From the Relief Society Magazine, 1933 –
By Marguerite Johnson Griffin
It had come at last as she had known it eventually would. Their pitifully small savings had melted entirely away, and the last bit of food was being ravenously and cheerfully stowed away in the always hungry stomachs of her three small boys. How could they be so innocently gleeful when dire necessity was staring them in the face? And now Fred and Albert, the two older boys who were in school, had jumped from the table, had quickly donned sweaters and caps, and were squeezing her in a wild embrace.
“After school, Mother, we would like to go with Jim Brown on his news route, ‘cause if we know something about it maybe we’ll be able to get one sometime. Do you mind?”
“No.” She shook her head, and before she could say more each had plastered an affectionate kiss upon her solemn cheek.
“But we’ll remember to be here in time for supper!” and away they were gone for a busy school day.
Supper? The word sounded a leaden knell in her heart. Always there had been a warm and nourishing supper, even if an inexpensive one, prepared punctually for her husband and three boys. But tonight – tonight, for the first time, there would be no supper. No supper because their money was all gone, because there was not a scrap of food in the house which any amount of ingenuity might concoct into a dinner dish.
“Mummy, I’se frew,” called small Dan from his high chair.
Mechanically she lifted him down.
“Mummy, I loves you,” he cried, patting her pale cheeks with sticky hands.
Convulsively she pressed him tightly to her, while a lump rose in her throat and her eyes smarted with tears she must not shed. Tears which she dare not shed because Ned, her husband, would be coming in the kitchen at any minute now, and his courage had already almost gone; for months he had been unable to get work anywhere. It was only her smile and her constant efforts at cheerfulness which had kept him trying in spite of galling discouragement to find some sort of employment. And so, this morning of all mornings, he must see no tears in her eyes. No tears, though panic was gripping her heart.
What a hard job, that of wife and mother! The children could cry when they were hurt and disappointed. Her husband could pour out his aching despondency to her tender ears, but at such times above all they must not know of the terrorizing fear which was clutching at her own soul. She must smile and soothe their woes. But who was there to soothe hers? A feeling of being all alone suddenly encompassed her, and then almost at once she felt ashamed. For there was Ned standing before her, dear, kind Ned, who had always worked hard and provided well, who had always been so kind, so generous and affectionate, whose every thought and consideration had always been for her well-being and the children’s. As he took her in his strong, yet gentle, arms she realized how alone she would be without him. After all, what a small task it was just to smile if it kept that demon discouragement from furrowing its lines too deeply in his dear face.
“You are pale this morning, Myra. You’ve been working too hard, trying to keep the wolf away from the door. I know.”
“Oh, no, Ned. You just imagine it. It’s fun economizing.”
(But not the way you’ve had to lately, beat her rebellious heart.)
“It can’t last forever,” he replied, and the desperation in his voice startled her.
“No, of course not, dear,” she responded cheerily. “Come and eat your breakfast.”
He seated himself at the table.
“I don’t believe you have eaten a thing yourself this morning,” he said, eying her keenly.
“I don’t feel hungry right now,” she replied.
“I bet this is all the mush there is.”
“Oh, no. See, there is plenty more.”
She took the pan over to him, and satisfied with what he saw, he began to eat heartily. Little did he know that that had to be saved for the baby’s lunch. Small Dan would have a meal at noon even if there would be no supper. No supper! Nothing in the house to eat! The thought beat relentlessly at her temples.
And now Ned was through, and was holding her close again.
“Have you enough to manage on for today, Honey?” he asked.
She gazed deep into his gray eyes and saw there perplexity, bewilderment, and most terrifying of all, humiliation. He should know the true state of their affairs, she thought. Perhaps he would be able to do something about it. But what – what could anyone do in times like these when jobs just weren’t to be had? A chilling sense of futility swept over her. No. She could not tell him today. She could not see him leave for his daily heartbreaking search for work, his shoulders sagging and all light of independence crushed from his very soul because of such a worry. No. Today she could not tell him. Tomorrow he would have to know, if – if nothing happened. But – perhaps something would happen.
“Yes. I can manage,” she answered.
She saw a wave of relief sweep the anxiety from his eyes, and she felt thankful for her decision.
“I guess our funds are getting pretty low,” he returned.
“Yes, they’re pretty low,” she replied softly.
“And they’d have been gone long ago if it hadn’t been for your careful management. You’ve been a brick.” He gave her an impulsive squeeze. “But maybe something will happen today.”
