Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Anne Brent, Helpmate — part 2

Anne Brent, Helpmate — part 2

By: Ardis E. Parshall - March 02, 2011

Anne Brent, Helpmate

By Elsie Chamberlain Carroll

Previous episode

Part 2

It was Saturday morning. Anne was almost through with the upstairs cleaning when she heard the door bell. She went to the head of the stairs to call to the twins to answer the ring, when she heard the door open. She took off the towel she had pinned around her head and went down.

“Why, Phyllis,” she cried as her daughter-in-law came in, “this is a surprise. Where are Morris and Junior?” She led the way to the living room, reading intuitively from Phyllis’ troubled face that something was wrong.

“Sit down, dear, and let me take your things. You look tired. won’t you have a glass of milk and a cookie?”

“No, I couldn’t eat,” the girl’s eyes filled with tears.

“Has something happened, Phyllis?” Anne tried to keep alarm from her voice.

“Yes. Everything. Morris – is – tired of me. He’s 00 in love with – another girl.”

“Why, Phyllis, what nonsense.” Anne sat down and patted the younger woman’s trembling shoulders.

“But it’s true. I guess – you think it’s funny for me – to come to you – but I – I – haven’t any mother and I had to – talk to someone.”

“Of course you should have come to me. I’m your mother. I’m the very one you should have come to. Come on into my room, dear, where we won’t be disturbed.”

When they were seated on the low settee at the foot of Anne’s bed. Phyllis began to sob hysterically. Anne let her cry for a few moments, then she said, “Now can’t you tell me about it, dear? Who is this woman? What makes you think Morris is interested in her?”

“She’s Marian Welling. He used to know her at college. She studied interior decorating while he was studying architecture. When Randalls opened that new department they sent for her to take charge of it, and her office is right next to Morris’s. He talks about her all the time –a bout how smart she is – and interesting – and clever. And he’s always criticizing me – and they go out together to make bids on places – and work together evenings down at the office. I – I can’t stand it.” There was another flood of tears.

“Phyllis,” said Anne gently, “I’m sure you are letting your imagination make you miserable. The very fact that Morris talks to you about this other woman is good evidence that there is nothing but friendship between them.”

“But he isn’t the same to me. I know he is in love with her. You can just tell some things by the way a man looks and acts. He’s always nagging at me for not reading more books and knowing about things that are in the newspapers so I’ll have something to talk about. The things we used to do bores him to death.”

Anne realized that at least this was true. She had felt herself that Morris’s infatuation for Phyllis was diminishing with his maturity just as she and Peter had feared it would when they tried to persuade him to wait until he was through college before thinking of marriage. But she realized also that perhaps it was all exaggerated in the young wife’s mind. She recalled how she had suffered in the early years of her own married life when Peter had begun to neglect some of the little attentions of their courtship and had found fault with some of the things she did. It was too bad that the glamor of young love couldn’t continue along with the humdrum routine of married life.

“You mustn’t take all this so seriously, dear. it’s just natural that as you and Morris come to know each other better you’ll see each other’s faults. You see things in Morris that annoy you I’m sure – things you didn’t notice or mind at all before you were married. But you must have found out other things about him that are bigger and finer than you had even imagined. For instance, certain little habits that Morris’s father has would drive me frantic if I didn’t see in him also some of the best traits a man ever had. He forgets a lot of the little things, but he’s sure to be right there when it comes to the big things in life.”

“But Morris is tired of me. I bore him. and even if you can’t believe it, I know he’s in love with Marian Welling. I – I – can’t stand it.”

Anne knew that part of the problem was real. Morris lived in an intellectual world Phyllis could not enter. It was inevitable that as the years went on and the physical part of love came to mean less, he should crave intellectual companionship. Yet she could not say to her daughter-in-law, “You are not Morris’s intellectual equal. Of course you cannot hold him.” She must try to find some way to help them preserve their happiness. Phyllis was as pretty as when they were married, though she had grown careless in her personal care. Anne realized that a beautiful woman had a great natural advantage.

