Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » With a Song in My Heart

With a Song in My Heart

By: Ardis E. Parshall - August 31, 2012

From the Relief Society Magazine, March, 1960 –

With a Song in My Heart

Mabel Law Atkinson

“Don’t say it, Granny. I know the understanding wife doesn’t try to change her husband. She accepts him as he is and loves him. Of course I accept Reg and I love him too, very, very much, but I’m going to change him, Granny. You mark my words. I’m going to change him or my name isn’t Bethesda Nichols Grover. There now, I feel better, that’s off my mind.”

“Will you make him entirely over, my dear, or just camouflage a few of his faults?”

“Darling Granny, you know my Reginald doesn’t need entirely making over. He’s almost perfect as he is, but he does have one dreadful fault.” Beth paused for a moment then went on, “It isn’t being disloyal, is it, Granny, to talk things over with you? You’ve always seemed to understand me perfectly. Perhaps it’s because I was named after you. I love the name Bethesda, and almost wish I were not called Beth for short.”

“My dear, of course you are not disloyal. Come, tell me all about your great big trouble with your handsome husband of only six months.” Granny patted her arm.

“Granny, since we were married, Reg has been getting less romantic every day. Everything seems to be for utility with him, downright practical. And I thought romance and star dust and silver music and beautiful words would go on and on …”

“And life would be one long, perfect day.” Granny’s eyes twinkled as she finished the sentence. “I know, my dear, for you see I thought the same.”

“You, too, Granny? And did you get disappointed in one little way also? Is Grandpa like my Reg, all for utility?”

“Yes, my dear, that’s what I thought at first. Of course, he needed his practicality, for he had so much to do in pioneering a new land, that he had little time for anything else. But, as the years have passed, I have come to know that his awkward, utility gestures are mostly on the surface and cover a most sensitive awareness to beauty. You must remember, my dear, a certain degree of utility or practicality is essential and praiseworthy, for people must eat and have homes and fuel and clothing. So be glad your Reginald is practical in most things.”

“I am, Granny. Do you think it possible that perhaps Reg feels tender and beautiful beneath his practical and matter-of-fact veneer?”

“I wouldn’t be at all surprised, Beth, my dear. Perhaps he’s like my Robert was, afraid to show the real man for fear he’ll be laughed at or not understood. Think it over, my dear.”

“Tell me about Grandpa and his utility ways and how you have managed to change him into the tender and courteous lover he is today. Oh, but you two make a delightful couple, Granny, with your graying hair and your young-old smiling faces. Tell me how you did it, Granny, for I want Reg and me to grow old sweetly together, too.”

“My dear, there isn’t much to tell. I don’t remember, now, really trying to change my Robert at all. I just loved him all the more after his awkward attempts to be nonchalant about his love for me, and as a flower grows toward the sun, gradually he came toward my way of doing things until now he is a perfect husband, and the perfect father to his children – or as perfect as I would ever want him to be.”

“But surely, Granny, he wasn’t ever so thoughtless and downright queer as my Reg. Why, instead of giving me this watch wrapped up prettily, with a kiss and a ‘Happy Birthday, darling,’ he actually had it wrapped in brown paper and brought it in with the groceries when he came at noon. I didn’t discover it until after he had gone back to work. Can you imagine that! Honestly, Granny, sometimes I wonder if he has a sense of beauty and appropriateness.”

Granny was laughing inside, but only smiling with her lips as she replied, “His ways are different and unique at least. Did I ever tell you how your grandpa gave me my watch several years after our marriage?” she fondly touched the small gold watch pinned to her dress a little below the left shoulder, as she spoke.

“No. Do tell me, granny.”

“All right. But bring us each a glass of milk and a plate of those cookies from the cookie jar, then we can eat as we talk.

“I had wanted a watch for years,” Granny begin, “but, of course, I knew we didn’t have the money, just as I knew your grandpa didn’t have the money for an engagement ring before we were married.”

“And you didn’t get an engagement ring at all?” Beth turned her diamond on her left hand as she asked the question.

‘No, dear, and it didn’t matter too much, not for long anyway, for I found so much joy in my work each day pioneering a new land, and in my babies as they came along, there was no time to grieve. You see, happiness doesn’t depend on a ring. But, let me see …” Granny paused. “I was telling about my watch, wasn’t I? it was a lovely Christmas we had, with the tree touching the ceiling in the front room, and decorated with strung popcorn and chains made of red and green crepe paper, with red apples tied on the branches. We had five of our nine children then.”

“But what about your watch, Granny? Did Grandpa give you one for Christmas?”

“Yes, Beth, he did, but you’ll never guess how he gave it to me. It was an even more unique and downright queer way than the way your Reginald gave you yours.”

“Do tell, Granny! Hurry!”

“From morning until midafternoon I wondered why Robert had forgotten to give me a present. There was none from him in my stocking nor under the tree. The children felt worse than I did, the smaller ones, because Santa had forgotten me.

