From the Relief Society Magazine, December 1951 –
Christmas at Welcome Inn
By Pansye H. Powell
“That is very lovely, Tina,” Elise Brandon said, as her little maid placed a huge bowl of deep red roses exactly in the center of the lace table cover on the dining room table.
Tina smiled at her mistress, and Elise smiled back happily as she took in at a glance the long buffet also centered with a bowl of red roses and the table with gleaming silver laid out for a Christmas Eve buffet supper.
Elise felt she had a right to be happy. She had just come into the dining room after a last survey trip of her new ranch type home. Everything was perfect; the bedrooms were immaculate, the little powder room off the long living room was in order, and the tall Christmas tree, bright with many colored bulbs, gleamed a welcome through the wide picture window. On the hearths, in the dining room and living room, fires burned gaily.
In the kitchen Marta, Elise’s more-than-perfect cook, was taking the roasted turkey from the oven. On the kitchen table already were salads, relishes, and a large baked ham for slicing.
Elise smiled again at Tina and walked over to the fireplace in the living room. Through the wide mirror over the mantel she could see the reflection of the luxuriously furnished room, the tall tree, and herself in a gold lace evening gown molded to her tall, thin figure.
Her blue eyes were bright with excitement and pride as she thought of the pleasure she and Dick have in welcoming their friends to this housewarming. She had wanted to have it on Christmas Eve because she had known how beautifully a tall lighted tree, placed in the wide picture window of the living room, would shine out a welcome for her guests as they turned into a long lane that led from the highway to the new home of doctor and Mrs. Brandon. She had known how charming the green garlands of holly would look on the mantels, and the poinsettias in tall vases standing on the floor. Dick had brought the roses from town, and now the rooms were fragrant with their sweetness.
The guests were to be ten young couples, professional men and their wives of Vernon, Arizona. Elise’s smoothly gleaming blonde head rose proudly as she thought of the way her guests would exclaim over the tastefully furnished rooms. the dinner would be Marta’s best, and, at midnight, the local carolers would be there to serenade the guests.
Building the house outside the city limits had been Elsie’s idea. The drive into town took only a few minutes and Dick was not now at the mercy of late callers and miscellaneous sick people who had known too well the accessibility and generous unselfishness of Doctor Brandon while they lived for five years in Vernon. Now they had been in the new home two weeks, and Dick’s evenings, so far, had been Elise’s. When he came home tired from his hospital duties and visits to his own patients, it was a joy to Elise to see him relaxed and rested by the bright fire in the fireplace or, if they chose, ready to go with her into town for a show or an evening with friends.
This was as it should be, Elise thought. A doctor must have some private life. Out here for two weeks they had been undisturbed, and now he would be with her, on this important evening, to welcome their friends into what was easily the smartest new home in the Vernon community.
Tina was busily arranging dishes on the table and bringing in food to be placed on the buffet.
“It all looks wonderful,” Elise, watching from the doorway, said as Tina set a wide dish of assorted relishes by the side of a long dish of stuffed celery. “You will be sure to remember about the telephone? Doctor Brandon is not to be disturbed this evening for any reason, Tina.”
“Yes, Mrs. Brandon,” Tina answered, with a smile which showed a brilliant array of white teeth in her brown face. “I remember. I won’t call him to the phone. I’ll just say he’s busy and cannot be disturbed – as I always do in the evening.”
“I know you will, Tina. You’re a jewel. I can depend upon you whenever I need you. This is a particularly important evening for me. Do you know that in our five years of married life doctor Brandon and I have never had a Christmas Eve together? Once it was Mrs. Jameson’s broken leg –t hat was the first Christmas; and then it was the Smith boy’s pneumonia. Dick sat up all Christmas Eve with that boy on our second anniversary; and then it’s been, oh, something or other every Christmas since. Tonight’s going to be different if I can make it so, and I think I can if you will help …”
The door chimes interrupted Elise. She gave a quick glance into the mirror over the mantel. The golden sheath of her gown fitted perfectly. Her yellow hair, burnished with much brushing, was a sleek coronet for a small, proud head. Mrs. Doctor Brandon was ready to receive guests. Doctor Brandon would be with her in a few minutes to stand by her and welcome their friends. Elise waited by the fireplace as Elbertina went to the door.
