Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Poverty


By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 03, 2012

From the Relief Society Magazine, August 1937 –


by Linda S. Fletcher

The setting sun was just jewel-tinting the surrounding mountain ranges when Mary Hamlin, astride a horse, drove a straggling herd of milk cows to the boarded corral and proceeded to milk them. There was a song on her lips and a look of shining happiness on her somewhat hard face, molded into lines of rebellious acceptance by law on this Utah-Arizona dry farm. Poverty had played havoc with her dreams, but it now seemed that her most cherished ambition was to be realized, and she forgot the disappointments she had known.

There was peace on this isolated farm – peace in the low murmur of the pines on the wooded upland where nestled the little gray house; and the evening calm seemed to emphasize the exultant song of the toiling woman.

When the last scanty udder was empty, Mary carried the foaming pails to the little out-building where the separator stood. Of an old-fashioned make, it was distressingly hard to manipulate; but the woman seemed tireless this evening.

The feeding of the persistently grunting swine completed the chores, and then Mary hurried into the house to prepare supper. From her well filled cellar shelves, she selected some choice fig preserves for the meal, and then she added several other dainties to the board.

As she worked, she paused every now and then to listen at the door, and soon she was rewarded by hearing the sound of leisurely approaching wagon wheels. She hurried out to welcome her children.

Her daughters, Norma and Elva, had been away all summer, working at a hotel in a nearby town. Jim, the fourteen-year-old son, had been to bring them home. They were vivaciously glad to be back, greeting their mother affectionately, and praising the good things she had prepared for their supper. Mary’s eyes glowed with pride as she gazed upon their fine, intelligent faces.

It had been the dream of her life to educate her children well. Jim had completed the district school work the preceding spring, and now all three were ready for high school. It was necessary that they go some miles to the college town to get their high school training, and Mary had planned to go with them to keep house while they attended school. The girls had earned money for clothes and tuition; and Arthur Hamlin, the husband and father, was now at Hurricane making arrangements to sell enough cattle to supply the money necessary for their other expenses.

Mary proudly exhibited the stacks of quilts and tablecloths she had made from “pieces” and flour sacks, all adorned with hand embroidery and fine stitches; and then she took the girls into the cellar to see the fruit she had put up for winter.

“Would that Daddy were as much of a manager as you are, Mumsy,” declared Elva, the sixteen-year-old daughter, as they surveyed their mother’s handiwork. “Do you think he will sell the cattle?”

Mary smiled. “He promised to let them go at any price.” Then her face took on a look of determination that still had back of it a longing that was almost a prayer. “He has failed me so often – but he can’t fail us now. I couldn’t bear it. This is the one dream I have had that must come true!”

Merry hopefulness did not return until the girls were unpacking. They got out the dress materials and fashion magazines they had purchased, and indulged in an orgy of planning for their school wardrobes. Well they knew that their mother’s clever fingers could reproduce any model that they chose. Was not their home beautiful with her needlework – the embroidered curtains and counterpanes, table runners, cushions, rugs, all the product of her good taste and skill?

It was late when Mary retired. She must have a last look at her girls who had left her dreaming over the magazines. As she stood looking at the pictures they made in the soft radiance of the moonlight that entered through the open window – Elva’s bright curls mingling with Norma’s darker tresses – a little voiceless prayer escaped her lips. “Help me to give them life’s choicest gifts.”

The next day, the Hamlins set off for a picnic in the pines to which all the neighboring farmers were coming with their families. The good old community jollity that the Latter-day Saints are so expert in producing was the order of the day. Jim had brought his ukelele, and Norma and Elva sang all the new songs they knew.

After the songs were over, Ralph Howe and his mother came over to greet the girls. The Howes were neighbors of the Hamlins, and the young people were soon eagerly engaged in comparing notes concerning the summer’s happenings and planning for the good times to come that winter at school. Ralph had attended high school for two years, and they never tired of his stories of school life.

The day of communal intercourse was over all too soon. At home the girls donned the customary overalls. Norma busied herself around the house, while Elva rode off to bring in the cows.

As Elva reached the gate in the rear of the plodding ruminants, Ralph Hyde, who had driven over and had reached the gate at the same time, felt a quick thrill at her sweetness. “Funny I never noticed before what a sweet kid she is,” he thought.

With a laughing, “Allow me,” he made an entrance for her charges, and then walked by her side to the house, his gay conversation awakening the girl’s pretty laughter.

