From the Relief Society Magazine, March 1963 –
Kabobs for Stevie
By Mabel Harmer
“Mother, will you measure this skirt so that I can wear it tomorrow?” Pam held up a flowered skirt, which to Elaine’s harassed eyes seemed to be at least twenty yards around.
“I’ll try,” she agreed. “If any two of you four could manage to get in for lunch at the same time it would leave me a few minutes for other tasks. Vacation is definitely not for mothers.”
She glanced out of the window as she heard the car stop in the driveway. Ordinarily Bert didn’t come home to lunch, but, of course, he would today when she was especially busy. Her mild irritation gave way to pleasure when she noticed that he was carrying a florist’s box.
“It’s sweet of you to bring me flowers, dear,” she greeted him. “But won’t it look a bit presumptuous for me to wear a corsage before I’m elected?”
“Elected?” he repeated, puzzled. “Elected to what?”
“President of the Women’s Civic League, of course. The meeting is tonight. Isn’t that what …?”
Bert shrugged slightly. “No, it isn’t. Tonight is the company dinner when I get my fifteen-year pin. I thought maybe you’d remember. But it isn’t important.”
“Of course it’s important,” said Elaine quickly. “I’ll skip the meeting. The committee will understand.”
“You’ll do no such thing,” protested Bert. “It isn’t as if I was getting a fifty-year pin, or even a twenty-five. It isn’t such a feat to have been with Fields for fifteen years.”
“I’ll go to the dinner, and there’ll be no more argument about it,” said Elaine decisively. It was on the tip of her tongue to add that this was the first real recognition he had ever received, but she caught herself in time.
The minute he had gone back to work she called Annette Shivers, chairman of the nominating committee. “I’m terribly sorry,” she said, “but we’ve had a mix-up on dates. Bert is getting an award at the company dinner, and of course I have to be there.”
“Oh, dear! that’s too bad,” lamented Annette. “That pushy Nora Macklin will have the edge, if you’re not there. She’s been president of everything in town now except the dog-catchers association. Isn’t there any way you can make it?”
“None whatever. I can’t let Bert down. And it isn’t as if this job were a matter of life and death, you know. I’m errand girl for three or four others. I’ll manage to keep busy.”
“I know. But you’d be so good for this one. We were counting on you. Maybe we can put it over anyway.”
Elaine sat thinking for a moment after putting down the phone. It was true that she didn’t particularly want the presidency. Why is it, she wondered, that I manage to get into so many jobs, the symphony board, the Red Cross Blood Bank, and the United Fund, besides my Church calling as social science class leader in Relief Society? Five minutes with any fast talker and I’m done for. “You’d be so good at it,” was the usual line. “And we need you.” That last was usually the clincher.
She went up to the closet and took out her old blue lace formal. Was there anything she could do to make it look different? Not at this late date. Maybe next time she could dye it black or get a different color slip. After all, it was only three years old. Anyway, there was no need thinking of a new one. Not with Joyce determined to take dancing lessons and Kerry’s teeth to be straightened.
It’s too bad there isn’t a salary attached to being on boards and drives, she couldn’t help thinking. If I were half as smart as some folks say I am, I’d get a paying job of some kind. It shouldn’t be so hard now that Stevie is in school full time.
She opened the drawer where she kept her artificial flowers, then remembered the corsage. It was the first one that Bert had given her for ages. The affair must mean a lot to him. She must make the most of it.
She glanced at the clock. Almost two. Ann Griffen would be here at any minute to call for her to do their visiting teaching, and after that she had promised to turn in her report on the United Fund. She couldn’t possibly do Pam’s skirt. She’d give Jen a ring.
“Of course I’ll do it,” said her sister-in-law agreeable. “Pam must have everything she can to keep up with the other girls.”
Elaine resented the mild inference that Pam was being neglected, but this was no time to make an issue of it. It was probably true that the girls didn’t have everything they wanted, but they had never gone without anything really important. It was going to take more money right along now, however. Joyce wasn’t going to be satisfied with Pam’s hand-me-downs after she started junior high next year. If only Bert were a bit more aggressive! He was so wonderful in every other way.
As she and Ann left the house, Elaine suggested, “Now, we mustn’t let Sister Rogers keep us very long this afternoon. Remember we have six other visits to make.”
“I know,” Ann agreed. “But she doesn’t get out much, and she does enjoy talking with us so much – with you, anyway. She says that you are so clever and do so many interesting things.”
Elaine smiled. “Right now I have to interest myself in making these visits and turning in my United Fund report so that I can get home before the boys do. They’re down at the playground swimming, and they’ll be completely hollow by the time they reach the refrigerator.”
Yet she barely made it back in time to greet them.
“We don’t want much to eat,” was Stevie’s surprising statement. “We’re going over to Timmie’s. It’s his birthday and his mother is making kabobs.”
“Do you eat them or wear them?” asked Elaine with an amused smile.
“Eat them, of course,” he replied scornfully. “I’ll show you how to make them some day.”
It was easily seen that her stature as a mother would improve greatly once she had learned to make kabobs.
