IT HELPS TO CRY
Mary Ellen's Mom was a very wise woman. She knew that grief can often be traded for happiness
MOM answered the telephone. She was so tiny she had to stand on tiptoe to talk into it. Dad was so big he had to stoop way down, and put a kink in his back, and Mary Ellen—well, seeing Mary Ellen’s eighth birthday was only a week past, and she was small for her age at that, she always had to stand on a chair. Only Gertie, Maud and Bess, Mary Ellen’s married sisters, were the right size. But they and the rest were all grown and away_ now, and there were only Dad and Mom and Mary Ellen at home.
Mom’s voice sounded excited. “Yas,” she said, “yes, this is Robert Carter’s . . . Yes, yes, I have it. ‘Arrive Thursday, 7.30 a.m., signed Connie.’ Thank you very much.”
When she turned from the telephone her face was all flushed up like it got when she did a big baking. “Oh, Robert,” she said. “That’s a telegram from Connie. She’s just landed. We’ll have to go down to the city to meet her. She gets in on Thursday morning —and this is Monday! Oh, dear, I’m that flustered there’s such a sight of things to do, we’ll never in this world get everything ready. I wanted to get the spare room papered and new curtains . . .”
“Oh, hush up,” said Dad. “She ain’t going to be worryin’ about new paper and curtains. She and the young ’un will be glad enough to get in a good warm house that’s not half wrecked by bombs.”
“Is it Jim’s wife?” asked Mary Ellen, her eyes
big. “Jim’s wife and little John, all the way from England? Have they really come? Have they, Mom, have they?”
“Yes, thanks to the good Lord,” said Mom. “They’re here safe and sound. Now it’ll be for us to take care of them till Jim gets back. My, isn’t it lucky 1 got the cradle down from the attic last week, and got that new tick made?” She turned to Dad. “Robert,” she said, “you put a fire on in the parlor right away. And Mary Ellen, you come up to the spare room with me and we’ll get the quilts and blankets around the pipes to air. When you get the fire goin’, Robert, you can come up and get the feather tick. We’ll set it up beside the parlor heater. It’ll be out of the way there. Yes, and you can bring the pillows down too.”
“Mary Ellen,” groaned Dad, “looks like me and you ain’t goin’ to have no peace for the next two days. Your ma’s just rarin’ and there won’t be any holding her.”
And that’s the way it was. The house had to be cleaned throughout, though it didn’t seem to Mary Ellen that there was a speck of dust anywhere. A big baking had to be done. “Think you was out to feed a threshin’,” said Dad, “ ’stead o’ one female and a year-old baby.” Two fat hens had to be killed for potpie; curtains and dresser scarves must be washed and ironed. This had to be done and that had to be done, until Mom was about worn out herself and everyone else with her.
Mary Ellen pleaded to go to the city with them but Mom said it was only right that one member of the family should he in the house to welcome them home, and Mrs. Les Pearson would come to stay with her. They planned to drive down Wednesday and stay overnight at Maud’s. Dad was scared to drive in the city. It was only when the boys left home he’d started to drive the car at all. Before that he’d always take the horse and buggy, but Mom said when Jim left that, either Dad had to learn to drive or she would. And Dad said, well, sooner than have his gates and fences busted up, and all the critters scared out o’creation, he reckoned he’d learn. He did real well, too, except in the city. That had him beat. Watching the red and green lights, with all the traffic milling around and folks walking every which way, was enough to drive a man crazy, he said. So Albert, Maud’s husband, always met them at the city limits and took over the driving.
WHEN they set out on Wednesday Dad wore his coon coat. He should have had a good black one, said Mom, but Dad said nonsense, his coon was all right. Lots of females would be glad to get it. He sat up straight in the old car, right on the edge of the sent, his hands gripping the wheel for dear life. The boys made fun of him, the way he drove, said he should sit hack and take it easy, but Mom said he drove all right to suit her, and Continued on paffe 22
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she always felt a deal safer with him than with anyone else.
