Agnes Bigelow, children’s book author and empty-nester, was feeling blue despite her success with both family and career. Then she saw the child’s hand-lettered sign posted near the highway.
From the Relief Society Magazine, June 1960 –
Needed by Someone
By Helen H. Trutton
It was starting to rain when Agnes backed the car out of the garage and looked at the house. I haven’t been this lonely since Rod’s death over twenty years ago, she thought as she drove away. At least then I felt needed, with three young girls to care for.
It’s not that I’m unhappy, either, she told herself emphatically as the memory of Marla’s radiant face flashed before her. I guess I’m just tired from the round of activities before her marriage in the temple, and preparations for the reception were most exhaustive.
Marla, her youngest, was the last to leave home, and was now living in the East. Last year it had been Paula, living presently in Denver. Then two years ago Christine had married and, fortunately, she lived only about a hundred miles from Carsonville in Midville.
Agnes felt very grateful that her daughters had found such marital happiness. Certainly she wouldn’t want it any other way, but still, one thought kept gnawing at her, especially since Marla’s marriage. What does a mother do when her family no longer needs her? Not one single person really depends on her any more.
Of course she had her writing, her livelihood since Rod’s passing. Lucky she had been successful in that, for it had meant she could do her work at home and be with the girls while they were growing up.
She glanced down momentarily at her latest book entitled The Little Lady lying on the seat beside her. She’d brought it along to study in her spare moments in hopes of making her next book better.
Agnes mustered a faint smile, displaying two dimples on her well-sculptured mature face as she passed a neighbor’s house, and with an instinctive gesture, ran the fingers of her right hand quickly through her short, well-groomed gray hair.
She hadn’t called Christine to tell her she was coming to the writers’ conference at Bill City, fifteen miles this side of Midville. Later, she would call her and, if Christine wasn’t too busy, maybe they could have lunch together, at least.
I shouldn’t be taking this trip, Agnes reminded herself, with an unfinished manuscript waiting for me that’s really been neglected these past few weeks. But it isn’t every day an author gets an appointment with her publisher, especially Mr. Adams, one of the top men in his field.
The rain began lashing down in torrents now, so characteristic of early spring, particularly through the mountainous region, making visibility from any distance difficult. Fortunately, Agnes was forced to drive slowly or she might not have noticed the makeshift sign along the side of the road. Agnes stopped the car and read aloud, “Wanted Mother Nurse. Ask in house.”
Back about four hundred yards from the road stood a rather old log cabin that looked deserted except for a thin spiral of smoke puffing from the chimney. Agnes’s first impulse was that a prankster had posted the sign, but something almost urgent in the childish scribble made her decide to investigate. A few minutes wouldn’t make any difference in her plans.
As the car came to a stop in front of the cabin, a young girl around eight or nine darted out the door calling excitedly, “You saw my sign?”
“Yes. What can I do for you?”
“Mommy’s terribly sick,” and the girl began to cry.
“”Oh, I’m very sorry. I’ll help all I can,” Agnes reassured her, as she quickly climbed out of the car and followed the youngster into the house.
“Mommy’s in there.” The child indicated the bedroom. “Daddy’s with her.”
Agnes knocked gently and waited a moment before opening the door. A young man, sitting at the side of the bed, looked up bewildered as she entered.
“I understand you need help,” Agnes said kindly.
The man didn’t answer immediately, but stared at her, and then bending over the still form of his wife, his voice broke as he whispered, “Our prayers have been answered, Lydia darling. Someone has come.”
“Do you know what is wrong with her?” Agnes asked, while taking off her coat. “I’m not a nurse.”
He turned away from the bed, and she saw how tired and scared he looked as he spoke. “I’m afraid it’s pneumonia.”
“Then she should be in a hospital. Carsonville is the nearest and that’s about thirty miles from here. You should have taken her hours ago.”
“I know,” he said, “but our car is broken down.” He walked about and looked down anxiously at his wife. “When she got worse last night, I tried to stop the few cars going along the highway, but I guess they thought I was a fugitive or something. None of them would stop.”
Agnes bent over Lydia. “You’ll be all right. I have a car.”
The woman rallied a little and opened her eyes. “I can’t leave my baby. He’s been sick, too.”
“Davey’s fine now,” the man assured her. “He’s all smiles and eating well again.”
Agnes placed her hand on the hot forehead of the ill woman. “I know you don’t know me. I’m Agnes Bigelow. I live in Carsonville. I’ll stay here and care for the children while your husband takes my car and drives you to the hospital.”
The young woman’s eyes brightened. “You’re very kind. I think you must be an angel.”
Agnes smiled. “Here, let me wrap you up well,” and she carefully tucked the blanket around her, then stood back while the man gently gathered his wife up in his arms. “I’ll be back as soon as I can,” he called over his shoulder. “Our name’s Freeman. God bless you, Mrs. Bigelow.”
At the door, he turned. “Are you in a hurry to get to your destination?”
“Not until tomorrow. I do have a rather important meeting then, at one o’clock.”
He looked relieved. “I’ll have your car back by that time.”
