From the Relief Society Magazine, June 1940 –
A Problem of Unity
By Irva Pratt Andrus
Nan Beckenridge was an average mother; she scolded some, loved a great deal and hoped everything for her family of three.
Joyce was the eldest, a lovely little girl who often caused Nan to catch her breath in wonder at the happiness of having such a dainty, wee fairy all her own. Joyce was one of those children who, even when very small, dislikes anything soiled. She was like spring sunshine.
Charles had arrived three years after Joyce and seemed to have brought with him an over-developed love for all that was distasteful to her. He preferred clothes misshapen by expert misuse; pockets bulging with a varied assortment of things, useless but interesting, were his specialty; washing was his Waterloo; noise was his delight. In short, he was an excellent example of what people have come to call “a real boy.”
Jerry was the baby. While attaining the usual standard for twenty-three months, he had also developed a case of hero worship for his brother and a knowledge that when other methods of conveying his wishes failed, he could usually get results with some lusty crying.
Such was Nan’s family: three healthy, normal children who had bad days and good – a joy and a problem.
Tuesday, like many another woman, Nan, with anything but a calm state of mind and with a few stray locks, perhaps even with a streak or so of powder, the result of hurrying too fast, especially if the children were indulging in a bad day, arrived at Relief Society meeting barely on time.
One Tuesday, the fourth one of the month, she did not arrive on time. The truth is, she almost stayed at home to indulge in tears of frustration. The children were the cause of her perturbance. Jerry had refused to eat; his toys held no interest; he fought against his bath. His wailing only ceased when Nan picked him up and gave him a bit more than half of the attention, even though Charles wanted help with tying his shoe laces. Joyce had left for school with lips quivering and misery written on her face, because Charles had spilled his cereal and unavoidably it had splashed on Joyce, who begged for a fresh dress even after Nan had removed the damage done and explained over and over that all of Joyce’s clean aprons were in the ironing and there was no time to get one ready for her before school. Charles had chosen to rise above the situation by singing loudly the disconnected syllables of his own song, that held meaning only for him and always added the finishing touches to general hub-bub. The morning had gone from bad to worse. At one-thirty, Nan decided she would have to stay home; she thought of a dozen good reasons why she should not go, and then she remembered what Tuesday it was. The lesson would be on family relationships.
“I’m going,” she told Jerry, as he was the only one around. “I promised Sister Robertson, and maybe she will know what to do with my problem of family dissension.”
So even though late, Nan was present to hear the message on Family Unity. The sincere understanding and the glow of inspiration that permeated the lesson filled the heart of every member. Excited and deeply thrilled, Nan caught up the words:
“We, the mothers of tomorrow’s men and women, are the builders of the foundation of society. God gives us tiny miracles to use for our construction. It is our task to cement with kindness, wisdom and love the lives of our families until they will become a strong part of society’s foundation and will hold together whatever batters against the structure of society as a whole. We must preserve the unity of our families.” The voice of Sister Robertson vibrated with emotion and conviction.
With renewed determination, Nan left the meeting. she had received more than the beauty of the thought that had concluded the lesson. Sister Robertson had suggested so many ways to bring families closer together – family prayers, projects, picnics.
Nan loved picnics. She determined that Saturday should be the day and a picnic the means of bringing her family into better harmony.
“I’m sure we will settle down to getting along better if we have a whole day just to play, without school or work or any of the diverging activities of ordinary days to draw us apart,” Nan told the inner voice that reminded her of so many reasons why a picnic might not work.
Wednesday, Thursday and Friday were days to try any mother. Nan lived through them, and even managed to smile some, because Saturday she felt would bring harmony in their midst again.
All preparations were made by Friday night. Fred had agreed to postpone the puttering he had planned to do only after Nan did a lot of talking on duty, family unity, and “just one Saturday.” Friday he suggested canceling all plans when the weather man reported showers were in prospect. Nan assured him that the weather man was undoubtedly mistaken, that she knew they would have sunshine; the rain for the season already far exceeded the normal fall. Then there was quite some discussion as to where they would go. Fred was in favor of going to the park.
“He would be!” nan thought. “He rides all week, and we never go any farther than market or church.”
No, this was to be a real outing, and Nan knew just the place. Her neighbor, Mrs. Brown, had told her of it, and it sounded ideal.
“I’m not sure how far it is; we haven’t been for about a year,” Mrs. Brown had said. “… not over ten miles, though.”
They could follow road signs right to the spot, and the flowers had been so beautiful when Mrs. Brown had been there.
“Of course, we will have to forego the flowers, this being a little early in the year for such,” Fred had suggested sarcastically.
Nan said, “Flowers or no flowers, it will be some place we’ve never been to.” So that was decided.
The sky was decidedly overcast when they awoke Saturday morning, but Nan refused to let this fact dampen her soaring spirits. This was to be a day of joy shared by all the family. After a hurried breakfast, they piled into the car. Drops of rain began to descend upon their wind-shield after they had gone about five miles; not much but just enough of a drizzle to add weight to the gray sky. Nan ignored the wry face Fred made as he started the wind-shield wiper.
