Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Anne Brent, Helpmate — part 5

Anne Brent, Helpmate — part 5

By: Ardis E. Parshall - March 09, 2011

Anne Brent, Helpmate

By Elsie Chamberlain Carroll

Previous episode

Part 5

To Anne it wasn’t clear from what the children said nor from Peter’s telegram just who the men were who were coming home with him. When he had left home nearly a month before, Peter had intended to complete the business arrangements of a merger of a number of general merchandise stores in the western part of the state which plan was supposed to work out to the marked advantage of each store. It was a scheme he had been interested in for years. The telegram, however, was from Draton in the northern part of the state. Peter had vaguely hinted in his last letter that if the merger went over as he was sure it was going to this time, he had another business idea which was even better.

Anne used to become discouraged over these numerous schemes Peter was always trying out with so few successes. She had thought many times that if he could settle down to making the most of the business his father had left him they would be much farther ahead than with all his efforts at bigger things which frequently cost them dearly. But she had learned that Peter couldn’t be happy unless he was planning something new, something he thought would benefit not only himself but others, so she had tried to cease worrying about it. The store, managed by Jim Harker, with one or the other of the children to help, gave them a fair living, with her careful management.

There was no time, she told herself as she busied herself with the job of bringing order out of the chaos she found the home in, to speculate as to what Peter’s new venture might be.

“Whatever made you start a wholesale house-cleaning at a time like this?” she asked Gloria.

“That’s what I tried to find out,” Quint volunteered. “She got Jim to let both of us off from the store and then went at it, tearing everything upside-down. It’s been bad enough finding enough to eat around here since you left without the house all tore up.”

Gloria was looking at her mother in surprise and her answer to Anne’s question was a startling revelation.

“Why, Mother, ever since I can remember, whenever we’ve known important company was coming, you’ve cleaned the house – no matter if we’ve just got through cleaning the week before. I can remember once Suzanne said – it was the time the Tomilsons were coming from California – that it seemed funny how you always thought the house looked so terrible if anybody was coming – as if the family wasn’t as good as company. I knew you’d clean if you were here, so I thought we had to. Of course we didn’t count on old Cherry getting that potato in her throat yesterday just after Quint got started on the calcimining and taking his whole evening. Nor we didn’t know the twins were going to try their pet trick of hiding and making us think they were drowned or something and having us hunt them for hours. It has been awful.

“I thought a little while ago I’d have to have Quint stand out by the road and hail Dad before he got home and tell him to take the company to the hotel. I’ve decided that if I ever get married, I’m never going to clean house.”

Anne smiled at the way her own weakness was catching up with her. She believed she had learned a lesson. It had never occurred to her that she really did have an obsession for cleaning whenever she was going to have company. And to make the children feel that things must be better for strangers than for themselves, well, she hadn’t thought of that, either.

“Well, we’ll soon have things in order. It looks a lot worse at this stage than it really is,” she said cheerfully: “Quint, you run over and see if Lon Avery won’t come and finish the calcimining. He can do it so much more quickly than you can, and we will soon have to be getting some parts of the dinner going. Run on around by Lannings and get a quart of ice cream. You children can stop and have a little lunch, then you’ll both feel more like working.” She sent Gloria to do the work upstairs and she herself set about to bring order out of chaos.

By five o’clock the house began to assume a natural appearance and Anne could talk to the children without breaking off to give directions concerning the work.

“Have Morris or Phyllis been over?” she asked as she rolled pie crusts while Quint was peeling potatoes and Gloria was setting the table. She couldn’t help wondering how her advice to Phyllis was working out.

“Morris was here yesterday,” Gloria told her. “He was surprised about you being gone, and he acted awful nervous or something. He kept walking around and snapping his fingers and asking if we didn’t know when you’d be back. He said Phyllis and Junior were in Castle Junction with her aunt.”

“Is there any other news?” Anne asked.

“Have you told her how many letters you’ve had from Hal Gillmore?” asked Quint.

“Who is Hal Gillmore?” asked Anne, wondering if he might be another traveling salesman to worry over.

“You remember Ethel Gillmore who came home with Suzanne last Christmas. He is Ethel’s brother. They stopped on their way to the Grand Canyon. Ethel thought maybe Suzanne was home. We were just having lunch so we invited them to stay and –”

“That was about the only decent lunch we had while you were gone,” Quint complained,”and of course I had to say I didn’t care for about everything there was on the table so there’d be enough for that pretty Gillmore boy. Gloria’d kick me under the table every time anything was passed to me.”

“Well, you know how he eats if there isn’t much of anything,” defended Gloria.

