From the Relief Society Magazine, August 1938 –
by Vaunee T. Larsen
“Goodbye! Goodbye everyone!” Sue and Jack Taylor gave one last call to the group of friends on the station platform all frantically waving and blowing kisses as the train sped away.
“Oh, Jack, we’re leaving Utah for a long time, perhaps.”
“Sue, you aren’t really disappointed in the way things have worked out for us?” incredulously queried Jack. “Why, Darling, I couldn’t know that Uncle John, whom I have never seen, was going to die and bequeath to me, his only kin, his most precious possession, a musty little book store in – now what’s the name of the town?”
“Jack, you know it’s Virginia, Illinois.” Then, puckering her face, “I wonder what it will be like.”
They were silent for a while. Jack was inwardly pinching himself for the good fortune that had come to them. Surely a book shop would provide a more lucrative income than his old job as clerk in the hardware store. He hadn’t liked the hardware business, though he had thought himself lucky three years ago when he’d landed the job. His thoughts then had been all for Sue – Sue Collins, and the prettiest girl ever to graduate from old Fairfield High – now his wife for almost a year, and more beautiful than ever. “Well, in a way it will be hard for her,” Jack’s thoughts ran on, “she loves Fairfield and all her friends.”
Sue’s thoughts were far form idle speculation on the passing scenery. She was remembering Grandma Hubbard’s last words to her. “Sue, you’re going to a strange place. You’ll live among strangers – you, whom I’ve reared from babyhood. Remember there’s good in everyone. If you ever feel slights or hurts from the actions of others, hide it. Be sweet and loving yourself. Pray to our Father that He may strengthen you, and may God bless you, dear.” The tears came to Sue’s eyes now as she thought of Grandma – the only mother she’d ever known.
The farewell parties the past week while she and Jack had made ready to leave had been such fun, too. They had played games and laughed and really hadn’t thought of leave taking. As she thought of it all now it seemed as if the whole town knew how deeply her roots were with them and wanted her to know there would always be a place for her. Yes, maybe in another two weeks she and Jack would be going to entertainments in Virginia. Oh, it was a grand world after all.
“Jack, there is a branch Sunday School at Virginia, isn’t there? It will be fun to start right in helping all we can.”
“Why, no, darling. I thought you heard Bishop Wells say we’d have to do something to get one started.” At her look of dismay he hastily continued, “The people ought to be pretty nice there. Of course as far as I can learn, Uncle John was a staunch churchgoer and we can probably work in his church and maybe get a chance to explain ours.”
Sue’s face brightened. “Of course, we’ll get along grand. I’m glad Virginia is a small place. I’d be lonesome in a big city.”
“Here now! Remember, you’ve always got me – the most adoring husband in the world.”
“And I believe every single bit of your blarney, Mr. Taylor,” Sue replied. Then they laughed – that delicious laugh of youth that destroys all fears. During the rest of their journey Sue and Jack kept up a constant chatter concerning their new business and new home. They were interested in all the new things they saw along the way. Sue kept a diary so she could write long and interesting letters to Grandma and the girls.
It was that cozy time of evening, 5:30, when the giant train stopped at Virginia and two excited young people alighted on their “promised land.” The old station master with spectacles on the end of his nose, and cap pushed far back on his white hair, was their welcoming committee.
“Now, do you be the Mr. Taylor whose baggage is stored over there? It come the other day and we’ve been a speculatin’ on who you might be. My name’s Adams – Tim Adams.” This speech was evidently a question and Jack, only too glad of an opportunity to explain, proudly introduced Sue and related the story of the bookstore.
“Well, young feller, you and your wife have got a nice business all laid out for you. Wish you luck. Where did you say you come from?”
Jack had not said, but he quickly answered, “Utah – and a lovely place, too, Mr. Adams.”
“Hm. I’ve always wanted to meet someone from Utah. I’ve heard a lot about the ‘Mormons.’ I suppose there’s a lot of them there.”
Apparently Mr. Adams’ curiosity was not to be lightly disregarded.
“Yes, there are,” Jack answered. “Now, you have two right here. We’re ‘Mormons’.”
“You are!” Mr. Adams exclaimed, evidently shaken out of his normal acceptance of life. As he turned away Sue and Jack heard him mutter, “They’re a nice appearin’ young couple, too.”
