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We Can’t All Be Generals

By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 07, 2011

From the Relief Society Magazine, February 1959 –

We Can’t All Be Generals

By Dorothy S. Romney

Hallie Evans relaxed under the trained fingers of the beauty operator. She had come here at her sister Karin’s suggestion.

At exactly eight o’clock that morning the telephone bell had shrilled through her quiet house.

“Hi! I’m glad you’re up,” Karin’s voice held its usual authority.

“Hello,” Hallie had managed to squeeze in, before Karin’s hurrying voice continued: “You’re to come here for dinner tonight. I’m having the most stimulating group in – two of the new university staff, and – now that you have all that beautiful freedom,” Karin sighed, “for goodness sake stop in and have something done with your hair. Be here at six, Hallie dear, so you can help me with the last minute preparations.”

“Thank you, Karin, I’ll be there,” Hallie assured her.

“See you then, ‘bye,” said Karin.

“Goodbye,” Hallie heard the click of the receiver.

My baby sister, she mused, as though the idea were new to her, and she orders me around as if she were a four-star general.

Well, why not? her thoughts continued. I’ve always been handy when she needed me. Ever since they had lost their parents some years ago, Hallie, who was eight years her sister’s senior, had cared for her, and she admitted, spoiled her.

Karin had married young, and now had two handsome little sons, Tommy and Frank, Jr., while Hallie had passed up her chance to marry to maintain the family home until Karin grew up.

After that she’d taken a job as town librarian, and never once in the past five years had she taken time off until now.

“You’re in a rut,” Karin had told her. “Now that you have Mary Lou Lacey nicely trained to run the library, you must take the whole summer off.”

It was a challenge, and Hallie had taken it, much to her own amazement. This was the first day of her “beautiful freedom,” as Karin called it.

My hair does need grooming, she had decided, as she washed up her breakfast dishes after the call from Karin.

She felt herself growing drowsy to the hum of the drying machines outside her booth.

“Let me give you a ‘Hilite’ rinse,” the operator said. “You have lovely brown eyes – and your skin is really clear. A rinse is all you need.”

It sounded exciting, but a rinse, well, Hallie didn’t know. The girl stood poised, waiting.

“Oh, no, not today,” Hallie finally decided.

“I’ll use a spray, that will bring out some lustre,” the operator said, disappointed.

Hallie was wide awake again. She began making plans for the summer. She would go out of town for a few weeks – get a new perspective.

With this small decision out of the way, she felt better.

Spring was definitely in the air, and as Hallie left the shop she decided to look for a suitable dress to wear tonight. Something bright and springlike.

She found an inexpensive dress shop close by. She looked at prints, then wondered if something darker wouldn’t be better after all.

Oh, dear, she thought, why can’t I be more like Karin, who never wavers on a decision?

Hallie walked home, carrying her purchase, and as she let herself into the house, she thought, it’s much too quiet and empty. I’ll never get used to being here all day.

By five-thirty that evening she was dressed and ready to go to Karin’s. As she drove toward her sister’s house she wondered vaguely what these new co-workers of Frank’s would be like. Of course, they would have wives, and Hallie would find herself feeling vastly unimportant again as she always did – a mere onlooker.

Karin greeted her breathlessly. She was already dressed, and Hallie found herself thinking, she couldn’t possibly crush that beautiful dress by tying on an apron. But she won’t have to, she has me here.

“I’ve the flower arrangements to do,” Karin told her immediately,”would you mind finishing up in the kitchen?”

“Not at all,” Hallie answered, kissing Karin lightly on the cheek. “You look sweet.”

She really hated to cover up the new dress with the huge apron Karin always kept on the kitchen door for her.

There were more details to be taken care of than she had expected. Karin had made a list – “make gravy, cook peas,” etc.

The time must have passed rapidly, as it seemed no time at all until the low murmur of voices from the front of the house told her Karin’s guests had arrived.

Karin came in. “If you’ll dish things up, I’ll carry them in,” she said.

Everything was ready. Hallie removed her apron and followed her sister into the dining room.

“Professor and Mrs. Fuller,” Karin said, “and Dr. Barton, I’d like you to meet my sister Hallie.”

Introductions over, the conversation immediately turned to the difficult problem of bringing up a family in these modern times.

The Fullers, it was soon established, had an energetic foursome, while Dr. Barton was the father of six-year-old twin boys and a baby daughter of three. His wife had died two years ago, Hallie learned from the conversation, and he had a matronly housekeeper looking after his brood.

Hallie listened, making no comment. She was beginning to wonder if they thought her completely tongue-tied, when Dr. Barton turned to her. “This must be a very dull conversation to you,” he said.

“Oh, no,” she protested, “it’s very enlightening. I’ve taught a Sunday School class for years, and even though I have no children of my own …” she hoped no one noticed the wistfulness that crept into her voice, “I welcome firsthand information on child psychology.”

Dr. Barton was thoughtful for a moment, then said, “I feel guilty not having more time to spend with my children.”

The conversation turned to literature and music, about which Hallie knew a great deal, and could discuss with full confidence of her own knowledge.