“Then I can go easy on dinner, I suppose. That will be nice, since I am going out with Dad.”
The girls promptly made plans to eat with Aunt Jen. “As long as I’m going over anyway to have her help with my skirt,” said Pam, “and she’s always tickled to have us.”
Elaine felt something of a pang that they all left so cheerfully. Was it as if she had somehow failed them? And yet, why should she? It wasn’t as if she were walking out on them for her own pleasure. After all, she was going out with their father to something that was important to him. And what if Timmie’s mother did make swell kabobs? Had she ever been responsible for one single donation to the Red Cross Blood Bank? Those were the values that counted in the long run. At least, Elaine hoped that they were.
Bert’s eyes lighted up when they were ready to go. “You look gorgeous,” he said. “Those pink roses were the right color, weren’t they?”
“Perfect,” she agreed.
Her dress could be three years old or ten, Bert wouldn’t know or care. She would still look gorgeous to him.
There were about 300 people at the dinner, including the mayor and a number of other dignitaries. While they were waiting on the mezzanine floor, Radcliffe Hardin, the chairman of the United Fund drive came over. “I see that you got your report in. Congratulations on a magnificent job. I don’t know what we would have done without you.”
“Yes, indeed,” Mrs. Hardin chimed in. “A dozen times I’ve heard Rad say, ‘Mrs. Rogers will take care of that.’ I think it’s the limit the way men turn over all the work to us and take all the glory. Don’t you?”
Elaine smiled. “The absolute limit.”
It was nice to have appreciation, but to be singled out for it was the last thing she wanted at the moment. This was Bert’s night, and she wanted only to be in the background. It was becoming less likely every minute.
Hardin called to Roy Lambert, the mayor. “You know Mrs. Rogers, of course. She has been my right hand in the United Fund drive. And Mr. Rogers,” he added as an obvious afterthought. “I just thought you’d like to know where you can turn when you need funds for a new fire engine or to get elected, or something.”
“Thanks, I’ll remember,” answered the mayor with a chuckle.
With relief, Elaine saw the crowd moving across the mezzanine towards the dining room. She gave Bert a sidelong glance to see if had minded. There was nothing in his expression to indicate that he had. On the other hand, he hadn’t started shouting any hoorahs.
The tables were each set for eight, and they found a place with the Armstrongs who worked in the same department with Bert. Rowena Armstrong had been one of her lieutenants in the drive, and it was only natural that she would bring it up again.
“Aren’t you exhausted, darling?” she cried. “I am, and I suppose my work wasn’t a tenth as heavy as yours. But it does give one a wonderful feeling of satisfaction to know that it was so successful, doesn’t it? Everyone thinks you did a terrific job.”
“Thanks. I’m glad it ended before tonight. I want to enjoy this dinner.” She tried to say it with an air of also ending the discussion and helped by asking Don about his fishing, a subject on which he could talk for hours.
The dinner was superb, and Elaine was enjoying herself thoroughly. Later, when the awards were made, she couldn’t help feeling a bit deflated. Bert stood with eight others to receive the fifteen-year pins. There was a round of applause for the group. Then the other awards were made.
“Only another dozen years and I can get one of those diamonds that go in the twenty-five-year pin,” remarked Dan cheerfully. “Only I hope that I have to travel here to get it. If I can’t swing a branch managership by that time, I’ll get out and sell brushes.”
“I hear there’s going to be an opening in Morriston,” said Rowena. “I believe that Dan could get it, if he’d just go after it.”
“You don’t ask for manager’s desks, Pet,” he observed. “You work your nails to the quick and hope that you’ll be selected.”
On the way home Elaine asked, “Do you think that Dan has a chance to get the managership at Morriston?”
“A pretty good chance. He’s capable, but he shoots off his mouth too much. He’s a go-getter, though, and Fields knows it.”
Elaine sighed inwardly. Dan had been at Fields two years less than Bert. By rights it should be he who was in line for promotion. But did anyone ever speak of him as a “go-getter”? Was it only wives who realized what depths there were to still waters?
When Annette called the next morning to tell Elaine that she had lost out on the presidency, she was only mildly disappointed. “Never mind,” she said lightly. “I’ll scout around and see if I can’t find something else to do with just as much work.”
She had to wait only a few hours. She was planning a picnic for the family when a call came from Radcliffe Hardin’s office. “Could you possibly drop down for half an hour on some very important business?” he asked.
Elaine replied that she would. She had hoped that the Fund work was all over. Anyway she’d get most of the lunch ready before she left. Then the picnic could go on as planned even if she were delayed. Too many things had interfered with family outings of late. This one simply must go on.
At Mr. Hardin’s office she cooled her heels in the reception room with very poor grace for more than twenty minutes. When she was finally shown in she was surprised to see two other men also there.
“I’m awfully sorry to have kept you waiting,” Hardin apologized. “There were a few details we had to straighten out. And, by the way, this has nothing to do with the Fund. This time it’s politics.”
“Politics!” repeated Elaine, wide-eyed.
“That’s it. Parley Maitland here is our state chairman. I thought you had met. And Chet Warner is national committeeman.”
Elaine acknowledged the introductions.
