A Time to Forget
By Fay Tarlock
Serena looked at the knotty pine walls, so newly varnished, and at the big fireplace with the deer antlers over it. “Isn’t it wonderful?” she whispered to David. “It has everything a scout needs.”
“I wish the Meadtown scouts could see this.” There was awe in David’s voice.
“Ah, Brother Trejeda, you’ve brought us a scout.” It was Mr. Andrews, the personal friend of Luis.
Luis swelled into something resembling a puff ball. With a bow, he introduced Serena and David and trotted off to find the scoutmaster. From the scout men’s smiles, Serena knew Luis had forewarned them. Soon it was arranged and David was in the scout hall, surrounded by a crowd of boys.
In the chapel again Serena took a rear seat. A young woman with an interesting face was talking about the musical history of her home town, a village in Arizona. She described the folk songs of the pioneers, and, without a trace of self-consciousness, sat down to the piano and sang a song that had been inspired by the history of the settlement. Turning about on the stool, she told the story of the first organized Church choir.
Serena was fascinated. She knew stories like that, from her grandmother, who had heard them from survivors of the Oregon Trail. David would like those stories.
Serena waited for Jeff that night. He came home at midnight, weary of the verbosity of men at night, glad for the cup of chocolate she had ready.
“I had fun,” Serena said, sitting opposite him and eager to include him in her warm memories of the evening. “I danced, Jeff. Can you imagine it?”
“Where?” He was more than curious.
“In the social hall of Luis’ church. The dance started right after the meeting; a girl played the piano, and there was a boy who was a wonder on his accordion. I never thought of dancing, but David was busy with the scoutmaster; so I peeked in. and now,” her mirth was mounting, “this is the incredible part.” She laughed, remembering.
“The music had just started, a waltz. I saw Luis come in through another door. He rushed up to me, bowed almost to the floor, and asked me to waltz.”
“No!” Jeff didn’t believe it.
Serena laughed. “You know how Luis was, all shined up. He took so much time getting ready I had to wash the dishes alone. For a second I didn’t know what to do – I’d never thought of Luis as a dancing partner, but I smiled back. And there we were whirling, and I mean whirling, I looking dizzily over his head. I tell you we were the fanciest couple on the floor.”
“Well, what do you know!” Jeff said it in admiration.
“But I’ve only begun to tell you.” She moved her chair closer to the table. “The best part was the square dancing. The first one was a Virginia reel. Luis danced it with one of the sisters he talks so much about. I was standing by the wall having a wonderful time just looking, when one of the men …”
“Was he a young man?” Jeff’s voice was severe.
“Oh, quite. He came up and said, ‘My name’s John Clark. I haven’t been introduced to you, but we’re all brothers and sisters here together. May I have this dance?”
Serena continued, “He asked me which ward I was from, and I never got to ask him what he meant, for we had to change partners. After that, Mr. Andrews, that’s the scout executive and the personal friend of Luis, asked me for the next dance, some kind of a polka. I’d be there yet, it was so much fun, but David came in, his eyes bigger than your cup. I got Luis and we came home.”
“Do they dance every Tuesday?” Jeff asked it thoughtfully.
“Not always, Luis says, but quite often. We’ll go sometime, won’t we?”
“Yes, we will,” Jeff said, rising and stretching, “if you’ll go to bed now.”
Lying awake in the cool September darkness she tried to understand why the evening had meant so much to her. There had been the years following Jim’s death when she had been neither young nor old, but living in a kind of twilight. Then had come the few enchanted weeks in Mexico and the return home to find herself the mother of a puzzling, growing boy, and the wife of an older man. Groping for her way among Jeff’s friends, who all seemed so staid and old, she had never expected to be young again. Tonight, she had been casual and lighthearted, almost as if she were among old friends.
During the week she took David to be outfitted. “Oh, boy,” he boasted as he tried on the uniform for his pleased father, “I can get off the requirements for a first class scout in six months if I really work.”
“Take it easy, Son,” his father advised. “There a little too much camping for us to get done before the rains start. Let’s get to the rope knots so you can pass your tenderfoot test next time.”
Tuesday night David was master of the knots, but Jeff had another meeting at the county seat. Again Luis sat with Serena as they went to Mutual, as Luis called it. This time Serena was no stranger. She was greeted by hearty handshakes, and if her name was unknown to some, she was called simply Sister.
Several weeks passed and Jeff had not made good his promise. The walnut season, late this year, found all the nuts ready at once. The threatened labor shortage did not quite materialize, though Serena drove to the Valley Oaks employment office each morning to make sure there was help.
Never, Jeff said, had he seen such a collection. Men of many races and colors came from the nearby industrial towns to work on their free days or off hours.
