From the Relief Society Magazine, May 1960 –
By Dorothy S. Romney
Helga hummed a small tune as she went about the task of putting fresh linen on young Mrs. Sturm’s bed. It wasn’t that she was so happy that early afternoon, but more to keep up her courage, that she sang.
She stopped for a moment in front of the open window to view the landscape, now bright with spring blossoms. Spring is spring, she thought, and saw the daffodils nod their agreement in the slight breeze – and always just as new every year.
Her thoughts came back to her present problems. She had taken this case with misgivings.
“I’ll not be taking the Sturm case,” she had told Dr. Merritt, when she’d heard Laura Sturm was expecting a second baby. “My methods are much too old-fashioned – she would never put up with the likes of me.” Helga liked her patients to be happy.
“Now, Helga,” the doctor had cajoled her, patting her ample shoulder, “you’re not going to let one young woman scare you out, are you? Not after twenty years of successfully caring for the new mothers of our town, and bringing up six fine children of your own?”
He looked at her over the top of his glasses in a way he had. A young-looking forty-one, Helga suspected this was a trick he had invented to appear older and sterner to his patents.
When she didn’t say anything, but simply stood, looking doubtful, the doctor continued: “Just because Laura Sturm is a registered nurse is no reason to back down. You’ll see that the old and the new methods mix very well – although Laura is a bit on the strict side,” he added, honestly.
“All right, I’ll try.” Helga had thrown up her hands, helplessly. She might have known she couldn’t refuse a case for Dr. Merritt.
“Good,” Dr. Merritt had said, with a twinkle in his eye, “I was sure I could count on you.”
So here Helga was, firmly entrenched in the Sturm household, with the new mother expected home within a few hours. In spite of all her past experience, Helga was fluttery as a mother hen trailing her first brood of chicks.
When the bed was made up to her satisfaction, Helga tiptoed into the nursery to make sure that four-year-old Jimmie was safely asleep for his nap.
“Looks like a wee, pink angel,” she murmured.
She had discovered in the three days she had been caring for Jimmie that this wasn’t quite the case – that he was as full of energy and capable of as much mischief as any sturdy child his age.
He was curled up in a soft little ball; one chubby hand was tucked under his cheek, and a halo of yellow curls was framed on the pale pink of the freshly ironed pillowcase.
Helga heard the back door open and went into the kitchen. It was Fred, Laura’s husband, and he had a load of groceries in a box which he set down on the table.
“Hello, Helga, how are things going?” he asked.
“Why, just fine,” she answered. He was easy-going and affable, and Helga had taken an immediate liking to him, and had at once felt comfortable in his presence.
“My wife and the new baby will be home at about five o’clock this evening,” he announced proudly.
“I hope everything will be to her liking.” Helga had heard from several sources that Laura was not only strict with Jimmie, but most particular about her housekeeping.
“Oh, I’m sure it will be,” he answered quickly. “I had a house to show out this way, and thought I’d drop in with some groceries. I’ll see you tonight.” He went out and closed the door quietly.
“Such a nice young man,” Helga remarked.
As yet she hadn’t met Laura Sturm, a comparative newcomer to town. She had come to the Sturm home a few hours after Laura had left for the hospital, but from the list of things to do tacked up on the kitchen bulletin board, Helga decided the reports of Laura weren’t exaggerated.
“My land,” she declared, as she took another look at the list, “I wouldn’t be surprised if she put starch in her own bath water.” Being clean was fine, but to Helga’s way of thinking, there was a limit to everything.
The house looked spotless, and since there was nothing more to do right now, Helga decided she would rest for a moment. She sat down in the living room and picked up a Relief Society Magazine from the tabletop. She depended on her Magazine for guidance in the little, everyday things of life, as well as the bigger issues, and was glad to see that Laura was numbered among the Magazine’s subscriber.
Helga had taken but two deep breaths and opened the cover, when she heard Jimmie in the nursery.
My goodness, she thought, he even wakes up with a bang.
She gave him cookies and milk in the patio, then let him play in the sand box outside. He’ll get rid some of that excess energy, she told herself.