Norma had finished setting the table and was now at the old-fashioned piano. The music she was coaxing from the lovingly cherished instrument was so beautiful that it hushed the laughter of the boy and girl as they paused in the doorway.

Mary Hamlin sat in a dream near her daughter, visioning the fulfilling of her hopes for her children. Norma played with a touch of genius. When the music ceased, Ralph applauded softly. “You play well, Norma; you will be a ‘wow’ at school!”

When Jim entered with the milk and cream, Ralph ate supper with them; and then they all went driving with him out into the sweetness of the desert twilight.

While they were away, Arthur returned. He looked somewhat dejected, and squared his shoulders in moody defiance as he thought of Mary’s sharp tongue. Well, there was little to tell. He busied himself, setting out some supper of which he partook in moody silence, furtively listening.

When the family returned, after bidding Ralph goodnight at the gate, they found Arthur sitting in an armchair with his back to the door, reading. They stopped in the doorway when he did not turn around, all anxious to formulate an eager question, yet dreading a disappointing answer.

But Mary had faced too many disappointments to make her wait long to hear what news her husband might bring.

“Arthur, have you nothing to say to us?”

Arthur, in his efforts to appear unconcerned, seemed brutally dogged. He answered without turning. “The buyer I went to see is taking only a limited number, and that at an absurdly low price. I won’t let my steers go at the price he is paying.”

The girls and Jim seemed stunned. Mary, in an over-mastering rage, rushed forward and seized her husband’s arm.

“Do you meant that you have failed me again? This is the end! Poverty! Poverty! How my life has been blighted by it!”

She turned to the children who were gazing at her in alarmed and tearful wonder. “We will ask no more of your father. I will see that you go to school.”

Arthur made no plea. His apparent coldness cloaked a feeling of utter dejection as he realized how little anything he could say, any defense he might make, would alter his wife’s decision. Out into the barn he went to throw himself on the fragrant hay and there combat the weight of sorrow he was too proud to show to anyone.

The next few days Mary packed up her fruit and vegetables and her own and the children’s belongings. Not many days were needed in which to complete her preparations for departure, and she did not prolong them. The little house looked bare enough when all her home touches were removed. Mary took down curtains, and packed up embroidered articles that decorated the rooms, only to put them back in their places with smarting eyes. She could not leave Arthur a despoiled home – not in that sense, anyway.

One day as she was sorting papers at the desk, she found in one of the drawers a house plan she and Arthur had drawn up together when he had brought her, a happy, hopeful bride, to his farm. Vividly she recalled the first years together – her ambitious planning that they should buy up-to-date machinery and a better grade of cattle. But it seemed to her, Arthur had made no very determined effort to have her dreams come true. He had resented her assumption of authority and superiority and had gone on making a failure of his operations. Mary had become shrewish in her revolt against the barrenness and defeat of life. – They had drifted farther and farther apart; she could not turn back now.

Arthur went about his work with apparent stolidity, but his lips often echoed the tortuous thoughts that found lodgment in his brain: “I must somehow prove to her that I am not worthless; I can’t let her go, she is part of me!” – but the habit of restraint had become so strong within him that he did not believe that Mary’s decision to go might be changed.

When at last Mary and the children were ready to leave with a loaded wagon, Arthur was somewhere out in the fields, and there were no goodbyes to say. The children, convinced by their mother’s constant indictments that their silent, undemonstrative father was a hindrance to their progress, said no word but gazed their farewell to the farm in silent wistfulness. This mood was soon forgotten, however, in the beginning of what to them seemed boundless adventure. This was their chance to win success in the world about which their mother had told them so much. She had planned their future with them ever since they had been old enough to be impressed with ideals.

No one knew that the father, left behind, groaned in anguish of soul at his failure, and resolved then and there that he would do all in his power to redeem that failure. And the mother, no longer sustained by anger, found it hard to go out on her self-appointed way, for conscience whispered that she was not altogether guiltless.

Arrived in the little college town that was their goal, Mary found, after much difficulty, a house that satisfied her ideas of a suitable place to live, and then advertised for boarders. This was the only way that appeared whereby she might earn the money for necessary expenses. Two boys came to her first, and before long four more boarders were added to her family.

