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Ingenious Jane

By: Ardis E. Parshall - September 13, 2013

From the Relief Society Magazine, January 1938 –

Ingenious Jane

by Lottie Hammer Singley

Jane vigorously turned the meat grinder as she gazed from her immaculate cream and yellow kitchen window. The wind had been playing hide and seek with the leaves all day, and dark clouds hung low, giving a chill to the autumn air that made one feel the certainty of winter just around the corner. The wind shook the snow-white curtains and made the appliqued designs dance inside as the colorful autumn leaves did outside.

Jane was a tiny thing, possessing more determination and stick-to-it-iveness than most two-hundred pound Scotchmen. Tucked within her was a philosophy of life enviable to the most astute. She was imbued with a power of meeting adversity equaled by few, envied by many. Crystallized to these characteristics and virtues was a strong unwavering faith and a highly developed mother love.

She was preparing the evening meal. There had been a time when it had consisted of from two to four courses. The last few years, however, circumstances had reduced the Harringtons from “t-bone steaks” to their present level of “stew.” Her nose unconsciously went up as she emptied the left-over cabbage into the steaming brown mixture of meat and vegetables, for this was the third time this week for its return engagement and the week was yet young.

In Jane’s mind there were three convincing arguments for its return: Its nutritive value; its savory odor, which did have a cheering effect on a cold, blustery night, and of this her husband was badly in need; and last because there was nothing else to cook.

She shook the grate vigorously. The old dependable Majestic boomed forth with its best efforts, throwing a cheerful glow about the kitchen from its open door. She hurriedly placed the kettle on the front part of the stove, and busied herself about putting the kitchen in order. This done she hung her blue and white checked apron on a peg back of the door, tidied her hair and went into the living room to look over the mail.

A pile of letters lay upon the table. She took from it a large imposing brown envelope, opened it and read, “Six dollars overdraft.” Six dollars had never seemed so much to Jane. With their five years’ savings gone and Bobby’s shoes having a way of doing the same thing at the wrong time, with winter coming on and only a few buckets of coal left, and groceries – well, to be exact, the cupboard was bare. “Why all this worry,” soliloquized Jane. “Hasn’t Mr. Crawford promised John something, even if it isn’t just what he would like? We will just have to put our pride behind us. Things are picking up. Everybody says so. The radio is continually announcing big business increases.”

With renewed hope, she opened the four remaining envelopes. She lay their contents out carefully before her. One hundred and forty dollars that must be paid. The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, only this time it was the doctor, the coal man, the grocer and taxes.

A lusty wail from the bedroom sent her scurrying, to appear again with arms filled with eighteen pounds of real boy, demanding his bottle with repeated yelps.

At this very moment a sudden clatter on the porch revealed Bobby’s presence.

“Mother, I’m in the team. I’m tackle. We won! We simply mobbed ‘em!”

“Well, it looks like they simply mobbed you,” for Bob’s shirt hung in ribbons. “Oh, Bob, it’s the only good shirt you have. Change into the one you took off this morning, son, and then pick a bunch of marigolds for the dinner table. They are so cheerful.”

Jane knew by John’s attitude as he entered that evening that his day’s search had been in vain. He was a tall, angular man, slow of speech, kind, gentle, reticent, and generally uncomplaining. He and his father had once been established in the manufacturing of soaps, a business which had been handed down from father to son for four generations.

She greeted him cheerily and proceeded to put the dinner on. He had little to say and ate poorly. Jane hurriedly put the children to bed, and as she tucked the pink coverlet over her baby boy and kissed her tousled-headed bob, she suddenly remembered the need of a shirt at once. There was no chance of a new one. She hurried to the basement and with much difficulty made her way through Father Harrington’s soap equipment and into Grandmother’s trunk.

What a shame the factory had to have been closed. If things had gone as planned they would be well cared for, and Father Harrington had tried so hard. Life was like that but reminiscing would not supply a new shirt. She rummaged through the old trunk until she found a percale house dress, with mingled apologies and thanks to dear Grandmother.

She returned to the kitchen and with deft fingers fashioned a shirt and the machine was soon humming merrily.

John looked up from his paper with an inquisitive expression. “Well, you haven’t asked me how I got on today. I guess you are tired of it, always know the answer ahead of time.”

“Not that, dear, just busy. I knew if there were anything important you would tell me.”

