From the Relief Society Magazine, 1934 –
Anne Brent, Helpmate
By Elsie Chamberlain Carroll
Anne opened her eyes in the darkness and lay listening. Yes, it was one of the twins crying. Jan’s tooth must be aching again. She slipped from the bed, carefully not to waken Peter, and hurried up stairs to find the little fellow sitting up in bed holding a swollen cheek. She brought the hot-water bottle and cotton and oil of cloves from the bathroom as she chided herself for neglecting to make an appointment with the dentist when the child had complained several days ago.
Before she had Jan quieted, Jean was awake and she had to tell them the story of the little prince and the big white elephant before they were willing for her to turn off the light and go back to bed.
As Anne started down the hall she heard the clock in the dining room strike three. A hint of dawn was coming in at the window at the head of the stairs. She had taken two steps down when she noticed that the door to Quint’s room was open. Her heart came to her throat with a strange dread. If it had been any of the other doors along the hall – but Quint always kept his closed. he demanded privacy. He was the only one of the children that at times completely baffled Anne. Often she felt as if she would give the world to know what was going on back of his dark smouldering eyes. And since he was mixed in a gang escapade a few months before, she had wracked her brain to find some means of breaking down the wall of reserve he kept around him. Morris had passed through adolescence without giving them this kind of worry at least.
Before she entered the room Anne knew she would not find Quint there. Where could he be? Was he with the gang again? Was it possible their lesson had not been sufficient? She felt as if she could not go again through the agony she had suffered over the boy’s delinquency.
The covers of the bed had not even been turned down. Anne’s fingers gripped the cord of her faded bath-robe as she wondered what to do. Should she waken Peter? He had seemed so stern before and she wondered if that unwavering sense of right Peter always exhibited was one thing that kept Quint isolated from them. She knew that Peter loved the children as much as she did and was as interested in their welfare and was as willing to work and sacrifice for them. But she never had been able to acquire his philosophic way of looking at their mistakes and weaknesses over which she worried so much.
He argued that if they did all they could for the children – they’d given them a good name, clean, healthy bodies, a comfortable home, training in decent habits, and better than average opportunities – then it was up to the children themselves to make good, and if they didn’t, that he and she shouldn’t spoil their own lives worrying over what they couldn’t help.
This sounded sensible, but she couldn’t put the theory into practice. Now as she stood helplessly looking down at Quint’s empty bed, she wondered how she could endure such anxiety and yearning as filled her heart.
She decided not to waken Peter. Perhaps he would get up and scour the town because of her suffering, or he would call up the parents of the other boys, or even the police, and she felt that none of these things would help. She must find a way to Quint’s confidence. That was the only solution.
So she stole down stairs and back to bed and lay thinking, wondering, praying. She could hear the clock ticking off the slow seconds. It struck four, then half past. Then at last she heard the board at the foot of the back stairs creak. She held her breath to make sure. The next-to-the-top step would creak also. The welcome sound came and tears of relief ran over her cheeks.
Peter turned at her stifled sobs and asked sleepily, “Wh’ smatter?” she lay perfectly still and soon his regular breathing was resumed. But Anne did not sleep. She saw the dawn creep in at the windows and outline the familiar objects in the room. There was Peter’s traveling bag on a chair by the dresser, packed all but for his shaving things, for his trip to Layton. She wondered if this merger he was going to see about would bring all the advantages to their little mercantile business Peter thought it would. Might it not be just another of the big ideas that came to him frequently with a lack of feasibility he could not see? Well, she must not worry about that. If Peter thought it was a good thing, she was going to try to think so too.
Anne thought of the heavy day ahead, the ironing to finish, the beans to pick and can, seeing about Jan going to the dentist, fixing Gloria’s green dress so she could go to the class outing – trying to win Quint’s confidence so he would explain. Oh, she must do that. She couldn’t endure this nightmare of worry.
She must get that box off to Suzanne with the books and sketches she had asked for. She wondered just how interested Suzanne was in the European professor she mentioned in nearly every letter lately. She didn’t like some of the things she said about his philosophy – what was it, she tried to recall, in this last letter? Something about “individual emancipation,” “courage to turn aside from time-worn conventions.” Could it be that Suzanne was taking on some type of dangerous free-thinking?
Anne sighed. One’s worries with a family didn’t end, as most young parents think, when the children are grown-up. No. Not even when they were married. Why, she worried just as much over Morris and Phyllis and little Junior as she had worried over Morris when he was Junior’s age. She wished Phyllis was a little more competent. Perhaps all mothers had that feeling about their daughters-in-law, but she had had a feeling lately that Morris was becoming indifferent to Phyllis. Why couldn’t he have taken her’s and Peter’s advice and waited until he was through college before marrying? Then perhaps he would have chosen a girl with a little more depth and maturity. Well, she mustn’t cross their bridges for them.