”Then we discovered it! A large used envelope tied on to the tree with a sack string – where the thick branches almost concealed it from view – bore the name ‘Bethesda’ in your grandpa’s writing.

“I thought it was a joke, so I told Robert Jr. he could take it down and see what was in it, if he wished. ‘No, Mama, it is for you. You must be the one to see it first,’ he said, as he handed me the very practical and homely looking package.

“I glanced at your grandpa then. He was rather red in the face and looked quite chagrined and uncomfortable, but oh, the light of love and tenderness I saw in his eyes!

“I untied the string, and opened the envelope. I gave a gasp as I saw the most beautiful watch I had ever seen, far more beautiful than I had hoped to own, ever.” Granny lovingly caressed the watch at her shoulder and went on. “A piece of paper fell out of the envelope and on it were these words:

This watch I give you with my love
And want you, dear, to know
If it should fail you and should stop
Your love can make it go.

“I looked at your grandpa again and saw him as he really was. In his eyes were love and tenderness, beauty and romance, with all his need for love and understanding. He was mutely telling me he needed my love and, with it, he could do and be anything I desired.”

Beth interrupted with a whisper, “What did you do, Granny?”

“Holding my precious watch, I went to him and said, ‘Put the chain around my neck, Robert, and pin the watch on my dress.’ He did. Then I put my arms about him, kissed him and said, ‘How I love you, Robert; and I need the strength of your love. Thank you, my dearest.’ I was so happy I cried and I saw a tear roll down each of his cheeks.

“The children were about as then, and Robert smiled as he said, ‘It’s hard for me, Bethesda, to be the perfect companion, but I try and will keep on trying, and with your help I’ll succeed.’”

“Open this, my dear, and see if I’ve improved a little through the years.” It was Grandpa who entered and gave Beth’s grandmother a long, narrow box, white tissue wrapped and silver ribboned.

“It’s my gift to you, Bethesda, for putting up with me and loving me for fifty years.” He kissed her gently as he spoke.

“But, Robert,” Granny said softly, “it isn’t our golden wedding anniversary yet, not for another three months, remember?”

“But it was fifty years ago today that I told you I loved you and found out that you loved me. I should have given this to you then. Will you accept it now, my dear?”

Granny’s fingers trembled with excitement as she removed the wrappings and took the lid off the box, then with a quick intake of breath, she cried, “How beautiful! Oh, how breathtakingly beautiful! One long-stemmed perfect red rose! The red rose of love! Oh, my dear, you couldn’t have given me anything more beautiful.” Her eyes twinkled as she looked at her granddaughter and continued, “Nor more romantic. thank you, Robert.” She drew him down to her and kissed his forehead.

“Granny,” Beth asked, her eyes shining, “is it my imagination or is something flashing in the very center of your rose?”

Granny inspected the rose and cried happily as a girl, “It’s a ring, Robert! A diamond ring, sure as sure! A high Tiffany setting as they used to wear. It’s my engagement ring! Oh, bless your dear, romantic heart!”

Granny didn’t need to tell her husband what to do next. Without another word, he took the ring and placed it on her finger with the plain gold band, gave her another kiss, and said, “There, now, that debt of love is paid.”

“You darlings!” Beth said the words impulsively as she kissed them both, then continued, “Thank you, Granny, and you too, Grandpa. I’m going home to my Reg now … with a song in my heart.”



  1. A good reminder that love is not the grand rush of emotion that comes with dating and an engagement, but is built, day after day of living and loving and making the most of whatever situations we have.

    I think these days we think that stories like this are too sentimental for general consumptions. You might find this in a Chicken Soup book, or a romance novel, but not in a magazine. I think that is too bad, there are still a lot of stories like this happening in the world today. I certainly didn’t think of myself as “sappy” enough to write a story like this, but life has a way of upending our expectations.

    My husband and I have been married for fifteen months. I had been married before, but Scott not only hadn’t been married, he had never seriously dated before. He thought he was quite clever to never be “burdened with a wife or children, and would joke that if you stayed drunk all the time it didn’t matter who you took home when the bars closed, as long as they were gone by the time his shower was done.

    His parents marriage was not happy, and he was pretty badly beaten as a child. When he started going to school and a teacher noticed the bruises, he thought it might end. Instead they were just always under his clothing. It finally ended when he was big enough to hit back.

    His parents were miserable married to each other, and after their divorce his mother made the kids’ lives miserable to match herself. All of his family on both sides were alcoholics, and most of them used other drugs as well. The babies were given whiskey to help them go to sleep and the kids were encouraged to start having beer in second grade. My husband was an alcoholic before he graduated from high school, and he kept on drinking heavily for the next 19 years.

    I honestly am not sure why he decided he was going to change. He says that he just was tired of being drunk all the time. When I was looking for a hiking partner for the weekends my kids were with their dad, my husband answered a craigslist ad.

