There Is Still Time
By Margery S. Stewart
Synopsis: Elizabeth Anderson is disturbed by a strange dream in which she sees herself and her friends walking on crutches which crumble away. She tells the dream to Brent, her husband, and explains to him that something is lacking in their family life, a spiritual oneness. Brent, however, is so interested in making money, that he has no wish to understand Elizabeth’s plea. Returning from an early morning drive to the beach, Elizabeth sees the Los Angeles Temple under construction, and the building seems to symbolize her aspirations and her longing for a more complete life.
Elizabeth sat down on the unfinished temple steps. She had children who received the highest grades in their classes and were spiritual illiterates. A snatch from an overheard conversation ran through her mind.
“What are you supposed to be, Donna? Daniel in the lion’s den?”
Donna emerging from her blanket, “Who was Daniel? Who was Daniel, Johnny?”
Johnny, loftily, “Some guy in history who got into a den of lions, of course.”
Donna ecstatically, “What happened to him?”
“They ate him, of course. What a dummy!”
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” But all her friends were doing such a wonderful job with their youngsters … such lovely manners, sometimes anyway, such clean little bodies … such attention to abstract ideas of social consciousness.
Elizabeth stood up. She had picked up a stone and she weighed it in her hand. Then, why was it that they were having such trouble with their youngsters when they reached their teens? Jean’s boy, Lynn, now … stealing cars … when he had only to ask to have one of his own … thrills they wanted. Betty’s beautiful little daughter Ann … just sixteen … and … Elizabeth shuddered. What could you feed a growing child to still the hunger in his heart, to put his feet in careful paths. She had waited all this time for Brent.
Brent hadn’t liked to go to meeting. It had held no charm for him. His quick, seeking mind had been always on a monetary goal which he pushed up from year to year as he ascended closer to his heart’s desire. And I, thought Elizabeth, felt inadequate to try and train the children, so I have done nothing either.
Let me be honest with myself … I waited because it didn’t mean enough to me … I didn’t know how to begin. I leaned on Brent … wanted him to start me. But she knew, suddenly, that the time was long wasted and the hour bitterly short. But how could she go home to four wise young faces and say, “I’m going to start teaching you about God?” How could she teach, when she, herself, was ignorant?
Haun’s Mill … Nauvoo … Carthage … the names stood up tall in her mind. Elizabeth threw the stone away from her and turned toward the car. They would all simply have to learn together.
The children were at breakfast when she came in. T hey sighed audibly with relief.
“I was just about ready to call the police. What an idiotic thing to do, go tearing off when it’s still dark.” Brent’s voice was harsh with worry.
“You took my car!” Elaine lifted accusing eyes.
Johnny glowered. “You went on an adventure without us.”
“You left me alone!” Donna wailed, “all … all alone. I could have been kidnapped.”
“Such a tender homecoming,” Elizabeth said acidly. The morning’s mood was abruptly shattered. The usual biting irritation took possession of her. “Johnny! Your hands!”
Brent tossed a letter to her. “Read that if you will.” He pushed his plate away. “What a day! It’s starting out like all the others … except I had no sleep.”
Elizabeth picked up the letter. She read it swiftly. It was from David, Brent’s brother. “Does he mean he is actually telling your mother to leave his house?”
Brent scowled. “After all the money I’ve paid him to take care of her. Now he’s making money hand over fist and wants me to take her.”
He slammed down his napkin. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that. You know yourself our house is too small. We’ve no room. Mother and I never did get on well together. Davie was always her pet.”
Elizabeth folded the letter over and over. “I’ll put Johnny downstairs in the rumpus room. Elaine, you and Jennie can share her room.”
Shrieks of fury rose from Elaine and cries of delight from Jennie. “Ha … ha, smartie! You’re not going to be so big any more.”
Elaine’s tears flowed freely. “I’d rather die than have to live with her and her frogs and worms and … and crickets.”
Elizabeth covered her ears. “All right! All right! I’ll move Donna in with Jennie, and you can have Donna’s room.”
More shrieks and moans resounded.
Brent pounded on the table. “Silence!” he glared at Elizabeth. “You see how it is now … before she’s even come. Think of the madhouse when she gets here. You know Mother. She’s got to have her finger in every pie and her own say so about every situation. We can’t do it. It’s too much.”
