From the Relief Society Magazine, October 1939 –
A Rest for Rose Ellen
By Mabel Harmer
Elizabeth turned off the electric iron, took young Walter firmly by the hand, so that he would not tamper with it in her absence, and went to answer the front door.
“Oh, it’s you, come on in,” she said to her sister Margaret waiting outside. “Don’t tell me that you’ve finished your ironing already?” she asked, leading the way back to the kitchen. It was an entirely superfluous question for she knew that Margaret, being like herself a daughter of Rose Ellen Foster, would never leave home until the Tuesday ironing was laid neatly away in drawers or hung in closets.
“I did part of it yesterday after I finished washing,” Margaret explained, as she settled herself in a rocker and drew forth some darning from the large bag she carried. “Mac was coming into town today, and I wanted to come in and have a talk with you.”
“Anything special?” asked Elizabeth, bearing down on the collar of the blue shirt she was ironing.
“Yes, in a way. I wanted to talk to you about Mother. Isn’t there something we can do to keep her from giving those enormous Thanksgiving dinners? It’s too much work for anybody, let alone a woman of her age.”
“Oh, Mother isn’t so old,” said Elizabeth, surveying her finished work with justifiable pride. “Most women are still active at sixty-eight.”
“Active, yes,” Margaret agreed, “and I wouldn’t object to anything in reason. But when it comes to cooking a dinner for all six of her children and all twenty-two of her grandchildren, as well as whatever spare uncles and aunts and cousins she can gather in, you know as well as I do that it’s too much for her.”
“But isn’t it fun?” asked Elizabeth, a look of happy reminiscence coming into her eyes. I am so glad that she didn’t give the big house up after Father died. I just dote on going back there and sitting down to the long table filled with Mother’s jellies and pickles. And when those turkeys are brought in – I guess there isn’t a woman in the whole country that can roast a turkey like Mother can.”
“Of course there isn’t,” Margaret agreed, “but that still isn’t a logical reason why she should wear herself out every Thanksgiving Day feeding a crowd like ours.”
“It is an awful lot of work,” said Elizabeth, “but anyway, just how do you think you could talk her out of it? You know how Mother adores making all those pumpkin pies and how triumphant she is when she has filled all of her progeny to the danger mark. The last two years we have suggested that we all have our dinners at our own homes, but she just wouldn’t hear of it.”
“I’ve thought it all out,” said Margaret, plying her needle industriously. “We’ll have Genevieve invite her to spend a week in the city. Mother can’t resist her youngest daughter, and all the cooking that can be done in that little apartment will never raise anybody’s blood pressure. I’ll write to Genevieve tonight, before Mother starts laying in supplies.”
Less than a week had elapsed before Rose Ellen called her two eldest daughters into conference. “I’m just awfully disturbed,” she said, handing each a paring knife so that they could help peel apples for mincemeat. “I had a letter from Genevieve this morning, and she says that Frank can’t get more than one day off, so they won’t be down for Thanksgiving; she wants me to come up there and spend the whole week with her. I just don’t know what to make of it.”
“Why, I think it would be rather nice,” said Elizabeth cautiously. “It would be terribly lonesome for Genevieve to have to spend Thanksgiving up there away from all the family.”
“Of course it would,” Rose Ellen agreed vigorously. “But what about my Thanksgiving dinner? I haven’t missed cooking a big Thanksgiving dinner for all the folks one single year since I moved into this house over thirty years ago. Why, just the other day Oscar was saying, ‘I just look forward from one year to the next to them dinners of yours, Rose Ellen.’”
“I don’t doubt it,” Margaret said dryly. “And it wouldn’t hurt him to rustle one for himself once, just to sort of get the feel of it.”
“Of course, we’d miss coming home like everything,” Elizabeth added, “but I really think you owe it to Genevieve to go up there when she’s without any of her own folks.”
“I guess maybe you’re right,” Rose Ellen admitted reluctantly, “but I do wish that one of you would invite Henry up to your house – Althea is such a poor hand to cook a big dinner.”
“Surely. I’ll take care of Henry and Althea,” said Margaret, glad to remove the last obstacle that stood in the way, “and I just hope that you go up there and have a good rest for a week.”
Rose Ellen left home on the Monday before Thanksgiving, doubtful to the very last as to whether or not she was justified in leaving her family to the fruits of their own cooking on such a momentous occasion.
Genevieve met her at the station and took her home to her tiny apartment where Rose Ellen sat around for the remainder of the day getting a “good rest” and feeling terribly cramped and stuffy after the freedom of her big nine-room house. “I never thought to see the day,” she remarked ruefully, “when they’d make a kitchen so small that only one person at a time could get inside.”
