There must be 101 details that mark this as a story from a bygone generation …
From the Relief Society Magazine, 1956 –
Pretty as a Pansy
By Frances C. Yost
Wanda looked nervously at the clock ticking away the minutes. “Here it is after one. If Vince doesn’t come right away to eat, I’ll miss Relief Society today.” She gently moved the lace curtain at the window and peered down the street, hoping to see the familiar green pickup truck turn the corner. Since Vince had started in his own lumber business, it was hard for him to keep regular hours.
Wanda didn’t want to miss the meeting. She received so much joy and satisfaction and down-to-earth education from Relief Society. She enjoyed working in the other organizations, too; but Relief Society was different. It was her meeting. A meeting where she could develop in a well-rounded way, as well as serving others.
As Wanda watched at the window, the truck slowed up to the curb and Vince, almost running, came to the house. She hurried to the door to greet him. You couldn’t be cross with someone who was late when he was working his heart out for you. She swung the door wide for him, and gave him her prettiest smile. “Welcome home, stranger,”
“Sorry I’m late, honey, had a customer. Couldn’t make it a minute sooner. But I’ll eat and run so you can make it to your meeting.” Vincent brushed her cheek with a swift kiss as he hurried to wash up.
“That’s okey,” Wanda replied.
She had sort of given up the idea of getting to Relief Society, but in no time at all Vince was grabbing his hat, brushing her cheek with a quick goodbye kiss, and gone. Wanda glanced at the clock, a quarter to two. She almost never left the dishes in the sink, but if she did today she could still make it to Relief Society.
Untying her apron, and powdering her nose, Wanda whisked on her tweed sports coat and shut the door gently, leaving it unlatched for her girls when they would come from school.
As she left her home, she glanced at the home of Granny Crockett who lived next door. Usually they walked to Relief Society meeting together, but Granny Crockett had probably seen Vince’s truck, and gone ahead. But we can walk home together, Wanda thought.
It was the literature lesson today, given well by Sister Bates. Imagine writing nine hundred poems and fourteen novels as Thomas Hardy did, the ladies sighed! Only too soon, the meeting was over, and the sisters exchanged greetings and well wishes. Wanda Mason and Granny Crockett slowly walked the short distance to their homes together.
“You can tell from his poems Thomas Hardy was a man of the soil,” Granny remarked.
“Such a well-rounded person, Thomas Hardy was. Imagine, even as a boy, he went around to parties and weddings playing his violin,” Wanda reminisced.
Then she fell to thinking how Relief Society tipped the scales of values in her life, helping her to shape her outlook and define her goals. She was so engrossed in thoughts of the lesson that she did not remember the dishes in the sink, until she stepped on the porch. Marie and Connie would probably be doing up the dishes right this minute to surprise her. Wanda prepared herself to act really surprised and lavish them with her praise. But, as she opened the door, the odor of burning meat surrounded her. The girls must be cooking hamburgers.
No, it was the expensive ground round steak with which she had planned to make a special new dish. Anger made Wanda rigid at the sight of the very small amount of ground round steak which was left.
Her lovely kitchen was a chaos of confusion. A greasy griddle, burned almost black, was on the cupboard, and the lovely copper-bottom skillet was filled with hamburgers and onions. Wanda glanced through the rooms to see the girls’ school clothes draped on the beds, the living room strewn with crumbs, while the television blasted away at high volume. The house Wanda had spent all morning cleaning was in utter disorder.
Suddenly Wanda was scolding as rain pours down in cascades. Connie and Marie stood by with startled consternation on their faces. Wanda, realizing she had been too hasty, went to her room and shut the door quickly behind her. Shame at her outburst and discouragement seemed to engulf her. She was disappointed, too. Would the girls never learn? Would they never start to take hold, to keep the house in shape, to think before using up household stores? Wanda said nothing when the children took choice things like nuts, cherries, and olives, but now when they were using the dinner meat for after-school snacks, that was the last straw.
“All morning I’ve worked in the house and for what?” she asked herself aloud. “I would have been ahead if I had forgotten the house entirely and planted the pansies that are waiting.” Wanda put on her gardening things, tied a scarf on her hair, and walked through the house, looking neither to the right nor to the left. On the porch she picked up the pansy plants she had purchased yesterday at the greenhouse and, with the planter fork, left the house, slamming the door almost childishly behind her.
As Wanda’s hands worked in the rich black soil, she thought again of the poet Thomas Hardy, and the common rural people of whom he wrote. Gradually her mind seemed to grope its way from a soundless sort of fog.
Granny Crockett, next door, sat crocheting on her warm sun porch. She had sat down to rest after the walk from Relief Society. as her hands moved, her mind dwelt on the lesson at Relief Society. She recalled a line from one of Thomas Hardy’s poems: “This is the weather the cuckoo likes, and so do I.”
