From the Relief Society Magazine, May, 1954 –
The Right Decision!
By Frances C. Yost
Margaret Shelby popped the rolls in the oven, then took another peek at the dining-room table. It was beautiful with its centerpiece of autumn asters. Margaret’s best silver sparkled on the alabaster linen. She was using her teakwood dinner set this evening.
“Yes,” Margaret said aloud, “everything is just beautiful. Why, anyone would think I was entertaining the Governor, instead of my family.” Someone said the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, Margaret thought. With things sort of special, perhaps John will break down and tell me what’s been bothering him lately.
Margaret went to their bedroom and chose a brown rayon dress splashed with a daisy design because John liked it. Making a quick change, she combed her hair and added just a touch of makeup. Then, viewing herself in the mirror, she said aloud: “I may not be an illustrator’s dream of young Mrs. America, but I have a good husband, and I hope to keep him.” Margaret’s chin set with determination.
As she waited at the door to welcome John, Margaret thought, life is good, I’m blessed with a perfect husband, if there ever was one, a handful of healthy children, a good home we can call our own, just everything. Except that something is bothering John, and I mean to find out exactly what it is, and tonight.
“Smells good,” John sniffed. “We’re famished, aren’t we, kids?”
John and Margaret let the children supply the table conversation, for their day’s experiences were bubbling over. After the meal was finished, Margaret saw her dinner set, linen, and silverware put in their places, then she joined John in the living room.
“You’re a heart-filling armful,” John said, laying aside his paper and pulling Margaret down on the couch beside him. “Now we have a minute to ourselves, Marge, I have something mighty important to discuss with you.”
Margaret studied his face. It was almost too serious. He was going to tell her without asking. “Yes?” she questioned.
“Hang it, Marge, I was going to tell you how important it is for a fellow to have a higher education in the business world today. I had so many reasons, but I might as well get to the point right off. I want to get a leave of absence from the office and work for my degree.”
“Oh, John!” Margaret gasped. It was as if she had been pricked with a red-hot goad. “I thought you were satisfied, you’ve worked up.”
“It’s a competitive world. A fellow needs a good education to make the grade. I never had a chance before, but now we’re kind of ahead, I thought…” John valued her common sense; even more, he valued her happiness. He counseled with her for both reasons.
“College,” Margaret repeated the word which cut her as a razor blade – thin and deadly sharp. Her sensible mind weighed the problem as she saw the facts.
Just when they were beginning to be able to have a few of the nice things of life, like the Tiltons next door, then, suddenly to be asked to run a home without a steady income, was overwhelming! Margaret saw again in her mind’s eye their first years of marriage, the skimping and saving, the making over and making do. John had been in college then. Margaret felt a shudder run over her, remembering.
Things wouldn’t be the same with John a college man. He would have to have quiet to study, or he might be away at the library or at school functions. The very thought of John in college was as if Margaret had been told John would suddenly be swept from the earth. She dared not speak lest she scream out in protest.
They sat in silence while the precious seconds ebbed, then John reached over and took Margaret’s chin in his strong, brown palm. A sudden film came over Margaret’s eyes as he peered into her face.
“I know it’s a shock, Margaret darling.” His dark eyes looked at her, but seemed to see into some reality beyond. “I can’t tackle it without your help. You think it over for a day or two. Registration is a week off. I know you’ll make the right decision.”
* * * *
Margaret heard John playing with the children in the back yard. Her own heart lay buried deep and aching. She picked up the evening edition of the paper and scanned it, but the words blurred beyond readability, leaving the entire space for two single words which seemed to stand embossed in black type – John … college.
Margaret laid aside the paper, walked to her little pearwood desk and opened it. She took clean writing paper and pen. There was a pigeonhole full of letters to be answered; this evening would be a good time. But her pen trails hesitated until she allowed to be written the words which kept racing through her mind: John wants to return to college. Margaret tore the paper into pieces, then crumpled them for good measure, and dropped them into the wastebasket at her feet. She closed the desk and walked out into the garden.
Autumn reigned with all its colors. A fiery sugar maple, a burning oak, and a golden poplar mingled their brilliant leaves. White-limbed birches stood like nymphs in the shower of their gold hair. The mountains stood clothed in red and golds, with touches of bright evergreen, but Margaret was unconscious of the beauty of her surroundings. She walked as if in a daze to the aster bed.
Here she had picked large gold and purple balls to adorn her table only a few hours before. She plucked the head from one, leaving the long stem unclad among its friends. Then her fingers began pulling the petals from autumn’s queen of flowers. The petals fell one by one on the grass at her feet with alternate words – he will, he won’t, he will, he won’t.
Margaret’s life had been as fresh and full as the asters in the garden; now her life had suddenly become as crushed and bruised as the flower in her fingers. She thrust the symbol upon the ground. Then, pushing the tears back, she entered the rear door of her home.
Margaret could hear the children’s voice above the rat-rat of the ping-pong balls in the basement. He decided to take a brisk shower. Then, perhaps, her family wouldn’t notice her swollen eyes. But the shower was not refreshing as she had hoped, for the needles of hot water kept prickling into her flesh as if tattooing the word school.
She donned a robe and went to their room to put on something fresh. As she entered their room, she usually took renewed pride in the chintz curtains and the spool bed in a white petticoat, but tonight she noticed none of this. John had crawled, as if exhausted, into bed. Poor dear, Margaret thought, if he goes to college, he’ll never know what it is to sleep early evenings.
