From the Relief Society Magazine, August 1954 –
By Myrtle M. Dean
Jane smoothed her shining hair that swept up from her forehead in soft, brown curls. For a moment she stood before the big mirror that covered the wall above the mantel, then smiled and pirouetted, sending her full skirt out in pretty swirls as she watched her trim figure in the glass. She had just put on her blue silk print dress. The blue of the dress was almost the color of her eyes.
Suddenly Jane stood still and turned toward the door. For a moment she stared, as though some unwelcome visitor had appeared. “Pride goeth before a fall, Janie.” Jane heard the words as plainly as though Aunt Martha Jane had been right there saying them, instead of down at Brentville, fifty miles away.
Jane shrugged her shoulders and forced a little laugh. “Now, Jane Martin, don’t be speaking Aunt Martha Jane’s lines for her,” she said half aloud; but she knew those were the exact words Martha Jane would have said, had she caught her preening before the mirror.
She reminded herself aloud, “Remember what you told yourself when you landed at Avondale, Janie. You are a new Jane now; new town, new people, and best of all, your husband has a new job, and you are not to be known as the old Dependable Jane up here either.”
Jane smiled as she remembered how proud she and Steve had both been when he had taken her down to his new office for her first time. Steve had looked so happy, and as they went up the steps he had looked down at her smiling expectantly.
“Oh, Steve, look, Strebel and Martin, there on the door in gold letters! Isn’t it wonderful!” she had exclaimed proudly.
“See, there is more there, too,” Steve said, beaming.
They read the rest together, “Attorneys at Law.” She and Steve had laughed together like two children. They were remembering the days of struggle they had gone through ever since they were married. When Steve had come home from a mission to England, he had gone into the army, and, after that, through law school. Kathy and Michael had come to them during the school years.
“Remember all the nice beef stew we had, made from Sundays’ roasts, and the nice soft bed we slept in, the living room couch let out for two?” Jane tried to smile, but her face was half serious, remembering, as Steve spoke.
“And was it Mrs. Murphy, that you walked in on, thinking you were in our house?” Jane asked, laughing.
“It was those houses all set in a tight row, and all painted white with a tiny porch on the front; and was Mrs. Murphy ready to call the cops! We can laugh now it’s over, can’t we, Janie?”
“It’s going to be different now, Steve,” Jane said seriously.
Steve’s eyes grew thoughtful for a moment. “I’m still scared, though. A new job in a new town, and I’m just not the sort that can sail on someone else’s steam; I’ve got to do things for myself. Strebel took me in, now I want to show him that I can be more than a fixture about the place.” Steve ran his hands through his dark hair, and pulled his brow into a worried frown.
“Strebel took you in because he needed you. You were highly recommended to him by your school. You’ll make good, too. I’m sure of it.” Jane took Steve’s hand in both of her own.
“Thanks, Janie, I’ll do it for you, and for Kathy and Michael.”
It had been only a few weeks since then, and Jane was proud of what Steve had accomplished. Tonight they were celebrating; not the way that Steve had planned, but at home with the children, and all dressed up. That is why Jane was wearing her new blue silk print; it was Steve’s favorite.
“Hi, hon, how about a date for dinner tonight, at the Sunset Inn, or maybe we should go dancing?” Steve’s voice had been bubbling over with happiness when he called her that afternoon from the office.
“Steve, are you all right?” There was surprise in Jane’s tone. She remembered how they had wrestled with their account book last night for hours, trying to figure how to make ends meet until payday.
“Really, Janie, I’m serious. I want to celebrate. I just got my first big case for the firm, all on my own. A big shot from the ridge walked in and asked for Steve Martin, and that’s I, darling. I’ve been pulling hard to bring that oil case our way.”
Jane had loved the sound of his voice; the sureness of it, after all his doubts, but they must wait a while to celebrate. “Listen, Steve, dear, you remember last night, well, the budget doesn’t balance any better today. We’ll just have to wait a while.”
“Guess you are right, Janie,” he said, but his voice had gone flat.
Jane almost hated herself for letting the old Dependable Jane crop up. It would almost be worth spending their last dollar, but she said, “You see, there would have to be a girl to stay with the children, too, and, Steve, I’d love fixing something special and celebrating here.” She knew her own voice sounded deflated.
“O.K. I’ll see you at five-thirty.” Steve had tried to keep his voice bright.
Jane was glad that Steve seemed to feel really gay at dinner, and she was sure that they both ate more than they would had they gone to the Sunset.
Sitting in the living room after dinner, Steve said, “It’s a good thing I have you, Janie, to keep me from going overboard. You’re the one who has taken the raps all along. With me first in the army, then in school, you had most of the responsibility of the children, too.” Steve drew her close as he spoke. “You are so dependable,” he finished.
Jane straightened suddenly, and sat silently for a moment, her lips set in too tight a line for Janie’s. “Please don’t say that word here, Steve,” she said. “Down at Brentville, I was always Dependable Jane, and that meant I was the town lackey; to head the committees on fund dinners, to sub for a teacher, to hurry down to the Red Cross center, or fill in at a party on a moment’s notice.”
