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Mother’s Shoes

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 08, 2012

From the Relief Society Magazine, February 1957 –

Mother’s Shoes

By Edith Larson

What a picture Mother and Dad made, framed by the new window, their faces alight with expectation! The ready laughter wrinkles were deeper than ever on Dad’s face and the little lines of worry were gone from Mother’s.

She has accepted my ultimatum, Dorothy thought happily, as she drove on past the window. I knew that if I left them alone, Dad would persuade Mother that I am right. It’s ridiculous for her to think she needs to help me put on their golden wedding anniversary.

Dorothy stopped the car and turned to the first early wedding guests she had picked up at the train. But Mother and Dad were there already, eagerly pulling the doors open to welcome Aunt Mabel and Uncle Arthur with their daughter Gertie.

Dorothy waited only for the first greetings, then slipped away to the kitchen. The roast would be ready for the potatoes, onions, and carrots she had left standing in cold water. She hummed as her hands flew at their tasks.

“The kitchen looks different,” a pleasant voice spoke from the doorway.

Dorothy looked up at her cousin Gertie – a stranger, really, since Dad’s oldest sister had never been back after moving to New York twenty years ago.

“Mother had the whole house done over in honor of the golden wedding. You can’t imagine what this anniversary means to her. She hasn’t thought of much else for the past five years.”

Gertie smiled. “I’m sure I’ll feel the same way when I reach the fifty-year mark. But I wasn’t referring to the house, although it does look very nice. I was just thinking of the kitchen the way I remembered it, with Aunt Sarah bustling around, shooing us children out from under her feet.”

“She’d still be doing it if I’d let her. I’ve had quite a time persuading her to sit in the living room and be a lady of leisure.”

“That role does seem a little out of character for Aunt Sarah.”

“So she says. But, Gertie, think of all the years she has worked so hard. Not just her own work, but Relief Society and Sunday School and every other job that anyone wanted done. Mother deserves a big celebration without any responsibility at all.”

“Someone has to take the responsibility.”

“I am. I’ve been here three weeks already. Of course, the plans are all Mother’s – except for some little surprises along the way. I want everything to be exactly as she has dreamed it.”

“What does Harvey say to all this?”

“He doesn’t like my being gone so long, of course, but he understands. Having the family so scattered means lots of house guests, besides the celebration itself. And the boys’ wives all have small children – those who live here in town. Harvey can see where Mother needs me. He’ll be up with our boys day after tomorrow to stay till it’s over.”

“If there is anything I can do to help …”

“There’ll be lots of things. I thought we younger women could get the meals and keep the work done up and let the brothers and sisters have a real visit. You’ll find the makings of a green salad in the fridge, if you want to put them together now.”

“And here I had my mouth all watered for some of Aunt Sarah’s cooking. I’ve never forgotten it.” But Gertie was smiling as she opened the fridge.

“I’ve sworn to keep Mother out of the kitchen, but I don’t know …” Dorothy broke off with a shrug.

A flick of Gertie’s head made her turn. Sarah stood in the doorway, an anxious frown on her face.

“Dorothy,” she asked, “Did you remember to order the cake?”

“Of course, Mother,” Dorothy said, irritation overriding her normal tact. “I ordered the cake, checked on the photographer, and borrowed the punch bowl, and I know that was all you put on my list this morning.”

Sarah bit her lips. “I’m sorry. You didn’t tell me,” she said and turned away.

Dorothy shook her head wryly as she watched her mother’s retreating figure.

“How do you cure ‘em?” she asked Gertie. “You’d think I was an irresponsible teenager.”

“You don’t. You just try.”

The cousins worked amicably and rapidly, the ready-made subject of how to deal with parents bridging the gap of long separation. In a very short time, Dorothy returned to the living room to announce dinner.

Mother looked up at her with a warm smile. “I can’t get over it,” she said. “Me sitting here with my hands folded and meals going on just the same. I was just telling Mabel that you won’t let me do a thing – not a single thing. You’d think I was the queen or someone important.”

