From the Relief Society Magazine, February 1938 –
Love’s Old Sweet Song
By Helen Hinckley
“But you don’t understand, Mother!” Alliene thrust out her brilliantly painted lips in a pout. “If you could only see the other girls you wouldn’t object to the little bit I put on. You don’t care whether anybody ever looks at me or not, but I do. You don’t care …”
“Alliene, don’t speak to your mother like that!” Mr. Baine lifted his eyes from his paper. The painted face of his sixteen-year-old daughter was as much a shock to him as it had been to Mrs. Baine, but he had long ago given the responsibility of this bundle of energy, wit, and fireworks into his wife’s more capable hands. Now he felt it his duty to back up the maternal discipline. “You do as your mother tells you!”
Alliene turned her flushed face in his direction. The bright color which she had applied so liberally, glimmered grotesquely on her reddening face. “If you two weren’t so darn blind, you’d see what you’re doing to me. I can’t even look like the other girls. I can’t even …”
“Now, Alliene …”
“It’s true anyway. Oh, I don’t blame you because I can’t have enough clothes to look decent. I know you do all you can for me. At least I should know. You tell me often enough.”
“Why, Alliene, I –”
But Alliene was off to a flying start. “If you’d only make what I do have, fit! My clothes just hang on me. I look like a scarecrow.”
“You can scarcely blame your mother because you don’t eat enough to fill up your clothes.”
“And that’s another thing. who wants to carry jelly sandwiches to school? jelly or peanut butter sandwiches in a paper bag when all the other kids eat at the drug store!” Alliene threw herself on to the settee and began to weep convulsively. The original subject of argument was forgotten and all of the girl’s past woes rose up to choke her. Mrs. Baine motioned for her husband to withdraw. Here was a situation which she could handle better by herself. Without saying a word she went over to the piano and began to play with smooth rolling chords, “Love’s Old Sweet song.” Her fingers touched the keys softly, almost lovingly. she seemed to have forgotten her unhappy daughter in the dream that she was weaving for herself.
Alliene wiped her eyes, considered dashing to her room but discarded that dramatic gesture as being lost on the quiet back of her mother. She walked to the window and looked out over the snow to the pale redness of the western sky. It was not until Mrs. Baine had struck the last loving chord that Alliene came over to her. “Sorry, Mom.” It was as near as she had ever come to an apology.
“You think I don’t understand? Wait here a minute. I want to show you something.” Mrs. Baine slipped away and in a few minutes returned with a little brass-bound wooden box made in imitation of a seafaring chest. “I’ve thought ever so often that I’d burn these things, but then I’ve put them away again.”
She opened the chest; Alliene peered in. There was a bunch of letters tied with ribbon. “The proverbial letters tied in blue,” Mother said as she laid them aside. “Your father wrote them to me while he was on his mission to the Islands.” Under the letters – what was that? Lace and silk, and paper, and ribbon, and crushed crystal! – “I’ve kept some of my valentines – some that have stories.” She handed Alliene a lopsided heart cut from a bit of bright wall paper. A clumsy door on the front opened to disclose a glowingly red rose. Inside was the verse:
”If you love me, as I love you
No knife can cut our love in two.”
Alliene laughed – so did her mother, but with a peculiar tenderness. “You made that for me, dear, all by yourself, the year that you were seven. You remember we had chicken pox that year and made ourselves a Valentine box because you couldn’t go to school.”
“It’s funny,” the girl commented, rather ashamed of her emotion as she remembered that home Valentine box which was typical of the way her mother had smoothed away her disappointments.
“I like the verse, but I’ve often wondered about the knife.” Alliene’s arms slid around the older woman’s shoulders. “It’s still a true verse,” she said briefly.
“That’s my choicest valentine, but I didn’t get out my memory chest to show you that. Look through these, daughter, and pick out the one that looks most interesting. I’ll tell you its story.” For several quiet minutes Alliene fingered the valentines. Even her smooth fingers seemed to roughen the aging glazed silks, the lace, and the fringe. A large heart with folds and fluting of satin ribbon caught down with brass heads and entirely covered with crushed crystal interested her first.
“Did he wear a checked suit?” she laughed as she lifted it carefully from the pile.
“No, there is no special story connected with it – except – Well, he was very modest, rather backward, a boy who, before he came to the academy, had never even seen a train. If one judged him from the appearance of this valentine one would have missed all the real side of him.”
Alliene felt vaguely uncomfortable. The valentine looked so like the painted face she had been defending fifteen minutes before. If people judged her by her make-up would they miss the real side of her, she wondered? Yet the hint had been unintentional. Mother was fingering another heart with a reminiscent smile. As the girl touched the dainty things she began to see her mother as a young and happy girl. Nobody could send these bits of sentiment to the type of woman she had pictured her mother to be. The verses were old fashioned but they were sweet and sincere.
“Well, you haven’t asked for the story yet.” Alliene lifted carefully a double square of silk. On the front, in print much entwined with hand painted flowers were the words “Sweets to the Sweet,” and on the inside was the poem “Love’s Old Sweet Song.”
“Has this a story?”
“I’m glad you selected this one. when I was about your age I was working after school and on Saturdays at the drug store. I couldn’t have gone to the Academy if I hadn’t helped myself in some way, but often I hated it. The young folks seemed to select Saturdays and after school for their picnics and snow festivals. I used to just burn when I thought of the other girls and the boy!”
“Surely. When I eve caught a glimpse of him I felt my throat tighten. When he spoke to me I was speechless. I would have done anything to attract his attention – anything! Although he seemed to laugh and talk to the other girls, with me he was quiet and somehow self-conscious. I thought that he didn’t like me. He came into the store that thirteenth of February and said that he had decided to spend Saturday buying a valentine for the ‘only girl in the world.’ My heart almost stopped beating. I was determined not to let him see how I felt so I showed him all the lovely things in the store. At length he bought a box of candy with a valentine on the lid and I wrapped it carefully for him. As he put the package under his arm and walked away I felt as if I would never smile again. I hated myself because I cared and told myself that he didn’t make any difference to me and then I hated myself even more for trying to deceive myself.”
“Why, Mother, that’s just the way I feel about Ralph. I just must –”
“I know, dear. Don’t think I haven’t understood your desire to paint, to overdress, to – That’s why I’m telling you something I’ve kept to myself for years. I was miserable that night. I hardly slept at all and the next morning it was with an effort that I dressed and went to teach my Sunday School class. The little story was something about the good child who got what he wanted – you know the type – and my lips curled bitterly at the absurdity of the idea that I was putting into the children’s minds.
“We had finished dinner and were just doing the dishes when someone lifted the latch on the gate. Your Aunt Mae, all excitement, nearly broke a leg getting the news to me that a ‘young man’ was calling. It was ‘HE’ and under his arm he carried the box which he had purchased for ‘the only girl in the world.’ With scarcely a word he handed it to me. We knew then that – well, that we both felt the same way.”
“What happened to him?” Alliene asked.
“He just left the room a few minutes ago looking rather worried.”
“Father?” The word was an amazed gasp. “You ever felt that way about Father?”
“Why do you suppose that in the evenings I play ‘Love’s Old Sweet Song’? Look again at the verse in the valentine, my dear. Rather a foolish story, isn’t it?”
Alliene made no answer. Instead she turned to the piano. With one hand she wiped off the ugly rouge while with the other she picked out the melody of “Just a Song at Twilight.”