Anne was just dozing off when Peter awoke. He began to stretch and yawn and scratch his head. She wished he didn’t make such a fuss about waking up. She felt sleepy now, and he had told her not to get up to fix his breakfast. He’d take a glass of milk and some fruit and eat later during the half hour the train stopped at Castle Junction. Of course she knew that Peter had known even while he was telling her that she would get up and cook his eggs and toast and cereal. She believed she would just take him at his word this time and try to get an hour’s sleep.
But as soon as Peter got into the bathroom he began hacking and clearing his throat in that annoying way that had always provoked her, and she knew that she couldn’t go to sleep now.
As Anne dressed, she recalled how she used to suffer over that throat-clearing habit of Peter’s. She had let it get on her nerves during the first year they were married, until she had felt she couldn’t endure it. Then one day she had told Peter about it when they were having a little quarrel over something else, and he had retorted that he guessed she had some irritating habits, too. But when she had demanded that he name them, he had gathered her into his arms and said, “Let’s forget it,” and never in all their twenty-four years of married life had she been quite sure that she knew just which habits he had meant. She smiled now at the thought of how upset she had been over such a little thing as the way a man cleared his throat.
She slipped into the kitchen through the dining room, went to the laundry room to wash and smooth her hair, so that when Peter came into the kitchen she had his breakfast ready as a little surprise. Once Mattie Daniels, a neighbor, had asked Anne what she considered the chief essential for keeping happiness in the home and Anne had answered, “Surprises.” Peter had given her the hint which had developed into this surprise practice of hers, years ago when she used to make out menus for a week or a month at a time and hung them above the sink. “I wish you’d hide those things,” he had said. “A man doesn’t want to know what he’s going to eat a month ahead of time.”
When he came out and exclaimed over the breakfast and told her she shouldn’t have done it, Anne felt as pleased as if this same routine hadn’t been repeated every time Peter had gone out of town for years.
Although Anne was tempted to talk about Quint, or the disconcerting allusions in Suzanne’s letter, she refrained. Instead she led Peter to talk of the merger and of the benefit this whole part of the state would receive from it. He glowed when he elaborated on the particular big idea he was fostering in his mind at any given time. And even though Anne couldn’t find much enthusiasm in his plans – they had failed so many times – she loved to hear him and watch him when he was under the spell of one of them. Then he was magnificent and she saw him as he might have been had he not inherited his grandfather Lancaster’s impracticability, along with his father’s vision and enthusiasm.
After Peter had gone Anne started briskly on her day’s work. She started a fire in the laundry range for the canning. Then she went out to gather beans. She should have called Quint to help her, but she knew boys of sixteen must have their sleep, and besides she hadn’t decided what to do about his being out. She wished she could do or say something that would cause him to confide in her before he went to the service station. Both Quint and Gloria worked at the combination store and service station owned by Peter.
After picking a large basket full of beans, Anne went in to get breakfast for the children.
Quint was the first one to come after she had called. Anne was puzzled that he seemed more cheerful and less restrained than usual. he wasn’t demonstrative as Morris had always been, but this morning as he passed her, he patted her arm and said, “Thanks, Mom, for fixing that rip in my coveralls.” Anne was on the point of asking him where he had been last night, when Gloria came in, dressed in her new suit.
“Mother, the Shriners are going to the Grange this afternoon for their annual outing,” she said in explanation of her costume. “The other day when Mr. Meekin was in the store he said if he got back from Castle Junction he wanted me to go with him. They’re going to have dinner at the lodge and swim and dance afterwards. I thought if I wore this I could leave right from the store if he did come. I’d phone and get Kate Ostler to come and help Henry.”
Anne stopped dishing cereal and looked at her daughter a bit discouraged.
“But you know, Gloria, that your father and I do not approve of your going out with that man – he’s so much older, and we know so little about him.”
“You mean you don’t know him, and you don’t want to. I’ve known him for – months, and he’s the swellest man whose ever paid any attention to me. He knows how to treat a girl, and has something to talk about. You and Dad never seem to want us to be happy.”
Anne busied herself with the toast she was buttering.
“Perhaps you won’t realize until you are a parent yourself, Gloria, that the biggest object in your father’s and my lives is to try to help you children find the greatest happiness possible. You know how we feel about your going with that man.” Anne was glad of a call from one of the twins. She wasn’t an indecisive person, but she liked the children to learn to make right decisions for themselves.
Before she was through helping Jean and Jan, she heard Gloria and Quint in the front hall. There was a touch of poutiness in Gloria’s short goodbye. Anne sighed. She wasn’t sure whether the girl would go or not. She hadn’t changed her dress. And she would have Quint to worry about all day, too.
Then as she caught herself answering the twins’ questions in an absent way, she suddenly took herself to task. She had learned that often the things she worried most about turned out to be the things over which there should have been no concern. She remembered a little prayer her own mother had suggested to her once in the early days of her married life when it had seemed that the problems of being a helpmate were overpowering her. “You must pray for God to keep you from letting the little things of life shut out the big, beautiful wonderful things about your job.”