Jeff had a special crew to handle the walnut huller. He taught Serena the special skills, and in emergencies she took over. Many times she got up in the starry darkness to make certain the gas heat was properly functioning. The walnut meats were drier this year, the shells thinner. Too much heat would ruin the nuts.
After school David worked at picking. Between sacks, he would help Johnny with the knot tests. Serena heard them talking of coming hikes and what they would cook for their first outdoor meal.
Luis worked throughout the harvest. Jeff let him quit an hour earlier on Tuesdays to get ready for the meetings.
“Meeses, some day you keep promise and came to the Sunday meeting?” he reminded her as he stood before her freshly bathed and shaved ready to leave.
“As soon as I can get Jeff to come with me,” she promised.
Luis shook his head gloomily. “Better you come alone than wait always,” he muttered as he went out the door.
The last Sunday in October Jeff’s orchards had shed their nuts, and he had shaken the neighboring orchards. There had been a rain midweek, accompanied by high winds; the nuts that had stubbornly resisted the shaker lay bare and brown on the moist earth. A whole crew of men and women from Jeff’s cottages had completed the gleaning.
“What luxury!” Jeff leaned back in his chair after he had finished his sausages and wheatcakes, “a whole Sunday to rest and be with you all day.” He picked up the Sunday paper. “I’m going to sit in the sun until a breeze comes up, then I’m going to make a fire in the fireplace.”
Serena was at the sink, and David was on the screen porch, practicing signaling. Without looking up from the silver she was washing, she spoke.
“Do you know, Jeff, for a long time we’ve promised Luis we’d go to church with him some Sunday morning … Sunday School he calls it, though it seems that adults go too.”
“Not this Sunday. Some time later.”
‘I think we should go, Jeff.” She was drying the silver, and her voice was intentionally careless. “If only to show our appreciation for David.”
Jeff heard with one ear. “Oh, sure, we’ll go some Sunday.” He turned a page.
David came in from the porch, dropped his flag, and leaning against his father, began reading with him.
There was an inscrutable smile on Serena’s face, unnoticed by either of her men. Suddenly all wide-eyed, as if the idea were newly come, she turned to David. “How would you like for Dad and me to take you over to Luis’ church this morning instead of having Luis drop you off in town for your Sunday School? It would be fun, all going together.”
“It would be fun.” He cast a doubtful eye at his father, still deep in the paper. “Do you think he’ll come?”
Serena polished off a breakfast plate, then she winked at David, a delightful, secret wink. “Suppose you wipe for me, while I finish washing and cleaning up. That will give us plenty of time to get dressed.”
When they were almost through, Jeff started for the east terrace, paper in hand, his eyes an invitation for her to join him.
“You’ll have to sit there by yourself this morning,” she said with cheerful unconcern. “David and I are going to church with Luis … of course we’d like you to come too. You’ve just got time to shave and dress.”
It was as easy as that, and she had delayed it so long! She dressed with a feeling of excitement, choosing her new red knitted dress with the black-lined stole and hat. Like Luis, she must array herself in her best.
Luis had Jeff’s big car in front. “Please,” he pointed to the wheel.
Jeff smiled assent and settled comfortably in the back seat with Serena.
Grandly Luis opened the car door for them at the church door. “Thees way,” he admonished them, walking very straight among the groups on the steps. In the foyer he led them straight to a tall, fair, and youngish-looking man with an intelligent face and a slow smile, like Jeff’s.
“The bishop,” he announced. “Bishop Webster, my padrone and hees wife.”
The big man smiled. “I know who you folks are,” he said, shaking hands. “Our Brother Trejeda here has been talking about you for a long time. I’m delighted that he has finally persuaded you to come. Brother Trejeda,” and he patted the proud Luis on the back, “is one of our right-hand men. We’re all proud of him.”
Serena smiled fondly at Luis. “He is our right-hand man, too.” She liked the bishop, a man of warmth and sincerity.
David, who had been standing close, saw one of his friends of Tuesday night and rushed to a section where the boys sat in their Sunday best, their hair neatly combed and glistening.
Serena listened to the preliminary music. Never before had she seen such participation in worship. She was tense waiting to see what would happen next, and how. Soon she and Jeff were part of the group in a nearby room. A young man, not much older than she was the leader. Like the bishop, he gave out a feeling of robust health and well-being.
To Jeff’s consternation and her amusement in the classroom, the leader said good morning and asked them to tell who they were and whence they came.
“We’re not from any ward,” Serena said, smiling, after Jeff had reluctantly announced himself, “We just came over from Meadtown because we liked what we found in your Tuesday night meetings.”
As the class progressed slowly back to the chapel, the leader caught up with them and shook hands. “I want you to meet one of our missionaries,” he said and signaled to a young man watching them. It was a Jack Burke whom Serena had met at Mutual.
“Are you an investigator, Mrs. Landeau?” the young man asked as he shook her hand.