* * *
Down the road that led to Vernon, past Dick and Elise Brandon’s new home, Jose Montoya’s old Ford was making its decrepit way toward the town. It shook with ague as it limped along. Jose hunched over the wheel; his dark eyes frequently glanced from the highway to the gasoline gauge which was falling back rapidly toward the empty mark. Now and then he gave a quick look at his wife, Maria, who said nothing, though she shared his fears that their fuel supply would not last until they reached the town. Finally she spoke.
“How much farther is it, Jose?” Her soft Mexican voice carried a note of strain, almost of fear.
“Hush, Maria. It can’t be much farther. They told me there was a big hacienda to the right just before the curve that leads into the town. I think that’s the building yonder.”
Maria sighed. if Jose said it was not far to town and a place where they could rest, it must be true. Jose was older than Maria; he had always taken good care of her. They had traveled all day, for they were hurrying to her mother’s house in New Mexico. Now Maria was very tired, but she sat patiently; she would be cared for, if she could only wait until they were safe for the night.
Suddenly the Ford gave a sputtery gasp and stopped.
“What is it?” Maria cried in dismay.
“The gasoline tank is empty. I will have to get some more gasoline somewhere.”
Jose stepped out of the car (there was no door) and stood irresolutely looking down the road toward the low ranch type house that stood a quarter of a mile away.
Maria gasped, ‘Oh, Jose, you won’t leave me here alone? Please, Jose, take me with you. Maybe the people will let me lie down. I am so tired, Jose.”
Jose gently answered, “Of course, Maria. You go where I go. We must find shelter soon. If the gas had held out, we could have been in town by now. You come with me. Here, let me put my arm around you.”
Carefully he led her down the road. Soon they could see a bright window in the house; in the window stood a big, lighted tree.
“Oh, it is beautiful,” Maria cried, “but it is so far to walk.”
“Courage, Maria,” Jose answered. “See, here is the gate. what does the sign say?”
Maria could read English. Jose could not. She read: Welcome Inn. Our Latchstring Is Always Out.
“Oh, Jose, they will help us to get to town. See, it says they are glad when people come to their house. Let us hurry.”
* * *
Minutes later the bright new chimes in Elise Brandon’s home ran musically, and Elbertina hurried to the door.
When no one entered the house and Elise could hear Elbertina in conversation with someone at the door, she walked over to the little entrance hall to investigate.
Elbertina stood in the doorway, facing two young people who were obviously of Mexican origin. The man, hat in hand, was looking at the little maid with pleading eyes. The girl stood at a little distance on the front walk. She was gazing at Elbertina, too, but there was fear as well as pleading in her eyes.
“What is this, Tina?” Elsie queried sharply. She didn’t like having this couple at the front door where her guests would be arriving at any minute. The girl was obviously ill, and the man appeared to be a laborer.
“They are in trouble, Mrs. Brandon,” Tina answered. “He says they need gasoline for their car which they left down near the gate to the place.”
“Well, can’t you take them around to Tony and let him give them what they need?”
Tina hesitated. Mrs. Brandon could see as well as she that they needed more than a few gallons of gasoline. Then she spoke up bravely. “The girl’s time has come upon her too soon. They have been working in California and meant to go to her people in New Mexico, but the trip has been too much and …”
A low moan escaped Maria’s lips in spite of her efforts to suppress it.
Elise thought rapidly. Get her away, she thought, before Dick sees her or he’ll bring her right into the house now.
She glanced toward the hall that led into the bedrooms. Dick was not in sight.
“Take them around the house to Tony’s quarters and let him help them on to town.” Then she spoke to Jose. “When you reach Vernon, go at once to Dr. Ferguson’s. You will pass it on the left side of the road, about a mile from here. He will help your wife.”
