Not Bread Alone
By Elsie Chamberlain Carroll
“See what a lot of mail, Mommy,” Bonny said as she placed the armful of letters and papers she had brought from the post office on the counter before Linda. “There’s one from Jenny Lind and maybe one’s from Eddie and I don’t know who the others are from.”
Linda came eagerly. Getting mail was still the big event of the day in Cedar Basin. She sorted it over quickly, placing the papers, magazines and advertisements in one pile, business letters in another, and keeping the personal letters in her hands.
She opened the one from Eddie first. She feared she would always have that dread in her heart when a phone rang, or a letter came, or an officer of the law appeared – that something had happened to her boy. It had been three years now since that ordeal which had ended so disastrously his college career for which they had worked and sacrificed so much. Henry and Linda used to ask each other if it would have been better had they not tried to give him the advantages they had thought so important. Or, if knowing his weakness, they should have kept him longer under their own personal guidance, until he might have been stronger to meet the temptations which would always be a part of life. But even though their high hopes for him had crashed, they knew they had done what at the time seemed to them the best.
There had been moments, however, when Linda in her anguish had asked herself if they had done wrong to fight so desperately for Eddie’s life during those days just after it had been given to them. If he was not going to make something strong and beautiful of it, would it have been better had they let it slip back into the great unknown shadows? But even when such thoughts crept into her mind, her heart banished them. There was so much in him that was strong and beautiful and lovable that she knew she was glad for the blessing of him, even with that flaw in his character. He had a brilliant mind and a lovable disposition. None of the other children made friends so easily as he. People loved him for his smile, and his easy way of adjusting to new situations, and his happy faculty of seeing the humorous side of life.
Now, after three years she and Henry were somewhat reconciled to what had happened, and could see that in all things to some extent, the law of compensation holds.
Professor Rawlings, who had come to the jail that night, was Eddie’s sociology teacher. He was also a psychologist – and a parent. He was a comfort and a support to Linda and Henry during the terrible days of the trial and conviction. It had been through his influence and advice that Eddie had been paroled to a brother-in-law of the professor, who conducted a trade school for boys who had made such mistakes. His theory was that Eddie needed an experience in which he could handle money – much money – under conditions where there would be no opportunity for his taking it. Ultimately the boy would develop, he assured the parents, into a financier. The problem was to keep him from being sent to prison where he would associate with criminals and come out branded for life and perhaps a real criminal himself. He must have an opportunity to rebuild his self respect, while he was growing strong where he was weak.
Consequently, Mel’s money had been used to pay the fine and to get Eddie installed in this new school.
Now his course was finished, and Linda thrilled with the news his letter contained. He had been offered a position as instructor in the school, and a thing she had dreamed might happen, but had hardly dared hope, he was going to marry the daughter of Professor Rawlings. She read his last paragraph over several times:
“Mommy, this is especially for you. I’ve told you a lot about Grace. In fact I think she has written to you. We are going to be married before I begin my new work here with her uncle, and we’re coming to Cedar Basin for our honeymoon.”
She was so happy over Eddie’s letter and so excited with plans for his homecoming, that it was sometime before she remembered the rest of the mail.
Jenny’s letter began “Dear Ones at Home.” All of Jenny’s letters started like that, and they all ended, “With love to all from Jenny.” Linda sometimes grieved that imagination had been left out of Jenny’s make-up. During the first ten years of the child’s life, the mother had watched in vain for the spark of creative urge she had been sure must be hidden somewhere within her. She had tried to teacher her nursery songs, but Jenny only chanted them in a droll little way all her own. She had tried to teach her to play the piano, but the constant reminders to practice had made the little girl so unhappy, that Linda had finally faced the fact that Jenny was not gifted, and had set about to discover and appreciate other precious qualities to which she had been blind.
That, Linda had often reminded herself, was the first valuable lesson in motherhood she had at least partially learned – to accept her children as they were given to her and try to help them to be their best selves within their own possibilities, instead of grieving that they were not different, and making them and herself miserable.
She had still hoped when Jenny went away to school that she might find an inspiration that would lead her into one of the arts, and that she would at least make beautiful young friendships, and discover love. But Jenny had done none of these things. She had made friends, of course, but they had been among her teachers, and staid, serious-minded people older than herself. it hurt Linda that Jenny was letting youth with all its glamour and romance slip by without any desire to catch and hold and enjoy it.
Jenny had made only average grades in her high school classes and in her freshman year in college, when Linda had chosen the courses she had taken. But the next year, she had asked to select her own course and had chosen classes in science and mathematics, and had made the honor roll. At the beginning of her junior year she had definitely decided to major in geology, a thing Linda found hard to understand. And now she wrote that she wanted to go West on a geological survey instead of coming home for the summer.
Linda had to remind herself again of that lesson she had tried to learn, that parents must recognize the rights of their children to live their own lives. She told herself that perhaps Henry got the same thrill from reading the past history of the earth in the shapes and colors of stones that she herself did from combinations of sounds and harmonies.
The third personal letter she received that day was an acknowledgment ‘that the original composition for the violin submitted in behalf of Richard Bowers in the National Junior Violin Contest had been received and duly entered.’
