A Time to Forget
By Fay Tarlock
Synopsis: Serena Abbe, who lost her fiance in the war, goes to live on a walnut farm which she inherited from her cousin Harriet Lester. There she meets Jeff Landeau, a widower who owns the adjoining acres, and who helps her in running her farm. Luis Trejeda, a Mexican, also assists in the work, and Serena is impressed with his wholesome and buoyant attitude toward life. Serena also makes friends with David, Jeff’s son, and, after the first harvest, she feels at home in the San Vincente Valley. Soon after Christmas Serena and Jeff are married. In assuming the duties of a stepmother, Serena finds many problems, among them David’s refusal to become a boy scout.
Bit by bit she was learning some of the complexities of the masculine mind. Jeff was having his little joke. At the same time he was doing just what he said, presenting her with the problem. One fine morning he would expect her to say, “David has ordered his uniform.” I’ll go at it the way Jeff does, relaxed, she thought.
By now there was a sparkling warmth in the air, far too nice to go indoors to the breakfast dishes and Saturday’s baking. For just a moment, Serena decided to lie on the terrace glider, drenched in the golden warmth. She loved everything she saw, smelled, and heard, the faded red bricks of the terrace, the fragrance of the bed of marigolds, and the newness of the David wing, nestled beneath the walnut trees, all made one by the soft breeze that brought the distant sound of a tractor smoothing the already smooth ground beneath the trees, a sound that, somehow, blended with the bird songs above her.
She closed her eyes to the loved and familiar, in the sun’s warmth, and thought of another morning …
It was a morning in Mexico when she and Jeff made the steep climb up the Sacred Mountain, past the stations of the cross. They were resting in the winter sun, looking over the red-tiled roofs of the village below them to the snowy slopes of Mt. Popo, just emerging from the swirling mists.
Apropos of nothing, Jeff said, “David’s mother and I never got together on religion. She was brought up in one church, I, in another. Naturally I leaned toward mine, but I wasn’t the one to give him his religious training; so David went to Beth’s church. I just let him keep on, but I’m not at home when I go with him, and I find myself going less and less.”
They were leaning against an ancient churchyard wall, and his shoulder touching hers was warm. “Families ought to go to church together, don’t you think?” His eyes were on the mists, but he said, “I hope we can do something about it.”
But now spring and summer had gone by in a race. September was passing and nothing had been done. Serena sat up in the glider just as Luis came around the corner of the house, carrying a basket of string beans and tomatoes red from the vines.
Showing his white teeth in a broad smile, he set the basket down. “Meeses,” he said as to a child, “today too nice for trouble.”
She motioned him to sit on the bench facing her. “Troubles of the spirit come, no matter how beautiful the day,” she said to him in Spanish. “But you seem to have banished all of yours.”
“Oh, no, Senora,” his denial was passionate. “I am not yet that good, but someday …” He opened his hands expressively, then pressed them together and leaned forward. “Here with you, life has great meaning. I have,” and he began counting on his lined fingers, “comfort, dignity, and beauty. It would be sinful not to be happy.”
Abruptly he stood up. “For me the best part of life is to be the last, I know.”
“How do you know, Luis?”
He turned his eyes solemnly upward. “You, Senora, Don Jeff, and the young one have completed my life.” Sitting down again, he flashed her an affectionate smile. “We are all of one family, is it not the truth? You can tell me your trouble.”
“In our family it is David who troubles us this morning.”
Luis was shocked. “David! It is not possible. That young one, there is no evil in him.”
After she had told him the story, she added, “It does not seem like much now, but in a few years it will mean that he has been deprived.”
Luis pulled himself up, straight and tall as he could make himself. “Senora,” he cried, “if you and your family were but of my Church the problem could be solved as easily as this.” Dramatically he thrust out one clenched fist and cut through it with his other hand as if it were a knife. “See!” He was triumphant. “It would be that simple.”
“I can see no connection,” she told him, amused, yet impressed.
“Ah, Senora, it is only that in my Church the scouts are trained in the organization of young people. If you belonged, David would go and take the other young one with him.”
“Is it necessary to belong in order for a boy to go?” She asked it more to please Luis, than with a real desire to know.
Understanding lightened his dark, wrinkled face. “Ay, Senora, you have yourself cut the knot. David will go to the scouts. If necessary, I will myself take him.” He sat down, happy and confident, bursting to talk over the details.
“It might work at that.” Her forehead was a maze of concentration. If Jeff would consent. One of them must go first to see if it could be done and to see if David would be happy.
“You’re sure it would be all right, that he would be welcome … and do they have good men for leaders?”
Luis drew himself up again, full of pride. “the district adviser of the scouts, the leader himself, is of the Mormon Church. I myself,” and he seemed to swell another inch, “know this Brother Andrews personally. You may not believe it, Senora, but it was only last Sunday night that I sat by him, and he inquired of my health. And the other scout leaders are of like caliber, that I can assure you.”
“When do they meet?” Going to Valley Oaks instead of Meadtown would present difficulties.
“On a Tuesday night, senora. It is the night of the young people. They meet,” he spoke with modest pride, “in a scout room of their own, where I myself helped to lay the floor and arrange the bricks for the fireplace.”