Wednesday night Mary Ellen was so excited she knew she’d never go to sleep. It was most as bad as Christmas Eve—morning would never come. But she did sleep, and when she woke it was just breaking day and she could hear Miz Pearson, down in the kitchen, shaking the stove, and hear Les, on his way to the barn to do the chores, shouting to Rex, the collie.
The folks weren’t expected back till near suppertime. All day Mary Ellen watched the clock, and from 4.30 on she stayed glued to the parlor window. Miz Pearson had the potpie ready, and the table set out with the best cloth and dishes that Mom had left laid out ready.
Just before six she saw car lights on Sand Hill. “They’re coming, they’re coming!” she cried, and ran into the kitchen. “Miz Pearson, they’re coming!”
“Now, Mary Ellen, you just stay right here in the kitchen. You’ll go running outside and catch your death. Les is there and ’ll help ’em out of the car. You can help me put in the dumplings for the potpie. Reckon by the time they’re done the folks ’ll be ready to eat.”
In no time at all the door from the woodshed opened and there was Mom, all bundled up against the cold, and following Mom came a tall, slim girl, awful pale and tired-looking. “Where’s the baby?” cried Mary Ellen. “Where’s John?”
“Right here,” said Dad as he walked in, looking like a grizzly bear in his bulky coat. And there was the baby— in Dad’s arms. He was a beautiful baby—in spite of all the scarves and wrappings—that was plain to see. His big blue eyes danced, and his cheeks, what could be seen of them, were plump and rosy.
“My, that’s a right pretty child,” said Miz Pearson. “Here, let me take him and get those wrappings off. He’ll smother in this heat.”
Mom had taken Connie over to the stove to get warm. She said, “Mrs. Pearson, this is Connie, Jim’s wife.” But Miz Pearson was too busy with the baby to do more than say, “Pleased to meet you.” Connie said, “How-doyou-do, Mrs. Pearson,” then she turned to Mary Ellen and, stooping down, stretched out both hands. “And this is Mary Ellen. Big brown eyes and braided hair exactly as I pictured—Jim has told me so much about you. I do hope you’re going to like your new nephew and not find him a nuisance.”
“Oh, I’ll love him,” said Mary Ellen shyly.
My, Connie’s voice was different from any she’d ever heard. It was all cool and silvery and clear as bells. And as she looked into the face so near her own — why, it just matches, she thought. For Connie’s hair was soft and fair, a sort of silvery gold, her skin was fine and white; her eyes were a dark, dark blue under eyebrows like velvet wings. She looked clean and cool and . . . and nice. But very tired and kind of sad, Mary Ellen thought.
SUPPER over and the baby tucked in the cradle, Mom said she thought Connie must be tuckered right out, maybe she’d like to go to bed. And Connie said, yes, she would. “Now don’t go getting up in the morning till you’re good and ready,” said Mom. “What you need is a good rest. You’re all worn out. You just tell me about John’s breakfast, and I’ll get up and tend to him.” Mom smiled, “I’ve had
eight of my own, you know, so he’ll be all right with me.”
“I’m sure he will be,” said Connie with a little wintry smile. “Thank you so much—you’re very kind.”
Just that first morning Connie slept in. The second morning, as they were sitting down to breakfast, the stair door opened and there she was.
“Oh, dear,” said Mom all flustered, “if I’d known you’d been coming down I’d have had a cloth on the table. Now just a minute and I’ll put a nice clean dish towel at your place.”
But Connie put her hand on Mom’s arm and held her back from going to the cupboard. “Please don’t, Mrs. Carter,” she said. “I don’t want you to go to any trouble for me. I want to have things as you’ve always had them. Don’t let my coming change anything. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate all you and Mr. Carter have done for John and me. But if you fuss over me you’re going to make me feel like an intruder.”
Those were the most words Mary Ellen had heard Connie say at one time so far. Mom’s eyes filled with tears. “Why, land’s sakes, child, we haven’t done a thing. And you talk about not fussing! Well, I sort of like to have things nice for you. You ain’t accustomed to our rough-and-ready ways.”
“Your ways and the ways Jim was used to are more than good enough for me,” said Connie, “so please don’t make any changes.”
