Contentment Is a Lovely Thing
By Dorothy S. Romney
Synopsis: Margaret Lansing, whose husband Jed has become a farmer contrary to the wishes of his parents, is worried over the visit of Jed’s father, a prominent brain surgeon, and his wife, whom she had never seen. Just before their arrival Margaret is taken ill, and since the young couple find it impossible to get help, the mother-in-law assumes the care of the household and the baby Kimmy. She tries to persuade Jed to return with them to the city and resume his medical studies, and Margaret thinks that the difficult work around the farm home has made her mother-in-law more than ever opposed to country life.
When Jed came to her before he had his lunch, she knew immediately that she had been right, that his mother had worked beyond her strength, and that she was not enjoying her visit.
Jed’s voice was flat with discouragement. “Did Mrs. Jackson say when she would be back?” were his first words to her. “I think I’d better try to get her to come in and help out here,” he continued.
“I’m sorry, Jed, that I made such a mess of things,” she burst out, ignoring his question for the moment.
“I didn’t say you had made a mess of things,” he said patiently. “You couldn’t help getting sick. it’s just that Mother and Dad both needed a rest, and they’re not getting one.”
“Mrs. Jackson didn’t say when she would be back, she probably didn’t know,” Margaret answered wearily.
“I could ask Liza to come in for a day or two,” Jed said.
He left the bedroom abruptly and Margaret heard him dial a number. The house was quiet except for Jed’s low voice on the telephone.
Apparently Kimmy was taking his nap. Dr. Lansing had donned overalls, and Margaret could see him busy repairing the broken fence that Jed had forgotten to fix in his excitement over the stalled station wagon yesterday. She saw Mrs. Lansing pass the window, carrying a basket of freshly washed clothes, then return to the house again, probably having forgotten the clothespins. Her shoulders seemed to droop with fatigue.
After a short time the telephone conversation terminated, and a few minutes later Jed came into the bedroom carrying a luncheon tray.
“I invited the Hawkins family over this afternoon to meet Mother and Dad,” he announced, setting the ray down on the bedside table.
“You invited the Hawkins family over here!” Margaret said incredulously, “with me unable to get up and prepare refreshments … or anything.”
“En masse,” he answered blithely.
Margaret couldn’t believe her ears. A few moments ago Jed had been in the depths of despair because of the load of work that had been put on his parents on their first visit to the farm. The visit that she hoped would be a delightful vacation for them, and now Jed was deliberately inviting a houseful of guests.
“I thought you called Liza to ask her to come in and help out here. Instead, someone will have to get busy and prepare refreshments, and we certainly can’t ask your mother to do it,” Margaret said, more than a little piqued.
Then she gave Jed a long, searching look, and there was no mistaking the outward signs. “Jed Lansing, you’re up to something,” she said.
“Well,” he confessed, “when Liza told me she was making a freezer of ice cream and baking cookies, and that she would invite us over if you weren’t ill, I sort of got the idea that it would be a good time to ask the Hawkins to meet the elder Lansings, and …”
“Jed, you didn’t?” Margaret interrupted, knowing full well that he had – that he had invited Liza to bring her family over with the stipulation that she furnish her own refreshments.
“Not exactly,” Jed countered, knowing just what Margaret meant. “Liza said she’d like to meet Mother and Dad … and, well, we sort of worked it out together. Liza is bringing the ice cream and cookies with her.”
“But Jed! The Hawkinses of all people! I know they’re good-hearted and all that …”
“The salt of the earth,” declared Jed firmly.
“But they’re almost the last people in town I’d think of inviting over to meet your folks. They’re just – well, diamonds in the rough. If Liza had any sense of the proper amenities she wouldn’t have offered to come over here when I’m ill.”
“I’m not sure of the meaning of your five-dollar word,” replied Jed cheerfully, “but I do know that they’re coming. And don’t take it so hard. I’ll bet that Mother and Dad will love them, the same as we do.”
“Jed – please call and ask them to postpone it for just a day or two,” she pleaded.
“I can’t. The ice cream is already made. Be a good girl and maybe I’ll bring you some.” With that he punched her pillow and strode from the room.
Maybe they’ll be awed by Jed’s folks and Liza will let someone else do part of the talking, thought Margaret hopefully. Maybe Jim will wear his teeth. Maybe Ellie and Nina will have something else to do and stay home. Maybe – oh, it was no use! She groaned and buried her face in the pillow. Nothing ever yet bothered any of the Hawkinses and nothing ever would.
She heard them the moment they arrived. Liza’s loud voice, friendly, brimming over with love for her fellow men – but loud just the same. Jim’s muffled tones – he hadn’t worn his teeth – and the two girls’ giggly comments.
She was grateful that she couldn’t hear the details of the conversation, but one look at Jed’s face, when he brought in the promised ice cream, told her that the afternoon had not been a success.
When Mrs. Lansing came in later to ask what she would like for supper, Margaret replied, “Oh, just a bowl of soup, please. There is plenty on the supply shelf. Maybe that would do for everyone. You must be completely worn out.”
“It has been rather a tiring day,” assented Mrs. Lansing.
The next morning Margaret was wracking her brains to try and think of someone who might be persuaded to come over and help with the housework, when she heard a sharp scream, followed by sounds of confusion both inside and out of the house.
She threw back the covers and stood wobbly upon her feet. She gripped the end of the bed and was reaching for her robe when Jed came in. Without a word he pushed her back into the bed and pulled up the covers.
“What is it?” she asked breathless. “What on earth happened?”