On Tuesday, they left right after lunch to see a movie and do a little shopping. At least, “a little shopping” was what Genevieve had said they would do; but she found that even after living with her for twenty years, she didn’t know her mother, or at any rate, didn’t know her capacity for going through store after store and walking down street after street.
“But you remember we’re going to see a movie,” Genevieve interposed, when her mother started to make a bee line for a large department store that they had not as yet covered.
“Oh, that can wait,” Rose Ellen answered. “I can see movies any time at Poplar Grove, the very same ones you have here, but I don’t often get a chance to go through a store that has a whole counter with nothing but lace collars on it. And now that I’ve started to take something home to each of the grandchildren, I’ll have to finish the list out. So far I’ve only bought eight presents, or is it nine?”
From the ache in her feet, Genevieve thought that it must have been ninety, but she acquiesced helplessly and followed her mother into the store. On the third floor, in the toy department, Genevieve had a flash of inspiration, born no doubt of her rebellious feet. “Why don’t you buy the same things for each of the little boys, so that there won’t be any hard feelings?’ she said.
“That’s a good idea,” rose Ellen agreed. “Now, if I can just find something that will suit all of them from Paul down to Mac, Jr. There’s seven of them between the ages of six and twelve, if we count Rupert who will be six by Christmas.”
Before long, Genevieve began to regret her inspired thought, for it seemed that Paul didn’t care for books, Benny was the only one interested in a chemistry set, and it would be foolish to buy seven footballs. They made the rounds time and time again in hopes of finding something that would please all seven.
They finally agreed on games for varied tastes and ages, and Genevieve discovered, with deep and sincere thankfulness, that it was time to go home and get Frank’s dinner; therefore, shopping for the half dozen presents still unbought would have to be held over until another day.
“It’s too bad we had to miss the movie,” said Rose Ellen, as they dropped into seats on the crowded bus, “but maybe we could go tonight.”
“Maybe,” said Genevieve, trying to stretch her tired toes inside the narrow confines of her shoes, “but I think perhaps we had better wait until tomorrow. You came up here partly for a rest, you know.”
On the following day, Genevieve settled her mother in an easy chair with a supply of magazines before she ventured forth to do her shopping for tomorrow’s dinner. She had a slight twinge of conscience on leaving, because she knew that Rose Ellen would thoroughly enjoy the activities of the big market; but she dared not take a chance on a repetition of yesterday’s shopping melee. “Who knows,” she thought, “but what Mother might decide to buy up a lot of fancy fruits to take home in addition to the toys.”
After Genevieve left, Rose Ellen settled herself down contentedly enough, but had turned only the second page of her magazine when a ring of the doorbell brought her out of the easy chair in a flurry of expectancy. Interest always attended a chance caller.
The one that stood before her when the door was opened was a young woman, evidently a resident of one of the apartments in the same building, since she wore no wrap. She showed unmistakable signs of agitation, and Rose Ellen was immediately all sympathy.
“Come right in,” she urged. “My daughter has gone shopping, but she’ll be back soon. Isn’t there something I could do for you?”
“I am Mrs. Parker from across the hall,” the young woman said. “I can’t come in – I’ve just left my baby, and he’s ill. I thought that maybe Mrs. Bradford could help me give him a vapor bath. I’m so nervous, I can’t seem to manage it alone.”
“Shucks, no. Genevieve wouldn’t know anything about that, but I’ll be glad to come. I’ve brought more babies through colds and pneumonia than you could put in this apartment. I guess I don’t even have to take off my apron, do I?” she finished, stepping out into the hall prepared to follow the mother without further invitation.
In the apartment across the hall Rose Ellen found a nine-months-old baby suffering with what appeared to be a very bad case of bronchitis. He was breathing with difficulty and his temperature was running high.
“He seems terribly hot,” said Mrs. Parker, with a catch in her voice, “and all this vapor stuff seems so complicated. He’s never been sick before, and I feel so helpless.”
“Of course you do,” soothed Rose Ellen. “Every mother does with her first one, but don’t you worry a mite. I know just what to do for him, and that vapor stuff, as you call it, isn’t anything more than an old-fashioned croup kettle. Have you got camphorated oil? Let’s give his chest a good rub first and loosen him up so as he can breathe easier.”
Rose Ellen set to work with all the assurance of an expert and in a few minutes was rubbing the tiny chest with the warm oil. “I guess you’ve given him a laxative and plenty of water?” she asked, looking up at the baby’s mother, who apparently had become completely helpless with the advent of more practised hands.
Mrs. Parker nodded, and Rose Ellen went on. “You could be bringing out the electric plate to put the solution on, and a blanket to put over the bed.”
The younger woman hurried off, grateful to have something definite to do, and before long the child was in his cot, breathing the healing vapors of the steaming croup kettle.
