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 taken ill just before Jed’s father, a prominent brain surgeon, and his wife arrive at the farm for a visit. The young couple cannot get help, and the mother-in-law assumes the household duties and takes care of Kimmy, the baby. The hard work makes her more than ever opposed to country life, and she tries to persuade her son to go back to the city and resume his medical studies. Finally, when Margaret is able to attend to her household, the parents leave, although they had planned on a longer visit. Margaret and Jed attend a ward party, and their intimate friend Mrs. Andrews asks why the elder Lansings left the farm so soon.
Margaret knew that her friend was wise and understanding, and perhaps she might suggest some way of persuading Jed’s parents that he had chosen the work he loved and that he was contented.
Mrs. Andrews moved over on the bench. “Better sit down and tell me all about it. Maybe it will make you feel better,” she said, and Margaret knew from past experience that it was a genuine wish to help, rather than curiosity that prompted her words.
So she told Mrs. Andrews everything that was troubling her – of the letters that came twice weekly from Jed’s parents which, however, contained no reference to a return visit in the future, nor an invitation for them to visit Jed’s parents, and of Jed’s obvious disappointment over the results of his parents’ visit.
Mrs. Andrews listened carefully, and then was silent for a time after Margaret had finished speaking.
“Don’t let it worry you too much, dearie,” she finally said. “Parents often have a strong hold on their children, too strong a hold, as seems to be the case with Jed’s parents. Jed is probably torn between his love for you and Kimmy and the duty he feels he owes his parents. Didn’t you once tell me that they had lost an older boy? Perhaps that has something to do with their clinging to Jed, although I don’t see why it should,” she mused. “Be patient, my dear, and things will work out.”
Her words comforted Margaret, and seeing all her neighbors soon erased the troubles from her mind. She felt contented and happy when the deliciously cooked food had been eaten.
After ten minutes of dancing Margaret’s cheeks were pinker than they had been for some time.
“The next time Jed’s folks come to town,” Ez Owens, who ran the general store, said in his jovial manner, as he escorted Margaret back to her seat, “give us a chance to meet them. I hear they’re real nice people.”
She was still pondering Ez’s last remark when Jed came out of the kitchen minus his chief’s cap and apron, and swung her into a group of dancers that was forming on the dance floor. Everyone must be wondering, she thought, why they weren’t invited to meet the elder Lansings.
The unusual excitement of the evening completely tired Margaret out, and she asked Jed to take her home as soon as they finished the dance. As they drove along she looked at Kimmy’s form in the clear shadow of the moon, and thought how much he already resembled his Grandfather Lansing, right down to the tips of his fingers.
Suddenly her musings were interrupted by Jed.
“Kimmy already has the hands of a good surgeon,” he said.
It was amazing how often she and Jed had the same thought patterns.
“Perhaps Kimmy won’t want to be a doctor,” she reminded as gently as she could. Who could say where the destiny of a pair of hands lay without first developing the intellect that guided them?
“Yes, of course,” he assured her, “Kimmy will be free to choose his own career.” He put his hands out to cover her warm fingers.
She could see in the brightness of the night, the circle of trees that surrounded their home. It gradually emerged from the silver of the night, and took the shape of the home she loved so dearly. If one could look into the future and see the outline of one’s destiny taking shape as clearly as this house had, it might greatly simplify things, Margaret thought. But perhaps meeting the challenge of the unknown was what made life worth living, she decided.
When they reached home Jed let Margaret and the sleeping Kimmy out at the kitchen door and drove the station wagon down to the barn. She undressed Kimmy without waking him, then went into the kitchen, reveling in the warmth of the still air, glad to be home.
She took cookies from the jar, set them on a plate, and was pouring two tall glasses of cold milk when the telephone rang. The first thought that crossed her mind was that it was the telegraph office calling with a message for Mrs. Jackson, unable to reach her at her own cottage. She hoped it wasn’t bad news of her son, Dick. but she was wrong, the call was a person-to-person, and it was for Jed.
“I’m Mrs. Lansing,” she explained to the operator, completely puzzled as to who would be calling at this hour. “Perhaps your party will talk to me.”
“No, I must talk to Mr. Lansing,” the reply came back. Margaret recognized Jed’s mother’s voice, and it held an urgency that was unmistakable.
“Call back in five minutes,” she told the operator, and ran breathlessly to the barn to get Jed.
They lost no time in getting back to the house. The telephone was already ringing when they reached the kitchen.
“Hello, Mother,” Jed said. “What is it?” He listened for a matter of minutes while his mother talked, a stricken look on his face, and then said, “I’ll be down on the first train in the morning. There’s one that leaves the junction at two a.m. It may not be as bad as you think. Goodbye until I see you.”
He turned to Margaret, white-faced and visibly shaken. “Dad has injured his hand on a fishing trip. He fell on some broken glass and cut the artery and tendons. There was no competent doctor near to take care of it. They’re operating tomorrow. It could mean the end of his career as a brain surgeon,” he ended flatly.
