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.”