Suddenly from next door she heard Wanda’s voice raised in scolding.
“Why, land sakes, pretty Wanda Mason went into that house not more than five minutes ago. Wonder what mischief she found her girls into?” Granny said softly. “Harsh words are molded on children’s memories forever.” Her mind went back to a day when, as a little child, her mother in heated wrath had called her a lazy dolt. Granny’s head, with its hair pinned neatly into around flat knot at the crown of her neck, shook as if to erase the memory.
It was only when she looked up from her crocheting that she noticed Wanda Mason in her garden, setting out pansy plants. Granny laid down her crochet work and, out of the corner of her eye, saw Wanda Mason wipe her eyes with the sleeve of her shirt, as she knelt in the flower bed.
Suddenly Granny Crockett remembered the water cress a neighbor had brought her from his last fishing trip. Wrapping a generous portion of the cress in wax paper and going out the back door, she meandered over to where Wanda Mason was setting out her pansies.
It wasn’t until Granny Crockett was right to Wanda that she noticed the tears falling form her eyes, moistening the soil where she was working. Words seemed inadequate. Instead, Granny Crockett placed her hand gently on Wanda’s shoulder. Wanda looked up startled, but, at the sight of Granny Crockett, the flood locks broke, and a new flow of tears rushed forth.
“There, there, child,” Granny Crockett comforted.
“I suppose you heard me raise my voice to the children. I’m so dreadfully ashamed. But, oh, Granny, I try so hard to make a real home … a clean home, and I skimp and go without to plan and prepare nice meals, and the children …” Wanda told Granny everything, how she had found the house, and about the dinner meat used for after-school hamburgers.
“It is discouraging,” Granny Crockett admitted. “And yet I’d give a lot if my children were close enough to raid my pantry. I’ve lived to see three generations, and they all do it sometime or another, and they all seem to come through that growing hungry stage like a blue-ribbon heifer. I brought you over some water cress.”
“Why, how nice. You know how we love it in the spring. Thanks so much,” Wanda said.
“You have chosen a nice assortment of pansy plants,” Granny Crockett said, looking at the plants Wanda was planting.
Wanda was pleased. Granny Crockett had a “green thumb,” and Wanda appreciated any floral compliment Granny gave her. “I do hope they grow.”
“They’ll grow,” Granny Crockett nodded knowingly, “just like those two lovely girls of yours are growing.”
Wanda, who had placed the last plant in its little moistened crevice and anchored it firmly with black rich soil, shifted herself from her knees to her feet and stood surveying the plants. “Those blooms should be picked, to strengthen the roots. I’ll let the girls do that for the table decoration for our supper table.” Wanda realized that in her planting, she had also planted every bit of her wrath.
“I want you to come and see my pansy bed now, Sister Wanda. Pansies are such choice little flowers. Why, they’re almost human when you look straight in their faces. Come.” She took Wanda’s arm firmly.
Together, they walked through the arbor that divided the Mason and the Crockett lawns, and which would be covered with climbing roses in June.
“See those tiny pansies peeping through?” Granny Crockett asked. “Once I spaded up a bed because I saw a weed or two. but in doing it, I uprooted the tiny pansies just pushing through. Life’s like that. Sometimes we uproot our homes and children to get rid of a weed or two of wrong, that would wither later, on their own. what children really need more than spading, is warm, loving sunshine … the sunshine of a mother’s loving smile. A smile that is as dependable as the sun’s rays.”
Wanda realized, with a pang of consternation, that her children had seen her face torn with anger. No wonder they had looked so startled. She secretly vowed to try to keep it from happening again.
Lilac dusk was creeping upon them, but Wanda’s mind had already taken up its routine. She could make spaghetti and meat balls for supper. The family enjoyed the dishes they were used to more than something new and fancy, anyway. And the water cress gift from Granny Crockett would make a lovely cress and hard-boiled egg salad, which would be a treat for Vince and the girls on a spring evening. And she would pull out a cherry pie from the deep freeze, as a sort of celebration of her burying the hatchet, so to speak.
“I must hurry,” Wanda said. Her face smiled like the big white pansies which Granny Crockett knew would later bloom in her garden. “And thanks … thanks for everything!” Wanda added.
When she walked into her home, it seemed her own little world had righted itself. The school clothes were put away, the coats hung neatly in the hall, and Marie and Connie were doing the dishes.
“We were going to surprise you,” they chorused; when caught in the act.
“What a happy surprise!” Wanda smiled a pretty violet-eyed pansy smile …
Granny Crockett walked through the garden and over the smooth green lawn which sloped to the lily pond. A bluebird came flashing out of nowhere, and stopped short on seeing her so closely, then flitted away among the peonies beside the garden fence. Granny smiled, all was calm and smooth again. The pansy faces all were smiling faces.