Maybe something will happen today! The words were left ringing in her ears long after his footfalls had faded away. Maybe something will happen today! Strange, the thought stirred no warmth of comfort within her. Instead she felt chilled by the knowledge that nothing could happen. There just weren’t any jobs to be had. There was nothing that could happen. Absolutely nothing.
Her mind reverted with a discontented longing to better days, to days when Ned had been Chef at the Ellison hotel and had drawn a good salary. Three babies and sickness had taken its toll of the income, but they had always managed to save something, if only a little. They had never been extravagant. They had even paid for their home. Why, then, should they be experiencing such hard times now? The Hotel had changed hands a year ago, and in consequence Ned had been let out, because the new owners had most of their own employees, and since that time he had not had one hour’s work. There was no opening anywhere for a man of his profession. For a year they had existed merely on the savings of better days now past. For a year Myra had planned and schemed, schemed and planned to prolong the day she knew was inevitable – the day when the money would all be gone. And now it was here. There was nothing in the house for supper. Times were so bad there was no apparent way of providing anything for her little family. And yet, the two oldest boys had gone merrily to school, saying, “We’ll be home in time for supper.”
A rueful smile crossed her face. Bless their hearts! How she used to scold them for being away at play or other activities and then coming late for their meals. She had always liked routine and system, and punctuality. And so they had promised to be home in time for supper. And there would be no supper. But such a fear or thought had never entered their little hearts. She recalled their eyes filled with confidence and love as they looked into hers. They always had had supper. They just naturally expected it. Well, at least they would have a good lunch anyway, and that thought consoled her. Ever since school had begun in the Fall they had worked in the cafeteria and had thus earned their lunches. What a help that had been! What good boys they were!
Once again she saw their trusting eyes glowing with – what was the word? Faith. That was it. Faith in her. Faith to the extent of a confident knowledge that they would be home in time for a supper that was prepared for them. Oh, Heavenly Father, surely the faith of innocent children will have its reward!
A feeling of calm swept over her. New thoughts filled her brain. It seemed as if someone almost spoke to her, so clearly came the words to her memory: “Unless ye become as a little child –” And then this line was replaced by other fragments. “Ask and ye shall receive –” “But ask in faith – ”
Faith – That was the thing she and Ned had lacked. For years she and he, in their practicability, had liked to know they were providing for the future. They had liked to feel secure in their savings, in their vision of the future. They had practiced independence to the extent that they had become independent even of the Lord. How clear it was now! All along during this dreary year, they had practiced not one iota of faith. All along she had known the end of their money would come. How could it help but come then? All along Ned had known that jobs were not to be had, that there could not possibly be opportunities for all the restless unemployed. How, then, could he expect to get a job?
It was true they had put forth much effort. Ned had tramped the streets for work; she had racked her mind and brain in an effort to be economical and to make things last and do. But there had been no faith behind these works. Even as faith without works is dead, so does it not stand to reason that works without faith might often be futile? Even though the situation seemed dark and despairing, was it impossible for the Lord, who is all powerful, to open channels of opportunity for those who qualified themselves for such help in a sweet, humble, faithful spirit? In all humility she sought her room, and closing the door she fell upon her knees to pour forth her heart in prayer the like of which she had never before uttered in all her life.
It was wonderful the calm and the fortitude of spirit with which she was filled during the whole day. She flew about her work ambitiously. Dirty dishes soon were washed. Beds were made, mending done. Little Dan’s mush was warmed for his lunch, then he was put to sleep. And though she herself ate nothing all day, she felt no pangs of hunger. Her heart was light and joyous. something would happen today. She must get everything in order, for there would be supper to prepare.
It was late afternoon when Myra answered a knock at the back door. The lady who lived in the neighboring house stood upon the threshold and she had a covered basket under her arm.
“Do you suppose you could use these things?’ she asked half apologetically. “There is a pot of soup, and some meat and vegetables which I was going to have for tonight, and then some friends called unexpectedly and insisted that we come to their house for dinner; we are leaving by an early morning train for the East to spend a month with my folks. I just can’t let food go to waste, so I thought if you could use it –”
Myra’s heart bounded within her. If only she knew how well they could use it!
“Indeed we can, Mrs. Weston. It’s almost impossible to fill the stomachs of three growing boys. They are perpetually empty. So we’ll appreciate it very much.”
“Well, I’m so glad you can make use of it. I was afraid perhaps at this late hour you would have had your supper planned or something.”
Myra smiled. “No. As it happens I’ve been quite busy today, and I hadn’t yet got around to that.”