    He considered me the perfect hiking partner. I had kids, was only looking to date men who were serious, and I understood that he was not that kind of man. I wasn’t looking for a relationship, so someone that was a good hiking companion and who was obviously an avid hiker, and not someone just looking for a date. We both had hiking and backpacking gear, although we didn’t do any overnight hikes, and we liked to see who could remember more about the trails we were hiking. (Yes the tree that hangs out over the river before or after the small waterfall to the left, etc.)

    My parents are also avid backpackers, and several times we all went out together to check out a new trail, or make sure new gear was really adjusted correctly. About two months into hiking, my husband called me up one night and asked me if I wanted to go hiking that weekend. I reminded him that I had the kids that weekend (something that had always been a non-starter) and he said he could put up with them this one time. It had been a hard week and going hiking by himself just wasn’t as fun as it used to be.

    Five miles and ten or fifteen rest breaks later, the twins were teaching him how to braid hair, and my son was convincing him to help out with a scout activity later that month. As I watched him allow himself to become entwined in their elaborate plans, I couldn’t help but chuckle inside. I had learned enough of his history by then to understand why he never wanted to get married or have kids, and I could see that he had completely forgotten that as one twin or the other would grab his hand to hurry him along to see the next waterfall. (It was obvious that he was having lots of fun because instead of playing our game, who can remember what is ahead before the other one, he was acting like he had never been on the trail so that the kids could tell him what was next.)

    It wasn’t long before my son had talked him into helping plan his birthday party, and the twins had him signed up to sponsor them for the jog-a-thon. He had never been interested in doing anything on weekdays, which had worked well with my schedule, but suddenly his weekday evenings weren’t quite so busy. It wasn’t until I was teasing him about freeing up his time for the kids and not for me that he sheepishly admitted that while he liked the kids, going a whole week without seeing me or talking to me was making him lonely, and he used the kids as an excuse to change his “rule.”

    It took me a while to notice that he wasn’t even having a beer when we had dinner at his house. I knew he had smoked previously, but until my kids asked him about it, I hadn’t realized he had quit cold turkey about six months before we met. When my son asked him if it had been hard, he said that one day he just decided he wasn’t going to smoke anymore, and when he had a cigarette a few weeks later when he was really stressed out that the taste was so terrible that he couldn’t stand it. Over and over I saw proof that despite a lot of really terrible things that had happened in his life, when he decided he was going to do something, he did it 100%.

    He asked my kids for permission to ask me to marry him, and had them help him pick out the ring. We married with ten people, plus the bishop and his wife, in a simple ceremony at the home in the mountains that we had chosen together. I am still sometimes amazed at how quickly our courtship went, and how many life altering changes my husband made in a year. The cap off of those changes was when he was baptised three months after we got married.

    A month before our anniversary, we were talking in the dark, and he asked me if I thought this was a dream and he was going to wake up sometimes and find himself covered in vomit, drunk out of his mind. I laughed about it until I realized that he wasn’t making a joke. He was asking a serious question. I asked him why he thought that our life together was a dream.

    At that point he explained his experiences as a child in much more detail, and then told me that he had never known someone who was happily married, and who still loved their spouses a year after they were married. I thought he must be exaggerating the point, but after hearing about his aunts and uncles, cousins and friends, I realized he was deadly serious. He really had never seen happily married people. In his world, people had money, and they had houses and boats and other adult toys, and they had kids and spouses, but they were not happy.

    We snuggled closer together and I told him that it wasn’t a dream, that I love him very much, and that I loved him more everyday. At that point he said, “I thought this kind of love only happened in romance novels.”

    Our lives have NOT been easy since we married. I would in no way consider our lives or relationship to be the kind someone would write up in a novel of any kind, but I did agree with him that we were pretty lucky to have found each other, even if it was a little later in life than we would have liked. We are happier than we would have been if we had found each other fifteen years ago because we have experienced the other side; a bad marriage and terrible custody battle for me, an endless string of one night stands that blurred in an alcoholic fog for him.

    Every time I think that life is too hard and I don’t know if I can keep going, I remind myself that we are living in our own romance novel, and I could not ask for a sweeter man to have as my partner. If you were to run into him at church or when he is working, you would see a confident guy who gets things done. He spent decades trying to drink away any chance of feeling love as he tried to drown his pain.

    No matter how tough and stern he is with his Boy Scouts, and no matter how professional he is while he is working, inside there is a man who is secretly grinning, because his life turned out to be a romance novel.

    Comment by A lucky woman — August 31, 2012 @ 4:26 pm

  2. Thanks for a great read Ardis.


    Comment by Julia — August 31, 2012 @ 4:27 pm

  3. Lucky Woman, this story certainly let loose your romantic side! Best wishes to you and your husband.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 1, 2012 @ 1:04 am

  4. Thanks Ardis, it was nice to read a good example of that style, and then try to write our story in that basic framework. :-)

    Comment by A lucky woman — September 1, 2012 @ 1:34 am

  5. And you wrote a very beautiful story, A Lucky Woman…

    Comment by Mina — September 1, 2012 @ 10:34 am