From the Relief Society Magazine, 1954-55 –
Contentment Is a Lovely Thing
By Dorothy S. Romney
The heat in the valley was oppressive this morning, and it would be much worse by midday. Margaret already felt weary. She pushed some of the breakfast dishes out of the way so that she could prop her elbows on the kitchen table and rest her forehead against the palms of her hands. It eased her dizziness and shut out the sight of the disorderly kitchen, but it didn’t make her forget that she had only four hours to get the house, herself, and the baby presentable for the arrival of her husband’s father and mother.
I wonder if it’s just that I’m scared? she thought wildly. After all, he is Jed’s father – even if he is a successful brain surgeon; and she’s Jed’s mother – even if she has money and social position.
Margaret had never met her “in-laws.” It seemed that Dr. Lansing was always too busy at the hospital to get away for the trip, and her baby’s coming had provided her with just as good a reason for not accompanying Jed on his infrequent trips to the city where his parents lived.
Although they had never come right out and said so, Margaret felt instinctively that they held her responsible for Jed’s discontinuing his medical training. In any case she was sure that they considered a country girl an unsuitable wife. Well, she’d prove to them that it had been Jed’s idea, not hers, for him to become a farmer, and that being a farmer didn’t necessarily mean giving up the finer things of life – that is, if she could get over the feeling of listlessness and get enough strength in her knees to stand up and start working.
Jed had eaten his usual hearty breakfast a couple of hours ago and gone off to the barn with a promise to be back in plenty of time to meet his parents’ train. The ticking of the clock sounded loud in the stillness of the unusually hot morning, and she noticed that it was nearly ten o’clock. Mrs. Jackson, a widow and their nearest neighbor, had promised to be here by nine to help with the last-minute preparations. Margaret simply couldn’t manage all she had to do alone.
She peeked at Kimmy who looked like an angel asleep, and hurried through the kitchen door.
She went past the orchard that separated the two places, under the trees that were already bursting with swollen pink buds, and cautiously climbed through the barbed wire fence Jed had put up to keep stray cattle out. As soon as she straightened up she could see that there was a note on the door of the Jackson cottage. It was pinned up with a safety pin, and characteristically brief: ‘My sister sent for me. She is sick. Emma Jackson.”
Margaret walked slowly back to her own house. There were so many things that needed doing, but she would just have to get busy and do them herself in double quick time, in spite of her increasing ill feeling.
As she bent to pick up the clothes-basket a sharp pain stabbed at her back. She shrugged it off and finished hanging out the clothes just as Kimmy’s first morning shouts of glee were heard.
As she lifted the sturdy little boy, the pain she had felt when she picked up the basket of clothes seared through her again. She would simply ignore it. This was no time to indulge herself, she felt. She had planned one pleasant surprise after another for every minute of Jed’s parents’ seven-day visit.
She forced herself to begin washing the breakfast dishes, keeping a wary eye on Kimmy through the nursery door adjoining the kitchen. Perhaps she was just unduly excited over meeting Jed’s parents for the first time. Still, she reasoned, excitement didn’t give you pains in the back.
By the time she had finished the dishes Margaret felt that her legs wouldn’t hold her another minute. She sank down in the old-fashioned rocking chair – the same chair her mother had sat in to rock her as a baby. She closed her eyes and longed to hear Jed’s first step outside the kitchen door. Just to have him near, she felt, would give her strength to get up and get started again. Kimmy was beginning to get fretful, and once she started to rise to go to him, then reconsidered. If she had some contagious disease she wouldn’t want to expose him to it. By this time Kimmy was really making himself heard, and she thought she couldn’t bear not to take him up another minute when the screen door to the kitchen opened and Jed came in.
“Hi,” he greeted, and then stopped short. “Margaret, what on earth is the matter with you? You look ill,” he said.
“I feel fine,” she replied, trying to put strength and cheer into her voice and failing.
Jed gave her a sharp look. “Say, you’re not letting Mother’s and Dad’s visit bother you, are you?” he asked, with sudden inspiration.
“No, of course not,” she denied. “You’d better get Kimmy, he thinks we’ve deserted him,” she added with an effort.
He went into the nursery and came back with Kimmy, who quieted down as soon as his father picked him up. Jed strapped him in his high chair and gave him a zwieback, then walked over and picked Margaret up bodily.