She was thoroughly enjoying herself when the time came to serve the dessert. Karin looked in her direction. Hallie nodded and rose from the table. She cleared plates and served the dessert, one of Karin’s masterpieces. She had made it earlier in the day from one of her favorite Relief Society cookbook recipes.

“How can anyone cook a delicious meal like this,” Professor Fuller asked Karin, “and still look as fresh as an unpicked tulip?”

By having a sister named Hallie, Hallie thought, and was immediately sorry. She loved doing things for Karin.

The company moved into the living room. Usually Hallie would slip away into the kitchen and wash up the dishes. But tonight there was no need to hurry with this task.

She had forgotten how very pleasant it was to sit in a room full of people and enjoy good talk. The time passed swiftly. At about ten o’clock Professor Fuller arose. “We really must be going,” he said, “eight o’clock classes, you know.”

“It’s a good thing you reminded me,” Dr. Barton agreed. “I’m enjoying myself so much.” He shook hands all around, and Hallie wondered if she only imagined he held her hand an extra long time. “I hope I see you again soon,” he said.

The door closed on the guests.

Hallie sat down on a hassock. She watched as Karin almost danced around the room, her blond hair and yellow dress making a bright splash of color in the softly lamp-lit room. Like a golden butterfly looking for a place to light, she thought, and then smiled at her poetic frame of mind. She needn’t have worried about too-bright a print, she reflected. Karin’s glory would have outshone the very gayest.

“I have papers to correct,” Frank told them, “so I’ll say goodnight to you now, Hallie.”

“Good night, Frank.”

He went into the den.

Karin finally found a place to light. She looked at her sister. “Well, how do you like the new faculty members?” she asked, breathlessly.

“They’re all very nice,” Hallie replied. “And now we’d better do those dishes, so I can get home and pack. I’ve promised myself a little trip.”

“A trip,” Karin repeated, as though somewhat amazed. “What kind of a trip?” Then, without waiting for an answer, “Frank and I had sort of planned a weekend away from the children. He’s been working awfully hard.”

Hallie opened her mouth to say that she could put off her trip until next week, and then closed it firmly.

“Yes,” she said, “I believe a trip will do me good.”

* * * * *

The first week of Hallie’s vacation passed pleasantly. She had taken along a volume of Keats and one of Browning, her favorite poets, and was reading “Ode to a Nightingale” one afternoon for the hundredth time.

’Tis not through envy of thy happy lot
But being too happy in thy happiness …

She glanced up from her chair on the wide, shaded veranda and saw a car stop in front. Guests were few, and each one arriving afforded a small bit of excitement.

She saw “Hey Boy,” the Oriental houseboy, rush down the steps to welcome the visitors, and to carry in their luggage.

She was about to return to her poetry when her heart leaped. With quickened interest she saw that the visitor was Dr. Barton, and that he had his children with him. She noted that the only luggage he had was a large picnic basket and some straw mats.

The arrival of the Barton family must be a coincidence, not a visit to her, she reasoned.

“Hallie,” Dr. Barton greeted her, coming up the steps, “I hope we didn’t take you too much by surprise.”

“You did,” she answered, honestly. It was no coincidence, after all, her heart rejoiced.

He sat down next to Hallie. The children stood politely quiet while their father introduced them. the twins – Don, with mischievous-looking blue eyes and blond curly hair, and Rohn, solemnly dark-eyed, dark-haired like his father.

They shook hands with Hallie, then sat down on the steps.

“A busy pair, when they’re in their native habitat,” their father remarked fondly.

He drew his daughter onto his lap. “This is Julie,” he said. “Say hello to Miss Evans.”

“Not Miss Evans, please,” Hallie said. “Call me Hallie.”

“Hello, Hallie,” Julie said. “We’ve come to take you on a picnic.”

“Hello, Julie,” Hallie replied. “I’d love to go on a picnic with you.”

“I called Karin to find where you’d disappeared to, when your telephone didn’t answer,” Dr. Barton explained. “Had to threaten her before she’d tell me. Said you’d gone away to plan your future, and didn’t want any intruders,” he teased. He looked at her searchingly, suddenly serious. “And have you made your plans for the future?” he asked.

“No, Dr. Barton,” she replied simply, “not a single plan.” It was strange how she could talk so honestly to this man whom she scarcely knew.

“Must we be so formal?” he asked. “My name is David.”

They found just the right spot for the picnic, within walking distance of the lodge. There were trees and a sparkling brook, with enough level, grassy ground to make for comfort.

David set the picnic basket down in front of Hallie. “Here you are – this is your department. Hope we didn’t forget the salt.”

Hallie opened the basket and started spreading the tablecloth. She felt a warmth around her heart – what better way could David have found to make her feel an integral part of the little group?

David spread the mats, all the while keeping an eye on his children, who had gone to the brook’s edge, and were busily tossing small pebbles into the water. Hallie could hear their shouts and happy laughter over the faint tinkling of the brook.

After lunch, as Hallie was clearing up, the boys asked their father to take them out exploring. “Go ahead,” Hallie offered when she saw David hesitate, “Julie and I will stay here.”

“No, we’ll wait,” David answered. “This family always does things together.”