Somehow Margaret managed to plow through the evening tasks of undressing the little children, listening to their prayers, and tucking them in for their dreams, but the feeling of brooding menace never left her.
It was past her usual bedtime when she brushed her teeth, jerked the window open, and crept between the sheets. Hours later she awakened shaking. She rolled her head from side to side, but her body remained rigid, conscious of the sharp pain deep inside. Sleep must have taken possession of Margaret again, for when she opened her eyes it was a new day. But, for Margaret, it lacked the usual anticipation which a new day brings.
Night followed day and day night, and it was Wednesday afternoon. Margaret stood gazing into their cold unused fireplace as she listened to the petulant drip of an autumn rain on the roof. Her hands were clammy as she churned inside. The hurt bewilderment still clouded her eyes. The very thought of years ahead with John at school stretched like a vast gray ocean – monotonous, endless emptiness. John had said she would make the right decision. Well, she would, all right. She would point out how the hundreds of war brides were struggling to help support a tiny brood of kiddies while their husbands sat in classrooms. She had seen too many young wives with their angular faces, always looking worn and sharply tired behind their brave front.
Margaret’s plan of action was clear now. John had said to think it over for a day or two. She had. Now, the moment John came home, she would point out calmly and clearly without any tears or violence, the wisdom of his going on with his job, devoting his time to the children and herself. Margaret rehearsed her talk, reassuring herself before she tried to convince John.
Just then the doorbell rang. Margaret crossed the room to answer it.
“Why Mrs. Tilton!” Margaret said, her voice a little thick, “won’t you come in?” Margaret had been crying. Her last glimpse in the mirror had assured her that she looked as if she had fallen flat on her face. Yet she desperately hoped her neighbor wouldn’t notice.
“I just dropped over to say goodbye. We’re leaving the end of the week,” Mrs. Tilton stated.
”Leaving!” Margaret echoed her astonishment.
“Yes, work is taking Marvin to Armorville, so we’re taking just what few things we need.” Mrs. Tilton spoke with no outward appearance of regret.
“But your lovely home?” Margaret questioned. “How can you bear to leave it?”
“Well, I must confess I’ve never become married to any one house. Oh, I will admit it isn’t all sunshine and roses to pick up and leave, but whatever comes, Marvin and I will meet it side by side.” Mrs. Tilton had a wide, intelligent brow, and a generous, smiling mouth, things which Margaret had never noticed before.
“You seem so very broad-minded, Mrs. Tilton. Why? Have you always felt like this … I mean … standing by your husband in whatever he wanted to do?” Margaret finished her sentence haltingly.
“I owe my viewpoint, in fact, my happiness in life, to a certain pioneer woman,” Mrs. Tilton stated with doting inflection.
“You do? May I ask her name?” Margaret inquired, making an overture of hospitality.
“Why, yes, she was Phoebe Woodruff. A century ago she was a young wife like you, Margaret.”
“Please tell me about her.” Margaret was gently being drawn from a fog. For the first time in three days she forgot herself. Her mind left the valley of dilemma and traveled the rugged path of the pioneers…”
Mrs. Tilton’s soft voice seemed to lead the way. “As I remember the story, the Woodruff couple was making their way to Kirtland to join the saints. Traveling wasn’t streamlined, as it is today, and food was scarce. Hardships for Phoebe were more than she could bear. She passed away.”
“Oh! What a shame!” Margaret interluded. Forgetting herself, a bitter pain for Phoebe Woodruff rose strong and sharp in Margaret’s throat.
“Her spirit left her body, for she saw her body lying on the bed and her husband and friends around her weeping. Then two personages came for her. One of the messengers informed her that she could have her choice, she could go to rest in the spirit world, or she could have the privilege of returning to her tabernacle, and continuing her labors on earth, on one condition…” Mrs. Tilton paused.
“What condition?” Margaret queried, her heart taking up its slow, wary beat again.
“Why, that she stand by her husband and pass through all his cares and trials and tribulations and afflictions of life unto the end. Phoebe Woodruff looked at her husband and child and said, ‘Yes, I will do it.’”
She did? “Margaret laid the two words out like little flatirons of exactly the same weight. “She chose the hard pioneer life just to help her husband? Death would have been sweet.”
“But she chose to be on the side of her husband, my dear,” Mrs. Tilton went on in a low even voice. “This story, and a true one it is, has remained a guiding star in my life. It shows the place a wife has in life as a helpmate, the pulling of a load together.” Her thin hands rested in her lap.
“Together,” Margaret framed the word softly, almost reverently.
“Yes, my child. God knew crossing life’s path would be too difficult for man alone. He gave him a companion.”
It was then the two women seemed to lay words aside and choose a silence.
At length Mrs. Tilton arose. “Well, I must be going.” Then, turning, she laid her hand on Margaret’s shoulder.” I hope you get to feeling better, my dear.”
Margaret walked to the door with Mrs. Tilton. Outside the clouds had broken. The sky was glorious and bright. It was as if bleak October had moved back from the world, and summer had come to reign supreme again.
It was tears of joy, mingled with relief, which rolled down Margaret’s cheeks when the door was closed after her visitor. All her pent-up feelings of the past three days left her. Margaret’s heart was washed clean, and filled with satisfaction and sweet contentment.
She walked to the phone and dialed a number, then waited. “That you, John?” … No, nothing’s wrong with the children … I’m all right, too, John. I feel wonderful! … I know you’re busy, and I won’t keep you … I just wanted to tell you, John, I’ve made the right decision!”