From the Relief Society Magazine, January 1951 –
“But Covet Earnestly”
By Mirla Greenwood Thayne
Monday dawned blue for Marcia, blue as indigo, though the sky was cloudless, and the sun rose triumphantly over the rain-drenched hills. Marcia had said that Monday need never be blue. Synonymous with the first day of creation, each Monday to Marcia meant a new beginning. She invariably arose early and by the time old Sol made his singular appearance her washing was usually well underway. She rather liked the clean smell of suds against duds, and the rhythmic swish of the swirling dolly often set her to singing.
This morning there was no sun in Marcia’s heart. Her throat was too tight for singing. She worked mechanically, her lips drawn into a thin line.
“Whatsa’ matter, Mommy?” Young Stephen followed her from the kitchen to the screen porch, his brown eyes registering concern. “Is you tired, Mommy?”
“Yes, Stephen, a little tired,” Marcia answered petulantly. She brushed a damp hand across her eyes and turned her head quickly to hide the signs of a deluge that she knew were beginning to appear.
“Run in the front room, Stephie, pick up the Sunday paper for Mother, hustle now!” She gathered up a basket of clothes and hurried to the line.
Other Mondays Stephen had followed her there. They had chatted joyously together about the flowers, the tiny red-winged humming birds that nested in Marcia’s dianthus. Stephen had handed her the pins while her deft fingers secured a panorama of clothes to the line. This morning she could not bear his questioning, so she was relieved to hear the story hour coming over the morning broadcast. Stephen would be lost in fairyland for a while.
Not many Mondays ago she had found joy in so many little things; the cool grass beneath her sandaled feet; the flowers that were yielding to her own nurturing; neatly folded linens that seemed to retain their share of the subtle sachet of growing things. Then, at the close of day, there was the satisfaction of work well done and, as she relaxed her strength to the coolness of fresh sheets, she imagined she realized, in part, how God must have felt when he viewed his labor of the first day and saw that it was good.
But something had happened to Marcia lately. The children annoyed her. The little house smothered her. Stephen was right, she was tired; tired of crowding a million thankless tasks into a single day. She was tired of the endless mole hills that kept her from scanning the mountains of her dreams. Lately her thoughts had been taking detours into the past.
“Things could have been different for you, Marcia,” her conscience chided. “You were not meant to wear the shoes of a Biblical Martha. If you had married Brad Stanley, things would have been quite different.”
True, Doc Stanley had appreciated her abilities. He still did. Last week she had met him quite by chance. He had seemed pleased to see her.
“Are you still writing, Marcia?” he had inquired.
Marcia’s negative answer had brought exclamations of regret.
“Marcia,” he had said, “you are not being true to yourself. Your talent is you, Marcia.”
Now, as she folded soft towels, Marcia remembered that somewhere in the scriptures a penalty was prescribed for procrastination such as hers. She couldn’t recall just what it was. Perhaps she should have followed Miss Holten’s advice and considered her career first.
“Marcia, you have an unusual talent,” Miss Holten had said. “Keep writing. The time will come when you will enjoy real success,” and the elderly teacher had returned the manuscript that she had just finished reading to the English class.
Marcia had often noticed a look of loneliness foreshadowing the face of the gray-haired teacher.
“I shall keep writing,” Marcia had told herself, “but please God let me live first.”
The next time they met Marcia showed Miss Holten a small diamond on her engagement finger.
“I’m disappointed in you, Marcia,” Miss Holten had said. “What about your talent?”
“Oh, but I shall write, too,” Marcia had said, and she was sure then that she spoke the truth.
It had all seemed so right then. She and Jim had little in the way of worldly possessions, but they had young strength and the faith of the untried. They had bought the little house on Lake Street, not because it suited their needs, but because it was within their means.
“It’s small now, Honey, but we’ll make it grow with us,” Jim had said.
However, the little house had grown only smaller as its contents increased.
Each baby contributed its share of happiness. Marcia had loved the little tasks of preparation, tiny embroidery on soft flaxen garments, the poignantly clean smell of cedar from the little chest Jim had made especially for her baby things; the morning ritual of bathing her babies, their tiny bodies warm against her own. This was real creation. Marcia had been happy then, and at times so full of the sweetness of living that she would find release for her emotions through the written word, and when time refused to allow for their completion, the unfinished manuscripts found their way into a little drawer in the old mahogany desk.
This little drawer, with its disheveled heap of papers, was partly responsible for Marcia’s present frustration. She had labeled it “Tomorrow,” and its deserted contents waited on for a tomorrow that just didn’t come. Lately it had tugged at Marcia and appeared as forlorn as a neglected child.
Yesterday’s experiences had added another unfinished poem to the little drawer. It had also added fuel to the fire of Marcia’s discontent. Jim had come in from Sunday school, followed by Stephen and Brent.
“Want to go for a ride, Momsey?” Jim had inquired. “There’s something on East Drive that you must see!”