“There is something important, Jane. I’m desperate. Two years now, with just a day now and then. Our savings are pretty low by now. I have tramped the streets all day. When I ask for work they look as if they would like to knock me down.”

“Don’t be discouraged, dear. Things are picking up. Only today different radio programs told of big increases in business.”

“Picking up! That’s good. Pretty near provoked a laugh. I wish they would follow me a day and see the real conditions. Jane, don’t mention things picking up to me again! Did it ever occur to you that radios are used for advertising, and to encourage people to spend what little they have to save the advertisers’ hides? Picking up! Bah! With the Government threatening to cut off relief and the night’s paper showing thousands in this country out of work now.”

“But John, you still have Mr. Crawford’s word.”

“Words don’t fill the stomach.”

“Maybe tomorrow Mr. Crawford will find the very thing for you. He knows how competent you are on soaps and their correct mixtures. And you are the cleverest advertiser alive. You’re not just the common run!”

“I wish D.T. was aware of that. You know he thinks I’m just another unemployed.”

No matter how Jane tried, the conversation had a bad trend, and the evening a bad end. She turned the collar on John’s much faded shirt and retired early to carry herself to sleep. John sat into the wee hours with his head in his hands.

Next morning found a scant scattering of snow. John was up early and off by eight to try again.

“Would you step into the corner store when you return tonight and bring me a package of soap?”

“Can’t do it, dear, got just enough to get me to Mill Town. See you tonight.” He hurriedly kissed her and was on his way.

After Jane had buttoned Bob into his new shirt and had him off to school and baby cared for, she dropped into a chair and assumed a very dejected expression. The baby’s laundry was piled high waiting to be done. Soap machinery everywhere, yet not a bit of soap to use. How good it would be to have just a handful of the contents of the huge boxes that were so plentiful in their home before the factory closed. She rummaged through the closets thinking that a box might have slipped back of something. She tumbled things about in good fashion, but not a bit could be found. What could she do?

Suddenly with a determined air she marched down the basement steps and with all the strength she could muster lugged a box of fat scraps back to the kitchen. She sank upon a chair feeling exhausted and weak. Tears seemed near the surface. The climbing of the stairs with her heavy load had been too much. A sick, weak feeling swept over her. She struggled to gain her composure. Then she realized the reason for her weakness. Her soul soared away to a higher plane. For the moment she was apart from the earth. She seemed to visualize, and half audibly whispered:

“Two tiny arms are reaching for mine,
Two tiny lips to my lips I’ll press;
Two tiny hands in my hair entwine.
A tiny form to cuddle and bless.

“Two tiny …”

The sudden striking of the clock brought her back to reality. “I must tell John. If I knew how he would take it. He is so worried, not being able to do as he would like for us. He loves the other two so! I can hardly wait to see it. Yes, I will tell John tonight. Yes, and I must have soap!”

By ten o’clock she was in the soap business in earnest. She was glad she had majored in chemistry, for it was now proving valuable. Seven hours, five tests, and four different grades of soap resulted. That night found her anxious to retire.

When Jane finally broke the news of the “blessed event,” John fairly fumed.

“But John, you were so happy before.”

“Times were different then. We’re fools to bring little innocent children we can’t provide for here to suffer with us. We still owe for the baby. He is only thirteen months. What will people say?”

“I don’t care what people say. If you don’t want him I’ll –” Sobs choked her utterance. “Things are picking up. There will be a way.”

“The radio says so?” he said, mockingly.

Jane’s tears were flowing like flood gates turned loose and John was on his knees beside her, calling himself a brute and begging her forgiveness, trying to explain the condition of his taut nerves. “Of course I’m happy, honey. It’s just because I can’t give you what you deserve, and what I’d like to see you have. You’re the best little manager in the world. Of course there’ll be a way. If there are any more as sweet as Bob and the baby, we want ‘em all!”

Time fairly flew. John had been able to pick up a little work which had helped materially, but nothing in his line. What a pity to see a round peg in a square hole. Uncomplaining, patient – anything, even pick and shovel, and it went so against him. What a testimony of love for his little family. It seemed almost sacred.

Jane too had done her part. Day after day she had worked perfecting and improving her soap until she had what she said was the best article she had ever used, even superior to that which Grandfather made, in many respects, and she had many ways to give it a good trial.