Dad rose gallantly, offering his arm. “You are, my dear – my queen.”

Dorothy’s heart did a little flip as she followed the older couple to the dining room. The old dears, she thought, so absolutely corny and so very, very dear.

Dinner was a leisurely meal with much reminiscing and lavish compliments for Dorothy. She was glad when her brother Jim showed up with an offer to drive the old folks and Gertie around town. Dad had given up driving himself because of poor eyesight.

Once the others were gone and the kitchen work done, Dorothy settled down to her lists of jobs still pending. She wanted to make one last check without Mother at her elbow. But she couldn’t concentrate.

Why couldn’t Mother just relax and let her daughter run things? Why couldn’t she realize that Dorothy was just as efficient a manager as her mother before her? Why, she was having the time of her life putting on this affair!

Two hundred and fifty was a conservative estimate of the expected guests at the open house Sunday afternoon. And there would be between ninety and a hundred at the family dinner Monday night. Close to twenty of these would be house guests for the weekend or longer, for some came from great distances – from both coasts, in fact.

Mother had used these distances as an excuse for having a family dinner. The boys all thought an open house was celebration enough. but Dorothy sympathized with her mother’s desire to have the family by themselves one night. And the Relief Society sisters would serve the dinner in the recreation hall.

Sarah was proud of the society she had presided over for fifteen years. and she wanted something extra special because her own sisters were coming. They had never been West before. After their father had died, still unrelenting toward the daughter who married a Mormon, the sisters had written Sarah and urged her to come east for a visit. She had gone once or twice, and Dorothy had gone with her for one brief visit.

There were four of the sisters altogether. The youngest two, Aunt Dora and Aunt Mattie, aged seventy-nine and seventy-six, were the adventurous ones coming to the golden wedding. They were both widows.

The sightseers returned long before Dorothy was ready for them. Then Jim’s family dropped in, closely followed by the other boys and some of their families. Everyone wanted to see Aunt Mabel after so many years.

So it was late before the house settled down for the night. At the last minute, Sarah came to Dorothy’s room. “I think I’d better go with you to the station to meet the aunts,” she said.

“Oh, Mother, there’s no need for you to get up at five A.M.! That train’s always late and the station’s a drafty, cold place to wait. You sleep in and I’ll meet them just as we planned.”

“As you planned,” Sarah corrected with a smile that took the sting from the correction. “I really think they’ll expect me to meet them. Their very first trip, you know.”

“Nonsense. You’ll make a much better first impression if they see you here in your own home.”

“Then I’ll have breakfast waiting for you when you get back.”

“If you insist.”

I wasn’t very gracious, Dorothy thought, as she paced the station platform in the cold dawn. The eastern mountains were pink-tipped but there was no sun to cut through the chill. I’m not sorry, though, that I insisted. And she shivered.

She could hear the train rumbling in the distance.It wouldn’t be too late after all. And then it was roaring into the station and she had underestimated its length. Those two white-haired ladies ten coaches down had to be Aunt Mattie and Aunt Dora. Dorothy broke into a run.

Then she was enfolded in Aunt Dora’s ample arms and listening to Aunt Mattie’s booming voice saying, “I’m glad you had sense enough to keep Sarah at home. What a heathenish hour for a train to arrive.”

“We’re not such a big place,” Dorothy answered defensively. “The train schedule is set up to give the city the most convenient hours.”

Why should she feel that she had to defend the railroad? As the day passed, she found she was always defending something. Aunt Mattie had the ability to put Dorothy’s back up over the least little thing. Or were they little things?

Breakfast over, Aunt Mattie had moved purposively in on the sink. “Now, Dorothy, you can put the food away. You’re the one who knows where it goes. I’ll wash and your cousin can wipe.

“But, Aunt Mattie, everything is all planned. The brothers and sisters are to be guests and we younger ones will do the work.”

“Fiddlesticks! I was washing dishes when you were in diapers!”

“That’s just the point. It’s your turn for a holiday.”