“Well, after lunch they invited us to go to a show. It was Sunday afternoon and we weren’t working.”

“And Glory shook her head at me so I’d say I didn’t want to go,” put in Quint.

“Hal asked if he could write, and I told him if he wanted to so –”

“She comes home twice every day to see if there’s a letter.”

“I do not,” Gloria protested. “But Quint isn’t telling the news about some of his pals, I notice.”

Anne looked at the boy, but a grim look had come into his eyes and he didn’t say anything. “They were pretending to help Judge Thomas guard old Lady Doak’s place from grape and melon thieves. While they were doing that they stole one of her calves and sold it and now they’re going to send them to jail.”

“I’m sorry,” Anne said, “Which of the boys was it?” She must be very careful, she realized, not to lose the ground she had gained towards Quint’s confidence. He still was silent, but Gloria said, “Well, they don’t know who all was mixed in it, but they’ve got Tad Lawler and Bing Houseman and they’re trying to make them tell which others were in on it. The Judge had a whole bunch of the wildest kids in town, they say, taking turns guarding. He thought he was reforming them, and that’s the way it worked out. So far, Tad and Bing haven’t told on the others, but I guess they’ll make them tell.”

“Make tattle-tales out of them,” said Quint, red-faced and with a touch of bitterness. Anne tried to quell the old torturing question that sprang to her mind, Could Quint be one of the boys?

What a terrible thing it is, she mused, to have confidence in a loved one broken. Once shattered, trust is hard to be rebuilt.

When Quint called from the front porch a little after six that Daddy and the men were coming, Anne was ready for them. She was still wondering what the coming of this delegation might mean. She hoped it wasn’t an enterprise that would involve money. Already she was going to have difficulty making up for Phyllis’s music lessons and her trip to Boston before the end of the year.

She wished she could feel more enthusiasm about Peter’s ventures. Once her own wise mother had told her that it wasn’t her business to try to make Peter over, but to help him to make the most of himself as he was. “Most wives,” the old lady had said, “forget that they are helpmates. That means helping their mates, first by doing their own jobs well, and next by helping their mates to do theirs.”

Anne had thought a great deal about that little sermon. She had set up for herself certain definite standards which she thought would help her to be a real helpmate to Peter.

When he came in with his guests and had introduced them to Anne, he said casually, “These men have come to look over a new real estate proposition I have in mind.” Anne’s outward response gave no indication of the misgiving she felt. With two new schemes in hand at the same time, she wondered how far Peter might be carried into the realm of the impracticable – the impossible.

During the dinner, although one or two of the men made an effort to keep the conversation general enough that Anne might be included, most of the time was spent discussing the proposed new real estate venture. She could not, however, obtain a clear enough idea to justify a judgment on its merits.

When they were through eating, Peter said, “I’ll have to take these gentlemen out to look over the situation before their train leaves. I thought you might bring Suzanne home. Our daughter,” he explained to his guests, “is studying art in Boston and really making quite a name for herself. The Missus has just been out to see her.”

Anne was thankful she did not have to break the tragic news she had feared.

It was nearly dark before Peter returned. Anne was sitting on the east porch with a basket of darning she had been working at. As he came up the walk she thought how handsome he was growing in his middle years. His form had lost the lankiness of youth and the greying hair at his temples, and his short mustache gave him a look of distinction. He looked like a man to do big things. Anne felt ashamed at the way she had always doubted his ability. Perhaps he had felt her half-hearted support. Perhaps if she had been a hundred percent helpmate he might have succeeded sometimes when he had failed.

“I’m sorry, Mother, that I couldn’t talk this plan over with you before taking definite action with these men, but I had to work at it while I had a chance to see them. Really, Anne, this is a wonderful proposition. At last it looks as though I’ll be able to do some of the things for you I’ve always wanted to do. If this goes over as it should, you won’t have to work like a slave, nor worry over every cent you spend. We can do things for the children – big things that will help them to be somebody without the grind we’ve always had.”

Anne watched Peter as he went on with the details of the new scheme, and thought how magnificent he was when under the spell of these great enthusiasms.

She wished she could keep from wondering if this new scheme was dependent upon the yet untried merger, and if there were any mortgages on the home or the store involved. Peter knew how she felt about mortgaging the property that gave them their living. Surely he would not take a chance on losing their home or the store. And yet the talk at the table had seemed to imply an outlay of capital.

Finally Peter said, “I had to put a mortgage on the house and the store – just for a few months. You won’t mind that, will you? In less than six months it can all be cleared and we can be doing the things we’ve always wanted to do. You don’t mind, do you?”