“I guess this is the shower the weather man mentioned,” she observed. “It will be over and everything will be the fresher for it long before we reach the canyon.”
Another four miles and the drizzle was still with them, but now there was something else to contend with. the car began pulling strangely to one side. Fred stopped and got out without saying a word. The right back tire was quite flat. Nan said nothing either. In their ten years of married journeyings, there had been other flat tires, and she had long since learned better than to try light banter or even words of consolation.
She listened to Fred’s fuming while he changed the tire, and tried with small measure of success to keep the children pacified in the back seat. Jerry was getting tired; he had never cared much for riding, and now began to whimper and tease to get out. Nan looked at the rain that without enthusiasm but with evident determination was coming down and thought of suggesting a return home. Optimist that she was, she hated to give up her planned picnic while there was still a chance of a happy ending, but everything was going so badly.
In due time the tire was changed, and Fred appeared with muddy hands, ruffled hair, and a look of grimness which forebode more trouble.
“A handkerchief, Nan,” he said. “Apparently the wash claimed mine and forgot to return it.”
Nan flushed. How many times had she heard those same words. She wondered if all men carried their handkerchiefs until they were relics unless gathered up on wash day. She wanted to remind Fred that she was generally pretty busy gathering the wash without stopping to see that he had a clean handkerchief to replace the soiled one. She felt disappointed, and her nerves were beginning to jump. Once she would have given voice to her complete discomfort, but now she simply handed him her own handkerchief, which was too small to be very effective, and said nothing.
Finally, they were on their way again. the speedometer showed that they had come eleven miles when a sign furnished them with the information that their destination was still three miles away. Fred read the sign and in a sarcastic voice added, “What a long way ten miles can be.”
Silence crowded the car. Jerry had gone to sleep, and Joyce and Charles were watching raindrops. So far, the whole adventure had produced a depressing effect on them all.
“If we ever get there, the rain will just have to stop,” nan told herself. “We’ll all feel better after stretching a bit.”
About this time the rain did stop, and a bright spot appeared in the sky marking the place where the sun was valiantly trying to pierce the clouds. Then just when their spirits were beginning to rise a little, they came to a sign. It was mounted on a barricade that blocked the road, and read: “Road closed for repairs.”
Fred applied the brakes and turned questioningly to Nan. Even optimists, no matter how determined they are, have to admit defeat sometimes. Nan could see no answer but retreat, especially as the sun was making little gain against the heavy gray above.
“I guess we’d better picnic at home,” Nan said, and Fred readily agreed.
The children rebelled. They didn’t want to go home; they were tired and wanted to get out of the car. Nan explained about the rain; she told them of the road being closed; she tried to interest them in the fun they could have at home. Jerry cried. The back seat became the scene of an uprising.
Regardless, Fred turned the car around, and in due time they arrived home. The rain had begun again; the house was in need of straightening; they were all tired, cross and hungry. Everything seemed exactly wrong, and Nan felt more like hiding away and enjoying the good cry held over from Tuesday than anything else in the world.
“Mothers must carry on,” she reminded herself and resolutely set about trying to find means of amusing the children as long as the rain kept them all indoors, which turned out to be for the rest of the day. The house was somehow straightened up without unduly disturbing Fred, who stretched out with the newspaper right after lunch. The day was anything but a happy one. By biting her lip and trying her best, Nan succeeded in guiding her little family through without any major outbursts.
Completely weary and very glad to reach the end of such a disappointing day, Nan at last knelt with her loved ones for family prayer. Just as she bowed her head, Charles let out a war-whoop and landed fairly on top of Nan; then calmly he picked himself up from the floor where he and his victim had rolled and knelt again in his place. Why did he do it? Who can answer for a small boy’s impulse? Nan had steeled herself to most of the wild-west antics Charles had subjected her to up until now with a degree of patience; this latest, coming at the end of so many reversals and just as they were ready for prayer, seemed too much. She could bear no more; she crumpled in a heap on the bed and began to cry with all the abandon her rumpled nerves and tired body would permit.
Thoroughly frightened, Joyce and Charles tried to comfort her. Fred kept patting her head and saying, “Now, Nan, please don’t do this.” Little Jerry clung to her and began to cry, too.
Nan loved her family with all the devotion a mother’s heart could hold, and to see them wretched and unhappy because of her tears was something she could not allow. Her instinct to comfort and cheer these dear ones dried up her tears and choked away her sobs. She had caused them pain by her display of weakness; she had to give them understanding of the cause. Nan put her arms about them and explained as best she could her great desire to make the day that had just passed one that would have brought them closer together. She repeated a great many of Sister Robertson’s words, and ended with:
“I do so want us to be one of the strongest, happiest families in all the world.”
“We are that already, Nan,” Fred said softly, “except when there are tears in your eyes.”
Afterward, Nan could laugh about their poor misguided picnic with all its misadventures, but with reverent joy, too great to share by word of hers, she remembered the feeling of unity that surrounded their little group as they knelt in shared communion at the close of that day, while Jerry said in his baby tongue:
“Help us, Jesus, to be Mummy’s happy fambly.”