“Well, to get down to brass tacks, we’ve been looking the field over here for a strong contender for the State senate from our district. We want someone with proved ability who can pull the vote of the women. After searching the field, we feel that we have hit on exactly the ideal candidate. Mrs. Rogers, we would like you to run.”
“Me!” cried Elaine aghast. “Why, I don’t know the first thing about politics.”
“In some ways that’s an advantage. You don’t have any political enemies. You’ve been interested in schools. A lot of help is needed there.”
“I’d have to think it over,” she said weakly. “And consult my husband, of course.”
“Of course,” he agreed. “We don’t want to rush you, but time is getting short. Since you aren’t particularly well known in the political arena it will take some time to build you up – make you known.”
“Yes. I understand.” She said goodbye and left.
In spite of her rush to get home to finish preparations for the picnic, she walked back. The whole idea was almost overwhelming. It wasn’t only the honor. It was a chance to be of real service. Most of all, here was a chance at last to make some money. She knew that the pay wasn’t high, but it was something. And there were so many mounting needs for extra income. She would have to arrange for some help in the house. Now, if only Bert would consent.
There was little question of that. She couldn’t remember when he had ever opposed her on any matter that was very big. And he was just as proud of her accomplishments as if he were personally responsible for every one.
When she reached the house she went about making final preparations with feverish energy. She had the box almost packed when Stevie came in. “What are we going to have, Mummie?” he asked.
“I thought we’d fry ’burgers. Would you like that?”
“Yeah, I reckon,” he admitted. “but kabobs are better.”
“I’m sorry, but I’m afraid we’ll have to make out with what I have here for today.”
The picnic turned out to be a great success with everyone, including Stevie, consuming generous amounts of ’burgers and trimmings.
Elaine waited that night until the children were in bed to break the news. “The most outlandish thing happened today,” she said. “Radcliffe Hardin called me down to his office. A couple of others were there. You’ll never guess what they wanted!”
“Hm, that’s an easy one. They wanted you to take a job.”
“Well, it was hardly that. They want me to run for an office this fall. For the State senate, of all things. Did you ever hear of anything so wild?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Did you accept?”
“Without consulting you! Of course not.” There was a long pause. Then she asked, “Well, what do you think about it?”
“It’s entirely up to you,” he replied, almost too casually. “I daresay you’d have lots of fun. I notice the legislature gets invited out to meals pretty regularly. If they ask me, too, we’ll save on the board bill. I guess we can’t expect them to include the kids.”
“Bert – please be serious. The nominating convention is only a few weeks away. I have to give them my answer tomorrow.”
“Then go ahead with my blessing – if it’s what you want.”
“I wish I knew if it was what you want,” she said wistfully.
He kissed her lightly. “I want you to be utterly and completely happy. If this will help – then take it on.”
“Thanks. I believe I will,” she said, excitement creeping into her voice. As she dropped off to sleep she thought, I wonder how many women there are in the legislature. That must be terribly thrilling.
She gave an affirmative answer to Hardin the next day, and shortly afterward was announced as a candidate. At once exciting things began to happen. There were messages of congratulations. There were invitations to speak. Free tickets began to arrive. Two different people called to “get a word in early about a hoped for bill.”
The convention was only about a week away, and they were at the annual company outing when Dan Armstrong remarked casually, “I’m sorry that Bert turned down the job at Lincoln. I think it would have turned out to be a good thing in the long run. Of course there’d have been a dry spell while he was building the business up, but he’d have made good.”
Elaine murmured something noncommital and tried to look as if she knew what he was talking about. She could hardly wait to get home to ask, “What’s this about an offer at Lincoln?”
“Oh, it’s a new company starting up. They offered me the managership of the store.”
“And you turned it down?”
“Well, what else could I do? I’d have to take less pay than I’m getting now, and we just barely manage as it is. You can’t very well leave here now that you’re involved in this political thing. Anyway, I’m not sure that I could handle the business. It’s pretty big.”
Elaine sat still for a moment. Through her mind flashed a panorama of the civic duties she had done in the past – of the many friends here in the city – the chance she now had for broader activities. There also flashed a picture of Pam going to Aunt Jen for various favors. Of Stevie spending more and more time at the neighbors’. Of Bert quietly accepting mediocrity in his work.
She stood up. “We can get along on less money for a time, if we have to. I can leave here, and you can handle the business. They wouldn’t have asked you if they hadn’t been sure. A challenge like this is all in the world you need. You can call and accept the very first thing in the morning.”
“But what will Hardin say? What will the party do?”
“What Hardin says doesn’t matter. And the party can get another candidate. It’s been done before.”
Bert picked up a hairbrush and twirled it neatly around. “Lincoln isn’t a very big town,” he said. “You’d miss all the activity you’ve had here. What would you do without the symphony board, the United Fund drive, and the rest?”
“I’d do a lot of things I haven’t had time to do before.” Elaine replied. “I’d put the hems in Pam’s skirts and hear all about her latest party. I’d learn the workings of the store from the manager himself. But, first of all,” her eyes twinkled, “I think that I’d learn to make kabobs for Stevie.”