FAITH IS A HERITAGE
Christie Lund Coles
Synopsis: Enid Drage, wife of Tom Drage, who was killed in a factory accident, suddenly finds herself facing the future with a child and no means of support. She goes to her landlady, Miss Nobbitt, who tells her she need not worry about the rent. When Enid has almost decided to accept any type of work available, an attorney comes and tells her he wishes to speak to her.
Enid opened the door wider and invited the man to come in. As he did so, she hurriedly removed the clothes she had been mending from the rocker, and motioned him to sit in it.
When he was seated, he began opening his brief case. “I’ll get to the point as quickly as possible,” he said. “The factory is prepared to make a fair settlement for your husband’s death. It was most unfortunate.”
She nodded. “Yes. Yes, it was. But this – what do you mean?”
He explained the technicalities, the legal reasons, behind the settlement; but, somehow, it didn’t seem to register. She hadn’t expected anything, hadn’t even thought of it, though now she knew she should have expected something.
The check he handed her was magnanimous. She knew it was right that the factory should do this, and she needed the money for herself and her child, yet, it seemed incredible that she should be taking money in exchange for Tom’s life. Her instinct was to refuse it, to cry, “Oh, no. No!”
She forced herself to remain calm, to take the check in her icy fingers. She even managed to whisper, “Thank you. Thank you very much.”
She signed the papers he asked her to sign, and he was gone again as swiftly as he had appeared. When her surprise and incredulity had subsided, she sat on in the darkness and a great sense of relief and of peace flooded over her. Now, there was no fear of being hungry, of being evicted from the apartment. Sharon could be taken care of. God was very good.
Feeling now that she had a friend in Miss Nobbitt, the next morning Enid went to her door to tell her the good news.
“And well they should make a settlement,” the other woman said primly. Then, smiling, “Come in, my dear. This really helps, doesn’t it?”
“Oh, yes. Now I can pay you the rent …”
“The rent, fiddle-faddle. Now, you can make preparations for the future. This money won’t last long. You must go back to school, get your degree to teach. Unless, of course, you intend to marry.”
“Oh, I don’t … ever.”
“Ever is a long time. And I know.”
Enid was hardly listening. Her soft, young forehead was suddenly creased with tiny, thoughtful lines. She murmured, “I should love to get my degree, but I’m tied here with Sharon. I couldn’t leave her.”
Miss Nobbitt’s voice was tart, almost offended as she said, “Don’t you suppose I could take good enough care of her?”
Enid looked at her quickly. “Why, of course you could. More than good enough. But I wouldn’t think of asking you.”
“You’re not asking me,” her landlady assured her. “I’m asking you to let me. In fact, I’m insisting.”
Without stopping to think, Enid gave in to her instinct to rush over and throw her arms about the tall, spindly woman, as she exclaimed, “You darling, you!”
Miss Nobbitt squirmed, protesting irritably, “Oh, stop it,” but Enid could see that she liked it. She could tell by the way her lower lip quivered and by the swift film of tears across her eyes. Seeing Miss Nobbitt’s emotion, Enid felt her own throat contract, her eyes blur.
She turned away swiftly and walked to the window. After a moment, she said matter-of-factly, “Now, we will have to decide whether I should go to summer school two years or to college for the regular four quarters.”
Miss Nobbitt answered quickly, “Well, there’s no hurry about your working now, and as long as Sharon is so small, why not go the two summers. Spend as much time as possible with her while she is this age.”
Enid turned. “You’re right, of course. We can live some time on this money. And I do want to be with her …”
“Well, if you hurry maybe you can make it this summer.”
“This summer?” Enid asked, a little dismay in her voice, realizing that she would have to leave within a week or two. Sudden fear welled over her. She looked at Miss Nobbitt imploringly, almost as if the woman were passing sentence upon her and she was waiting for the verdict.
Miss Nobbitt seemed to understand, too. Yet, she fingered a crocheted doily on the table before her and said, “Yes. I think it would be wiser to go now. If you wait another year, something might come in the way. If you start now, you’ll be sure to have it.”
Enid did not speak. After all, Tom had been dead such a short time. There was no hurry. She couldn’t bear to leave Sharon even though she knew she would have the best of care.
Suddenly, Miss Nobbitt spoke again, saying, “It’s for your own good, you know. This town isn’t the best place in the world for you now. A change of scene and having to study will help you forget, will put a little flesh on your bones.”
Enid laughed, tremulously. “You should talk about flesh.”