“The scouts really have a place of their own?” She was impressed. In Meadtown, so Jeff had told her, they met one year in the high school, another in the Legion Hall. One year they had even used an old warehouse.
Clapping his hands ecstatically, Luis described the place. “It is a large hall in the new church, Senora, a beautiful hall with two accessory rooms, one of them with a kitchen that has a place for everything a scout needs.” Then, with the speed of quicksilver, his face grew sad. “Ay, if only I could have had such a place when I was a youth.” Slowly he shook his head. “David must not be denied.” He looked at her questioningly.
“We won’t deny him, Luis. Which night is it?”
“It is on a Tuesday night and often I go, for the activities, while for the young, are for all. I will make it a duty of pleasure to go with him each Tuesday night if you wish.”
Elated by her talk with Luis, she kept her plan a secret until Tuesday afternoon. She and Jeff were in town for some hurried shopping and to pick up David.
“I’ve no objection,” Jeff said. ‘I know a number of Mormons around here, and they’re all fine men … it’s done something for Luis, we know that. If they’ll take David,” his tone brightened, “why don’t you try it, and bring Johnny along, too.”
David was noncommittal. “I’ll have to talk with Johnny first,” was his decision.
After a long telephone call, broken by silence, while Johnny talked to his parents, he came back with his lower lip out. Johnny couldn’t go tonight, but he would go next Tuesday, maybe, if David’s report was good. David didn’t want to go alone.
Serena persuaded him it would be fun to ride over with her and Luis and have a new experience. Jeff was no help this night. He had to be at the county seat to represent the farmers concerning a new zoning ordinance.
“Can you make it without me?” Jeff asked the question, hat in hand.
Serena was realizing that she would have to do many things alone. “We’ll try it anyway though I wish you could go.”
She was in a rush to wash the dishes, get herself ready, and see that David was properly washed and shined. Ruefully, she sighed. “Oh, for those summer evenings when we could all be home together.”
Jeff tilted her chin with his hand. “I heard a man over the radio tonight advocating that courtship should last at least two years. I’m glad I had the sense to get you quickly before you knew what was coming.” Then he was gone.
Luis, in the front seat beside her, was loquacity itself. He was dressed in a sport shirt and a sweater, talcum powder generous on his freshly shaved face.
“Meeses,” he insisted, “why don’t you go to church more often?”
“I’ve been taking the easy way, Luis.” Her eyes were straight ahead as she guided the car down the lane, already dark under the walnut foliage. “You see, Jeff and I belong to different churches, and neither of us seems to go because we’re afraid we might go different ways.”
“Too bad, too bad.” He shook his head.
There was a probing silence as they rode along the tree-lined highway into Valley Oaks, the smells of early autumn light in the air. Luis ended the silence by slapping a knee with his hand.
“If the Senora will pardon me,” he said in deferential Spanish, “may I speak of myself?”
“You are always welcome to speak of yourself.”
“Then I speak. You must believe me, Senora, there was a time when I did not know this, but now I do know it of my own knowledge. My heart, the great hearts of you and Don Jeff, the hearts of all the world, they were meant for God. Until the heart finds him, it is forever seeking. The things of earth cease to satisfy. You believe me, Senora?” There was a fervent look in his dark eyes.
Serena saw but was silent. “If we do not find him, and as I have said, I know this of my own knowledge … it is not something I got out of a book or heard a man say, the soul is lost and sees no reason for man to live.” He bowed his head, then raised it. The radiant light she had seen so often on his face was there, more intense.
“But when one finds God, ay, Senora, then all life is different.” He leaned back against the seat and spoke as one under compulsion. “With you it is not yet bad, Senora. You have not lost God. He is in your heart, as I well know, but you must find a way to worship together with Don Jeff and the young one.”
Her eyes on the road, she escaped his eyes, trying to shut him away from her thoughts. Why can’t I be my own conscience? she asked herself, annoyed.
“What’s he saying, Mom?” David asked it from the back seat, where he had been a long time silent. “He sounds awfully excited.”
“He thinks you and Dad and I should all go to church together.” She kept her eyes on the traffic.
“That’s what I’ve been thinking for some time.” He was very serious. “I think you should go to church with me anyway … lots of mothers go.”
Soon they were in town. “Thees way, meeses, thees way!” Excitedly, Luis directed her to a side street. “The new church, we will soon see it!”
Luis’ church, as David called it, was newly prominent against the brown hillside, its steeple white and clear in the evening light. About it still clung the fresh smell of new wood, plaster, and paint. The parking area was already filled with cars. Boys and girls in their teens were swooping down upon the entrance steps like a group of gay homing birds.
“Looks more like a party to me.” David was plainly suspicious.
“Tonight,” Luis explained as he hopped out of the car and drew himself up tall as he opened the door for Serena, “tonight is like a party, a school, and a church. It is the night for the young people.”
Grandly he ushered them through the bright new foyer into the pleasing formality of the chapel, impressive with its view windows and soft rose drapes against the light walls.
Even as they sat down, the vivacious chatter stopped and the meeting began.
There were scouts aplenty, and, as Luis had said, the scout executive was there in person. After the opening exercises, made vivid by the efforts of the young people, Serena followed Luis and David to the scout hall in the right wing.
“Is it not, as I said, beautiful?” Luis spoke as if it was his special creation. “See, these are the floors I helped lay.”