“Mother was outside watching Kimmy, and Mrs. Jackson’s pigs came rushing through the fence – yes, the one Dad was working on – and they made Mother trip and fall.”
“Oh, how awful!” cried Margaret, “Is she hurt? Of course the pigs are hungry. We’ve forgotten to feed them since Mrs. Jackson left. Jed, we simply must get some help. Start with the A’s and go through the phone book. Tell them it’s just for a day or two. I can surely get up tomorrow.”
“I’ll try,” he agreed. “Mother is just shaken up, but I’m getting desperate.”
Margaret heard him calling on the telephone and later talking with his father on the front porch. He must have been successful in getting someone. She could probably get up tomorrow, and they could go ahead with their plans for entertainment. After all, there were still five days left of the scheduled visit.
She started making plans for the garden party she would have. She would invite everybody in the ward and when the Lansings learned what really fine people they were, they couldn’t help being completely won over. She had just finished making arrangements with the weather man for a clear, moon-bright night for the affair, when Jed came in from the porch.
“Margaret,” he began with an air of apology, “I hope you won’t mind too much. Mother feels as if she might be getting the flu unless she rests, and she doesn’t want to stay here and be a burden on you, so she and Dad are leaving in the morning, since you will be able to be up. Dad can do some fishing while Mother rests.”
“You mean they’re not staying the week out?” she asked, blankly.
“I’m afraid that’s right.”
The note of finality in his tone struck her with the impact of a physical blow. They had come to the farm for a restful vacation and to get acquainted with her and Kimmy. Instead they had found nothing but hard work.
There was a grayness beginning beyond the windows, and a distant roll of thunder. An approaching storm always meant hurried preparations. Jed rushed out to make ready for the second storm of the short spring season.
A complete sense of failure closed in on Margaret. The heavy clouds that she could see through the window suited her mood exactly. She would weep with them. But would there be a rainbow? She doubted it. Anyway, she would be back on her own two feet tomorrow.
Summer’s beginning was always a time of joy in the valley. The very air seemed to be filled with a friendly content, the earth’s reawakening showing in the fresh green of the fields and gardens, in the gloriously delicate blossoms that festooned the orchards, giving promise of a bountiful harvest. Jed and Margaret had always found new happiness each spring in the awareness of nature’s fulfillment.
But this spring, with her strength returning slowly, Margaret’s spirits felt no soaring. Mrs. Jackson had come back from her sister’s, and Margaret welcomed her kind solicitousness.
This morning, Mrs. Jackson had insisted on doing the heavier duties in the kitchen, while Margaret managed the lighter work, at the same time trailing around after Kimmy, keeping him out of mischief.
She finished tidying up the bedroom and steered Kimmy’s pattering feet into the kitchen just in time to meet Jed as he came in from the barn to eat his lunch.
“Hi, honey,” he greeted. He picked Kimmy up and swung him up on his shoulder, then asked, “Is everybody all set for the ward supper tonight?”
“All set,” Margaret answered. “Smell those delicious pies Mrs. Jackson just finished baking.”
The pies Mrs. Jackson had baked to take to the ward supper were set in a row on the kitchen table, still steaming hot from the oven.
This would be Margaret’s first time out since her illness, and as practically everyone in the community always attended these affairs, she was looking forward to greeting friends she had not seen for many weeks. Tonight’s supper had been planned to raise funds toward building a new chapel. Jed was chairman and he wanted it to be a big success. He had been so busy and happy the past few weeks that Margaret hoped it meant a return to their old feeling of contentment. She knew that since his parents’ brief visit and their sudden departure, he had begun to feel again that he was neglecting his duty toward them.
Margaret had prepared a single sandwich for Jed’s lunch, and poured a glass of the rich, cold milk that was his favorite beverage, and set it on the breadboard so as not to disturb the cooling pies.
“What gave you the idea that I had lost my appetite, lady?” Jed asked, when he saw the sparse lunch set out for him.
“We’re all saving our appetites for tonight,” she explained.
‘Hmm … just like that,” he said.
Just then Mrs. Jackson came out of the pantry, a twinkle in her eye, and a berry pie, smaller than the other pies, but smelling every bit as delicious, in her hand.
“All for you,” she declared, setting the pie down in front of Jed. “I knew Margaret would try to starve you today.”
At exactly five o’clock the pies were packed into a container and loaded into the back seat of the station wagon, along with the paper plates, napkins, and silverware Margaret had been asked to furnish. Jed, Margaret, Mrs. Jackson, holding a radiant Kimmy on her lap, crowded noisily into the front seat of the old car.
They were among the first to reach the church. Liza and Jim were already there, with their three sturdy little boys, and Liza’s mother, Mrs. Andrews, a sweet old lady, and one of Margaret’s best friends. Mrs. Andrews had been a semi-invalid for as many years as Margaret could remember. She took a friendly interest in everything that went on in the community, and was always ready to give advice and counsel whenever she could.
As Margaret had had strict orders from both Jed and Mrs. Jackson to keep away from the heat of the kitchen, she sat down to chat with Sister Andrews, glad of a chance to catch up on the local news, while the two of them kept an eye on Kimmy and the ambitious Hawkins youngsters.
Mrs. Andrews’ first words to Margaret were, “I guess there’s no point in beating around the bush. Jed’s folks left in kind of a hurry, didn’t they?”
“Yes, Dr. Lansing had to get back,” Margaret answered, and felt her color rise with the half-truth she had spoken. It was foolish not to tell Mrs. Andrews of the difficulties that had arisen, and of Jed’s parents’ obvious disappointment in the life he had chosen.