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. She tells the dream to Brent, her husband, and explains to him that something is lacking in their family – a spiritual oneness. Brent, however, is so interested in making money that he does not wish to understand Elizabeth’s plea. Brent receives a letter from his brother David requesting that Brent take their mother into his home. Elizabeth surprises her husband and children by insisting that Grandmother Anderson is welcome to come and live with them, but after the grandmother arrives, Elizabeth realizes that living with her will not be easy.
Grandma Anderson was not to be awed by the size of the house, nor the swimming pool.
“Seems to me some people could make better use of their money,” she sniffed.
She met Matilda head up, flags flying. Elizabeth shuddered at the covert measuring glance that passed between the two. Grandma Anderson sniffed the air. “Apple pie as I live and breathe.” She took a deeper breath, and triumph lighted her face. “Too much cinnamon.”
Elizabeth flung herself into the breach. “Just the way I like apple pie.”
“There’s them as like apple pie spicy, and there’s them as likes apple pie baby like,” said Matilda gently. “Next time I’ll bake one special, just for you.”
Elizabeth shot her a glance of gratitude and turned Grandma Anderson to the stairs. In the room that was to be hers, Grandma Anderson was abruptly silent. She touched the satin headboard of the bed with gentle hands. “Pretty, isn’t it?” She sat down in the little padded rocking chair and closed her eyes.
“You have your own private balcony,” Elizabeth said. She flung open the French doors. “You can watch it get morning from your bed.”
Grandma Anderson’s eyes flew open. “Spend the morning in bed! Not I, let me tell you. I’ve spent my whole life getting up at five, and I don’t expect to change for anyone.”
“Brent likes to sleep until seven,” Elizabeth interpolated gently.
“Picked up that lazy habit since his marriage. Believe me, when he was home with me, he was up at five just like the rest of us. I remember how he hated it … one time …”
“Seven,” repeated Elizabeth firmly. “Now, this is your castle. No one can come in at all, except with your permission.”
“… So I told him then, ‘Son,’ I said, ‘as long as you are under my roof …’” She stopped short, digested her own words, gave Elizabeth a sudden, rueful understanding smile. “Seven, it is.”
Elizabeth smiled back. “Would you like to rest until lunch time, and then we’ll get after those flowers?”
“Mind you don’t cut them now. Seems to me I remember once you cut flowers and didn’t put them right into water …”
“I’ll wait,” said Elizabeth meekly, and closed the door. She thought of the evening ahead and apprehension griped her.
The dinner had been arranged for twelve people. Grandma Anderson’s coming made it thirteen. Brent fussed and worried about this until Elizabeth solved the situation by having Elaine join them. Elaine was sulky about it, dreading the boredom of older people.
Grandma Anderson came down just as the guests were arriving. She looked small and frail and quaint in the voile dress with its crocheted collar and the big broach at her throat. She beamed on each new guest and shook hands heartily.
“Pleased to meet you, Mr. Ames.” She peered up into his flushed, heavy face. “You certainly remind me of a man back home … Olaf Swenson, the butcher …”
“Mother!” Brent’s voice was sharp. He glared at Elizabeth.
Elizabeth pretended not to notice. She hurried the women away to dispose of their wraps. When she returned, Grandma Anderson was happily regaling the still purple Mr. Ames with the hardships of life in a small town in the early nineteen hundreds. Mr. Ames fidgeted. Brent looked ill. Elizabeth heard her own voice getting edgy as she tried to smooth over one ill-timed remark after another of Brent’s mother.
The evening finally ended. Upstairs in their bedroom, Brent jerked off his tie savagely. “That settles it. That definitely settles it. A rest home. I’ll go find one tomorrow,.”
“No.” Elizabeth leaned her elbows on her dressing table, rested her face in her palms. “You didn’t see her eyes this morning when she saw her room, like a child’s on Christmas. We can’t do it.” She brushed her hair furiously. “I shared her opinion of Mr. Ames.” She turned to Brent. “I like your mother, Brent. She’s like a nice cold wind from Beaver blowing away a lot of dust.”
Brent threw down his shirt. “She isn’t your mother. She’s mine.”
“She’s ours. She is my responsibility just as much as she is yours. Oh, Brent, it’s just because we haven’t learned how to handle the situation. If we’re wise we’ll settle it without sending her away. That’s defeat.”
“We can’t ask anyone here.”
“I’ll think of some way, one or two nights a week, she might prefer a movie with the twins or Elaine.”
“She’ll want to go with us everywhere.”
“I’ll take her with me and the children.”
“Matilda will quit.”
Elizabeth looked at Brent. He was in the wrong and he knew it, and he was trying furiously to push her into a corner. Helplessness swept her. Their lives seemed to get more tangled and complicated every day.
“What’s changing you?” Brent demanded. “You never used to be like this.”
She went to the window, looked out into the night. “Remember the fun we had when we were youngsters, going to Church all the time. You used to be a whiz in basketball. Remember?”
Brent came to stand beside her. “Donna told me about the Bible reading and the prayers. I think that’s fine, Eliza. A very good idea.”
She rubbed her face against his shoulder. “It’s making such a difference. There’s more unity than we used to have. Of course, some mornings they seem bored to tears, but again on another day they want to talk about things for hours.” She smiled at him. “Are you ready to join us, Brent? It would make us very happy, me especially.”
Brent turned away. “I had Church rammed down my throat when I was a kid.”
“We won’t ram anything into you, Brent.”
He shrugged restlessly. “I’ve got too much on my mind. It’s all right for you and the kids. Help yourselves. But count me out.” He smiled warmly. “Don’t get me wrong. I believe in things. Let’s leave it at that.”