“If I want to spend my holiday at the kitchen sink, that’s my business, young lady. You put the food away. Where did you say I’d find an apron? There’s half a dozen in my suitcase, but I’ll borrow one for now.”

Helplessly, Dorothy obeyed, painfully aware of Gertie’s amusement.

Aunt Mattie didn’t stop with taking command of the dishwashing. She planned the meals and saw that they were duly cooked according to her orders. As more and more guests arrived, she supervised the sleeping arrangements. With dismay, Dorothy watched the reins of management slip from her hands. But there was no arguing with Aunt Mattie. But for Sarah’s intervention, she would have taken over the open house, too.

“Now, Mattie,” Sarah said with deceptive gentleness, “Dorothy and I have the arrangements all planned. The boys’ wives are going to serve the punch, taking turns, an hour each.”

“I’ll pour the coffee, then,” Aunt Mattie insisted.

“There’ll be no coffee. You know that, Mattie.”

“Then I’ll run the kitchen. Someone has to see to it that the punch bowls are kept filled and the cookie plates ready. I’ll start baking cookies this morning.”

“The neighbors are bringing the cookies in.”

“What if they don’t bring enough? It won’t hurt to have a few dozen of my icebox cookies on hand.”

Sarah sighed, such a familiar sigh, Dorothy thought. “No, I don’t suppose it will hurt.”

Dorothy was seething. She had purposely planned the meals so that there would be no baking these last two days in order to keep the house cool for Sunday. A hot retort was on the tip of her tongue, but she was saved from making it by a glimpse of Harvey driving in with the children. She ran to meet them, but even their hugs didn’t keep her from boiling over in response to Harvey’s “How are things going?”

“Now wait!” Harvey raised a hand in mock self-defense against the torrent of words she poured out. “Let me get my bearings. And greet the folks,” he added as he saw his father-in-law coming across the lawn.

The two men clasped hands warmly. “We’ve certainly appreciated the loan of your wife,” Fred said. “She’s taken hold like her mother would.”

Dorothy flushed with pleasure, her anger beginning to dissolve. Harvey looked down at her affectionately. “You have just passed out the greatest compliment of all, Dad,” he said.

“I used to think no one could ever grow into Sarah’s shoes. They’re made special, you know, on an individual last. And now here’s Dorothy, coming closer and closer …” The old man shook his head, but his eyes were smiling.

Dorothy thought, Coming closer! But of course, Dad’s prejudiced. He won’t ever admit anyone could grew into Mother’s shoes.

Dorothy honestly tried to deal with the problem of Aunt Mattie the way Mother would. All day Saturday, Mattie baked cookies. Red-faced and tired but triumphant, she came to the table that night to a meal she had planned and prepared herself for eighteen people.

“I’ve baked five hundred cookies,” she announced. “You can’t run short now.”

“But it was completely unnecessary,” Dorothy broke out before she remembered. She didn’t need the warning pressure of Harvey’s hand to stop her.

“Thank you, Mattie,” Sarah said quietly. “I don’t know what we’d do without you.”

Dorothy thought she’d explode, the way Aunt Mattie preened herself at the compliment. Without Aunt Mattie, everything would have gone smoothly according to Dorothy’s direction. At least, she consoled herself, Aunt Mattie couldn’t interfere with the programs planned for the open house and the family dinner.

Mother was in on the program planned for the open house because it was a surprise on Dad. But the entertainment at the family dinner was Dorothy’s own doing, and a secret from both her parents. She had prepared a complete program around the grandchildren and their talents, including a three-act skit portraying the courtship of Fred and Sarah. Mother and Dad would love it.

But as late as Saturday night, Mother asked Dorothy again, “Don’t you think we ought to have some sort of program at the family dinner besides a few remarks from the bishop?”

Dorothy patted her hand and said soothingly, “Don’t worry, Mother. Everyone will be too busy visiting. Besides, the bishop will talk as long as you want him to.”

“I know, but – ”

“No ‘buts’ about it, Mother. I have everything planned. Now just enjoy your company and leave the rest to me.”