So they had all clambered into the little car, with Jim in the driver’s seat, Stephen perched on his knee, ready to match miniature man hands with his father’s at the wheel.
The road stretched before them like a silver ribbon. Newly budded trees were variegated green lace against the sky.
Jim swerved the car eastward and brought it to a sudden stop. There it was! Iris on tall stems, a field of them, orchid, yellow, royal purple, a fusion of many colors, all washed by rain!
“Flowers!” cried Stephen, clapping chubby brown hands. “Flowers, Mommy, more ’n forty of ’em.”
Marcia was silent. Carelessly spoken words could not justly describe the sudden beauty.
They are like real orchids, bathed in rainbow mist, she thought.
April was being temperamental. She banished clouds enough to make way for a sudden shaft of sunlight. A rainbow arched across the sky.
A radiant trellis, an ethereal line, Marcia visioned. No wonder the makers of myths called the rainbow their roadway to Valhalla.
Her meditation was interrupted by the approach of Eric, the tall, lean keeper of the Lawn Dell Iris Farm.
“You like flowers?” he asked Marcia.
“They are beautiful,” she responded almost reverently.
Proudly Eric pointed out his most prized species, while Stephen listened in wide-eyed wonder.
“I crossed this White Goddess with the Golden Eagle variety,” Eric said, handing a hybrid bloom to Marcia. “See the bright yellow of the father plant blended with the delicacy of the mother.” He plucked another iris. “This orchid bloom resulted from crossing the Great Lakes species with the Angeles pink.”
“Mommy,” Stephen broke in, “do flowers have mommies and daddies, too?”
“Yes, Stephen, all living things have fathers and mothers.”
Stephen’s wide eyes searched the garden as if he expected the lithe flowers to adopt human forms.
“Come here, Sonny.” The gentle caretaker had drawn Stephen to his side and, taking stamen and pollen from the delicate blooms, he explained to the curious child the miracle of the flowers.
On the way home Marcia remained silent, trying to hold fast to the words that had come to her in the garden. The loss of a single simile would be abortive to this conception of beauty that was hers.
Back in the confines of her own little room, she wrote swiftly, confidently. Here was one word picture that would not go into the dresser unfinished – she hoped.
“I’m hungry, Mom,” young Brent boomed into the kitchen. “When do we eat?”
Marcia’s throat tightened. She tried not to hear.
“I’m hungry, Mommy,” Stephen echoed. “When do we eat?”
Marcia walked into the kitchen. She might as well care for their needs now.
“You don’t know what hunger is,” she told them, trying to keep the bitterness out of her voice. Didn’t the male of the species ever consider anything but his stomach?
“But, Mommy, a man gets hungry often and we ate ’bout forty hours ago.” Forty had been Stephen’s pet number ever since Marcia had told him the story of Ali Baba.
“Of course you are hungry, Son.” Marcia looked at the clock. True, Stephen had exaggerated but it was past supper time.
Their hunger appeased, the children went back to their play. Marcia resumed her writing.
She was suddenly brought to reality by Connie’s tremulously young voice. Marcia’s frustration mounted. The door opened gently.
“Hi, Mother! Busy? I have a problem. Let’s just talk for a few minutes, Momsey?” Connie sat on the edge of the desk, her slim legs dangling. “Shall I ask Ken to go to Cynthia’s party with me tomorrow night? Jean is going to take Hal. What do you think of Ken, Mother?” Connie talked on and on.
Marcia anchored her attention to the problem of the hour and counseled her daughter lovingly.
“You are sweet, Moms,” Connie said, as she planted a breathlessly soft kiss on Marcia’s cheek and flitted from the room on butterfly wings.
Just fourteen, thought Marcia, a living poem of fourteen years, but surely not a sonnet, just a sweet simple lyric.
The old-fashioned clock struck seven. Where had the day gone? Time seemed to deliberately evade her.
“Tim for church!” Jim’s big voice boomed through the little house. “Come on, kids, let’s get ready.”
Marcia heard the back door slam, and she knew that Brent had answered the summons. She heard Stephen calling for the towel.
“Ready, Mother?” Jim queried.
Marcia stepped to the door. “I believe I won’t go tonight, Jim,” she said, hesitantly, knowing full well the outcome of such a suggestion.
“I don’t want to go tonight, either,” said Brent, and Stephen made a beeline for the back door to resume his play.
“Oh, let’s all go,” Marcia had said, as she gathered her little brood around her. “Church is our place on Sunday night.”
When, after church, Bishop Callister approached Marcia and asked her to accept the position of president of the Relief Society, she felt that she had reached the acme of her defeat.
Her first impulse was to say no.
“I am sure the Lord will bless you, Marcia,” the Bishop said. “He’ll make you equal to this calling.”
Marcia wanted to tell the bishop that he was asking too much, that she had other plans, but all she could do was to answer simply, “I’ll let you know. I must think it over.”
