From the Relief Society Magazine, March 1953 –
By Florence B. Dunford
It was mid-afternoon, and I had been waiting impatiently all morning for mother to finish her baking so that I could take the cookies to grandma; yet now, when the telephone rang, I stood and listened. We had been penned in so long that even that much contact with the outside world was precious. And besides, since I was the oldest one at home, though I was only ten, I was mother’s chief confidant.
“It was your Aunt Ada,” mother said, turning from the phone. She brushed a strand of dark brown hair off her brow. All of us – and there were eight children so far – were always aware of mother’s prettiness. This came from our father, and besides, anyone with eyes and feelings could appreciate beauty.
Mother was even pretty now, though her face was flushed from working, and she was about to have Richard.
“What’s the matter with Aunt Ada?” I asked, twirling the basket of cookies in my hand. Aunt Ada was the kind who always turns up her nose at anything.
“Her Janet is coming down with the mumps,” mother said. “She didn’t know we got out of quarantine yesterday. Aunt Ada can’t afford to miss work; she wondered if Janet couldn’t come over here.”
My heart skipped a beat; we had been quarantined in for six whole weeks. Even then all of us had not had the mumps. Mother hadn’t had them. Neither had my baby brother had them, and neither had I.
But it had been two weeks now, and no one had come down; and yesterday mother had washed and aired everything and fumigated; and at five last night the quarantine officer had taken the red flag off our gate and pronounced us free.
“Aunt Ada doesn’t want to miss the celebration tomorrow,” I said. “Janet told me her mother had a beau.”
Mother looked at me as though I was too old for my years. “I think that’s nice,” she said. Father’s brother had died young; Aunt Ada was still young herself.
“Find out, if you can, if there is anything your grandmother wants,” Mother called after me as I went out the door. “And don’t stop too long at the square. I need you.”
It is always pleasant to be needed. But this trip to grandmother’s was going to be sheer ecstasy. Tomorrow was the twenty-fourth of July; in our small western Mormon settlement it was celebrated with more fervor even than the Fourth of July.
Even though our lot was rather large, about a third of a long country block, still the fact that we had been shut in for so long made everything look different. It had still been spring when we went in; it was late summer now. The leaves of the tall poplar trees that lined the canal bank i9n front of our place were heavy and quiet in the hot July sunlight. The sky was the deep blue of the napkin covering the cookies. Everything was at its peak – the season, the summer, and our lives, too, what with our new freedom, and now the celebration tomorrow.
I started toward town. Halfway there was the church square where the celebration was to be held. I would turn there, too, to go to my grandmother’s.
I passed Theodore’s house. It was of brown frame; ours was white frame, with green trim, and taller. Theodore was our cousin; he was Uncle Silas’ and Aunt Martha’s oldest boy. He was my sister Jinny’s and my favorite cousin. Mother and father adored him too.
I had an older brother who was working in Yellowstone Park that summer. “But he isn’t like Theodore,” I said aloud, searching the yard and wide veranda with my eyes.
If I tried I couldn’t tell of any special reason we all liked Theodore. He was nice looking, with his thick, smooth, tan-blonde hair. He looked sturdy and dependable; but that was only part of it. He always made an excuse for Jinny and stuck up for her. Jinny had red hair and lisped. And while we were quarantined in, when it seemed that almost everyone had forgotten us (even father had been away all that summer shearing sheep), Theodore never did.
Several times he had visited us. And though it was always after dark, and though he always stood back from the fence, way over on the ditch bank, still he was there, and even mother’s eyes seemed to be brighter for it.
I couldn’t see Theodore about the place. Anyway, it’s tomorrow that counts, I consoled myself. Tomorrow, though Theodore had plenty of family of his own, there were eight of them, too, we could count on being near him most of the day.
Crossing the wide, dusty street, I looked eagerly ahead toward the church square. Even from here among the trees that lined the wide front lawn, I could see the red, white, and blue banners. Clutching the basket, I quickened my steps.
The whole church yard was alive with color and movement. Our tall-spired church of native black stone was set far back in the lot. Directly in front of it a bandstand had been erected. the smell of the new lumber seemed to be almost painfully sweet and sharp. On every side booths were being set up. Men and women were scurrying here and there. Many of the booths were already trimmed, some of them were leafy bowers; all of them were garlanded with the red, white, and blue of our country’s colors.