“I’ll just tuck you in bed and go over and get Mrs. Jackson,” he said. “You’re not fooling me one bit. My girl never gives up like this unless she’s ill.”
Margaret sank gratefully onto the comfortable bed. There was no strength left in her to protest that she should change from her neat gingham house dress into a gown or robe.
“Mrs. Jackson isn’t home. Her sister is ill,” she managed to tell Jed.
“We’ll get along,” he answered cheerfully.
Kimmy had begun to cry again as soon as his parents left the kitchen, and his shrieks had reached a new crescendo, but even these seemed far away and remote. Margaret pulled the sheet up over her. It felt cool and in the few minutes she slept.
When she awoke again she could hear Jed in the kitchen. It always amazed her how anyone as large as he was could be so deft and efficient with his hands. He would have made a wonderful surgeon, she found herself thinking. After a few moments he appeared in the doorway to the bedroom.
“I’ll have to meet the train in an hour,” Jed told her. “Kimmy is strapped in his high chair. Keep an eye on him while I go down to the barn and get the station wagon. I’ll just be a minute.”
He was gone before she could answer. No sound reached her ears until the screen door burst open and Jed rushed in.
“Can’t get the motor started,” he said excitedly. “I’d better call the Hawkins’ place and see if I can borrow Jim’s car. He’s plowing this morning and won’t be using it.”
Being a realist, Margaret knew that it was high time the station wagon did a little balking. It had been the good old standby of almost the entire community for the past three years, ever since Jed had bought it secondhand when they first were married. It had carried loads of people on picnics, Jed’s entire troop of Boy Scouts on numerous outings, and had served as a delivery truck whenever any of the neighbors had run short of supplies that were needed in a hurry.
These thoughts all flashed through her mind as she caught snatches of Jed’s telephone conversation with Liza Hawkins. “Fine, Liza, I’ll be right over to pick it up … you sure Jim won’t need it? … No, thanks, Margaret will be all right … I won’t be gone long.”
A second later Jed appeared in the doorway. “It’s all arranged,” he said, his usual happy smile back on his face. “Jim won’t be using his car today, and don’t worry, honey, while I’m gone. I won’t be more than forty-five minutes at the most. Dad will be able to fix you up in a hurry when he gets here. There’s no need to bring Dr. Miller out. Dad hasn’t always been a brain surgeon, you know. He started out the hard way as a general practitioner. It was just a few years ago that he began specializing.”
Margaret hadn’t known this, and thought it strange that Jed hadn’t mentioned it before. She must ask him how his father came to change from general practice to brain surgery, but there wasn’t time now to do anything but take care of the present crisis.
“Try to get some sleep while Kimmy and I are gone, honey, and don’t worry,” he called back cheerfully, and the last she could see of them was Kimmy struggling to turn around and wave his chubby pink fist at her, excitement and the sheer joy of living manifested by the rapid kicking of his short legs.
The window was open and the sweet scent of the first lilacs floated in as a slight breeze fanned the snowy white ruffled curtains that had been painstakingly ironed and hung up only yesterday. As Margaret watched the gently moving curtains her eyes grew weary, and she finally fell into a fitful sleep.
Sometime later when Margaret awakened, she walked over to the large window which gave a clear view of the road for miles. Margaret scanned it for an approaching car, but there was none. A south wind had sprung up, and that meant rain. Her eyes turned to the great red barn, and she saw that Jed had left the doors wide open in his hurry to get away. They were swinging in the wind. She should go down and close them; instead she hurried, still shivering, for the warmth of the bed. The bright, hot day was gone, and it was gloomy and chill.
Just as she pulled the covers that she kept folded on the end of the bed up over her, she heard the first clap of thunder, and the rain spattering down hard on the roof. Jed had taken Kimmy away in his sunsuit, and hadn’t taken a sweater along. he would be simply frozen. The storm was at its height when she finally heard the Hawkins’ car stop at the kitchen door. It wouldn’t enter Jed’s head to bring his parents in through the front door. Margaret dreaded having to meet them in her present state. She felt like pulling the coverlet up over her head, as she had done when she was a little girl and wanted to get away from anything unpleasant or terrifying.