“Phyllis,” she said after a little pause, “I suppose at your age it has not occurred to you that husbands and wives need occasional vacations from each other. Perhaps that is just what you and Morris need now. How would you like to take Junior and go to Castle Junction and stay with your Aunt Laura for a month and take vocal lessons from Mr. Driggs?”

“And leave him – there – with Marian Welling?”

“Phyllis, if a man really wants to be with a woman not his wife, all the watching the wife can do won’t prevent him from finding ways of being with her. If he knows his wife is suspicious and jealous, it may make him all the more eager to be with the other woman. I’m sure, my dear, that Morris loves his wife and baby, and that if you were away from him and he had to do for himself the things you do for him, if he didn’t have Junior to play with when he comes home, he’d miss you and maybe realize a little bit more how much you both mean to him. besides I think you should do something with that lovely voice of yours. Mrs. Norman told me the other day that Mr. Driggs is doing marvelous work with his students. And he will only be there a few more weeks. You could get started with him, and then follow up the work with one of the teachers here or in Shannon. Wouldn’t you like to do that?”

“If you – think it would help,” Anne knew that Phyllis wasn’t thoroughly convinced, although she arose and began to powder her nose.

“I suppose,” Anne asked, “that Morris knows how you feel about this girl?”

“If he doesn’t, he’s pretty dense. I’ve tried to let him know.”

“Well, if you’ve tried talking about it and maybe accusing and chiding and that hasn’t helped, it at least wouldn’t hurt to try some other method, would it? Perhaps if he thought you didn’t care, or that you were big enough to realize that he was under the spell of a foolish infatuation, that might make him see things as he should.”

“But I don’t think it is infatuation. I’m jealous because – I know the girl – must be wonderful. There’s more to her than there is to me. She’s educated like he is. Maybe – he was just infatuated with me and this – this – is his real – love,” again she began to dab at her eyes.

Anne was surprised and encouraged that Phyllis was beginning to sense what was perhaps the truth.

“Now don’t let your imagination make mountains out of molehills,” she comforted. “Morris was madly in love with you when he married you. We know of course that love is a queer plant. It needs a lot of pampering and tending; yet it doesn’t die suddenly or without some cause.” Anne waited a moment then asked, “Are you willing to try my plan?”

“I’m willing to try anything that will keep Morris – that will make him love me again. But I haven’t any money to pay for music lessons – without asking Morris.”

“And that wouldn’t do of course. This music is to help you give Morris a surprise. I’ll write to Mr. Driggs and make arrangements for your lessons.”

Anne knew that she couldn’t afford such a thing, either. It was hard enough keeping her budget balanced, but she must do something to help Phyllis recapture her charm for Morris, and Anne remembered that he used to talk about the girl’s beautiful voice and say that someday he was going to have her cultivate it.

As Phyllis rose to go, Anne asked where the baby was.

“Morris was going out to look over a site for a new country house for Mrs. Wallace and took Junior with him. I had a chance to ride over here with Nan Myers who came to bring some papers to her father. She’ll be waiting for me. Thanks so much for – helping me. I’ll go to Castle Junction tomorrow. Aunt Laura has been wanting me to come for a visit.”

When she was alone, Anne went back to her work. there, she thought to herself, I’ve let myself in for something else to keep me awake nights. She went upstairs to finish her dusting.

As she entered Quint’s room, she was surprised to find him there.

As she entered he turned quickly from a box he had on his bed, putting something hastily into his pocket. To the mother he seemed greatly confused as he put the box back on the closet shelf.

“Why, hello, Quint. It isn’t dinner time yet, I hope.”

“No – I – I just came home for a handkerchief. Goodbye.” He dashed down the stairs and was gone.

Anne sighed. She wished Quint wasn’t such an enigma. She was still worrying over that night he had been out until after four o’clock. And now this strange behavior.