“Well,” said Dad, “when you women get things fixed to your likin’, reckon I’ll ask the blessing and we’ll eat.” When they were through eating and Dad tipped back his chair to reach out to his desk for his Bible and spectacles, he said, “Look, now, I don’t know what church you favor, Connie, but we always read a chapter of Scripture every morning, and then thank the Lord for all His goodness and ask His blessing on the day. If you’d like to join us I’d be mighty pleased, but if you’d prefer to leave I won’t think none the worse of you.”
Connie stayed, but she didn’t kneel down beside her chair for the prayer. She sat by John, in his high chair, and kept him quiet.
Dad thanked God for having Connie and John safe there with them, and prayed they’d have good health and grow to love Canada, and he asked God to help all the poor folk overseas.
When he rose from his knees Connie looked right at him and said, “Do you really think it does any good?”
Mom looked shocked, but Dad said, real quiet, “I kinda think it does. And my father thought so, and his father before him. Reckon that feeling’s bred right in my bones, and seeing nothin’s ever happened to change it I guess I’ll always have it. I hope so. It’s a terrible thing to lose faith.” He came over and put his big hand on Connie’s shoulder, “I know, my girl, that you’ve been through hard times, you’ve suffered great losses—Jim has told us— it’s hard for you to see things straight right now. But someday, please God, you will.”
“Perhaps so,” said Connie, and started to stack the dishes.
After that she came down to breakfast every morning. She always stayed for prayers but never knelt—just sat beside John and tried to keep him quiet. She tried to help all she could around the house, but she was awful awkward. It was plain to see, said Tom, that she’d never had housework to do. But she never talked about her life in England or about her family. When anyone talked of England, or questioned her, although she always answered awful polite she never told them much, and
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her face would take on what Mary Ellen thought of as her “frozen look.” Mom noticed Connie’s frozen look too, and it got her worried. “Seems like I can’t get close to her,” Mary Ellen heard her tell Dad. “It’s just as though she’s got a wall around her. ’Tisn’t that she isn’t always nice and polite—fact that’s it. She’s too polite. She doesn’t treat us as folks. We might be strangers. Seems to me I’d be real glad to hear her snap at Mary Ellen or me. ’She’d seem more human if she did.”
“Trouble is,” said Dad, “you women are never satisfied. If she went interfering and fussing you’d be hollerin’. Just be thankful she’s like she is.”
DAD got along well with Connie.
She loved to go to the barn and would take John out to see the horses and cows and pigs. She even set John up on old Ned’s back, and that really tickled Dad. “That girl has a way with horses,” he said. “You should see her with Dick. Every time she goes out there that hoss knows-—he pricks up his ears and whinnies, and she pets him and talks to him as if the critter was human.” Dick was Jim’s driver. Mom and Gertie and Maud were all scared of him—they wouldn’t go anywhere near his stall; they said he was wild.
When Tessie, the Jersey cow, came in Dad gave John the calf. It was sweet as could be. Connie christened it Pansy; she said its big soft eyes were just like velvety pansies. Every day she’d take John out to see it. John would stick out his fist and Pansy would come and lick at it. Dad always tried to be around then. Mom said he’d never taken to any baby, not even his own, as he’d taken to John. Well, he wasn’t all coddled up, said Dad. Connie wasn’t spoiling him, and she didn’t .think the smell of the barn would poison him. Said it was a good healthy smell — she liked it and intended that John should.
But although she seemed to like it out at the barn she never seemed really happy. When she wasn’t talking—she nearly always smiled when she talked to you—her face still looked tired and sad. When the telephone rang, or John cried, or there was any sudden noise you could tell that things all kind of tightened up inside her, and her face would go white.