“The doctor says to leave him twenty minutes at a time,” Mrs. Parker ventured. “Won’t that be terribly long? And I can’t remember whether I was to put these drops in his nose before or after.”
“After will do just as well,” Rose Ellen answered. “And it won’t seem so long. We’ll just sit here and talk. Or maybe you’d better fix yourself a bite of lunch. I’m just sure you haven’t had any. I’ll sit here by the crib and call you if he lets out the least peep.”
For the rest of the afternoon she worked over the baby, alternating the croup kettle with the medicine and nose drops. By five o’clock he was sleeping peacefully, and his fever was almost entirely gone.
“That’s the nice thing about babies,” said Rose Ellen. “They raise a temperature quickly, but it’s easy to bring it down, too. I guess I’d better go back now. My land! What will Genevieve think? I didn’t leave a note or anything. I’ll come back later to see if he’s all right for the night, and, in the meantime, don’t hesitate to call me if you need me.”
“I can’t thank you enough,” the girl began, with more than a suspicion of tears in her voice. “I’m up here alone without my mother, and being Thanksgiving time and all –” The tears long held back became a reality, and Rose Ellen’s motherly arms went around the weeping girl.
“There, there,” she said, “just have a good cry. Sometimes it’s the best thing in the world for you. And don’t you worry about the little fellow. He’s going to be perfectly all right.”
The young Bradfords were not planning upon eating their Thanksgiving dinner before six, because Frank wanted to attend the football game, so Rose Ellen filled in the early part of the morning telephoning to a few friends from Poplar Grove now living in the city.
“Letty Evans is helping to put on Thanksgiving dinner for the blind,” she said to Genevieve, after finishing her last conversation, “and she’s going to call for me in a few minutes and let me look on for a while. I guess you won’t mind if I go, will you?”
Instinct made Genevieve somewhat dubious, but there was no real reason for insisting that her mother stay at home, so rose Ellen changed her dress and was all ready to accompany Letty to the Civic Center when she arrived a half hour later.
In the spacious dining room and kitchen of the Center they found a dozen women scurrying around at a variety of jobs. Rose Ellen’s head went up like an old-time fire horse at the scent of smoke. Here was a job worth doing. Maybe they would let her tackle part of it.
“Could you give me an apron?” she beseeched Letty. “I’d just love to help for a time.”
“Well, there’s plenty to do setting on a dinner for one hundred and fifty,” Letty admitted. “Here’s an extra you can take. What would you like to do? How about making pumpkin pies? I never have forgot those pies you used to make.”
“I’d love it. You’ll need about twenty-five, won’t you? I never made more than ten at one mixing before. It’ll be a real treat.”
Rose Ellen assembled the materials for her mixing with a zest. For the first time now she felt recompensed about missing the pleasure of cooking a Thanksgiving dinner for her own family. At home there would have been only a mere thirty-five or forty at the most. And here she was in the midst of preparing a dinner for one hundred and fifty. She wished that she would have time to do the dressing, too. Everybody always said that no one could beat her turkey dressing. Maybe if she got through with the pies in time she could do it. Or, if not, there was the salads to make. They would be left until the last, anyway, and she was sure to get a chance to help with them.
She glowed with pride when all of the women took time out to come and admire her pies as they were brought forth from the ovens, fluffy, golden and fragrant.
“I’m sure glad you made a couple extra,” said Letty. “I just couldn’t have stood to be this close to your pies and not had a piece.”
With the pies all done and placed in opulent rows upon the tables waiting their final complement of whipped cream, Rose Ellen turned her attention to salad-making and finally to helping set the tables. Then, after the guests had arrived, there was turkey to be carved, plates to be filled and carried in and refilled until no one could be persuaded to eat any more.
“I feel just terrible, keeping you all this time and letting you work like that,” Letty apologized, as she and Rose Ellen finally climbed into the car to be driven home. “Whatever will your daughter say?”
“I’ll tell her that I’ve just spent one of the happiest days of my life, and she won’t say a word,” said Rose Ellen cheerfully, “if I don’t go any further, of course.”
She left for home on Friday because it looked as if it might be sort of quiet in the city after the holiday, and, anyway, a whole week was much too long a time to stay away from home. She didn’t bother to let the girls know that she was coming, because there was bound to be somebody at the station that would give her a lift.
Sure enough, there was Millicent and Sam Hennefer, come down to see their daughter off for home after the holiday, and, of course, they were delighted to take Rose Ellen home, especially since it wasn’t more than a mile or two out of their way.
“And how did you like the city?” asked Millicent, as they settled themselves in the rear seat and Sam started the ancient car with a jerk.
“It’s just grand,” Rose Ellen answered with a happy sigh. “There’s so much to do.”