With Gloria she could get at the problems that worried her; even though she couldn’t always solve them, she at least knew what they were. As Anne worked she recalled that afternoon Gloria had gone with Jerald Meekin to the Shriners’ outing even after she had been told that her parents disapproved. When Jim Harker had called up from the store and told Anne that Gloria had gone, she had at first thought he resented it merely because she had left her work, and she had spoken rather curtly to him when she said Gloria had told her about it and asked him if she hadn’t got someone to take her place. Later as she thought of it, she knew this was not like Jim, so she had called him and asked what he had meant. When he had answered that he just wouldn’t want a daughter of his out with a man like Meekin and didn’t think she would, Anne couldn’t rest until she had induced him to drive up to the Grange and bring Gloria home.

This had infuriated her. She would hardly speak to her mother. Then an item had appeared in the paper a week or so later stating that Meekin was being prosecuted for bigamy in another state and Gloria had been crushed with shame at the way she had behaved.

If it wasn’t one problem, it was another to worry about, Anne thought as she went down to start dinner. But there were the innumerable little bright spots thrown in all along the way. Only yesterday she had received that lovely letter from Peter, who had been detained longer in Layton working on the store merger than he had anticipated. He had spent a whole evening in his hotel writing a real love letter to his wife. When a woman who has been married twenty-four years and has a family of six children receives such a letter as that, Anne had mused, life was worth living. And the twins were such a source of interest and pleasure, too. The days could not be dull with two ingenious little boys of ten about. Anne had always thought that they had been sent as a recompense for the loss of the little girl who had died the year before they were born.

Quint and Gloria came from the store for lunch. The twins were called in from the sand pile and sent to the bathroom while the meal was being taken from the stove. Just as the family were sitting down to eat, a special deliver letter was brought to the door. A glance at the address told Anne that it was from Suzanne, and a sudden premonition swept over her.

(To be continued)



  1. She had felt herself that Morris’s infatuation for Phyllis was diminishing with his maturity just as she and Peter had feared it would when they tried to persuade him to wait until he was through college before thinking of marriage.


    You mean that the Relief Society Magazine once published a story with a clause that went against widespread present-day cultural norms at BYU? I feel shattered.

    Comment by David B — March 2, 2011 @ 12:19 pm

  2. Don’t you love it?! There are other parts to this story, here and in upcoming episodes, that you wouldn’t expect from a church magazine, either. I love our grandparents’ generation!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 2, 2011 @ 12:31 pm

  3. I feel sorry for Phyllis and upset with Morris, but as fictional characters it is fascinating how Anne is dealing with their struggles.

    Gloria’s mess sure cleaned up quickly. A bigamist!

    Comment by kew — March 2, 2011 @ 1:01 pm

  4. This is exactly the kind of stuff that would keep one of my grandmothers reading the magazine, and drive the other one away.

    Comment by mmiles — March 2, 2011 @ 8:28 pm

  5. What I find interesting is the thread of desperate coping that is going through Anne’s narrative. Perhaps I’m reading more into it than is there, but I sense that she is trying to gain control over others lives to compensate for a lack of control in her own life.

    Comment by SilverRain — March 3, 2011 @ 10:29 am

  6. It would be interesting if you could pin down what gives you that sense, SilverRain, or keep track of the points where you feel that as the story unfolds. (I don’t want to spoil anything that’s coming by saying more, but your feeling that so early in the story is intriguing.)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 3, 2011 @ 10:37 am

  7. I think perhaps I am hypersensitive to it.

    So far, I would say that her husband’s absence forebodes that perhaps it is she, and not (or as well as) her daughter-in-law who should fear infidelity, and she probably already does. Particularly because of the way she reacted to Phyllis’ fears: by bundling her off to “improve herself”. I suspect she reads a lot of her own subconscious perception of her own marital relationship into her son’s marriage. Everything she says about Phyllis, I suspect she feels about herself.

