From the Relief Society Magazine, November 1958 –
The Right Climate
By Vera H. Mayhew
“This work meeting is the hardest one we have to plan,” Stella Graves said, as she tapped her teeth with the pencil that should have been writing down suggestions. Only no one made any suggestions. The other three women seemed as fresh out of ideas as Stella herself.
“I think we make it harder for ourselves than we need to,” Marge Sanders said. “Every month Stella just knocks herself out.”
“How do you mean harder? We have a discussion to lead, we have a luncheon to prepare; we have skills to teach. Now, how can you make it harder?” Stella looked at Marge out of snapping black eyes.
“I mean, why have a luncheon? The P.T.A. board, the Dental Auxiliary board, and the Handicapped Children’s committee all have all-day meetings. We just put a sandwich in our bags, and if we need to work through we can. I can’t go for all these frills.”
“Hmmm, you have something there,” Stella said, and looked at Melba chase. “You’re in charge. What do you say we try an easier way and see how it works?”
Melba was silent for a minute, as if she hardly knew how to put her thoughts into words. When she did speak her voice was as gentle as her face.
“The work meeting is a little hard to plan because, as Stella mentioned, it has three aims, and they have to be correlated. It is a day for learning, though, like all the other days, and we can fit each of the three aims into that big one, learning. We learn better ways to handle our jobs as women, as mothers; we broaden our skills by learning how to do something that we couldn’t do before, or at least how to do it better. But the most important thing we have the opportunity to learn, is something of the hearts of people, our sisters. I don’t want to preach, but I think that’s why we have the luncheon, and somehow I can’t feel that a sandwich in a bag from home is very helpful in promoting friendship, especially when the sisters sew mornings and early afternoons.”
Marge didn’t say anything, and, after a minute, Stella said, “Well, luncheon it is. Now come up with suggestions, please.”
Melba smiled, “This week’s meeting is planned, and you have a whole month before the next one. If you don’t mind, Stella, I’d like you and Marge to change jobs for this month. I’d like Marge to take over the luncheon.”
“I try to make it easier for Stella and end up by giving her a complete vacation,” Marge said ruefully.
Stella reminded her, “You know I’ll help in any way I can.”
“I didn’t mean for you to do all the work,” Melba said, “just plan it. Ask anyone you wish to help.”
“Work day for the drones,” Marge said, and her tone was not entirely good natured.
In spite of her flippant words and small feeling of rebellion, Marge knew she had been given a challenge and she couldn’t decide just what it was that Melba wanted to show her. Does she think I’m lazy or that I don’t understand the objectives of the work meeting? she asked herself.
As Marge prepared dinner for her family that night her mind was filled with menus that might work for the Relief society luncheon, and with the names of women she might ask to help. There was Nola Gardner, but everyone thought of her when there was anything to do and, in spite of her five children, Nola was always willing to help. I won’t ask her, Marge thought, I’ll meet this challenge all the way and get a whole committee that has never helped before. Sounds big, but how do I go about it?
She found herself looking at the women in the ward with different eyes. At Sunday school, when the roll came to her to sign, she glanced at all the names already written there. Now which of these women has a talent I don’t know about, and how will I find out about them? she mused.
The first answer to her problem came the next day when she went teaching with Nola Gardner, because Nola’s regular companion was out of town.
They walked up the path to the front door of a small house. A wide flower bed bordered the path, and the house was almost covered with flowering shrubs.
“Sister Furness really has a green thumb,” Nola remarked. “Every time we come teaching, her garden looks like this.”
“I don’t believe I know her,” Marge said.
“She has never come to Relief Society. We got her name from the ward clerk. She seems willing enough to have us come, but she just isn’t interested in anything.”
“She is interested in gardening, evidently,” Marge said.
The small brown-skinned woman, with work-stained hands, who answered their knock greeted them pleasantly enough, but, as Nola had said, she had hardly a word to say.
Marge cast about in her mind for a way to begin the conversation, looking about the room for a clue to Sister Furness’ interests. On a low table by the fireplace was one of the most beautiful flower arrangements Marge had ever seen.
“You certainly are artistic, Sister Furness,” she said. “Your garden is beautiful, but the way you have brought the beauty inside is even more wonderful.”
Sister Furness glowed with pleasure. “There’re not many to see my flowers,” she said, “but I have to have them outside and inside. That’s about all I have left.” She caught her lip as if she had revealed too much.
“I’ve been asked to supervise the luncheon at Relief Society next work meeting. If you’d decorate the tables, I’m sure it would be the most beautiful luncheon we have ever had,” Marge said.
“I’d like to, but I don’t know how I’d get my flowers to the Church,” Sister Furness said, her voice uncertain. “You see, I … I don’t have a car any more.”
“I’ll come and get you. About 9:30 the second Tuesday morning.”
Sister Furness seemed to be trying to find another excuse. Then she answered Marge’s waiting smile with one of her own and said firmly, “I’ll be ready.”
After that it seemed to Marge almost as if she were led to people who had a special talent and would be glad to use it for Relief Society.
Only a day or two after her visit to Sister Furness, she stood at the check counter of the supermarket behind a woman she had seen at Relief Society a few times.
“You go ahead, Sister Sanders,” the woman said. “I have such a full basket, I’d keep you waiting a long time.”
“Why, thank you, that’s very kind,” Marge said. “It does look as if you’re one of the market’s best customers.”