Serena’s laugh was spontaneous. “Please don’t call me that … rather say that I’m an earnest seeker.”
“We call anyone who is interested in our Church an investigator, and my companion and I would be glad to call on you and your husband any time you care to have us.”
Serena waited for Jeff’s answer, her arm tight against his. Was his reply never coming? She held to the smile on her face.
Then Jeff said at last, “We’ll be glad to have you come.” His words had a sincere ring.
It was her turn now. “We’ll be waiting for you,” she said warmly. Waiting, the word gave her the cue to her thoughts.
Back in the chapel, the Sunday School superintendent announced the parting song, finishing with, “Brother Trejeda will give the benediction.”
Serena’s and Jeff’s eyes sought Luis, who sat in a section across the aisle. He looked as if a great honor had come to him. His whole body seemed lambent.
Then Serena found herself participating in the closing song. Jeff was singing too.
Oh, Zion! dear Zion! home of the free.
Though thou wert forced to fly to thy chambers on high,
Yet we’ll share joy and sorrows with thee.
Here our voices we’ll raise,
And we’ll sing to thy praise,
Sacred home of the prophets of God …
Serena could feel cool, thin air of the mountains. She breathed the odor of the pines, and about her were the tumbling and crashing of a mountain stream. “Oh, Zion! dear Zion! land of the free,” she sang with sweet fervor. “… All thy rights we’ll defend, and our home shall be ever with thee.”
Did Jeff feel the same thing she had? Zion was the home of the heart. For a few pulsating moments she had found it.
The song over, she looked again at Luis. He was no stranger to prayer, but would he find it easy?
Confidently Luis walked forward, his head raised. In front of the pulpit he bowed his head, closed his eyes, and prayed fervently.
As they made their way to their car, Luis came hurrying toward them, his brown face creased in smiles. “Meeses …” he hesitated and bowed, “ees all right if I not return until night? My seestar, my brother,” he waved towards a young couple who stood surrounded by children, smiling expectantly, “they eenvite me to their house today. Ees all right?” He looked up at Serena.
She was beginning to understand what Sunday meant to him. “That’s fine, Luis,” she smiled her approval.
On the first part of the way home, except for David’s comments from the back seat, they were silent, each one deep in his own thoughts. After a while Serena looked at Jeff, and, making her voice casual, asked, “How did you like it?”
For a moment Jeff kept his eyes straight on the cement, his lips tight in the October sun. “It had a certain lofty quality,” he said finally, a smile beginning in his eyes.
It was very important that she and Jeff talk without restraint about this morning, if only to keep open the path of understanding that so far had made their marriage smooth. She could not withdraw into silence.
She asked, “Didn’t you like the services?”
“On the contrary,” Jeff flashed her an enigmatic smile, “I liked the morning very much.”
“Was that all you admired?” She stressed the all, still keeping her voice careless.
“Oh, no, that’s just a beginning.” His head was on one side and he was hesitating, thinking, “I like the people to show when something is vital to them, maybe because I’m so reticent myself.” His hands tightened on the wheel.
“I suppose all religions when they are new are full of zest and vitality. When this one was new a hundred and some years ago, it must have been something to experience. I can understand how it carried them across the plains and mountains and tamed the wilderness. There’s still much of that quality left.”
“And it goes deeper than vitality.” Jeff was thoughtful, then his face lightened and his voice rose with enthusiasm. “I see it now, the thing I couldn’t quite lay my hands on, this Church seems to have Christianity in its purest form.” He tapped one hand excitedly on the wheel. “It stresses the supreme worth of the individual man, the whole participation of the individual! Look what it’s done for Luis!”
Something was joyful within her, urgent for expression. She felt like singing, yet she only said, “Then you’re satisfied to let David keep on going to church there?”
“I’m going over Tuesday night myself, even if the flood control program for San Vincente Valley has to wait. I’ll look into it a little more, and,” he winked at David who was listening, his head against their seat, “maybe I’ll do a little dancing.” Keeping his eyes on the Sunday traffic, he asked, “What about it, son, do you think you’d like going there?”
“I like it a lot.” David said it judiciously. “I think I’d like to try it again.”
“When we can’t go, we can always send him with Luis.” Jeff’s eyes were still on the road.
“But what would I do when Luis got invited out to dinner?” David was serious as he looked at Serena. “You’d have to come after me; so you might as well take me.”
Serena watched Jeff. The answer must come from him.
“We’ll try it for a while, anyway. What do you think, Mother?” He had never called her that before, and his eyes were twinkling.
She felt warm and happy, at peace with everything. All the past seemed joined with today, a perfect moment ready for tomorrow, so close to her.
“I think I’d like it.” Her eyes rested on Jeff, his strong hands relaxed on the wheel, and David standing in the back, his eager face close to hers. “The three of us together.”