    Her selflessness in not waking her husband is salted with her negative self-talk as early as the very first paragraph. She then follows this self-directed negativity immediately with a long worry about her 16-year-old and a criticism of her husband’s parenting. Then, almost as if to reprimand herself for even thinking bad things about her husband, she continues with more negative language regarding herself. She even turns her husband’s criticism onto herself by saying “she never had been able to acquire” the quality she had just been criticizing. She is constantly, in a myriad tiny ways, picking apart other people and then directing the shame and guilt towards herself.

    That is an ugly cycle I recognize all too well.

    And that’s just in the first half of the first installment. I could go on, but I don’t want to make TOO long of a comment!

    Comment by SilverRain — March 3, 2011 @ 10:47 am

  8. Thanks, SR. Although Elsie Chamberlain Carroll was one of the better (and most regular) writers of Relief Society Magazine fiction, I don’t suppose either she or the editorial staff were sophisticated enough to deliberately inject this into the story. So to the extent that your perceptions hold true throughout the serial, I wonder whether they reflect something from the author herself, or whether the routine roles of mother and wife just naturally include these elements. After all, the binds Anne’s family members find themselves in seem realistic, and her concern for them would be natural, as well as her sense of responsibility to help “fix” the problems. We might not suggest exactly the same method Anne suggests to Phyllis, but her diagnosis of the problem seems realistic, and any of us might try to suggest something Phyllis could do (unless we were ideologically committed to a complete hands-off policy of mother-in-lawhood).

    Maybe it seems strange to wonder about the interior lives of fictional characters this way — at least strange for a historian who supposedly should focus more on actual historical happenings — but as I type these stories I keep considering what they would have meant to LDS women of the day, what questions and problems and ways of facing life were reflected in these stories that made them as popular as they evidently were. I really appreciate your insight in this particular case, SR.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 3, 2011 @ 11:26 am

  9. I am now assigning my literature class to read this series and all the comments. This is wonderful!

    If I only taught psychology or family therapy . . .

    Comment by Carol — March 3, 2011 @ 11:49 am

  10. : )

    One of the things I hope to do eventually — after I’ve posted lots and lots of raw material to draw from and link to — is to write some posts about the fiction from church magazines and what it can tell us about Mormons of the past. I’m hoping for participation from readers who like to look at literature that way.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 3, 2011 @ 11:59 am

  11. I once met a fellow who refused to sully his magnificent brain with fiction because nothing could be learned from it. However, when I read Grimm’s Fairy Tales for the first time it struck me that the hopes and fears and daily habits of my ancestors were all wrapped up with the fantastical bits. I definitely think that fiction can give us a hint about the sorts of things nonfiction forgot to take note of. Thanks, Ardis.

    Comment by Moniker Challenged — March 3, 2011 @ 12:59 pm

  12. Thank you, Moniker, and all others who are reading these stories, whether or not you have commented.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 3, 2011 @ 1:25 pm

  13. I’m a big advocate of fiction and even fantasy. I think it allows us to express our subconscious where we wouldn’t feel safe to do so otherwise, and in some ways can be even more real than nonfiction (which always has bias.)

    I think you’re right, Ardis. I doubt very much that those elements are intended to be injected into the story. Which is why I find them interesting. It seems to me to shine a window on a dissatisfaction that might have been so ubiquitous that it was considered normal.

    But it could as easily be my own spin on otherwise innocuous writing.

    Comment by SilverRain — March 3, 2011 @ 3:18 pm

  14. And I’ll say, too, that I don’t think that good roles of wife and mother have to include these elements, but that many people assume they must, and label anything else as selfish.

    Comment by SilverRain — March 3, 2011 @ 3:20 pm

  15. Yeah, I should edit my earlier “whether the routine roles of mother and wife just naturally include these elements” to continue with “in the apparent expectations of that generation.”

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 3, 2011 @ 3:50 pm

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