Jane saw the surprise in Steve’s eyes at her outburst, and he said, “To me you are just my Janie, but by those who called you Dependable Jane it was meant as a big compliment. Everyone in Brentville loves you, Janie, just as they will here when folks get to know you.” Steve tweaked her ear and tried a grin at her, but her face was still solemn.
“Why did Mother and Dad have to name me for Aunt Martha Jane, anyway? Everyone, including Aunt Jane, expects me to be like her, always good and dependable; at least up here she can’t always be quoting her aphorisms at me. ‘A stitch in time saves nine,’ if a button is off. ‘Wilful waste brings woeful want.’ ‘Birds of a feather,’ and ‘Water always seeks its level,’ and all the others.”
“Aunt Martha Jane was reared on pioneer rations, Janie, but, in spite of it all, she is an old dear.”
“I’m sorry, Steve. I’ve spoiled the evening, and this was supposed to be a celebration,” Jane said sincerely.
“We must get acquainted with our neighbors. You’ll soon have lots of friends here, and with our Church activities, I’m sure we will like it fine,” Steve said.
This reminded Jane that the Relief Society president had asked her to teach the literature lessons for the coming year, and she had made all kinds of excuses.
“I have the children, and they take their nap in the afternoon,” she had said.
“We have a nursery, and an excellent girl to care for the children; and there are so many fine women, I’m sure you’d enjoy mingling with them,” the president had persuaded.
Jane had finally refused, but not without a twinge of conscience. To herself she had reasoned, surely one deserves a rest after doing all I have done for so long. Yet she knew that Steve would be hurt if he knew, so she had decided not to tell him.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you,” Steve said. “They have asked me to work with the Scouts this fall; so I will be right back in the old groove.” His eyes shone bright with pleasure.
Jane thought of all the time that Steve used to spend with the Scouts down at Brentville, and how he would be now, with a troop of boys walking over her rugs, and twisting about on the new chairs and living-room set. She saw that Steve was looking at her, waiting for her comment.
“Do you think you will like that job here? It takes so much of your time, and with your work, you’ve just got to make good,” she said uneasily.
“I’m still a boy at heart, Janie, and the boys have to have someone to look after them. You know our Michael is going to be a Scout one of these days,” Steve spoke thoughtfully.
Jane felt a bit uncomfortable, and changed the subject. “One of the neighbors called this afternoon; the lady that lives in the redbrick house a few doors down,” she told him.
“What is she like? You’ll like her, I hope.”
“Her name is Mary Carson, and she’s a nice person, nice – and dependable.” Then, noting Steve’s sly look, she added, “Like me.” She wrinkled her nose at him, and smiled. “She brought a plate of cookies for the children. She has two children, a boy and a girl.”
“I like her already,” Steve said, looking pleased. “And isn’t there one cookie left for me?”
Jane brought the remaining cookies, and they munched them together as they talked. She was glad that Steve’s enthusiasm returned as they spoke of his work.
A few evenings later, Steve came from work, and found Jane bubbling over with excitement. “What do you know, Steve?’ she exclaimed starry-eyed. “Mrs. Darcy has asked me to be a guest at her club next Tuesday. Her husband owns the biggest department store in town; and Mrs. Cline, the baker’s wife, will be there, and Mrs. Lane, she operates a travel bureau. I’ve just been dying to see inside the Darcy house,” she ran on breathlessly.
“Hum … my little Janie, with all the elite of the town,” Steve said, but with less enthusiasm than Jane had wished.
“I hoped if I met the right people it might bring business your way,” she confessed earnestly. “These women are the social arbiters of Avondale.”
“We don’t want to try too hard for business,” Steve answered, and Jane felt that there was a note of reproof in his voice, as well as a serious, puzzled look on his face.
Jane’s face flushed with disappointment. She decided to try another topic, one she knew Steve would be interested in. “David Graham has just returned from his mission to England, he is to be the speaker in Church next Sunday,” she told him. England had been Steve’s mission field, too.
In Church on Sunday as Jane watched Steve’s shining eyes as they listened to the missionary, she thought, Steve will never change; his Church will always be first, and a deep love filled her.
“They were the most wonderful years I ever spent, those two and a half I spent in the mission field,” the elder was saying.
They all say that. Steve said those very same words, Jane said to herself.
“It is serving others that brings happiness, and serving God brings the greatest happiness of all,” David Graham went on, then he said, “Serving in the Church is not a labor but a privilege.”
Jane was quiet and thoughtful as they drove home. “Serving in the Church is not a labor, but a privilege.” Impatiently she tried to push the words out of her mind, but they kept coming back. Why should my conscience keep nagging at me? I’ve worked in the Church all of my life.