The balance of the week passed slowly for Hallie. She received several notes from David. The last one, which arrived the day before her departure ended: “Hope we see you soon,” and it was signed, David, Don, Rohn, and Julie.” The last three in childish scrawls. “The family that does things together,” Hallie thought, with quickened heartbeat.

Early the next morning she boarded the bus for home.

Karin met her at the station. “Why, Hallie,” she exclaimed, “you look different.”

“I have a slight suntan,” she admitted.

“No, it isn’t that.” Karin inspected her sister closely.

Possibly that happy look that she isn’t used to, Hallie told herself.

She was only mildly surprised when Karin headed her car in the direction of her own home. “Aren’t you going the wrong way?” she asked. “I’ve loads of things to do at home.”

“Oh, but Hallie,” Karin protested, “my appointment is at two, and there isn’t time for you to stop off.” As though Hallie knew all about her commitments and was responsible for the care of the children.

Hallie looked at her sister. Poor child, she does look tired, she thought. “All right, dear,” she said. “I can begin my work just as well tomorrow.”

It was five-thirty before Karin returned home. In the meantime Hallie had fed the boys their dinner and helped them get ready for bed.

“Oh,” Karin said, tossing her spotlessly white gloves and purse on the divan, “I forgot to tell you, Dr. Barton called this morning and left word for you to call him. Tickets for the concert tonight – or something.”

“Oh, Karin, Karin,” Hallie lamented, “why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

“I’m sorry, it simply slipped my mind,” Karin said, apologetically.

She might still catch him at his office. What on earth shall I say? she thought – “This is Hallie, who isn’t important enough to receive messages before it’s too late – sorry.” then scolded herself, I’m being childish – Karin simply forgot.

She reached for the telephone just as it rang.

It was David. He greeted her warmly, then asked if he could pick her up for the concert. She would have to shower and dress right here, she decided quickly.

“I’ll be at Karin’s,” she told him.

“Fine. About seven-thirty.”

David came, but instead of driving toward the concert hall, drove toward his home. He had bought the old Atherton place, Hallie knew. It was considered one of the most gracious dwellings the town afforded.

“I promised the children we’d stop off so they could see you,” he explained. “We’ve plenty of time. I hope you don’t mind?”

“Mind?” she said, “I’d love it.”

The children came tumbling down the stairs, as soon as David showed her in. They were rosy-cheeked and scrubbed looking, and in their night clothes.

“Hallie, Hallie,” Julie cried, and ran into Hallie’s arms.

She caught her up and held her tight, feeling the warmth of the chubby arms around her neck.

The boys were more formal. They shook hands and said, “Hello.”

After a few moments, their father ordered: “Now off you go upstairs, all of you. Mrs. Busby will read you a story.”

“No, I want Hallie to read to me,” Julie demanded.

She tightened her hold around Hallie’s neck. Her father came over and gently disentangled her grip. “Off you go,” he repeated. ‘Hallie will read to you some other time. Perhaps we might even persuade her to go on another picnic with us – say this Saturday afternoon.” He looked questioningly at Hallie over the top of his daughter’s head.

She nodded, then kissed Julie on the cheek.

“Oh, goodie, a picnic!” Don and Rohn exclaimed in unison, and Hallie watched as the trio pattered up the stairs, Julie turning as she reached the top to throw them a goodnight kiss.

It was several weeks after they had met at Karin’s that David told her one evening – half apologetically – half hopefully – “We can’t seem to get along without you a single day any more, Hallie.”

There had been picnics, dinners at which Hallie was asked to preside, storytime, and endless other good times together.

It was wonderful to feel that she was needed, she thought.

Then one evening after a happy afternoon spent at the zoo, with the children safely delivered into the capable hands of Mrs. Busby, David, driving her home, said: “I hope you are no longer making plans for the future – plans that don’t include the Barton family, that is. We need you, Hallie, and want you.”

Hallie hadn’t known there could be this much joy in the world.

There would be no announcement as yet, but Karin and Frank should be told, they decided together.

Early the next morning Hallie drove to her sister’s house. Karin was already out weeding the flower beds.

“Hi!” she looked up at Hallie, and the sun made a circlet of gold through her bright curls. “I’m glad you came. There’s work to be done.”

“I didn’t intend to stay,” Hallie said. “I just dropped by to tell you something.”

Karin dropped her weeding fork and sat back on the grass.

“Oh, Hallie, you’re not?” she cried, then without waiting for an answer – “you’re not going to give up your wonderful freedom to take care of someone else’s children?”

“Karin, dear,” Hallie began gently, try to understand. I don’t intend to think of David’s children as someone else’s – I hope I can think of them as my own. Besides, simply having nothing to do isn’t truly freedom – freedom is of the heart.”

Suddenly she and Karin were in each other’s arms.

“Oh, Hallie, how selfish and blind I’ve been. David is a wonderful person, and I know you’ll be very happy.”

“I’m sure we will – all five of us,” Hallie agreed.

Life was wonderful, she reflected, even though you were just a marching soldier. A life of service was what her individual nature required, she was sure of that.

She looked at Karin fondly.

Bless her stout little heart, she thought, we can’t all be generals.



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