As Linda busied herself in the days that followed preparing for Eddie’s homecoming and trying to see how they could manage to help Jenny go on for the Ph.D. she knew the girl coveted, she wished as she had so often wished before that so many of the most desirable things in life were not dependent upon money. Money might be the root of evil, she frequently mused, but it was also most certainly the root of much good. The bread of life didn’t depend upon it so much as those things which were more than bread. She often thought how much the money Mel had put in her lap that day she was hurrying to Eddie had meant in saving her boy’s future. No matter how she suffered in the thought of Mel’s feelings toward her, she would always have a sense of gratitude to him for that.
He had never tried to force his presence upon her since that day, and when they were thrown together she was more often conscious of a tragic despair in his eyes than of the old look she had feared.
She kept hoping that she and Henry could begin to pay that money back. But whenever she mentioned it to Henry, he always said, “Don’t worry about it. Didn’t Mel say he wanted to do it for Eddie? Let him have the satisfaction of knowing that he really helped someone once. If he’s too selfish to marry and assume the responsibility of a family, he ought to help the rest of us. I should think he’d feel pretty small hoarding all that money he got for the land he sold when it belongs to all of us as much as to him.”
The land situation had caused a bitterness between the brothers that did not lessen as time went on. Mel had sold only part of the land, and had given up his plan to go away, much to Linda’s disappointment.
He had allowed Effie to fix up the old home, and his mother was inordinately proud of him. The other boys had tried in vain to make her, as well as Mel, see that the oil land had really belonged no more to him than to the rest of them; but it had been useless. She repeatedly wished that ‘Pa could know that at least one of his boys was a success.’
One day shortly after Eddie’s letter came, Linda said she wished they could build a store. “If we could put up a little place down on the corner of the lot, it would make it handier for people and would give us more room in the house. I would like to have things nice when Eddie comes with his wife. Eddie’s wife – can you realize that, Henry? We’re getting old.”
They laughed contentedly.
“About the store,” he said, “I’ve been wishing for years we could do that. If we could build down there and put in a service station, we might make some money. As it is we just go to a lot of trouble to accommodate our neighbors.”
“Oh, we’ve done more than that,” Linda replied defensively. “We’ve bought at least a few decent things for the house – although goodness knows we need a lot more – and we’ve kept the children in school. Most of the money for those things has come from the store and the book nook.”
“And your music lessons,” Henry added. “I know it, dear, only too well. I get tired of this eternal grind with so little to show for it. Sometimes I feel that I’m not half a man or I could give you the things that mean so much to you without your having to drudge for them. I suppose it’s this raw deal Mel’s giving us that makes me sore.”
“We wouldn’t want not to work,” Linda told him. “Work’s the biggest blessing in the world. But I agree that it would be nice to see a little bigger return for what we do.”
“I know what we’ll do,” said Henry after a short pause. “We’ll ask Mel to lend us enough to put up the store. He ought at least to do that. He can take a mortgage on it if he wants to and make us pay interest. Even at that it would be worth it.”
Linda couldn’t bear to feel more greatly obligated to Mel than they were already, but she knew any protest she might raise would call for an explanation she couldn’t make.
The result was that within a week the building was going up. A few days before it was completed, when Linda was beginning to get the stock ready to move, Henry came in, very excited.
“Linda, Mel says if you want to fix the house over while you’re all torn up with moving – paint it, put on new paper, and get some more furniture, he’ll let us have the money.”
“Oh, no, no,” Linda said quickly, rising from a box she was packing. “There’s really no need for that.”
“But you were wishing we could – before Eddie comes, and now’s our chance.”
Linda didn’t know what to do. She knew that Henry was surprised at her confusion. She made a few other weak protests, but finally consented.
The night Eddie came home with his young wife the family were all at Henry’s and Linda’s for supper. The house looked gay with its fresh decorations and furnishings, and Linda tried not to worry about the circumstances that had made all this splendor possible.
Everyone was happy. Eddie, bearing no outward signs of the unfortunate experience he had gone through since he was last home, was the happiest one of the group. He kept the conversation in a light vein and exhibited the best in each member of the family before his bride.
Jenny Lind had come home for a few days before leaving for her trip. She was grave, but happy in the reunion. She had idolized Eddie from the time they were babies and his trouble had almost broken her heart. Sometimes Linda wondered how much the shame and suffering Jenny had gone through there at school had kept her from finding her place with the younger set.
Grace was charming. Not beautiful, Linda thought, in the ordinary sense of the term. Her mouth was too large and her wide, grey eyes too far apart; but she was fresh and sweet and gracious, and had a subtle charm of personality more precious than beauty. She made each one with whom she talked feel that she had a personal interest in him and what he was saying. But her greatest endearment to Linda was that she adored Eddie. The mother had a feeling that perhaps a girl like Grace could do the thing to help him she herself had been unable to do. There was no doubt that for him there had never been a girl in the world like Grace.
After supper was over and they were going to the living room, Eddie pulled Linda aside and whispered,
“Don’t you think she’s gorgeous, Mom?”
“She’s even more than you promised us she’d be. I couldn’t have done better if I’d gone out and hand-picked her myself.”
That pleased Eddie. He squeezed his mother’s arm.
“You’re some peach yourself. I should think Dad would be as jealous as heck having such a good-looking wife waiting on all the men in town when they come to the store.”
It was a little later in the evening while Richard was playing his own composition written for the violin contest, that Linda was roused from her rapt absorption in the music by Thad and Kathie whispering to each other. They sat next to her, with Henry on the other side of them. Mel was across the room.
“I should think Mel would stay away if he can’t keep from looking at Linda like that.” She heard Kathie’s words distinctly and she was suddenly quite sure by the way Henry stirred in his chair that he too had heard.