The other woman continued, “You don’t think I’ve heard you – crying in the night, walking the floor. Grief can destroy body and soul if one lets it.”
The girl wondered how nearly it had come to destroying this gaunt, quiet woman. She agreed. “Well, if you think it is best, I’ll go. A year is a long time to wait. It will be good to be doing something. Yes. I think you are right. You’re a wise woman, Miss Nobbitt, and a good friend.”
“Wisdom comes slowly. It comes in the long hours of aloneness, of pain. When the glitter is taken from life, and we face reality unadorned, we begin to grow wise,” Miss Nobbitt said.
She turned, and Enid felt that the conversation was at an end. She started to leave. The other woman’s voice stopped her, saying, softly, hesitantly, as if she did not know how to ask a favor. “Would you … would you call me Manda? That’s my name, you know.”
“Why, yes, I’d love to. And Sharon can call you Aunt Manda. She will love that.”
“You think she will, really?”
“Yes. I think she will … really.”
Salt Lake was much the same as Enid had remembered it. The summer was hot and the asphalt seemed to melt beneath her feet as she crossed the streets. At the university, however, it was comfortable. The buildings were not too hot and the campus was beautiful and cool. A breeze came from the mountains.
The first day Enid climbed the hill, she had to keep her eyes averted while she passed the particular places where Tom and she had talked and laughed and found that exquisite, life-changing magic, love. Yet, as the days passed, she found that she could not only see the places, but she could pause there, could touch the very trees where his lean, young body had stood, where his fingers had touched the bark. Somehow, it gave her peace and joy. It made her feel older than her years, seeing the younger people, courting, laughing, and realizing that all of that was behind her, realizing that she had known motherhood, met tragedy, and survived it, and that the future loomed rather frighteningly before her.
It was on a Friday afternoon that she stopped near the tree where Tom had made his audacious proposal. She sat down upon the grass and opened one of her textbooks. It would be nice studying here, much nicer than in the one-room housekeeping apartment she had rented. She knew she must study hard so that she could get her credits. If she taught, she wanted to be a good teacher, one that the children would remember and perhaps even love as she had loved some of hers. But she would not start teaching until Sharon was in school, she could easily wait that long. The thought of her small, beautiful daughter sent loneliness, like a fever, through her body. She was so thankful that she had Sharon, so very, very thankful.
Young people were passing, but she paid little attention to them. In fact, she did not even notice a group coming toward her until they paused and one of the girls said, “Hello,” in a friendly voice.
Enid looked up to see a girl who was in two of her classes and a couple of young men she had seen either in class or on the campus.
“Hello,” she greeted them in return. “Believe it or not, I’m trying to study.”
The other girl, whose name, she remembered now, was Laura, laughed. “It’s too nice to be studying here. Why not come with us down to the corner for a malted milk. You remember Milo here, don’t you, and Sam Thurston?”
Enid nodded. “I’ve seen them. I’m not very good at remembering names.”
Milo, a rather slight young man about her own age, said, “I wish you’d come.”
She hesitated a moment while she assured herself it was quite all right. She couldn’t be alone always. She smiled at him, murmuring, “Why not?”
She was surprised how pleasant it was to fall in with their light talk, to laugh at inconsequential things, to eat a double-thick malted milk from a high stool. Pleasant, yet somehow unreal, as if it were someone else instead of herself.
When they had finished with the malts, Milo said he would drive them home. All four got into his smart, blue roadster. Laura and Sam got out at Laura’s home, and Milo smiled down at her. “Like to take a ride?”
“Well … it would be nice. If you wish …”
“I certainly do wish. Many things.”
She noticed his clothes, his shoes, the make of his car. They all told her he had money. More than that, the rather sulky set of his mouth, the weak line of his chin, told her he had been spoiled. Yet, he was entertaining, as they drove toward the mountains. Dusk was falling over the city as he stopped the car on the road leading to Parley’s Canyon.
“Some view from here,” he told her. “That’s the lake over there.”
“It looks like a great, beautiful jewel,” she exclaimed, thrilled, as she had always been, by the beautiful valley surrounded by mountains.
“It isn’t as bright as your eyes,” he told her. And she laughed. “Don’t be silly.”
“I’m not silly,” he insisted, slipping his arm about her shoulders. “You’re extremely pretty. Why don’t you stop acting as if you had to cram for dear life to finish this schooling.”
She looked up at him in surprise. “Do I?” she asked.
He did not answer her. Instead he leaned his face over hers. Came closer. She knew he was going to kiss her.