The winter was a long, hard one for Mary. So much housework to do, sewing for the girls to be managed, and the necessity for the most careful expenditure of the money she received from her boarders, in order that it might cover her expenses, all weighed heavily upon her. She felt amply repaid, however, when she went out to the dances and social gatherings of the college and noted how popular her children were, and how well they looked in their home-made clothes.

Norma’s teachers were delighted with her talent at the piano, and when, one day, Elva came home excitedly bringing the news that she had won the principal part in the school play, Mary felt more than repaid for her long hours of toil.

Spring came early – as it does in that semi-tropical country – bringing with it the usual quota of tourists across the Arrowhead Trail; and Mar received an offer to act as housekeeper at the principal hotel. The girls could have jobs there, also, and there was work for Jim in the garage.

On the dry farm, Arthur, urged on by his resolution to make good, at last waked to his opportunities. He recalled the practical improvements Mary had always urged him to make. With the help of Ralph, who was home as usual for the summer and pitied the lone man who was his neighbor – he was able to buy the tractor and threshing outfit that he needed, as well as some minor tools, and was encouraged to get rid of his profitless cattle. He again experienced a thrill of interest as he gained faith in himself. When fall came, crops had been so good that he was able to send a substantial check to his wife. He hoped that the mute proof of his endeavor to make good would win some kind approval of his efforts.

Mary did not even open the letter. She could not trust herself to do so, though her better self pleaded with her to give her husband a chance to plead his cause.

“I have put my hand to the plow; there is no turning back now until I have accomplished what I set out to do,” she muttered as she returned the letter.

Arthur was very much hurt by the return of his peace offering, but still he could not give up hope. “Some day,” he said half aloud to himself, as he went grimly forth to his work at the harvest.

Four years flew by in a maze of school joys and triumphs for the Hamlin children. But the years had not been so happy for Mary. Too much work had left her little leisure to enjoy. Norma had worked only one summer at the hotel and had then decided that housework was not good for her hands. Both Norma and Elva had been admitted to the companionship of girls who had every advantage that money could buy; and Mary found her every moment occupied with tasks for which her girls found no time – there was always a dress to press or some sewing for her to do when the hotel work was finished.

How happy she was when they came home one day to tell her that they had all been offered positions in a nearby school – Norma as music teacher, Elva as oral reading teacher, and Jim, as instructor in the manual training department.

“We can rent a pleasant cottage where I can keep house for us all,” Mary planned. The joy made her forget how tired she was.

Norma was to play several numbers in a recital to be given a few weeks before the close of school. Mary was finishing the embroidery on the dainty gown for her to wear on the occasion, when the first blow fell.

Jim came in from a chat with a tourist returning from the coat. “Mother, there is a chance for me to go to school on the coast, and become a good auto mechanic. It would not be for long, and you know I want to get on my own as soon as I can. What do you say to my going? It looks like a real chance to me.”

‘Of course you must go,” she said. It would mean only a short postponement of the rest she had planned.

On the night of the recital, a large crowd of tourists, on their way farther West, stopped for the night at the hotel.

After dinner, when they questioned how one might spend the evening in such a quiet little town, the hotel manager suggested that they attend the recital at the College. And so fell the second blow.

Norma’s playing was a revelation of innate ability; and one of the tourists, a cultured Bostonian, sought out the girl and her mother after the recital to propose that Norma be sent to the conservatory in Boston for further training. He offered her a scholarship. Norma was flushed with triumph and happiness, and Mary had not the heart to say one word that would mar her daughter’s joy. It was arranged that Norma should leave for Boston as soon as school was out.

Commencement came at last, with the usual round of gaiety for the young people; but Mary was kept busy every spare minute pressing finery and working on dainty handmade embroidered garments for Norma’s Boston wardrobe.

Ralph, who had been graduated two years before, came in, as was his usual custom, for the Commencement festivities. Mary noted with a pang how blushingly happy Elva was whenever he was near; but she stifled her uneasiness with the thought that the girl was yet so young.

Tired after her hard day, Mary went out on the vine-twined porch of the hotel to listen to the strains of music that floated from the gymnasium building across the way, where the youth of the school were dancing. The soft, moonlit darkness made her tiredness slip away as she recalled her own school days.

Soon voices in the rose garden just beyond became audible to her. Elva and Ralph had come from the dance, and Mary could hear the young man pleading.

“But you won’t make me wait, dear? I want you so much.”

And Elva, acquiescing: “If Mother says it is all right.”