And she had thought it over, and over, and over, while walking home, while reading Stephen his bedtime story and when, after hours of thinking, she finally gave herself up to Morpheus, it was to restless dreaming of long hours of welfare work, of planning and organizing, of visits to the sick.
A far-flung deviation from iris and rainbow mist, she thought.
By bedtime Monday, Marcia had made up her mind. Her answer was going to be an emphatic “No.” There were others who could devote their time to the Church. From now on she was going to be unselfish to herself alone, while she pursued her ambitions.
She would begin this minute. She drew the little drawer from its place and set it on the front room floor. Seating herself beside it, she began exploring its contents.
There was a feeble knock at the door. Marcia looked up, to see the pallid features of her neighbor Nedra Coan.
Oh, no, Marcia said to herself, not her again. She was in no mood to hear her distraught neighbor tonight. Night after night she had listened to the same agonizing story. She had wanted to help, but Nedra had refused to be comforted.
Marcia opened the door. Nedra was twisting nervously at the print apron that hung from her waist.
“I’m glad you’re home, Marcia.” Nedra’s swollen eyes searched Marcia’s pleadingly. “I must talk to someone. Oh, Marcia, what can I do?” The words ended in a sob.
“Nedra, Nedra, get hold of yourself.” Marcia put her arm around her troubled neighbor.
“Marcia,” Nedra sobbed, “will you walk with me? I can’t sleep. All night I think of Bob. He was alone, Marcia. He died all alone out there. He needed me, and I was not with him. He had so much faith, too, Marcia. Before he left he said to me, ‘Mother, keep praying that I shall never be forced to kill.’ He was all that I had, Marcia. Why did God take him from me? How could he, if – if there is a God?” Heartbreak, fear, and disillusionment combined in agonized weeping.
“Nedra, oh, Nedra,” was all that Marcia could say. Of what use were words and the gift to use them if they failed you at a time like this?
Nedra continued, “When he came home from the last war I thanked God every day of my life. I had given one son to the cause, but I still felt that God was good. He had given back one of my boys. Then they took him again, and I kept saying, ‘He’ll come back. God will take care of him. He did before. He will again.’ But now he’s gone and something has happened to me. I can’t pray anyone, Marcia. I can’t be sure that God lives. Oh, Marcia!”
Marcia’s arm tightened around her neighbor. She wanted so much to give Nedra of her strength.
The two women walked along the moonlit path. The air was still; silver shafts of light interspersed the shadows of the lilac trees that bordered the walk. Nedra’s sobs continued. Marcia prayed secretly again. She must do something to relieve this burdened soul. “Please, God, give me words,” she prayed.
From somewhere out of the still night, words came to Marcia.
“Nedra, dear, death is not dreadful. People have seen beyond the veil and they all say that if we knew the sweetness of death we wouldn’t care to live. I wish you had been to church last night. Brother Clayton gave a wonderful talk. He said that God has promised us that the righteous of our loved one who die, die in Christ and do not really taste of death, but death will be sweet to them. From the Book of Mormon he read a promise that God gave to those who die for their country. The promise is that they shall find happiness in death. From Alma he read that God allows the righteous to be killed to bring judgment upon the wicked. God says we needn’t suppose that the righteous are lost when they die in the war, because they go to their Father in heaven. Nedra, I believe that angels minister to the wants of those boys whose loved ones are praying for them, just as they ministered to Nephi and to Daniel of old. Bob did not die alone, Nedra.”
Marcia talked on into the night.
Nedra’s sobs had ceased, and a serenity seemed to prevail over the women as they walked arm in arm through the stillness.
“Now is the time we all need God and his gospel, Nedra. Promise me, you will never doubt again.”
“Thanks, Marcia,” Nedra said. “I promise.”
Marcia walked slowly back to the house. It was late. Jim and the children were asleep. The little drawer was still on the floor where she had left it. She knelt down beside it and began to explore its contents, reading a line here, a verse there. Somehow, tonight, the little unfinished manuscripts seemed for the most part quite shallow and immature. She wondered how she could have imagined that they were good. She must live much, much more, if she would write. Everything that she had ever written was an outgrowth of her own experience – and for a moment she had thought to shut herself off from the main source of her inspiration.
Tonight she had learned the need of a greater gift, so she prayed; not for her selfish ambitions, but for her grief-stricken neighbor, and for other mothers who must walk the “way of Calvary.” Only once did she pray for herself, and the words of this prayer she wrote and placed above the little desk where she could see them each day.
Give me this gift, an understanding heart.
Of all life’s gifts – this is the master art –
The power to comfort those who pass my way.
Give me the strength to do – the words to say.
Now Marcia was sure that she understood the words of one of Tarsus, that man of letters whose deep discriminating spirituality enabled him to always put first things first.
“But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity … it profiteth me nothing … Charity never faileth.”