One evening the sky was overcast with clouds and some seemed to rest on the horizon. A sharp biting wind from the north suddenly sprang up and from its cutting, penetrating effect one knew it had recently traveled over icy glaciers. A beating downpour of icy hail pounded the earth and continued for half an hour. With its fury spent it died into quiet, soft, feathery flakes. The family sat huddled in the kitchen and again the phantom “coal” stalked up in their minds. What would have been a peaceful night, protected from the storm, was marred by anxiety of what might come. The security of a food supply in the cellar, coal stored, and money in the bank are great comforts in weather like this!

A blue sky greeted the dawn. A white earth lay shimmering beneath the sun’s rays. Crystal spirals hung from the eaves and tiny shining jewels lay on the pure blanket of snow. The earth seemed cleansed and gave new hope and courage to the man to try again.

How desperately he tried, thinking always of Jane – dear, courageous, trusting Jane who was always sure there would be a way. At times his strong heart became as lead, and oft the heartsick cry of the soul of a once strong man went up in silence, “Oh, God, what is wrong with me? Don’t let her down.”

It was dark when he came up the walk after an unusually discouraging day. He was met by his wife with her finger to her lips. She had put the children to bed early and was busy indeed.

On the table lay the necessities – shirts for Bob and a pair of rompers for LeRoy – and last the layette. The piles of fleecy squares and the tiniest dear dresses made mist come to John’s eyes.

“How did you do it, darling?”

“Flour sacks, and Grandmother’s gowns made lovely squares, although blue and white stripes are a little addition, and “White Fawn” is still a little bright on some of them. A pair of voile curtains did the dresses with what stitches I could add for decorations. The shirts – an old undershirt of Grandpa’s. They’ll never know what a blessing the contents of that trunk have been to us.”

He came closer to her. “I guess I should feel ashamed that you had to do it, but somehow I’m not. I don’t think I was ever so happy in my life.” He reverently drew her into his arms.

John began the next day with the lightest heart he had had in many weeks. As he was making his way home through the bustling crowds he was suddenly seized by the shoulder by David Dahlstrom, Crawford’s representative.

“John Harrington, I’ve tried this whole day to get you. I’ve been to your house twice and could find no one.”

“That’s odd. Jane never goes away.”

“Oh, I saw your wife. She said I must see you. I might as well get to business. I want to make the “six-fifty.” Boy, you’re a lucky dog! Didn’t take D.T. long to size up those samples. Boy, he’s keen about ‘em. Says it’s the best he’s seen. Chemist pronounced them ninety-seven percent pure. With your advertising ability and the radio we ought to put it into every home!”

“What on earth are you talking about, man!”

“Why, the soap samples. Oh, I know you’re modest,” he said as he pulled his watch from his pocket, “but I’ve got to get going. D.T. has a check for five thousand for you, for the formula. He said to be at his office on the first. Might mean a junior partnership for you, old man.” Dave darted off through the crowd, leaving John aghast. “Your wife gave me the formula at the house,” he called back.

John was home in ten minutes, which was record time. His heart was brimming with beautiful things to say to his wife. A nurse met him at the door. “So glad you’ve come, Mr. Harrington.”

The two doctors and nurse worked silently for hours, passing hurriedly from bedroom to kitchen. He was not allowed to enter. In deep anxiety he paced the floor. It was past midnight when the doctor said he might go in.

She looked so white, so very young and defenseless. He quietly approached the bed and knelt beside her. The very rooms seemed a holy sanctuary. He suddenly realized that he possessed more than the wealth of the earth.

She drew his dark head down to her and a weak voice whispered, “Unto you this day a son is born.”

John could not speak but through his tears he thanked God for the greatest gifts, and mingled with praise to God came strong hallelujahs from the hasty lungs of his third son.



3 Comments »

  1. she was glad she had majored in chemistry…

    Comment by johnna — September 13, 2013 @ 1:10 pm

  2. Just like I’m glad to have majored in spinning straw into gold.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — September 13, 2013 @ 1:36 pm

  3. When things changed so I suddenly had to support the family, I was glad for my college education. It made all the difference.

    My mom majored in chemistry and she would have done this. She used it all the time in daily life. Every time she taught us to cook it was a fun chemistry lesson.

    Comment by Carol — September 15, 2013 @ 7:56 pm

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