Shortly afterward Ned came home with beaming face.
“Well, Myra,” he said, “I’ve earned seventy-five cents today, the first money I’ve made in a year. I guess I’m just a silly kid, getting thrilled over a few cents, but here it is.”
Myra looked at the three twenty-five cent coins in his big brown hand, and she reflected that he had never been so excited when he had brought home his two hundred dollar monthly pay check.
“Why, I think it’s great,” she responded. “How did you earn it?”
“Putting in a load of wood.”
“Putting in a load of wood?” she repeated dazedly.
“Yes,” he replied, almost with pride, she thought. “Somehow today it came over me all of a sudden what a boob I’ve been. Too proud to pick up a few little odd jobs now and then in my search for a real job. But now I’ve turning over a new leaf. Anything honest is not too menial for me to do. Why should we search for a steady job, trying to make our future utterly secure, when perhaps we are missing from day to day opportunities, which, though paltry, will with careful management provide the means for our daily livelihood?”
“Oh, Dan, you’re wonderful,” she cried enthusiastically. “And now will you go to the store and get some milk and cereal for the children’s breakfast?”
That night Fred and Albert were indeed home in time for supper, but the supper far surpassed their expectations. The soup was rich and creamy and smelled delicious. The meat and vegetables were tantalizing as Myra spoke and delayed the asking of the blessing.
“First, before we start, I want to tell you all something. This meal which is placed before us has been sent to us like manna from our Heavenly Father.”
“But that is what the Lord sent to the Children of Israel,” said little Fred. “I know, ‘cause we had it in Sunday School. Was it like this?”
“No,” said Myra gently. “It was not soup and meat and vegetables. But it was food of some sort which they needed, and they had to have faith that he would send enough for each day as it came. They were not allowed to hoard up any for the future. The Lord wanted them to rely upon Him and not entirely upon themselves. That is the thing He wants us to do now in these days. We have been so independent for so long that we have ceased to acknowledge Him as we should for His blessings to us. We have become self-satisfied, and adversities have made us disgruntled and disagreeable, rather than humble, sweet, and faithful. Today, Mother had no money left to buy anything for supper, but the faith of her little boys kindled her own faith, and our Heavenly Father made it so that our neighbor was invited out to dinner, and being unable to use what she had planned, she brought it over for us to use rather than see it waste. And so it came to us when we needed it, like manna came to the children of Israel.”
“And Mother,” said Fred, “the man at the newspaper office gave me a paper route. Donald Freeman, who had it, has moved away, and the man said I could make about twenty dollars a month at it, maybe more if I work hard. That will be like manna too, won’t it?” and his little eyes shone eagerly.
“Indeed it will be, son. You may ask the blessing now, and let us all remember to be more thankful than ever before for the many blessings the Lord has given us.”
Later that evening when the children were tucked away in bed, Myra said to her husband, “You know, Ned, there is so much comfort to be had from the scriptures. We have never studied enough, and I don’t think we read with the faith we should. Do you mind if I get the Bible and read a passage to you now?”
“No. I’d love to have you,” he replied.
“Listen to this, then,” she said. “It’s from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, taken from Matthew, the sixth chapter starting at the twenty-fifth verse.”
She began to read in her soft clear voice, while her face was radiant with faith and a newfound joy.
“‘Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?’
“‘Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your Heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?’”
She paused, then said, “Yes, the birds gather as they need from day to day. They do not hoard up the good things of the earth like man does, selfishly. They use what they need and leave the rest for the others. There would be no want in the world if man were like that.”
She turned back to the printed page.
“Going on in the thirtieth verse: ‘Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?’”
Again she glanced up to say, “Isn’t the Lord wonderfully good to us who are so weak and have so little faith?”
“‘Therefore take no thought saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
“‘(For after these things do the gentiles seek:) for your Heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
“‘But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.’”
“Don’t you see?” she said. “This applies directly to what we must do to obtain the temporal things of life. We must seek the Kingdom of God, through humility, faith and works. We must draw near to our Heavenly Father, and acknowledge His kindness and goodness, and He will provide for us the necessities of life. Perhaps He will not shower great wealth upon us, but grant us sufficient from day to day.”
“Our manna,” added Ned.
“Yes. If we only cultivate the faith and obey the law, we will receive our manna, no matter how hard the times, even as the Children of Israel did.”
Ned was deeply impressed.
“You are beautiful tonight,” he said reverently.
“I am happier than I’ve ever been,” she said simply. “The Lord has been so good to us.”