Sarah turned away, but Dorothy, looking after her drooping figure, frowned. Mother, she thought, should be happier. Here I am, doing everything in the world to make her dreams come true, and she frets over details.

But the next day, as Sarah and Fred greeted the neighbors and friends who flocked to the house, Dorothy had never seen her mother look happier. She looked rested and proud as she stood near the door, one hand on her husband’s arm.

Dorothy had more time to watch and mingle with the guests than she had expected. In spite of her protests, Aunt Mattie had taken over the kitchen.

“Go on in there and talk to your friends,” the old lady insisted. “I don’t know anyone and I don’t like to talk to strangers. I’ll be perfectly happy right here.”

So Dorothy had joined her husband, and together they greeted old friends. It wasn’t the way she had planned it, but – well – she rather liked it this way, knowing the kitchen was well commanded.

Sarah was talking to a distinguished-looking man Dorothy finally recognized as a former bishop who had moved away. Pulling at Harvey’s arm, she steered him over that way.

“Your open house is going off very well, Sister Talbot,” the bishop was saying. “Knowing your efficiency, I’m not surprised.”

Sarah laughed ruefully. “I didn’t have much to do with it. I’ve been chained to this armchair by the next in line.” Looking up, she saw Dorothy and Harvey and smiled warmly. “Here is the one who deserves your compliments, Bishop. I don’t know what I’d have done without her.”

Dorothy stammered through greetings, her mind in a whirl. “I don’t know what I’d have done without her.” Why did that statement have such a familiar ring?

As the company eddied about them, leaving her momentarily in a little private island with Harvey, she turned to him. “What would Mother have done without me?” she asked abruptly.

Harvey smiled down at her. “So you recognized the line, too. I thought you would.”

“It’s what Mother said to Aunt Mattie after she butted in and upset all my plans. Do you really think that I butted in and upset Mother’s plans in the same way?”

Harvey’s smile disappeared and he stared seriously down at his wife’s anxious face. “I don’t know, Dorothy.”

‘But I only carried out her plans, the ones she’s been making for years. Of course, I added a few touches here and there, but …”

“Mother Talbot is far too diplomatic ever to tell you, if to her you are another Aunt Mattie.”

“I know.” Dorothy’s misery threatened to engulf her. “All I wanted was for Mother to have one perfectly happy time, free from care. But – I guess a woman like Mother is never really free from care. Here I’ve been getting the biggest bang out of running this show – and that’s just what Mother would have got out of running it herself. Not a lot of worry, but fun – just plain fun. why didn’t I see that before?”

“Don’t blame yourself too much, Dorothy. It looked as if you were doing your mother a big favor. I think she’s proud that you wanted to do it.”

“Perhaps. But, right now it’s time for the self-appointed regent to abdicate and let the queen take over. Quick, Harvey, tip the children off not to let on they’ve been practicing for a program tomorrow night.”

“But you’ve planned such a good program!”

“I? Mother’s the program planner in our family.”

The quick squeeze Harvey gave her hand showed Dorothy he understood. With tears in her eyes, she watched him quietly maneuver the grandchildren out of the room. Then she squared her shoulders and waited for a chance to speak to Sarah.

Dorothy was smiling by the time she had a chance to say, “Mother – Mother, why don’t you ask the grandchildren to put on some kind of entertainment for the family dinner? I’m sure they’d love to show off for the aunts and uncles.”



2 Comments »

  1. Human nature doesn’t change, does it?
    Certainly this story doesn’t have to be in the LDS community, it is utterly relatable because it is a story about family dynamics.

    I think my favorite thing about this, is that there was a place for women to publish their writing. Thanks for a good read on a hard night.

    Julia
    poetrysansonions.blogspot.com

    Comment by Julia — August 10, 2012 @ 4:51 am

  2. Need more old LDS fiction to get you through another night? Click on the “Topical Guide” link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen and search for the “Fiction” category.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — August 10, 2012 @ 6:56 am

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