Elizabeth was silent until he was finished, and the children turned to her questioningly.
“I want to do it, Brent.” She was surprised at the firmness of her voice when inside she felt so weak. “I want to do something that is hard and right to do.” She looked at the children. “‘Honour thy father and thy mother.’ Those are more than words. They are meanings on meanings.”
Brent stared at her open-mouthed. “You’ll never make it,” he said at last, but much of his force was gone. “Just take it from me, you’ll never make it.
“But I can try?”
“Sure, you can try, but …”
Elizabeth turned back to the children. “We’ll all have to open our hearts a little wider, as well as our house. Are you willing?”
“Why … yes,” Elaine looked a little dazed.
“Sure.” Johnny was eager.
Brent looked at his watch. “Got to be going. What’s come over you, Eliza?”
She lifted her face for his kiss. “I’ve got some muscles to strengthen … moral fibre … Granddad would call it.”
There was a little silence when he had gone. The youngsters finished their breakfasts.
“I gotta go now,” Johnny said. “Promised Nick I’d meet him at the playground.” He squirmed out of his chair.
“Wait.” Elizabeth wet her lips. “Sit down a minute, Johnny. Don’t go, the rest of you.”
“Aw, gosh!” Johnny slid back into his place.
Elizabeth lifted her eyes to them. Her voice was low and gentle, “What do you know about God?” she asked.
The children were embarrassed and silent.
She turned to Elaine appealingly, “You should know something … you went to Sunday School.”
“When I was six,” Elaine said scornfully. “Should I remember from when I was six?”
“He lives in the sky …” Donna ventured. “Marion told me that he does.”
“They had a real good play about him once on TV. It was at Easter time.” Johnny twisted about in his chair. “Remember? I asked you about him then … only you were too busy.”
“I’m sorry,” Elizabeth said. “I was wrong. I want to teach you about him now. I thought we’d start with his Son. I’ll tell you about his birth … and … and we’ll go on from there.”
“Aw, I heard it a’ready … at Christmas at school,” said Jennie. “I’m going to get my guns.”
Elizabeth said very clearly. “You will remain in your place until I have finished speaking … and … we’ve said our prayers.”
“Prayers!” they stole glances at one another.
“Prayers,” said Elizabeth firmly. “But now I’ll start with the story.”
She told it quietly, trying to remember every part of it, the manger, the star, the shepherds … Mary … “About Elaine’s age she was, set apart, gentle, gentle as a dove and radiant … carrying under her heart the promise of all the generations that had been and all that were just to come.”
They listened raptly, the room was very still.
“… and Joseph was warned in a dream and fled away into Egypt with the little, new baby and Mary, his mother, and the cruel king did not find him, however thirstily he hunted.”
They were all silent when she finished, the deep hush still on them. Elizabeth slipped to her knees and after an awkward moment the children followed her. Her prayer was short and stumbling. Then she rose and began to gather up the dishes. The children stole away. Donna came to kiss her and Elaine hesitated beside her.
“Are you going to do this every day?”
“Yes,” said Elizabeth strongly, but her knees trembled.
“I just wondered. I think it’s awfully good for Donna and Jennie and Johnnie.”
“Do you really? You’ll help me, then?”
Elaine gave one of her brief, dazzling smiles. “I certainly will. Goodbye now, I’ve got a date to play tennis with Bill.”
“Bill Barker?” Elizabeth could not keep the concern out of her voice.
Defiance flared up in Elaine’s lovely dark eyes. “So? What’s wrong with Bill Barker?”
“Darling … I’ve heard things.”
“All right. You’ve heard things. Point me out a perfect boy around here. You know them all. A person has to have somebody.”
“You’ll be home around twelve”
Elaine flounced away. “Yes, I’ll be here. Honestly, the way people around here keeps tabs on a person.”
Matilda waddled in. “Here, I’ll clear up the table, Miss Anderson.”
“No, I’ll finish. I wanted you to work on the upstairs.”
“You want I should change the rooms around?”
Elizabeth threw up her hands in defeat. “I guess there isn’t much around here you don’t know about, Matilda.”