“It isn’t always this way. I’m making baked beans for the cub pack meeting. This isn’t beans,” she laughed. “It’s all that goes with it.”
“Is it something special, the recipe, I mean?”
“I don’t know whether it’s special. It’s one my great-grandmother used, and my husband thinks it’s wonderful. He’s pack master and asked me to do this.”
“Now you’ve given me an idea. I’ve promised to take care of the next work meeting luncheon. Maybe you’d make your bean dish and part with the recipe so that some of us could help you.”
“Well … I didn’t mean to put myself forward. But if you really want me to, I’ll be happy to make enough for the crowd. I can do it in my electric roaster.”
She seemed oddly pleased to be asked, Marge thought as she picked up her bag of groceries and said, “I’ll get in touch with you.” Then she couldn’t remember the woman’s name. I’ll have to watch out for her and ask someone, she thought. I wonder how it is that I know so few people. I’ve lived in the ward three years and if it hadn’t been for my school friendship with Stella Graves, I probably wouldn’t know anyone.
That was a disturbing thought. It suggested that she was just sort of skimming the surface of life. I’m plenty busy, she thought. I go every place I’m supposed to and do everything I’m asked. Do I just care about activity and not about people? Is that what Melba wanted to show me?
She began to pay more attention to people in the ward. As the deacons went down the aisles on Sunday she tried to place each boy with the proper parents. She worked hard at remembering names.
On the morning of work meeting Marge was amazed at the arm loads of things Sister Furness carried out to the car. She had expected a box or basket of flowers but not so many things.
“I didn’t know whether you had tablecloths, so I brought my own,” Sister Furness said.
“We usually cover the tables with white paper that can be rolled up and thrown away,” Marge answered.
“I’ll use mine. I chose the ones that match the flowers.”
Marge didn’t know what to answer. Sister Furness talked as if she had unlimited tablecloths, and her shy manner and small house didn’t indicate that sort of woman.
Later, as Marge helped put up tables and cover them, she learned a little about the small, shy woman.
“I used to entertain a great deal when my husband was living,” Sister Furness said. “We had collapsible tables in the rumpus room and I bought lengths of colored oilcloth and white theatrical gauze to put over them. That way I could carry out any color scheme I wanted to. I was so afraid I hadn’t brought my things with me. But there they were in the same old box in the basement. Somehow it got picked up and brought along.”
“You haven’t always lived here then?” Marge asked.
“No, my little house was my grandmother’s, and when my world fell apart I just left that world and came here.” Her eyes were dark and brooding.
“How nice for you that your grandmother’s house was here,” Marge said.
Sister Furness smiled at Marge and went on working. Other women joined them with offers of help, and Sister Furness directed the work, chatting pleasantly with everyone around her.
The tables are certainly beautiful, but no more attractive than the women that surround them, Marge thought as she passed the heaping bowls and plates. Everyone seemed to be having such a good time.
“Do most of the women seem more dressed up than usual?” she asked Stella when she went into the kitchen.
“Probably it’s just that they are not wearing their coats,” Stella answered, but that answer didn’t satisfy Marge.
Marge heard one young mother say to her neighbor, “What a good idea this tablecloth is. I’m so rushed that I’m afraid I mostly forget the niceties of life. I could use this idea with nylon net and that would drip dry.”
“Things like this are not really too much work. It’s just that we don’t think about them,” her neighbor answered. “These get-togethers are good because they sort of jack us up and make us see some of the things we could do to make our lives more attractive.”
Further down the table someone asked Marge, “Do you know who brought this small-leafed ivy? I’d like to get a start.”
“All the flowers came from Sister Furness. I’m sure she’d be glad to help you get some started. Remind me after lunch. I’ll introduce you.”
“Pinch me and see if I’m dreaming.” Marge heard the mother of four young children say. “I can’t believe this is I, sitting down, being served, and not a child to tip over a glass of milk or orange juice.” The women on both sides of her laughed, and one said, “I think I most enjoy the adult conversation.”
Hearing these young mothers talk brought memories of her own younger married days, and Marge knew that she had felt the same way. She had felt as if the time would never come when she could get away from the four walls of her own kitchen. She remembered how it was to have to hire a baby sitter every time she left home and money so scarce that a sitter was a real treat. She understood how comfortable these women felt with their children well cared for in a warm room while they relaxed with other women who had the same interests.
Finally the dishes were cleared up. The last woman had gone to Sister Smart for the bean recipe, to Sister Morgan for the molded salad, and to Sister Sheperd for the upside-down cake. Everyone was working at the various handcrafts when Marge felt a timid touch on her shoulder, and turned to see Sister Turner, the oldest member of Relief Society.
“Thank you for a wonderful party,” Sister Turner said. “I always look forward to these parties. It’s so nice to eat with people. Seems like when you eat all by yourself the food doesn’t have much taste. This is the nicest party we ever had.”
Marge was touched almost to tears. Why had she never thought about the people who ate alone?
“Your drones put on a wonderful party today,” Melba Chase said as they were locking up that afternoon.
“I’m so ashamed I said that,” Marge answered. “Everyone I asked wanted to do something. No one wanted to be a drone. They just didn’t know how to get started. I’m so thankful you gave me this assignment. Besides everything else, I have three new friends.”
“That’s Relief Society,” Melba said. “You’ll be the first friend some of those women have had for a long time.”
“Friends are like flowers, they grow in the right climate, with loving care,” Marge said and put her arm around Melba in a grateful squeeze.