From the Relief Society Magazine, March 1950 –
An Afternoon with Mollie
By Alice Whitson Norton
Mollie Green stopped a battered car in front of the Duttons’ shiny new brick house and tooted the horn three times. A moment later Julia Dutton, groomed in keeping with her swanky new home, came hurrying down the walk.
“If you don’t mind, Mollie,” she said in a bored tone of voice, “I won’t go this afternoon. I need to do some shopping downtown.”
“But I do mind,” Mollie answered. “This is the afternoon you promised to visit the shut-ins with me, and our president will expect a report of the visit.”
“You could do just as well going by yourself, Mollie, and considering the frame of mind I’m in –”
“Maybe you’ll change your mind,” Mollie laughed, “after you’ve had a few visits with people who really need cheering up.”
“That’s just it,”Julia protested. “I don’t want to visit folks who need cheering up. I want to be cheered myself.”
Mollie swung the door open and Julia reluctantly got in. Mollie could tell by the expression on her face the mission ahead was not Julia’s idea of a pleasant afternoon.
“Will it take very long?” Julia asked, as the little car stopped for the first red light.
“I dare say the afternoon will be behind us when we return,” Mollie answered.
“Seems to me,” Julia said presently, “we might think of a better method than going ourselves into the huts and hovels to carry cheer.”
Mollie gave the speaker a quick glance. She had never heard Julia Dutton talk like that before, and instantly Mollie knew something out of the ordinary was disturbing Julia.
“What’s troubling you?” Mollie asked, with a whimsical smile curving her full lips.
“Who said I was troubled?” Julia countered.
“Little bird told me,” Mollie chuckled, “so don’t try denying it.”
“Sometimes I almost hate you, Mollie,” Julia answered in a softer tone of voice, “the way you have of looking through me. All your life,” she went on thoughtfully, “you have been able to read my moods.”
“Generally I’ve been able to help you out of them, too, haven’t I?” Mollie asked jokingly.
“You never tried taking me out visiting the shut-ins before to do it,” Julia retorted.
“A new experience always bears fruit,” Mollie laughed, “and really some of the folks we are visiting this afternoon are wonderful, particularly Mrs. Walton, a little paralytic.”
“Mrs. Walton,” Julia repeated. “I seem to recall a woman by that name in church a few years ago.”
“Right,” Mollie answered. “Mrs. Walton joined the Church seventy years ago – a girl of fifteen. Now she is eighty-five and confined to a wheel chair; but she really accomplishes more in a wheel chair than many folks do on two good feet. You’ll forget your grouch after you’ve visited with Granny Walton for a while.”
“I know I shouldn’t be disagreeable ever,” Julia answered, “because I have so much to make a woman happy, but Joe told me at breakfast this morning we wouldn’t be able to take our usual Florida trip this winter. He’s having to help his mother now, or bring her to live with us. And Tommy has to have his tonsils removed and Becky wants a fur coat.”
“And all you’ve got to do is to see that everything goes off right,” interrupted Mollie.
“I don’t have to worry about the finances,” Julia admitted, “but if you think managing a family of four is an easy task – then you – you –” Suddenly Mrs. Dutton paused and a sickly grin rimmed her face. “Excuse me, Mollie,” she said softly. “I lost sight of the fact that you not only manage a family of four, but lend a hand to their support.”
“I love to work for and with my family,” Mollie answered. “And sewing, even though it is a tedious job, I love it, and the money I am able to earn with my hands helps out materially. Only this morning my husband said we’d have to go to the poorhouse if it wasn’t for me.”
Mrs. Dutton gave the neatly tailored dress Mollie wore a glance and sank a bit more comfortably into the faded cushion of Mollie’s car.
“Well, here we are for our first visit,” Mollie announced, as she brought the little car to a full stop before a large residence with a boarding and lodging sign in the front window.
“Who lives here?” Julia asked soberly.
“Caleb Jones,” Mollie answered. “Remember the little old man who came to church Sunday mornings for years wearing a white carnation in his buttonhole?”
“Thought he was dead long ago,” Julia grunted.
“Not yet,” Mollie answered, “but heaven will be a better place when his spirit gets there.”
Inside the gray walls, Julia shook hands with the shut-in. She was awed to see the eager light in his eyes when Mollie handed him a new biography of Andrew Jackson.
“No finer man than Jackson ever lived,” chuckled the old man. “I never tire reading about him.”
For thirty minutes Julia sat listening to a string of merry chatter, in which she realized Mollie had related every incident connected with the church dinner – and for the first time missed by the little shriveled-up figure on the bed.
“I feel that I almost attended that banquet in person,” he commented when Mollie stopped, “and I am so grateful for the details you gave me about it.”
The next stop was made at a small drugstore where a blind woman operated a candy counter. Watching her sensitive hands feel for the various objects ordered by her customers, and her fingers counting the change correctly, brought a strange hurt into Julia’s heart. Somehow, the trivial things she had found to irritate and disturb her life, suddenly seemed of little account.
“It takes little things like this, Mollie,” Julia confided as they moved off, “for one to realize her own blessings, doesn’t it?”
“Through afflictions of others,” Mollie answered, “our eyes are often opened to the blessings we enjoy without giving a thought to.”
For a few minutes the women drove along in silence, then Mollie turned the nose of her little rusty car into a narrow street near the milling section of the city.
“Not another visit?” Julia murmured hopelessly.
“One more,” Mollie answered, “and then we’ll be on our way home.”