My mind rushed ahead to the celebration tomorrow. Over on my right, a merry-go-round (Jinny called it Mary-going-around) was being set up. Some of the ponies had thick white manes and some black and some brown; their eyes glittered and their coats were the colors of the rainbow.
Back of the church I knew the foot races would be held. Theodore always took part. But that would not be all. Before dawn there would be the cannon, tomorrow night the fireworks display; all day long the pop and sputter of firecrackers.
Close to me a workman was unloading crates of soda pop. The excitement, the thought of the sweet, colored drink seemed to send a peculiar pain up my right jaw. I pressed my fingers against the spot.
The pain reminded me of my errand. I must hurry along. Besides, I would have all day tomorrow. Theodore would be there and this time he would not need to stand off in the darkness. The pain crawled up my jaw again, into my ear.
Grandma’s was a couple of squares down. the tall, narrow house of shellacked logs was set far back on a green, tree-edged lawn. I knocked, and at grandfather’s, “Come,” I pushed open the door and entered.
“If it isn’t Cathy,” my grandfather said, and touched his white moustache in a pleased way.
I had not seen my grandparents all summer. I stood there, looking around the big, sunny room, with its bright-colored rag carpet, the couch where grandma took her nap; at the large dining-room table and the tall cupboard, with its glass doors, filled with blue and bone-white dishes and shining glassware. I smiled at my grandfather. He was old, old, but even then he was very handsome. He sat there in his armchair by the front windows as straight as a ramrod. His short, white, Vandyke beard, and his piercing blue eyes made him look even more dignified and unbending. My mother said he did not smoke or touch liquor or even use any slang; and he frowned on those who did and never allowed such practices in his presence.
I had always been his favorite grandchild. although I knew it was because I had been a twin and my sister had died, still I liked to think it was my light brown hair and green-brown eyes; and maybe my manner, which I hoped would be pretty and pleasant like my mother’s.
But I was not special to my grandmother.
Grandmother had been paralyzed several years from a stroke. But even that had not made her dignified nor taken the sparkle from her gray eyes.
“Well, child, what are you standing there for?” she asked. “What have you got in that basket?”
I swallowed. the pain crept up my jaw again. “Mother has been baking all day,” I managed, a trifle breathlessly. “She says now we are out of quarantine she can start sending you things again.” I lifted the blue napkin, showed the contents.
Grandma leaned over and sampled one of the golden cookies. It was my father who was her son; still, did I see tears in the gray eyes?
The pain came hard under my jaw. I gasped and clapped my hand on the afflicted place.
“What’s the matter, Cathy?” my grandfather asked. “Not getting the mumps, I hope?”
Catastrophe swept through me. The peculiar feeling in my jaw when I smelled the fresh lumber, the thought about the sweet soda water. And now!
Tears crept into my throat. With an awful effort I pushed them back, tried to appear calm. “Oh, no,” I said. “I couldn’t get them now. It’s past time.” I made myself giggle. “Did you see all the things they’re doing in the square?”
My grandfather did not answer. He was still staring at me, an odd, though sympathetic look in his blue eyes. The moment I could, I excused myself. “Mother has so much to do,” I said. “She told me to hurry back.”
I was outside again, going once more in the direction of the church square. There was no longer any doubt in my mind. I was getting the mumps.
The sky looked dark now. The leaves on the trees were beginning to flutter. “I hope it blows and blows and knocks the whole town over,” I said aloud.
The pain did not catch at my jaw again. I had not felt it since I was at grandpa’s. I was just beginning to have the mumps.
The square, with all its bright colored streamers, the new lumber of the stands, came in sight again. “It isn’t right,” I called aloud, “that we should be quarantined in again. It isn’t right that we shouldn’t be allowed to go to the celebration. It isn’t fair that we shouldn’t be with Theodore tomorrow.”
I did not cut through the square this time. In my present dark mood I could not bear to come close again to the torture and the music of tomorrow’s preparations.
By the time I had walked around the square a plan was beginning to take shape in my mind.
My father was always telling my older brother and sometimes even Jinny and me, “Determination conquers every obstacle.” sometimes he was joking when he said it, and he nearly always smiled. But always I felt his seriousness.