“I can get my Jim to carry the beds around.”
“An excellent idea.”
Matilda hesitated. “Is she peaceful like? Your mother-in-law?”
Elizabeth sorted the silver. She chuckled. “Grandma Anderson weighs just one hundred pounds … all of it energy. She likes to work, and she likes to talk … and she rather likes taking charge of things.”
Matilda smoothed her apron. “Not of my kitchen she don’t.” She scowled. “I been in homes where they is too many bosses.”
“We love you,” said Elizabeth, her heart sinking as the picture of a long line of replacements flashed before her mind, “but you’re free as air, you know that.”
“I know that,” maintained Matilda stoutly. “I just want to make sure that you knows that.”
It was on a September morning that Grandma Anderson moved in. She came by plane, courtesy of David, wearing an orchid, gift of her daughter, Alice, and began talking from the top step of the stairs they moved against the plane.
“… Upon my soul and body, I never was so scared! They shouldn’t let these things off the ground …”
Elizabeth could only catch phrases as she moved down the stairs, a tiny little woman with short curly white hair under a black sailor. She tried to hold on to her purse and gather all four grandchildren in her arms at once. Her glasses tipped askew, her hat rocked back, and her purse opened and spilled its contents.
“Mother! For Pity’s sakes!” Brent got down on hands and knees to retrieve pennies and nickels and mints and pencils.
“Oh, Brent, that was clumsy of me … Well, as I was saying … Brent, you’re too thin … much too thin …”
She turned this way and that, peering up into their faces, her words tumbling over each other. “I hear you have a cook now, Elizabeth. Fancy that! The talk of Beaver. Johnny looks peaked, too.” She turned her grandson’s face in her hands, looked accusingly from him to Elizabeth. “It’s just a good thing that I came, that’s all I have to say.” She seized upon Elaine. “Prettiest thing I ever saw … all Anderson … every bit of her.”
Brent protested, laughing. “She’s the spit and image of Elizabeth at her age, and you know it.”
Elizabeth met Brent’s meaningful glance calmly. She would not be ruffled by Grandma Anderson. Perhaps, she thought, she believes I’m her enemy. Perhaps she’s been conjuring pictures up in her mind all the way down here of cruel things I’ll do to her. How do I know what goes on in the mind of a little old lady, who’s been pushed out of one son’s house?
Brent took his mother firmly by the arm, led her to the car. “We’re having a dinner tonight, Mother, a lot of people whose friendship I really need. Watch it, will you?”
“A big dinner!” Grandma Anderson was instantly atwitter. “Well, you know how I love company! Maybe I could bake up a pie or two … nothing like homemade apple pie, I always say.”
Brent opened his mouth, his face darkening, but Elizabeth rushed into the tiny pause. “What a wonderful idea, but I was saving you to help me with the flowers. No one has a touch quite like yours.”
For an instant Grandma Anderson faltered, pleased and flushed.
“Well, I declare, I’m glad to hear someone admit it. Honestly, the way people poke flowers into vases chills my blood … I declare it chills my blood.”
“Chills my blood,” Johnny repeated under his breath. Elizabeth saw his face grow bright with interest. He moved closer to walk beside his grandmother. His admiration was shared with equal fervor by Jennie. Donna had been captured from the start. “I get to sit by Grandma all the way home.”
They drove up to drop Brent off at his office. “Goodbye, Mother.” He kissed her, turned a worried frown to Elizabeth. “Remember the Ames’ are coming tonight. You know his nod means I’ll get that tract of homes to build.”
Elizabeth tried to reassure him with a smile, unable to interrupt the steady flow from the back seat.
“… so I told your father, he was ten at the time, that if he ate the green apples he would get sick and get a whipping at one and the same time, and he did. Your father was one wild little Indian … and his report cards!” She lifted her eyes heavenward.
Johnny lifted startled eyes to his father’s face. “Gee whiz! You mean Dad was just like me!”
Brent frowned. “Now remember, Mother, I don’t want any part of my history related to the guests tonight. Give someone else a chance to talk.”
Grandma Anderson settled her hat more firmly on her head. “Land sakes alive, son! If people want to talk they got to fight for the privilege same as I do.”