After they drove away, Agnes turned her attention to the baby in the crib. “Hello,” she smiled down at him. “You’re a fine looking one.”
“My name’s Caroline,” a low, timid voice spoke behind her. “Is my Mommy going to get well?”
Agnes slipped her arms around the trembling little girl. “I’m sure your mother will be well soon. Did you put that sign out there?”
“That was good thinking.”
“Thank you. Now if you like, I’ll show you your room,” and she led the way to a bedroom. “This is my room, but I’ll sleep on the davenport.”
“Thank you, Caroline, for letting me use your room. I won’t unpack just yet.”
The baby began to fuss, and Agnes hurried to his side. “Do you know his feeding schedule, dear?”
Caroline glanced at the clock hanging on the wall. “It’s time in ten minutes. Daddy fixed his formula this morning.”
“Good. I think I’ll straighten up things before lunch.”
“I can help,” the youngster volunteered, as she joined Agnes in picking up articles and arranging chairs in the rather crowded, small room. “Only maybe I should heat Davey’s bottle first.”
Agnes smiled at the girl’s eagerness to help, just the way Christine used to pitch in when Paul was a baby, she remembered.
Caroline finished heating the milk and, after carefully testing it for the proper temperature, took the bottle in to Davey. When she returned, she stood idly watching Agnes move about the room.
“Is everything all right, dear?”
“Yes. I was just thinking,” and she ducked her head self-consciously. “Daddy was going to make cookies today, if Mommy was better.”
This is really like old times, Agnes thought happily. “Why don’t I make them? I have a recipe my girls were fond of when they were growing up.”
“Would you really, Mrs. – Mrs.?”
“Bigelow. Of course I will. As I remember, these special cookies were best made in shapes of elves, fairies, and …”
Caroline quickly suggested, “Could I help?”
Agnes laughed. “By all means. I’m counting on it.”
A child’s creative instinct, when confronted with rolled-out cookie dough, doesn’t belong to any particular generation, Agnes soon decided, as she watched Caroline gleefully cut patterns of every imaginable form. Christine, Paula, and Marla had enjoyed that part of cookie making, too.
It was late afternoon before all the work was finished, and Davey fed again and asleep. Then Agnes found time to sit down to rest.
Caroline edged into a chair close by and asked, “Do you know any stories?”
“Well, I have a book with my things you might enjoy. I write stories for youngsters.”
“May I get it?” the girl asked enthusiastically.
“If you like.”
When she returned with the book, she sat down and began to leaf through its contents. “My Daddy draws like that,” Caroline said, pointing to an illustration.
The youngster jumped up and went to the back bedroom and gathered an armful of drawings. “See,” she said, returning to the room.
Agnes looked them over carefully. “These are good. Does he draw, that is, does he sell them?”
“Not too many yet, but Daddy says it takes time to get established,” she answered sadly. “He will, though.”
“They’re better than good,” she told the girl. “You know, I need someone to illustrate the book I’m working on. I’ll talk to your Daddy.”
By eight o’clock Agnes was tired, and apparently Mr. Freeman wasn’t returning before morning. “I think we should go to bed, don’t you?” she asked.
“Maybe Mommy is worse,” Caroline answered, tears coming quickly in her eyes.
“Try not to worry, dear, and remember her in your prayers tonight.”
“Oh, I will,” she cried, “and you, too.” Then she got up and walked into another room and gathered some bedding and piled it on the davenport. “I was just wondering,” she finally spoke, “if I could call you Grandma?”
Agnes couldn’t trust herself to speak for a moment as she helped the girl make her bed. “I’d feel very honored, if you’d call me Grandma.”
It was still raining the next morning when Agnes awakened to find Caroline standing by her bed.
“Daddy will be home today for sure, won’t he, Grandma?”
“I’m sure he will. How’s Davey? I fed him at four this morning.”
“Davey’s fine, Grandma.”
After breakfast, Agnes bathed Davey and straightened up the house again before she went in to dress for the trip to Bill City. she was really looking forward to meeting Mr. Adams to discuss some ideas on a future book. Mr. Freeman would be home any moment, and she must be ready to leave. But it was almost eleven o’clock before Caroline called excitedly, “Here comes Daddy, Grandma.”
Agnes looked out the window to see her car coming down the lane followed by another car, and watched as a strange man climbed out and came to the door.
“Mrs. Bigelow?” he asked politely, as she opened the door.
“Mr. Freeman asked me to leave your car here. He had to wait for a part for his car, but he didn’t want you to miss your meeting. He’ll catch a ride home in a couple of hours.”
“How is Mrs. Freeman?”
“Much better this morning,” the man answered. “Now if you’ll excuse me, my wife is waiting in our car.” He started to leave, then turned back to her. “Oh, Mr. Freeman asked if you’d mind stopping on your way home so he could settle with you?”
When Agnes turned to tell Caroline the good news, she found her dancing merrily about the room.
“Goody! Goody! Mommy’s getting well. I just knew she would, though.”
“That’s wonderful news, dear.”
The girl stopped dancing and walked to the window. “You’ll be going soon?”