Mary fought for composure, knowing that she must again submerge her longing for well earned freedom and rest in furthering the happiness of another of her children. How selfish they were – with the unconscious selfishness of youth that takes all with no thought of the sacrifice that its demands mean to those who have cherished it for so long!

Mary hurried to her room and pretended to be asleep when the girls came up. They were quiet in their disrobing but whispered together of the happiness of the evening.

The next day when Elva came with Ralph for her blessing, Mary was quietly composed.

The next few weeks were busy ones. Elva and Ralph were quietly married and slipped away to California for their honeymoon. Jim was glad to be off to his school, and Norma left for Boston in eager excitement. Then came loneliness for the mother.

When the last child had left her, Mary’s small savings were completely exhausted, and there was still the necessity of meeting Jim’s expenses. One day, however, she received a letter from her boy which read:

“Dear Mother: – Hurrah! Have just had a check from Dad, and he says I am to call on him for any funds I may need. Glad to be able to relieve you from the necessity of sending me the wherewithal to see me through – ”

Mary felt resentful and deserted. She had given her all to her children, and now they needed her no longer. Oh, the loneliness of those long evenings after toil that now seemed so futile! Ambition folded its wings and only sorrowful remorse filled her heart.

“Is it not always thus,” she asked herself, “for those who have no companion to bear them company in the afternoon of life? What God has joined” – had she not put asunder what God had joined?

The days went by somehow. Letters from the children were infrequent. At last she could bear her loneliness and remorse no longer. Acting almost subconsciously, she told the hotel manager that she was going away for a few days – she was tired –

Mary flushed as she realized how eagerly she was returning to the place she had thought she never wanted to see again. But she must know how Arthur was faring and catch a glimpse of the old home once again. She bade the driver of the automobile whom she had hired to bring her out, to set her down some distance above her old home and then to wait for her in the shade of the pines.

As she neared the gate, she was surprised to see, among the pines on the upland, a new house – the house of her dreams. She quickly drew herself behind a tree, as she saw Arthur and Mrs. Hyde coming from the building. There came the bitter thought that this was perhaps the reason why Arthur had so submissively accepted her absence. Anger, and something else, which she recognized with a flush of shame, flamed, as she saw how earnestly he listened to what his companion was saying. They both entered a car drawn up at the gate, and drove away in the direction of the Hyde farm.

Mary’s anger changed to submissive repentance as she watched them go. She had no claim on the stalwart man who lifted his head so proudly. The Arthur she remembered had been cowed by her sharp tongue, her unbelief, and her disloyalty. Tears of remorse forced themselves from her eyes as she realized that she had helped in his failure and had in no way aided in his success.

When her grief had somewhat spent itself, she could not resist visiting, just once more, the spot that had been the scene of her early married happiness. She realized that Arthur was no doubt boarding at the Howes’ and had, perhaps, gone there for luncheon. Yes, she would have a little time –

First she went to the little house in the rear that had long been her home. Here her children had been born in those happy days when she lived in dreams of what she would accomplish for them. – The house seemed to be deserted; the rooms were clean but bare.

Then she drifted on into the new house, where a genuine surprise awaited her.Tthe house was so conveniently and beautifully furnished. Her soul cried out in longing that here was a real home.

On through the rooms she went, and into a sunny bedroom, with roses peeping in through the window. The room held a double bed; and, from the wall, a picture of herself smiled at Mary. He had not forgotten her, then?

On the table near the bed was an open ledger. She glanced at it and these words met her eyes: “Tomorrow I go for my Mary. Pray God she will want me.” It was a diary.

Mary fell on her knees, sobbing. “I thought I had poverty before, but this aloneness is the real poverty, poverty of the heart!”

A step and a smothered ejaculation sounded near her, and she raised her eyes to see Arthur standing there, his arms open. With a stifled cry, she was in them, all her bitterness and loneliness forgotten in her great need of him.

“Arthur, you want me, even after I failed you so?” she questioned, wonderingly.

“We failed each other, Mary,” Arthur replied quietly; “but thank God that we are to know the rest of life together. We will never fail each other again, I am sure.”

And Mary, confident in the strength of the new manhood that enfolded her, breathed softly, “Never again.”


1 Comment »

  1. The pain, happiness and joy all come through with showing instead of telling. It is interesting that being apart for years was not seen as the same thing that it might today.


    Comment by Julia — September 4, 2012 @ 7:31 am

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