Elise watched as Tina put her arm around Maria and led her and Jose around to the back of the house. For a second she felt a quiver of remorse; then she shrugged her shoulders, closed the door, and walked back to her station by the mantel. She was standing there, a picture of poised beauty, when Doctor Brandon came leisurely into the room. He stopped to look at her, then walked toward her with arms outstretched and happiness in his eyes.
“Mustn’t touch,” Elise laughed. “I break. One of your bear hugs and I would rip out at the seams.” She linked her arm through his and planted a quick kiss on his smooth-shaven cheek.
Elise had just cause to be proud of her six-foot husband. Dick Brandon was a leading physician of Vernon, chief surgeon on the hospital staff, and recognized in larger cities of the state as an expert diagnostician.
Now his handsome dark face turned to Elise as he questioned, “Thought someone had arrived. Didn’t I hear Elbertina at the door?”
“Oh, that was some tramps wanting help. I had her send them around to Tony. He’ll take care of them.”
Dick laughed. “Tony’s so soft-hearted he’ll probably put them up in his own quarters. Well, I guess on Christmas Eve we can all afford to be a little more generous than usual, so I’ll not bother them.”
Elise’s heart missed a beat. What if Tony had put them up, as Dick suggested, in his quarters in the barn? Surely he wouldn’t; it was only a little over a mile to town. Still, that girl looked ready to faint if she didn’t lie down soon.
Elise pushed the thought of the worried young couple out of her mind. Someone would take care of them in turn, and she would have her husband with her. She greeted her guests and gloried in their exclamations over the interior decoration of the house. As she led the admiring group into the large master bedroom, she glanced out toward the old barn which had been converted into modern quarters for the three servants, Tony, Elbertina, and Marta. Lights were on in Tony’s room, but that didn’t mean anything. Tony was not helping in the house, and the old man had probably gone over to the place to go to bed early. Still a little worry crept into Elise’s mind. What if the child were born out there? Dick would never forgive her, even though it had been her longing for him that had prompted her to send them away. An exclamation from one of her friends recalled her to her social duties.
All the other guests had followed Dick to the basement game room. Only Muriel Grimes, one of Elise’s talkative friends, had remained with her. Now Muriel was standing in the doorway of an unfurnished room that opened from the master bedroom. Elise had not meant to show this room, but Muriel had inquisitively tried the knob.
“Oh,” Muriel was saying, “is this to be the nursery?” Then she chattered on, without waiting for an answer. “Lucky little fellow he’ll be when he does arrive. A fine doctor for a dad and a beautiful home, to say nothing of his mama. Some kids do have all the luck. Coming up the drive just now we met an odd-looking couple walking toward the gate. She looked as though she could hardly walk. They seemed foreigners. What a time to be walking the road! Had they been here? He was carrying a can of gasoline, I guess. We saw a car stopped on the other side of the gate. Well, all I say is some people are born to luck and some are just born!”
Muriel had rattled on without noticing Elise’s abstracted listening to her chatter.
Now Elise spoke. “Hadn’t we better move on down with the others, Muriel? Yes, this is to be the nursery.”
As Elise and Muriel returned to the living room, from which steps at the far end descended to the basement recreation room, Elise saw Tony standing just inside the dining room door that opened into the kitchen. He was obviously embarrassed; his dingy hat was crushed in his hands, and he seemed at a loss how to proceed. Elise led Muriel to the steps to the basement, then hurried to Tony and pushed him aside into the shelter of the dining room bay.
“What is it, Tony?” she demanded.
“Please,” Tony’s cracked old voice was beseeching. “I want the doctor. The little woman – she is so sick.”
“Who is sick? You know we have guests, and the doctor is not to be disturbed when he has company.”
“The little Mexican wife. They could not get their car to run, and they came back to me. I put them in my room in the barn. She is in pain, great pain. I must get the doctor.”
Elise could hear the guests starting up the steps from their tour of the basement. She spoke rapidly. “Tony, we will have to get those people off the place. Get out the car you use and take them to Dr. Ferguson – at once!”