Anne felt tears in her eyes burning to be shed. But she forced them back and put her arms around Peter’s neck.

“I love you, Peter,” was all she said.

(To be continued)



  1. I wonder if Elsie Chamberlain Carroll meant for this story to be as sad as I find it.

    Comment by E. Wallace — March 9, 2011 @ 12:37 pm

  2. E., I can guess some aspects of why you might find it sad, but I’d love to hear from you a few details identifying what makes it sad.

    This is the point, incidentally, where I begin to find SilverRain’s earlier comment about Anne feeling out of control of her own life to have been so prescient. I see that out-of-control-ness in Anne’s interior review of her husband’s history of rash or grandiose business ventures, and her reluctance to risk mortgaging the house and store … which, of course, we just saw her husband do, without even so much as a moment’s discussion with her. A life with no control, indeed.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 9, 2011 @ 12:49 pm

  3. I thought it interesting that at five o’clock they were setting the table and peeling potatoes, but that Anne was just rolling out piecrust for the pies. I make a lot of pies and I would not want to be starting them just before mealtime.

    Comment by Maurine Ward — March 9, 2011 @ 12:59 pm

  4. Ditto about the pie crusts! Why make pie if you are short on time?

    “I had to put a mortgage on the house and the store – just for a few months.”

    Some people are able to take those risks and have them pay off, but poor Anne’s husband sure doesn’t have the kind of track record to justify a move like that, with all those children needing some place to live. And, not including his wife in a decision of that sort! Bad idea even if this story happens to have a happy ending.

    Comment by Researcher — March 9, 2011 @ 1:52 pm

  5. Yes. Having a hard time with this story. It is too much like I was when I was married.

    Even more poignant to me than the lack of control (because few of us have control truly, after all!) is her internal fear and how hard she is trying not to show it. As a person who lived with that same constant fear, including the fear that by being afraid, I was also being a bad wife, this is dredging up a lot of unpleasant memories for me.

    But in a good way. 😉

    Comment by SilverRain — March 9, 2011 @ 2:36 pm

  6. This IS a tough story, but at least she has come out on top of her two biggest scrapes: the bigamist and the handsome, pushy professor. Those could have gone either way. She is also lucky that Peter is so handsome. He could have mortgaged the house and the store AND had the face of a chimpanzee, and Anne still would have had to accept it gracefully!

    Comment by Ellen — March 9, 2011 @ 3:01 pm

  7. At one time I could see myself in Anne’s situation. I was taught in MIA classes and later in Relief Society that I was to do everything to make my husband happy — greet him at the door with a clean house dress on (who even wears house dresses now?), fresh makeup, the table set, dinner on the stove, the children’s toys picked up, etc. I was to work out all of the problems with my husband and children with sweetness. And even though my mom was very independent and she and dad shared the work in our house, I bought into the perfect wife thing.That is, until I decided to go back to school and finish my degree in music. My children were ages 1, 5, and 8. I really took a lot of flack from friends, family members, and church leaders who all told me that I had my priorities all wrong and that my place was in the home. I finally got the backbone to do the things I wanted to do for myself, and amazingly, the house did not fall to pieces and we all learned to get along and help each other.

    Comment by Maurine Ward — March 9, 2011 @ 3:08 pm

  8. Ardis: It seems obvious to me that Anne and Peter have a deeply dysfunctional relationship. Part of that could be my own cultural baggage; perhaps the dynamic of Peter’s making those decisions without consultation, or of Anne’s reluctance to voice (very legitimate!) concerns about this venture and its impact on their family, might not have been as shocking when this was published.

    Nonetheless, it seems that their marriage is not a partnership in any meaningful sense. The Brent household is having a rough time. Anne is clearly the one keeping their business afloat, and she hasn’t even wanted to burden Peter with family concerns, some of which are quite serious. Peter certainly hasn’t shown any value-add so far, and things are obviously taking a toll on Anne.

    The depiction of their relationship is sad enough. But I have a horrible suspicion that the moral of the story will be that by embracing and embodying the “helpmate” ideal put forward by Anne’s mother, all will be solved! And that is just depressing.

    Comment by E. Wallace — March 9, 2011 @ 3:27 pm

  9. Thanks, E. I’ve always been interested in how and why we respond to literature beyond “I do/don’t like the story.” Your expanded response here, as well as the thoughtful comments of all others, is appreciated.

    Personally, I would have a difficult time discussing some of the ideas mentioned after several installments, if we were reacting to, say, a general conference talk advising women on their expected roles, or if we were discussing the relationship of real people in a gossipy way. In the context of fiction, I feel totally free to say, and to host others’ saying, just about anything.