I did not know what tomorrow would bring. I tried to remember the course of the disease with Jinny and the others. Would I be really suffering tomorrow? Would my jaw be swollen up so that I could not eat or speak?
I couldn’t remember. And, besides, with everyone it was different. With Jinny’s red hair and her disposition, everything hit her hardest.
It came to me suddenly that if I was determined I could make father’s words work for me in even this situation. Tonight at home everyone would be excited. Mother had been working hard, and in a family as big as ours, no one got much special attention.
Tomorrow morning my jaw might be swollen a little, it might be really sore. But if I would be determined, I could conquer the obstacle. No one but me need know until the day after the celebration that I was coming down with the mumps!
The music and the color of the square were behind me now, as I walked down the long section toward home. How many people would I give the mumps to tomorrow? Would any of them be really ill? Did anyone ever die with the mumps?
What would grandma think, of us when, day after tomorrow, they learned we were quarantined in again. And more especially, grandfather? If he realized I had deliberately kept it from mother he would not love me any more.
“But grandpa is old,” I told myself. “He doesn’t like celebrations anymore. Someone will have to stay with grandma. More than likely he won’t even go.
“No one will know it but me,” I reassured myself. “No one but me.”
I had crossed the dusty street. I went across the footbridge. Still I couldn’t take my eyes from the clear sparkling water as it flowed merrily along. I couldn’t forget Uncle Silas’ words when he baptized me, the vows I had made to myself.
Never to cheat nor lie nor do wrong. because from then on I was accountable.
“Well, who will hold me accountable?” I asked myself.
Suddenly I knew. The Lord would hold me accountable. And I would not be the only one who knew I had done wrong. The Lord somehow had a way of knowing everything.
I began to run. I passed Theodore’s place, but this time I did not even look in that direction. Coming to our white picket gate, I jerked it open and ran toward the house.
Mother was on the telephone again. I stood there in much the same position as I had before. Only now the cookie basket was empty. And my heart was empty, too.
“It was your Aunt Ada again,” mother said. “Now Davey is getting the …” She broke off and stared at me.
I ran toward her, laid my hot face against her. “Oh, mother,” I sobbed, “I’m getting the mumps. I’m getting the mumps, too.”
I had thought at least that mother would show some disappointment. But, instead, she just smoothed my hair with her hand, and an odd, contented look came into her gray eyes. “That means we can’t go to the celebration tomorrow after all,” she said.
Jinny took that moment to come in through the kitchen. She hadn’t heard what had happened. But something had happened to her, too, because her face was almost as red as her hair.
“Theodore’s mother sent me home,” she lisped. “Theodore is coming down with the mumps.”
My mother lifted her apron as though she were wiping the perspiration from her brow. But somehow I dot the notion it was to hide a smile.
“Well, that changes things a little,” she said, and turned back to the telephone.
“O13-J3,” she told the operator after she had rung.
My heart lifted a little, knowing it was Theodore’s number.
“Martha,” my mother was saying. “Jinny just came in and said Theodore is getting the mumps.” She went on, “Cathy is getting them, too. I don’t care much about going tomorrow, what with Steve away and all. How would you like to send Theodore over here and I’ll send Jinny over to you. The smaller youngsters can have their celebration here in the yard.”
By the excited sparkle that came from the receiver, I knew mother’s suggestion had prevented a major tragedy. And mother had spoken so quickly that even Jinny had had no time to squall.
After she hung up, mother stood by the telephone as though she were considering. Then she called another number.
“Ada,” she said this time, “Cathy is coming down with the mumps, too. And Martha’s Theodore. If you still want to you can send your two over for the duration. A couple more will just make things interesting.”
A couple more. My mind hummed the words. Three all together. Theodore, of course, the very most important.
I stood there, feeling the stars in my eyes and did not even mind when the pain etched itself along my jaw again.
The next few hours were busy ones. Uncle Silas phoned. He was sending over some fireworks and soda water. I knew Aunt Ada would send something, too, because, even though she was always sticking up her nose at everything, she was not stingy. And she would want her own children to have a good time.
“All of us kids will have a good time,” I said aloud. When mother smiled I recalled again my father’s words.
But now things had changed; they were different. “Determination may conquer every obstacle,” I told myself, “but right always triumphs in the end.”
They were big words and big thoughts for a ten-year-old. But when my father came home I would tell him. He had a right to know.