Tony said no more, but his weary old eyes accused her silently. He turned and stepped gingerly across the deep-napped rug toward the kitchen door. Elise was too angry to feel sorry for him. All she could think was that he was periling the success of her party.
Elise felt that the emotions of the last hour had left telltale marks upon her face. She would go to the powder room and freshen up before dinner was served. She hurried out of the dining room and had her hand out to push at the partially open door of the powder room when Muriel Grimes’ voice came to her through the opening.
“Yes, it’s to be the nursery – if they ever need one. But I’ll bet it will be a long time before she’ll need one. She is not thinking of anyone but herself, as it’s easy to see. Do you know she won’t even have him called to the phone? Everybody’s talking about how Doctor Brandon has changed. Absolutely nobody can get him after six o’clock any more. I can’t understand a doctor’s wife’s not knowing his and her obligations to people, just people, any people. That night last week when the boiler exploded at the factory they needed every doctor in town, and do you know where Dick Brandon was? He and Elise were at a movie in Condon – forty miles away. Oh, well, it’s her business. Hand me my comb, dear, will you, please?”
Elise turned away from the door. Anger that a guest would discuss her affairs so mercilessly fought with the realization that much of what Muriel had said was true. She had been thinking mostly of herself. Had she been selfish with the husband she knew was dedicated professionally to the service of others?
Muriel’s words might be the means of saving Dick from extreme censure. That little wife out there in the barn – or perhaps by now not there at all – had needed Dick, and she had turned her away.
What had Dick said? “I guess on Christmas Eve we can all afford to be a little more generous than usual.” That was it. She, Elise, could be generous. She would give a Christmas present to the town of Vernon. From now on there would be night calls for Doctor Brandon. Muriel would have to find somebody else to talk about.
She hurried to the kitchen. “Tina, hurry, please. Tell Tony to put the little Mexican woman into his room. Doctor Brandon will be there at once. Hurry, before he leaves with her.”
Tina smiled happily, then ran to the kitchen door and down the back steps to where Tony was backing a car from the garage. Sure now that the couple would remain, Elise walked slowly to the living room and spoke quietly to Dick, who was standing near the door to the dining room.
“Dick, dear,” she said, “there’s a woman in Tony’s quarters who is having a baby. They need you out there. I’ll explain your absence. Better get out there as fast as possible.”
* * *
Maria thought it was part of a blurred dream that a physician in a tuxedo and stiff shirt came to her side as she lay on Tony’s narrow bed. Jose was there, too, as he had been all along, and the tall dark man who came to her side spoke reassuringly to Jose. “it’s a premature birth, but we can handle it all right. I am Doctor Brandon.”
“You are a doctor? This is your house?” Jose asked. Tactfully he asked no more.
“Yes, I live here. I can help you.”
Once in the hours that followed, Maria saw, or thought she saw, a beautiful lady in a golden dress standing in the room. She spoke quietly to the doctor, then stood by Maria’s side and stroked her hair gently. Maria was not sure of all this, for reality and dreams were somehow all mixed up in her mind.
Still later, when the baby was safely there and lying clean and warm on her breast, Maria looked up in happy surprise at Jose, who leaned over her in proud acceptance of his new state of fatherhood. She had heard music, beautiful music.
“Did you hear it?” she asked of Jose.
“Yes, I hear it. It is the carolers. Listen. They are singing to us.”
Somewhere nearby lovely voices were singing:
Away in a manger, no crib for a bed,
The little Lord Jesus laid down his sweet head …
Maria looked down upon the dark little head nestled against her breast. Then she looked around her at the walls of Tony’s room, on which hung his tools and the harness that he used in his work around the place. The carolers continued:
I love thee, Lord Jesus, look down from on high
And stay by my cradle till morning is nigh!
Jose smiled at Maria and the baby as he said, “The music is like for the Christ Child. I must tell you – the lovely lady said she would like us to live here. Tony needs help he is so old, and they will let us work the year around here. She wants me to drive the doctor on his night calls. Is that not better than having to follow the crops?”
“It is good, Jose. It is good!”