Then abruptly turning to them, “Well, I wish you lots of success, but if I were you I’d keep still about my religion. This town’s pretty religious-minded itself. It goes way back, and people are liable to turn agin you. Now, young feller, don’t get cross with me. I like you and I won’t say a thing agin you. Just warnin’ you for your own good.”
“How,” he thought, “old John Smithersby happened to leave his bookstore to a ‘Mormon’ is more than I can see.”
Sue and Jack stayed that night at the town hotel, the gathering place for local gossip. The next morning over many of Virginia’s breakfast tables conversation centered on young Jack and Sue Taylor – dressed, not too smartly, some said, but evidently full of fun and no doubt would go “in the best circles.” And “going in the best circles” was important in Virginia’s social life.
Tim Adams’ advice had only momentarily disheartened Sue and Jack. Now they were busy getting settled int heir “dear little doll house,” so Sue wrote to Grandma. With this easily accomplished, Sue decided to help Jack in the store.
The store was all Jack could think about. He fell in love with the tiny office in front and the rows of new books, eight rows, to be exact, and back of them ten rows of old books. He soon discovered that it had been Uncle John’s custom to accept an old book as part payment on a new one. There were magazines in the place, too. It was spic and span and tidily kept. However, Sue, with her womanly intuition and love of home, recognized at once how badly it needed a homely touch. She found an old sofa and some old chairs in the store room. Soon her deft hands had transformed a bare little corner of the store into an attractive reading nook, with a table of magazines and books, good reading lights, a pretty potted plant and the comfortable old sofa and chairs masquerading as new in their gay chintz covers.
Jack was pleased with Sue’s interest. Each morning they would lovingly dust and polish the books and shelves. They did their work well, and it was not uncommon to hear one or the other say, “Here’s a book we just must read – look at the title.” Then hastily assuming once more their businesslike airs they would continue with their work.
The book store business seemed to be just what Jack had always wanted. As for Sue, seeing Jack so happy and busy pouring over his book catalogs made her happy and contented too. She didn’t need to remember Grandma’s words, she naturally loved everybody and everything.
Jack and Sue had a way of making people feel happy in their store. They let them browse around and when a customer wanted something, they were ready. The tired country women soon found the reading nook a handy place to wait for their husbands on shopping days. Rather self-consciously they would pick up a book or magazine, these women who never seemed to get a chance to read anything but daily papers, and not always those.
One afternoon when the reading nook was filled with tired women and several children, the door opened with a flourish, the little bell above tinkling furiously as if it had been commissioned to inform the whole store that it was honored with the presence of Mrs. Arthur B. Bentley. She waited just inside the front door like a stately queen for the homage of her subjects. Jack hurriedly approached her and his disarming smile, boyish face, curly brown hair charmed and softened her as an April wind playing over March hills.
“May I help you, Mrs. —?”
“Bentley. Mrs. Arthur B. Bentley. My husband has the bank here. No doubt you’ll be doing business with him. Mr. Taylor, I came to call on you and Mrs. Taylor.”
Sue immediately came forward. Jack was proud to introduce her. She looked so sweet in her bright flowered smock and every bit as much a lady as Mrs. Bentley herself.
“Won’t you sit down, Mrs. Bentley?” and Sue motioned toward the reading nook where only a chair or two were vacant. Mrs. Bentley started to accept the invitation and then, evidently seeing the occupants of the nook, declined rather ungraciously.
It was a little embarrassing for Sue. She had never before known anything of class consciousness. In Fairfield it was what a man or woman was inside that mattered. She quickly turned aside any unkind thoughts of Mrs. Bentley. Perhaps she really didn’t have time to sit down.
Mrs. Bentley continued. “What I really came in for is to invite you to our church services on Sunday. You must know your Uncle John was a staunch pillar of the church and we’re expecting the same of you.”
Jack spoke for them both and Sue’s eyes were shining bits of blue. “Thank you, Mrs. Bentley. We’re anxious to get into church work. You see, we aren’t members of Uncle’s church. We belong to the Latter-day Saint Church. However, since there are no ‘Mormons’ here we’ll do all you’ll let us do in your church activities.”
Mrs. Bentley’s attitude became rigid.
Slowly she answered, “Really? You’re really ‘Mormons’? Why, I can’t believe it. I’m afraid Mr. and Mrs. Taylor, you’ve mistaken my motive for calling. Perhaps we’ll see one another again sometime.” The tone of her last sentence indicated she did not expect to encounter them again. Slowly she took a majestic departure.
Jack’s eyes were blazing and Sue west crestfallen. “Now we know what Tim Adams meant,” she whispered to Jack.