    Thanks to all of you who have been responding to this serial. (Your “face of a chimpanzee” really made me laugh, Ellen!)

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 9, 2011 @ 3:48 pm

  10. Wow. The discussion today was really good!

    Comment by Mina — March 9, 2011 @ 5:26 pm

  11. You know … it’s kind of interesting to speculate on the editorial purposes of the magazine at the time this story appeared. As a new church member, I often hear tongue in cheek comments about the cheesiness of the stories in today’s church magazines: it isn’t ever just a story. It’s a story with the expected reasons why things happen and the expected reasons things turn out all right in the end.

    In at least some of these older stories, there is often (comparatively) very little reference to “the standard Sunday school” issues as part of their daily lives.

    I’m not sure which I prefer: the rudderless Annes of this story or the saccharine characters of today’s “actual events”.

    Comment by Ellen — March 9, 2011 @ 7:00 pm

  12. I think that this article at MormonTimes makes an interesting contrast.

    What I find interesting is that Anne is simultaneously so powerful and powerless.

    Comment by Coffinberry — March 9, 2011 @ 8:31 pm

  13. Wow, Coffinberry … and that linked story doesn’t even have the safety of being fiction!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 9, 2011 @ 8:39 pm

  14. Okay, I recognize this story now and it’s not funny anymore. The lady (my aunt) marries an RM and they have 5 kids over the years as the husband bullies her and chases one get-rich-quick scheme after another until finally they loose the house(and everything else) and she decides she has had enough. Unfortunately, she spent all of those years being a supportive helpmate and never went to college, so she has very limited earning capacity. So she marries another guy hoping he’ll solve all her problems and he turns out to be a scuzbucket. Back to minimumish wage for the rest of her life. I imagine the fake story will turn out happier?

    Comment by Moniker Challenged — March 10, 2011 @ 4:42 pm

  15. You’ve just shown how realistic some elements of a story like this can be. Anne still has several trials ahead of her before the end, whatever it is. Maybe — maybe — the resolution will resonate the way these early trials have?

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 10, 2011 @ 5:10 pm

  16. Their spheres are very separate. Without cheap long distance or cellphones they each are used to making decisions in their sphere without their spouse.
    I grew up with a father who was out of town and my mother made many, many decisions without him.
    I think what is missing from the comments is the idea that married partners have to trust each other and how important that is. She tries to trust her husband and have confidence in him even though he isn’t perfect. He has to trust her and have confidence in her.
    He perhaps suffers from not knowing what it is she does and how difficult it is and how capable she truly is. However, at least he has never once criticized her or told her that she is doing it all wrong and micromanaging her. Sure he telegramed that 6 men were coming for dinner but he knew she could pull it off and he didn’t tell her that the pie was a little late coming out of the oven or that the walls looked a little funny, etc.

    Comment by jks — March 10, 2011 @ 5:57 pm

  17. Also, I think the definition of helpmate is interesting. They each have a sphere that they are responsible for so for the marriage to be successful they each need to do their own job well and then make efforts to help their spouse be successful with their jobs. I think this explains a very practical and useful idea of what it means to be married.
    Perhaps people today are more romantic. We hear things about making each other happy or sharing our lives,etc. But for thousands of years having a marriage partner was practical. The husband did X job, the wife did Y job and a happy marriage was when each spouse did their own job really well and in addition helped their spouse be successful (by being supportive or encouraging, by doing practical things that would further the other person’s goals, filling in when the other person had too much going on, etc.)

    Comment by jks — March 10, 2011 @ 6:03 pm

  18. jks, thanks for this additional perspective. I think your noting that spouses may have very different roles and move in different spheres may accurately describe the past. Certainly in 19th century Mormondom, men and women had very different lives — even while they record close emotional ties, diaries of both men and women give a picture of daily lives as distinct and separate. You also describe my own parents’ marriage (they were married in 1955) pretty accurately, I think, and probably what I would have expected had I married.

    I won’t discount the personal experiences of readers who have interpreted Anne’s and Peter’s actions by explaining what those actions would have signalled in their own 21st century marriages, but you do remind us that where expectations and practices were different (as they certainly must have been in some instances, like whether or not a couple had an established pattern of a wife being hostess at a business dinner with little warning, and the technological primitiveness that prevented constant communication) an action might have have meant something different in 1934 than the same action would mean to a 2011 couple.

    Rambling. Just mean to say thank you for a valuable missing perspective.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — March 11, 2011 @ 9:49 am

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