“But they’re not sure yet,” said Margaret hopefully. “There’s still a chance that the hand can be saved?”
“Mother didn’t seem to think so – not for his own particular work, anyway. It will break his heart. He has taken such pride in his work.”
“There may still be a chance,” Margaret persisted. “Come, I’ll help you pack and drive you down to the station. Stay as long as they need you. I’ll manage here.”
“But there’s so little I can do,” he said, as he moved toward the bedroom. “I’ve failed Dad at every turn. It would make all the difference in the world to him now if I could carry on his work.”
Margaret made no reply. She had no answer. But I’ll find one, she told herself determinedly. I’m sure that Jed was right in choosing the life he loves. She followed him into the other room and opened a dresser drawer. “It’s a good thing you have plenty of clean socks,” she commented casually.
The tension left Jed’s face. “Yes,” he agreed. “You always manage to have everything right for me.”
On the drive down to the station Margaret asked, “Why must you always feel conscience stricken over having given up your medical training? You made your decision. You have to live your own life. Why torture yourself now with these doubts?”
“You knew that I had an older brother who died?” Jed replied.
“Yes, of course.”
“He had just been graduated from high school the year before his death. He was a brilliant student and intensely interested in everything pertaining to the medical profession. ‘A born doctor,’ Dad used to say proudly. And he was. It was his whole life, just as it was Dad’s.”
Jed paused and when he spoke again it was with an effort. “He and Dad were great pals. It was a man-to-man relationship, rather than father and son. They were always planning hunting and fishing trips together. The only trouble was, Dad never had time to take them. He was still a general practitioner and always busy. Then, the summer after John was graduated from high school, Dad made a special effort to get away for a trip. The two of them were off for a week of fishing and hunting. It was to have been the most glorious week they had known. Instead, it ended in tragedy.”
He gripped the wheel, and the lines in his face tightened. “There was an automobile accident. Dad was hurt, but John had a brain injury. He died before they could operate. After that Dad took up brain surgery. He felt that it might compensate in some way for the loss of his own son if he could help save other men’s sons.”
“And you were to have taken John’s place in everything,” she said gently.
“Yes,” he answered. For a moment his hand closed over hers – the work-roughened hand of a farmer.
She watched from the station until the train disappeared in the distance, then drove quickly homeward. Exhausted from the events of the long night, she slept deeply, in spite of her concern. When she awakened the sun was threading the room with shafts of gold. She could hear Mrs. Jackson already in the kitchen taking care of Kimmy’s needs.
She dressed rapidly and went into the kitchen to break the news, thankful that they both had strong backs and willing hands. With what time Jim Hawkins could spare from his own farm work, they decided they could manage to keep things going until Jed returned. The spring planting was all finished, fortunately.
The days passed swiftly, so work-filled that almost her only recreation was the daily walk down to the mailbox. Accompanied by a chattering Kimmy, she enjoyed it to the utmost. The letters from Jed were the bright spots of her days, and reports on the injured hand were awaited with hopeful anxiety.
She had learned from one of the first letters that a second operation had been performed, but there was little chance that he hand would ever regain the delicate precision and sureness that had given Dr. Lansing a reputation of fame in his chosen field.
Today, eager as Margaret was to reach the mailbox and learn the news from Jed, she forced herself to walk slowly, stopping often to satisfy Kimmy’s curiosity – first that of a bluebird singing on a fence post, then of a wild flower that grew along the edge of the lane. A child’s curiosity to learn – to know, was a wonderful thing.
Her spirits soared high at the sight of Jed’s dear, familiar handwriting, when they finally reached the end of the long lane where the mailbox stood. But there was another still more exciting letter, a letter addressed to Mrs. Jackson. It was typewritten and the printing in the left-hand corner indicated that it was from the War Department.
She prodded Kimmy on until they had covered about half the distance back to the house, and then, at once fearful and hopeful of what the letter addressed to Mrs. Jackson might contain, she picked him up and ran the rest of the distance to the house.
She half forgot her own letter in her anxiety to learn what news there was of Dick. With trembling fingers, Mrs. Jackson finally managed to open and unfold the letter. She looked at it briefly, and then handed it over. “Here, you read it,” she said.
“Your son is coming home,” Margaret told her, after summarizing the message in one quick glance.
“I can’t believe it,” Mrs. Jackson declared finally.
It wasn’t until Margaret was alone, her friend having gone down to her own little cottage, that Margaret remembered she hadn’t read her own letter as yet. She tucked Kimmy in bed for his afternoon nap, then sat down in her favorite chair in the kitchen to open the letter.
Jed’s letter was heartwarming. His father’s hand was doing quite well, and he would be home before the week was out, bringing his parents with him if they would consent to come. “They both need a chance and a rest,” the letter read, “and this time we will give them a real welcome.”