The women in the reading nook were watching them. They had witnessed the whole humiliating affair.
“Buck up,” Jack whispered. Sue wondered what these women would do. Until now she had never realized that there were such displays of intolerance as had just been dealt her and Jack. Grandma had told her to open her heart to all. Well, she would try.
Mollie Harper’s motherly nature responded to the hurt she sensed. Quickly she spoke, “Now, Mrs. Taylor, don’t feel bad about what Mrs. Bentley just said. Why, I’ve never known anyone as helpful as you, and you’re just as nice to me and the rest of us as you are to the society people. People here aren’t all like Mrs. Bentley, but she sort of rules the roost in this town.”
Sue felt the friendliness.
Mollie continued, “Say, would you and Mr. Taylor come out to our house for dinner, Sunday? Of course it probably isn’t what you’re used to but we are very comfortable.” Her children clamored at once, “Oh, do come, please, come.”
Sue answered Mollie gaily, “All right, we’d love to.”
And so it was that Sue and Jack Taylor became not a part of the “best” circle of this little town, but the beloved friends of the Harpers and other families like them; families where thrift and economy and hard work were naturally accepted and where a person’s inside mattered so much more than the outside. And Sue and Jack gave of their best to their new friends.
Sue wrote regularly to Grandma and once in a while to the girls. She did not mention the incident with Mrs. Bentley nor the fact that the “best people” thought them queer. She really loved her new friends and spoke glowingly and sincerely of them.
One afternoon Sue was at the shop when the postman came bringing her new issue of the Relief Society Magazine. She settled herself comfortably in the nook to read it. There were no customers in the store so Jack said, “Read it to me, too, will you, Sweet, while I sit here at your feet?” And so it was Mollie Harper found them almost an hour later.
“What interests you two so much?” she inquired before they could rise.
Sue showed her the magazine.
“Well, how interesting,” Mollie said as she thumbed through the pages. “Here’s some lessons back here. What are they, Sue?”
Sue explained the four divisions of work in the Relief Society. “Oh, Mollie, I’ve missed it so here. I’d give almost anything to be back with it again.”
“Well,” Mollie said bluntly, “why can’t we start it here? I know all of us country women need something like that.”
“Really, Mollie, you mean that? I know we could have some interesting and helpful meetings,” said Sue enthusiastically.”
Sue was tireless in her efforts to make proper arrangements, and finally the first meeting was held in Sue’s “dear little doll house.”
The women, Mollie’s friends, responded in a way surprising even to Sue who recognized their worth. They all volunteered to take part in the meetings. They agreed with Sue that it would do them all good to prepare and give topics before the group. Sue loaned her books so that all had a chance to prepare. At first some of the women were very timid, not having had any experience in a group where each one was called on to express herself. But with Sue there things went smoothly. Their meetings ran along week after week, bringing new interest into the lives of these women and so to their families. At first the men had been frankly skeptical but now all wholeheartedly approved of the practical handwork for the home their wives were doing and the thrifty new ideas they were demonstrating. The husbands liked the idea of their wives belonging to so cultural and helpful a group.
Tears filled Mollie’s eyes when she told Sue what her husband had said. “Why, Mollie, lately you look ten years younger – just like the Mollie I married.” And Mollie declared, “It’s all because of you and Jack, Sue.”
The town reporter had ignored their meetings at first. However, when they became the talk of all the country women he decided the were important enough for the paper. Thereafter occasional accounts of the meetings began to appear in the paper. Some scoffed at what was being done, but not Mrs. Arthur B. Bentley. She was a sensible person when it came to an unselfish piece of work. She read the accounts of the meetings and recognized Sue’s genius behind it all. She never had forgotten Jack’s manliness, nor Sue’s charming manner, and so, being in a position where she could condemn and forgive at will, she chose to “forgive.”
One bright morning the following spring and almost a year since Sue and Jack had arrived in Virginia, Mrs. Bentley opened their door for a second time.
Jack, eager to please, as usual, stepped forward, a smiling inquiry on his face, and Sue, working with him in the store, unconsciously put a protecting hand on his arm.
“Mr. and Mrs. Taylor, I do hope you’ll overlook the delay in this invitation, but as you know, I’ve been very busy this last winter. Would you please honor us by coming to dinner Saturday evening at 6:30?”
Sue and Jack were delighted. They didn’t realize they were the only ones who had ever really scored against Mrs. Bentley.