But he quickly tired of this and came in demanding that Helga read a story. She found a rhyming book, and they were just comfortably settled when Jimmie cried “Mommie, Mommie.”
Sure enough, Helga saw a car draw up in front of the house. She hadn’t realized that it was nearing five o’clock.
She hurried to the door and accepted the baby from Fred, who then went back to the car to assist his wife.
The baby was sweet and healthy looking, and Helga took him into her heart immediately, as she did all her charges. He was comfortably asleep. She was careful not to awaken him as she put him down gently in his crib.
He’ll be no trouble, she told herself.
Laura and Fred came in.
Helga looked at Laura, and her heart melted within her. This was not at all the starched person she had expected to see. The curve of her mouth was sweet, as she smiled a bit weakly at Helga, and her brown eyes were gentle looking.
She did smell slightly too antiseptic, but that was probably due to her stay in the hospital.
Jimmie bounded over and threw his arms around his mother’s knees.
“Not now, darling,” she said, “let Mother get settled, then she’ll have some time for you – and don’t touch the baby.”
Helga saw his lower lip tremble, as he turned and ran into the nursery.
The poor lamb, she thought, he’s waited all day.
She almost forgot him in the bustle and hurry of getting the new patient settled. Fred had gone out on a late appointment, and after giving Laura a light supper, Helga supervised the baby’s feeding.
She had little time to think of anything else until Laura suddenly asked: “Where’s Jimmie?”
Helga’s heart sank. “Must be in the nursery,” she replied, and made an immediate departure in that direction.
He was there, all right, curled up in a little heap in the middle of the bed and sobbing. “Go ‘way,” he cried, when he saw Helga approaching.
“There, there,” Helga’s arms went about the little figure, as he yielded to her comforting tone. She had him at once ensconced on her ample lap in the rocking chair.
“Jimmie,” his mother called, “come here to me.”
“No, I won’t,” was his answer.
“Jimmie,” in a more severe tone.
Helga put him down, took his hand, and gently led him into his mother’s bedroom.
“I want no more of this crying,” Laura began. “You’re the big brother now, and you’ll love the baby just as much as we do, once you get used to him.”
Oh, dear, thought Helga, that’s all wrong. He’s too young to understand what she means. He needs love and reassurance, not an explanation.
“Put him to bed, until he can behave,” Laura said, her face suddenly too pale.
Helga closed the nursery door, grateful for a chance to try to comfort the boy. She once more took him onto her lap and rocked him. In a short time the crying ceased and he was fast asleep.
She put him down on the bed, threw a light cover over him, then went quietly into the kitchen through the hall. There was still dinner to be served to Mr. Sturm.
He came in presently, looking very tired. Helga served him his meal in the breakfast room, and sat down with him to eat her own.
After greeting Helga he inquired about his wife and the baby.
“Haven’t heard a sound in there for the past half hour,” Helga answered him. “I believe they are both asleep.”
“How did Jimmie like the new brother?” he asked presently.
“He got no more than a peek at him,” was the evasive answer. Mr. Sturm looked tired enough, she decided, without having to worry over the fact that his son had cried himself to sleep.
“Laura tries so hard to be a good mother,” he began, then stopped.
Helga longed to say something comforting, but couldn’t find quite the right words.
“If she could just learn to relax,” were his next faltering words. “You see, she herself was brought up by distant relatives who were far too busy to pay her much attention, or even take her to church …”
”Mommie, Mommie,” Jimmie called just then.
“I’ll fetch him,” said Helga.
She brought Jimmie into the kitchen. He was rosy-cheeked and smiling, and apparently had forgotten that there was an usurper to be dealt with.
“Hi, young man,” his father greeted him, and then asked in a quieter tone of voice, “how do you like your new brother?”
It was very still in the wide kitchen.
“He’s not my brother,” Jimmie finally declared.
“Come here, son,” his father said. He took Jimmie onto his lap. “What say we let mother take care of the new baby, and you and I will take care of each other? After all, we’re the men of the family.” He waited tensely.
A long silence followed, in which Helga wondered if Fred fully realized how impossible it was for a four-year-old to give up his mother.
“No,” Jimmie protested, fighting hard to keep back the tears. “I’m not a man, I’m a little boy.”
