From the Relief Society Magazine, 1959 –
By Mabel Law Atkinson
“There, Mary Emma, is this clean enough to suit you?” Eighty-two-year-old Cyril Roberts looked about his kitchen as he spoke. Looked at the clean, old-fashioned, coal-0burning range, the clean breakfast dishes placed in the old-fashioned oak cupboard, with its mirror at the back of the mid-section buffet, at the clean-swept linoleum, and at the geraniums blooming on the clean window sills.
But there was no Mary Emma to answer, and there had been no Mary Emma for thirty-six years, that is no Mary Emma to be seen or heard, but, somehow, Cyril always felt her nearness, and this sort of make-believe companionship – if you would call it that – kept him from being too lonely, and, as he often admitted to himself, kept him doing his best and keeping the home neat and clean.
Cyril Roberts had lived alone since his last daughter had married. That is, he was alone except when some of his children and grandchildren were visiting him or he was visiting them.
This particular June morning, he felt his aloneness a little more keenly than usual. Perhaps it was because tomorrow was Father’s Day, and he longed to hear the laughter and noise of his seven sons and two daughters, as he and Mary Emma had those years ago together.
“Well, Cyril Roberts, better get to work,” he said aloud to no one but himself. “Through your long days and years of being alone, work has been your salvation. There is plenty to do, goodness knows! Get your gouty old hands busy.” Slowly he moved the fingers of his hands, gnarled and knotted with their years of hard work and exposure to the elements. He opened and closed them to relieve their stiffness. “There, that’s better. They move real tolerably now, and without too much pain and don’t seem to tremble so.”
He left the house and went to his workshop in the back yard. It was sheltered by a giant box elder like a great green umbrella. In summertime he worked under this tree, save when he needed to use the equipment in the shop. He was making a teeter for his grandchildren now. This morning he would saw and carve the horses’ heads to be put near each end of the long, thick plank for the children to hold to as they teetered.
One would have marveled at his skill, watching his trembling old hands as he worked surely and confidently at his task.
He worked steadily for an hour, then sat down to relax on a garden seat he had fashioned from a stump. His eyes, focused far away, held a rather sad and nostalgic light as he said, “Seems I hanker to see the children this morning. Feel more lonesome than usual. Let’s see, haven’t seen any of them since Memorial Day. They all came then to put flowers on their mother’s grave.” He wiped away a tear, blew his nose vigorously, then continued, “There now, I feel better. Cy Roberts, you should be ashamed of yourself. Do you realize it’s only been three weeks since Memorial Day? How often do you expect them to come, I wonder? Guess I must be getting old and letting senility creep in. They have their own families and can’t be expected to spend much time on an old fellow like me. But they’re good children, every one of them. Sometimes I wonder how they turned out so well with Mary Emma being gone.” He sat silently for some time, the faraway look still in his kindly, dimming old eyes.
Cyril was startled from his reverie by the merry whistle of the postman, and his cheerful voice as he called, “There you are, Grandpa.” (He was Grandpa to most of the villagers.) “Say, that’s a splendid horse’s head you’re making. Which of your grandchildren is this for?”
“Oh, this teeter-totter is for Edwin’s children. I just finished the little table and chairs for Ellen’s girls last week. Like to see them?”
Grandpa led him into the shop and explained, “The paint isn’t dry yet, not quite. And here’s the little cupboard for Mattie’s kiddies. This rocking horse is for Tom’s. I’ve still got to finish this doll cradle for Dick’s girlies, then I’ll have made something for each family of children.”
“Wonderful!” was the postman’s comment. “Then, what will you do to keep busy?”
“I don’t worry about that. Not at all. I’ve decided to make each of my boys and girls something that’s needed in their homes. When that project is finished, I’ll start all over again for the grandchildren. There’s no end of toys I can make for them. I’m glad I have my craft to work at. Used to do blacksmithing as well as carpentry work. Loved to build barns, sheds, and even built a few homes; but now I’m content to putter at little things.”
“I don’t see how you do it, Grandpa. It’s a miracle what you accomplish with your crippled hands. But there’s no crippling of your mind, that is certain.”
“No credit or praise is due me. I just do what I can each day to keep happy. Idleness is misery. You know before Mary Emma left me, when we both knew she was going, I said, ‘What will I do, Mary Emma, without you? How can I go on alone?’ She smiled and answered, ‘Keep busy, Papa. Do things for the children and later for our grandchildren as they come along. If ever you feel you can’t go on another minute, do something for somebody else. Then you’ll be happy.’ My own Mary Emma charted my course for me, and it has worked. It has worked, my boy, only right now I am lonely for my boys and girls. Been thinking about them all morning.”
“And they re thinking about you, judging by the nine letters I came to give you. I must be on my way. Happy reading, Grandpa.”
Tears rivered Cy’s wrinkled old cheeks as he looked at the letters, one by one. They had all been thinking of him, perhaps even now they were thinking of him. Of course, that was the reason for his longing to see them.
Which should he open first? He fingered each lovingly, then decided on Edwin’s, since he was the oldest.
With fingers trembling with joy, as well as the infirmity of age, he broke the seal, and read:
All nine of us, your children, with our children, will be with you Sunday for Father’s Day. We made this appointment among ourselves on Memorial Day. And that is not all. You should receive nine letters of appreciation, if all have remembered their pledge.
“They remembered, my boy! They remembered!” Grandpa wiped his eyes, then read on:
In beginning my letter, I want to say this: There is something inherently fine about a man who can successfully keep a family together and be father and mother both, and rear his children to be honorable citizens and active Church members. And this is what you have done, father, and you have done it remarkably well.
A dry sob arose in the old father’s throat, as he continued:
We, your children, will never forget the gospel truths you taught us, the truths you, yourself, lived. We love you, Father, for bringing us up in love and kindness and firmness; and for keeping alive in our hearts our sweet, gentle little mother, who, although she has been gone for so many years, is very much alive to all of us.
You have been young with us, Father. Remember how when we had done a few rather destructive pranks that, after you had counseled against them and showed us our errors, you would relate to us the foolish capers you did in your own youthful days, such as racing with sleighs and teams. You know, such stories made us feel we could get close to you, and made us desire to live as you advised. They made you our beset pal.
Do you remember the summer you broke your leg just as the haying season began? How three weeks later you were mowing hay with your leg in a sling tied to the mowing machine? You have always been and still are a courageous man. I am proud to be your son, and shall try to be to my children what you have been to me. You are a bulwark to us still, and we need you.
Thanks for everything, Father. I could go on and on, but will see you Sunday, so goodbye for now.
With love and appreciation,
Edwin and Family
Cyril Roberts was silent for several long moments, reliving past joys and meditating on the richness of his wealth. Why, his life had been filled with joy! So many happy memories, so many blessed hopes for the future, and he was needed still!
Gratefully he opened the letter from his second son and began to read.