Julia didn’t say how glad she would be to have the afternoon behind her, but Mollie could tell by her actions that she would be.
“Oh!” exclaimed Julia, as the little car bumped along the unkept street, “why doesn’t the city do something about such streets as this?”
“Because nobody has petitioned them to fix them,” Mollie said.
“Somebody’s going to,” Julia exclaimed with a sudden show of interest. “These people pay taxes as well as we do.”
Suddenly Mollie’s little car rounded a sharp curve and Julia’s eyes opened with surprise. There was a tiny cottage, glistening snow-white beneath the tall trees surrounding it; white curtains fluttered at the windows and the walk was bordered with violets and looked as if it might have been swept only the moment before.
“This is Mrs. Walton’s little home,” Mollie said, “and a sweeter place in the whole wide world I do not know.”
A glad hello sounded the minute the little car stopped and, looking around, Julia saw a very small person in a rolling chair holding court with three children.
“Come in, Mollie,” called the voice pleasantly. “I was looking for you.”
“I want Mrs. Dutton to know you, Mrs. Walton,” Mollie said by way of introduction. “This is her first visit to shut-ins.”
“Sit down, girls,” Mrs. Walton said after the introduction, “until I’ve finished with these children. Now let’s see,” Mrs. Walton chuckled, turning back to the three children seated about her, “where were we when I stopped reading?”
“Right where the bear was coming up the front steps,” piped the smallest youngster.
“Terrible place to leave off,” laughed little Mrs. Walton, “but that’s where we were, so I’ll begin reading there.”
It only took a few minutes to finish reading the story and then, to Julia’s surprise, she kissed each little child and bade him run back home.
Julia noticed them catch hands and ease off the steps, and then the one on the outside began tapping the walk with the end of a small cane.
“Blind!” she exclaimed. “Those little children blind!”
“Born blind,” said Mrs. Walton, “but they live next door, and – oh, well,” she went on pleasantly, “I formed the habit of reading to the children in the orphanage when the first three children arrived to make it their home, and I’ve kept the habit up all these years. When I was stricken –” just for a moment the voice trembled, then her small hands came together in her lap and she looked at Mollie, “I felt for a little while I couldn’t go on with it. Then I remembered Job, and my one affliction seemed so little compared with his, I decided I would go right on living as normally as I possibly could. So the reading to the blind continued and now I don’t know what I’d do without these little folks dropping in to visit with me.”
“It’s nice to have them, Mrs. Walton,” Mollie agreed, “nice for both of you.”
“And good for us both, too,” said Mrs. Walton. “They enjoy hearing me read and I enjoy having them. Not being able to see me, they think I am a very beautiful woman, and being a little bit vain maybe,” she added whimsically, “I just let them think what they will. They call my rolling chair a throne and I humor the joke.”
“You are very brave,” Julia commented, “to carry on so cheerfully.”
“Everybody has to have a lesson in discipline,” Mrs. Walton answered.
“You couldn’t have needed disciplining, Granny,” Mollie whispered. “Your record of activities is too outstanding.”
“I made a good record,” Mrs. Walton admitted, “but not until after I was a cripple did I realize that I did many things more for a show than true loyalty to God. Now,” she continued softly, “I never lose the opportunity of whispering to folks in full activity – study the life of Christ a bit closer and pattern your kind deeds according to his method.”
At that moment another trio of blind children entered the yard through the side gate and headed for the porch. “That’s the third group,” said Mrs. Walton. ‘I read to four groups every afternoon.”
The jingle of a phone sounded, and Mrs. Walton lifted a small instrument from a hook beneath the arm of her chair.
“Very well,” she said after listening a moment, “I’ll notify her at once.” Turning to the women she said sweetly, “Excuse me while I locate a trained nurse for Doctor Gill.”
In a few seconds the message from Doctor Gill was delivered to Miss Hall and the little instrument put in its place.
“Few people outside the doctors and nurses of this city know I run the registered nurse’s board,” she said pleasantly, “but it helps to keep me busy and brings me very pleasant contacts and, incidentally, a fairly decent living.”
“At least it leaves you very little idle time,” Julia commented.
“I never idle away time,” Mrs. Walton answered, “it’s too precious. When I’m not doing anything else I knit, and maybe you don’t believe it,” she finished, with a twinkle in her eyes, “but I’m on my fourth sweater for one of my grandsons, right now.”
On the way home Mollie noticed Julia was unusually silent, in fact, she scarcely spoke until Mollie stopped to let her out of the car before her own door.
“Thank you, Mollie,” she said softly, “for taking me with you this afternoon – it’s done something to me.”
“I understand,” Mollie answered. “There was a first time and an eye opened for me, too.”
“And you didn’t forget the resolution you made in your heart, Mollie, with the first visit?” Julia asked eagerly.
“No,” Mollie answered, “you don’t forget how good life is – when you make a practice of visiting shut-ins.”
“I’m already seeing things in a different light,” Julia said softly, “and somehow, of a sudden, I seem to know things have a way of happening for the best. That trip to Florida won’t even be missed, because,” just for a minute the speaker paused, then a broad smile wreathed her face, “I’ve just decided John’s mother is coming to live with us.”
* * *
Four years of worthwhile living have slipped by since Julia Dutton made her first visit to the shut-ins, and today she has endeared herself to many invalids in the city that shelters her; and the light that glows in her beautiful eyes is a clear revelation of the joy that comes to those who give happiness to others.