please.”