Steve seemed to be lost in his own thoughts, too. When he spoke his voice was vibrant with emotion. “Elder Graham says that the whole Lester family joined the church soon after I came home, and they told him I was the one who converted them. There are several others who have joined that I contacted while there. Oh, Janie, it makes me feel wonderful to think I have helped a few to see the light.”
A full moon was peeking over the tall hills to the east of them, and cottony clouds floated about in the sky. There was the spicy tang of autumn coming to them from the foothills, where the oaks and maples were beginning to show bright coloring. Jane looked over at Steve; the moon shone bright on the tip of his nose. She moved close and laid her hand on his arm. A smile curved his lips, and there was a look of contentment and peace on his face.
On Tuesday afternoon, Jane saw Mary Carson drive by on her way to Relief Society meeting. Her two small children were tucked in the seat beside her. Jane knew Mary would be giving the lesson today, for she had told her that she taught the theology lessons. Jane recalled vividly one of the lessons she had heard last spring, down at Brentville. It was, “Lehi, Man of Visions.” It had given her such a wonderful feeling, especially the vision of the tree, which represented the love of God, and the rod of iron that led to the tree. This rod was the word of God. Jane had felt, then, that she would always cling fast to the iron rod and follow the narrow path, so she would not get lost in the mists along the way.
Jane looked at the clock. She must hurry. In a few minutes a girl would be coming to take care of the children while she went to Mrs. Darcy’s club. Now she tried to push the thought of the vision out of her mind. All forenoon she had been so anxious to meet Mrs. Darcy’s friends and see her home, but now a scared feeling settled in the pit of her stomach.
She arrived a few minutes early. She thought she had never seen anything so lovely as Mrs. Darcy’s house. It was ultra modern, the long, windowed walls, the unique planter boxes, the rare pictures and lovely draperies, and the fine furniture. It was all so convenient and beautiful. She wanted to stand and admire everything. Then a sick feeling went through her as she noted there were ash trays on the tables in the living room. She knew that in hers and Steve’s home, no one could expect to use an ash tray. Mrs. Darcy was friendly, but asked to be excused to finish preparing the refreshments. She said the lady that was to come to help her had been detained on account of an accident to one of her children.
“Let me help; I’d be glad to,” Jane offered quickly, then thought, there I go with my Dependable Jane assistance, at my first party in Avondale.
“Oh, I would appreciate it so much. There are just a few things to finish,” Mrs. Darcy said, and Jane followed her into the kitchen.
Jane helped set out the food on pretty glass trays. There were dainty canapes, and crisp salads, then tiny frosted cakes, and a drink in sparkling crystal goblets.
Jane listened to the women chatting as they ate their food, and the certainty came to her that she could not be one of them. She was in a hurry to get home, but she would have to stay it out. She thought of Steve’s look when she had told him she was invited here. She thought of Mary Carson and her Relief Society lesson. She thought, too, of Aunt Martha Jane. Aunt Martha Jane thought social clubs were an utter waste of time, at best.
As she reached home, she saw that Steve’s car was in the driveway. Panic filled her. Had something happened to one of the children? It was not time for Steve to be home. She wondered if the girl had called him from his office.
She hurried up the steps, her legs weak and shaky. Steve met her at the door.
“Is something wrong?” she asked.
Steve’s smile told her things were all right, but he did not answer her questions; he led her into the house. But her relief in finding the children all right was quickly displaced by dismay, for there in the big gold rocker, in the corner of the room, sat Aunt Martha Jane.
For a moment Jane stood speechless. Of all the inopportune times for Aunt Martha Jane to come, it was this moment. Finally, Jane gasped breathlessly, “Why, Aunt Martha Jane!” Then, realizing that her face must be revealing her feelings, she tried to smile.
“Aunt Martha Jane called from the station, and when you were not here, she called my office,” Steve explained, noting Jane’s discomfort.
Had Steve explained to her aunt where she had been? Jane wondered. And another thing, what could she make up in a hurry for dinner? She had planned on just serving leftovers tonight. At any moment she expected Aunt Martha Jane to come out with some proverb, such as, “A virtuous woman looketh well to the ways of her household.” But, instead she was hurrying toward her with a big smile on her face. She kissed Jane on the cheek.
“I’ve missed you, no end, Jane. Everyone in Brentville has missed you both,” she said, and her eyes were moist.
Jane gave her aunt a pat on the shoulder, and found herself saying, “I’ve missed you, too, Aunt Martha Jane; I’ve missed you all,” and there were tears of happiness and real homesickness running down her cheeks. She stood back and took a good look at her aunt. What she saw in her face was true goodness and dependability, and at that moment Jane decided that to be like Aunt Martha Jane would be wonderful, after all.
Jane looked over at Steve, expecting to see amusement on his face, but he looked at her proudly, and very seriously. “Oh, Janie,” he said, “the Relief Society president called a few minutes ago, and wanted to talk to you. She said something about she hoped you had changed your decision.”
Without explaining, Jane said, “I have changed my decision. I’ll call her in the morning.”