Against her own better judgment, Elizabeth pressed him. “It’s so late, Brent. We’ve wasted so much time. It takes time, believe me, to grow into the kind of person he would have us be.”
He flung back the covers and slipped into bed. “I’m worn out. We’ll continue this discussion next Michaelmas, how about it?” He turned on his stomach. “I’ll look for a rest home in the morning.”
Elizabeth turned back to the window, snapping off the lamp on her way. The gentle darkness fell around her, hiding her face, her closed eyes, and the tense moving of her lips. Please, let there be some way to keep Grandma Anderson. She needs more than room, more than food, she needs her own around her, to be a part of living.
Elizabeth was awakened at two in the morning by the sound of moaning from Grandma Anderson’s room. She rose and ran across the hall.
“It’s my chest,” Grandma Anderson panted. “Hurts something awful … something I ate … that apple pie … too spicy.”
“Shh.” Elizabeth tried to stop the steady flow of words. She was terrified by the whiteness of Grandma Anderson’s face and the blueness of her lips and eyelids. She hurried downstairs and called the doctor, brought up warm water and soda, woke Brent.
The doctor came after an interminable wait. Elizabeth watched tensely as he listened, probed, listened again, his face calm, but his movements hurried as he pressed a needle into Grandma Anderson’s arm.
After a long time he snapped his bag shut, picked it up and motioned Elizabeth and Brent out of the room. They followed him downstairs.
“She’s a very old, little lady,” he said, bluntly, “with a heart that should have failed her a long time ago. Keep her happy, keep her mind occupied.” He looked at Elizabeth searchingly. “Right now she’s going to need nursing, careful, cheerful nursing. Nurses are rather scarce, but perhaps I can find one for you.”
“I can do it,” Elizabeth said firmly. “The children will help me. I’ll do the best job I can.”
After Brent had seen the doctor to the door he came back to stand before Elizabeth. “Call me any name you like,” he said heavily, “I’ll admit I’d fit into any of them.”
“You just didn’t understand, Brent. You just didn’t think.”
He came to her, buried his face in her hair. “Sometimes I feel that I’m a thousand miles from my base. Help me to find my way back.”
“You’ll find it, Brent. We all will, if we try hard enough.”
He tightened his grip on her. “It’s going to be rough on you. She’ll make an exacting invalid.”
“So it’s rough,” Elizabeth smiled ruefully. “I’m beginning to believe that a smooth passage isn’t always the best … Many storms make a good sailor.”
“You made that up,” he accused her.
She laughed, “Perhaps I’m going to grow old like other ladies I’ve seen and bring out my conclusions like mints out of a pocketbook.”
“Pop them into people’s minds?” He held her closer. “You’re funny and sweet, and I don’t know which is the mostest, as Donna would say.”
She rested against him for a moment, glad for his stocky strength. “I’d better run up and start working at my job.”
Grandma Anderson opened heavy eyes, the drugs were taking effect. “I knew it. The minute I laid eyes on this little room I knew I’d never get to stay. First I thought you’d send me away, like David’s wife … but I never figured on this.”
Elizabeth sat in the little rocker. ”You’re going to have this little room until you can’t stand the sight of it. It’s your room, as long as you want it. You’re part of our family like Donna is part, or Johnny, or Jennie.”
“Part of your family?” Grandma Anderson closed her eyes on a deep breath. “I haven’t felt part of a family since my husband Jim died.” Her mouth twisted. “Not that some of it isn’t my fault. I have the finest family …”
It was a long, bitter battle. There were nights when Elizabeth, sitting in the rocker in the small hours of the night, felt death, like fog, creep icily through the room.
Grandma Anderson was impatient and querulous. “I just don’t see why the doctor can’t do something for me. No doctor like Doctor Davidson in Beaver. Is it time for my medicine? I declare, if I don’t remind you every minute, you’ll up and forget.”
“It won’t be time for your medicine for another hour, try to sleep.”
“In this bed! It’s too soft one minute …. too hard the next, not enough room. Slept all my life in a double bed …” On and on it went.
Elaine was the one who became almost a right hand to Elizabeth. Elaine, who, tender and gentle, helped to bathe the wasted, frail body, who brought pretty trays to tempt Grandma Anderson’s appetite, who came in at odd hours of the night to insist that Elizabeth get sleep.
Elizabeth dared not unburden the strain and the weariness on Brent. He had lost the bid for the tract he had set his heart on building. He was morose, easily infuriated. She endured alone.
The one bright moment in the day was the hour after breakfast when Brent had gone and the children, ready for school, knelt with her in prayer. There was intensity in their petitions. They had all fallen deeply in love with Grandma Anderson. Sometimes Elizabeth read a psalm that fell like balm on all their hearts. Sometimes she read from Proverbs, and they eyed each other uneasily as the piercing truths touched a tender spot.
They began to go to Sunday school. Elizabeth found herself looking forward to Sunday mornings, to the joy that would sweep over her when she saw her children in their places, to the nostalgia when she heard her children singing the songs she had loved as a child. Sacrament services began to be a part of their lives. The children made friends easily. Elaine was soon the center of admiring boys and girls, but Elizabeth felt herself utterly alone. She missed Brent so much on these Sunday evenings that she felt he might well be in Singapore or Egypt, for the gulf between them and the pain of it.
But he would have none of it. “I don’t have the time, Elizabeth. I’m having rough going with that bid I lost and a few other things.”
“But we have enough.”
“There’s never enough. There’s always a quota to exceed or keep even with, if a man wants to get ahead.”
She fled from his pride to the childish murmurings of Donna or to the twins’ world of Indians, cowboys, and ships from outer space.