“Do you want me to stay?”
“No, I wouldn’t want you to miss your appointment.”
“Well …” Agnes glanced at the clock. It was a little after eleven; she’d really have to get started to make it to Bill City by one o’clock, and that meeting was very important.
“If I could be sure your Daddy would get here shortly …”
“He will, Grandma.”
Agnes joined Caroline at the window, and watched little streams of water running down the road. Supposing, just supposing something happened so that Mr. Freeman didn’t make it back. The thought kept running through Agnes’ mind. Somehow, as the minutes ticked by, the meeting with Mr. Adams became less and less important.
“Caroline,” she finally said, “I’ll wait for your father’s return.”
“But your important appointment?”
Agnes put her arms around the girl. “Suddenly, it doesn’t seem nearly as urgent as staying here.”
A happy look crossed the child’s face. “I’m glad you’re staying.”
Hours sped by. It was late afternoon, and still Mr. Freeman hadn’t come. What had happened? Was Mrs. Freeman worse, or had Mr. Freeman been in an accident? Agnes tried desperately not to show concern to alarm Caroline.
“I’m sure the car part was delayed,” she had repeated numerous times during the day. “He’ll be here soon now.”
Then, just as dusk was beginning to settle in the lonely mountainous region, Caroline jumped to her feet at the sound of someone on the porch.
“Here comes Daddy,” and she flung the door open.
“Daddy! Daddy!” she cried. “Mommy’s getting well!”
“Yes, dear,” and then he noticed Agnes in the room.
“I thought you might be delayed.”
Mr. Freeman held out his hand to steady himself against the door. His voice shook. “I’ve been almost frantic since we were delayed by a road slide. I thought the children were alone. Mrs. Bigelow, how can I ever repay you for your kindness? I caused you to miss your appointment. I’m sorry.”
Agnes smiled at him. “I’m just as glad as you are that I stayed. I’ll call my publisher. It’ll do just as well.”
“Your publisher? Then you are the Agnes Bigelow who writes children’s books?”
“Yes, and by the way, Mr. Freeman, your daughter showed me some excellent drawings. I’m looking for someone to do the illustrations in my next book. Would you be interested?”
“Would I?” he exclaimed eagerly.
The young man’s face lighted.
“Good,” Agnes said. “Is the slide all repaired now?”
“Yes, traffic is going through.”
“I was just thinking. Mr. Freeman, with your wife in the hospital in Carsonville, why don’t you and the children come home with me this evening? You’ll be close to the hospital, and the children will be with me. We could talk about the illustrations.”
The young man’s face lighted, then he sat down dejectedly. “We can’t keep imposing on you, Mrs. Bigelow.”
“You’re not,” she laughed. “you just don’t know how large my house seems with my family all gone.”
“Could we, Daddy?” Caroline chimed in. “I’ll help Grandma.”
“My wife was right,” he said. “I think you are an angel.”
By nine o’clock, they were all settled in Carsonville. Mr. Freeman rushed back to the hospital for a few minutes, Caroline and Davey were in bed, and Agnes picked up the receiver and placed a call to Mr. Adams.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t make the appointment,” she explained when she heard his voice on the other end of the line.
Mr. Adams was silent a moment, then without hesitation, “I’ll drive by Carsonville on my return home. I understand it isn’t far out of my way,” he answered amiably.
“Thank you, Mr. Adams. I’d like you to meet the man who is going to do the illustrations, too.”
Five minutes later, the phone rang, and it was Christine.
“Mother, darling,” her voice sounded excited. “I have the most marvelous news. I thought you’d be going to the writer’s conference, and come by here.”
Agnes explained meeting the Freeman family. “So I didn’t go to Bill City, but Mr. Adams is coming by here tomorrow. You haven’t told me the news. What is it?”
“You’re going to be a grandmother.”
“Oh, Christine, that’s just wonderful – that’s just …”
“We thought we’d come over for a few days.” Christine laughed happily. “You know a girl needs her mother to talk to.”
Agnes swallowed. “Make it soon, dear, I’ve plenty of room and you’ll love the Freeman family. I’m so happy, dear.”
Agnes hung up the receiver and walked to the bedroom to check on the children.
“I’m awake, Grandma,” Caroline said, sitting up in bed and flipping on the light over the bed. “Why are you smiling?”
“I was just thinking.” Agnes sat down on the side of the bed and looked about the room. “Yesterday I felt lonely, no one needed me, I even began to think no one really cared about me. You know, dear, to feel needed by someone, helps one to be happy.”
“Does it? am I needed?” the girl asked innocently.
“Indeed you are.” Agnes ruffled Caroline’s curly hair. “You’ll never know what you and your family have done for me. Everyone is needed by someone if she’ll just open her hands wide to the opportunities.”
“Oh,” the girl answered, a little puzzled.
“And right now,” Agnes tucked the covers around her little friend, “I need you most to get me used to being called Grandma.”
“Can I always call you Grandma?” Caroline asked seriously.
“Of course you can, darling. Goodnight,” and smiling happily, Agnes closed the door softly behind her.