Helga longed to take him in her arms, but all she did was give him some bread and butter.
“Come now,” she said cheerfully, “sit over here and eat, then Helga’ll read you a story before you go back to bed.”’
This served as a diversion, and the stiff little body relaxed somewhat. He moved to his own chair and began eating. Soon father and son were chatting happily away together.
Now that’s what I like to see, Helga told herself, as she went about the task of clearing up the supper things.
Tomorrow she would corner Dr. Merritt and see if he could help her with this problem.
* * * * *
Helga didn’t see Dr. Merritt the next day, however. He called and inquired about his patient, then told Helga there was a slight outbreak of “flu” in town and he’d be kept busy.
“Let Laura get up for an hour or so today,” he told her.
She couldn’t bother him with her problem now, with an epidemic on his hands.
It was while she was on her way back to the bedroom that she got her idea. It might cost her her reputation as a reliable nurse, at least in Laura’s opinion, but it was well worth trying.
Accordingly, after Fred had gone to work, Helga gave Jimmie his color book and crayons on the kitchen table. She needed to keep him there. So far he had refused all invitations to visit the newcomer.
As the baby’s bath time drew near, Helga wondered if she had the courage to go through with her plan. One look at Jimmie’s forlorn little figure convinced her that she did, however.
“I’ll take the bathinette into the kitchen and give the baby his bath out there,” she told Laura, with quickened heartbeat. “It’s warmer. I’ll put your chair out there – doctor’s orders are that you get up today.”
“Well, all right,” Laura agreed, slowly.
Helga arranged everything as quickly as possible. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Jimmie making furtive glances in the direction of the activity. She almost held her breath for fear he would bolt before her purpose was accomplished.
Helga had the baby undressed and all ready to bathe.
“Dear me,” she said, and hoped her tone sounded convincing to Laura, “I’ve forgotten the washcloth.”
“I’ll hold him while you get it,” Laura said, a trifle impatiently.
“No, no, Jimmie can run and get it for me,” said Helga.
Jimmie looked up at the sound of his name.
“Please, Jimmie, Helga needs your help,” she said. “Bring me that washcloth from Mother’s room. It’s right there on that little table.”
Jimmie slowly laid down his crayon, went into the bedroom, and returned with the washcloth, handed it to Helga, and went back to his coloring without a word.
“Thank you, darling,” she said.
“Gracious me,” she said shortly, “how can I ever be so forgetful today? Jimmie, will you run into the bedroom and get that can of baby powder? On the table where you found the washcloth, and it has a big red cross on it. You can’t miss it.”
This time Jimmie didn’t hesitate. He was in and out of the bedroom in no time, and instead of going back to his table, he stood a few feet away from the bathinette and watched.
“Thank you, Jimmie,” Helga said, “you’re a real helper.”
She looked at him, and his face was radiant. He stood very still, as if not daring to breathe.
There was just one more article she had forgotten to bring out of the bedroom. That was the baby’s clean blanket.
She was beginning to lose courage. Laura must know by this time that she was up to something – either that, or she would think Helga was the most inefficient practical nurse in Plumas County.
She looked at Laura. Laura’s eyes were fixed on Jimmie, as though she were seeing him for the first time.
“Come over here and see mother, Jimmie, dear.” Laura’s voice was soft and controlled.
Jimmie ran to his mother.
Laura’s eyes met Helga’s over the top of her son’s head. A look of complete understanding passed between them.
After that there was a long, blissful interval, with Helga still fussing over the now peacefully sleeping baby, and Jimmie and Laura comfortably talking it out together in each other’s arms.
Helga looked at them and sighed.
Her mind went back to those first years after her husband, Ned, had died. She recalled the many times she might have been completely lost had it not been for the strength of her Church teachings, the things she learned in Relief Society, and an occasional talk with her kindly bishop.
At that very moment she appointed herself official Grandmother to the Sturm family.
She would see that Laura had plenty of time to attend her meetings. We’ll grow wise together, she thought with a smile. There’s always something new and interesting to learn.
She picked up the baby carefully.
I’ll just have to fetch my own blanket, she thought happily.