Mom invited M’ssevans, the schoolteacher, up—she thought some young company would be good for Connie. And it was. Connie and M’ssevans took to each other right off. When M’ssevans told of some of the funny things that happened at school, Connie said, “No, not really. Oh, how lovely!” And she actually laughed. It was like silver bells ringing—even prettier than when she talked. Mary Ellen wished she’d do it often. It made Mom happy, and she told M’ssevans to come back whenever she could. And she did. She and Connie went for walks, plowing through the snow and coming back with rosy cheeks and good appetites. Connie talked to M’ssevans a bit about England. Mary Ellen heard her. “I miss the green grass,” she said, “and the hedges, and the trees—they’d be coming into leaf now. The violets would be out in the hedgerows and the primroses in the woods. This is so vast, and cold and bare . . . Oh, forgive me. This is your country. I do want to like it, but it’s so ... so very different.” Then came the terrible Sunday when the Smiths came to supper. The Smiths had driven over and brought their preacher from Medville to take the afternoon service at church because Mr. Young, the minister, had to go away. Mr. Smith was a big man at Medville. Dad said he called himself
a pillar of the church but acted like he was the foundation of the whole community. The preacher went to the Shaws’ for supper but Mr. and Mrs. Smith came along with Connie and M’ssevans. Dad and Mom and Mary Ellen went on ahead to get things ready.
Mom had a good supper, like she always did, and they were all sitting round the table enjoying it when Mr. Smith looked across at Connie and started asking her questions.
“Your father, is he in England?” “My father is dead,” said Connie. “Dear, dear! And when did that happen?”
“Two years ago.”
“And did he die of natural causes or was he a casualty of the war?”
“He went down with his ship,” said Connie.
“Really,” said Mr. Smith.
He munched on his cold chicken and potato salad for a while, then he started again. “I suppose you’d have a nice home over there?”
Mary Ellen saw the frozen look come on Connie’s face. “My home was destroyed,” she said.
“Too bad, too bad,” said Mr. Smith, “but yours, of course, would be one of many.” He stopped to pick a bit of chicken bone out of his mouth and lay it on his plate edge. “Did you have any brothers and sisters?” he went on. “One brother.”
“And what service is he in?”
“He isn’t,” said Connie. “He was lost over the Channel in the Battle of Britain.”
“Ah,” said Mr. Smith, “one of the few, as Churchill said, to whom so many owe so much.” He seemed quite pleased with himself, thought Mary Ellen.
Mr. Smith chewed away at his supper again, then, “I understand you lost your mother too,” he said.
“Yes, I did,” said Connie quietly. “Well, at least you would have the consolation of being able to give her a decent Christian burial. Something you were not able to do for your father and brother.”
“There was no burial,” said Connie. “No burial?” said Mr. Smith, and his eyes shone just like Nigger’s, the cat, the time she got at the cream pitcher. Mary Ellen almost expected to see his tongue come out like Nigger’s did, and roll around his lips. “No burial,” he said. “Why, how was that?”
“Because,” said Connie, and Mary Ellen saw her eyes grow big and her chin stiffen, “because . . . after the bomb exploded . . . there was nothing left to bury.”
YOU could fairly hear everybody gasp then, and over and above the gasp Mary Ellen heard a sound from upstairs. “Connie,” she said, “John’s crying.”
As Connie got up from the table she flashed Mary Ellen a look, a sort of “Thank-you” look, and M’ssevans, sitting beside her, gave her a little squeeze. “Good girl,” she whispered. As the stair door closed behind Connie, M’ssevans turned on Mr. Smith, her eyes blazing. “How could you?” she breathed. “How could you?”
Mr. Smith looked up from his pie. “How could I what?” he asked. “Torture her,” said M’ssevans. “Come now,” said Mr. Smith, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I show a little friendly interest in one of our war brides and you speak of torture.”
“And that’s what it was,” said M’ssevans. “Nothing but a refined form of torture. She might just as well have been on the rack in the days of the Spanish Inquisition.”
“My dear young lady,” said Mr.
Smith, “you are using very extravagant language, which is quite uncalled for.”
“And I must say,” said Mrs. Smith, “that Connie, as you call her, didn’t seem to be at all upset. You’d have thought she’d have been overcome with grief. Perhaps she hasn’t much feeling.” “Grief is a private thing,” said M’ssevans, “not to be paraded before the eyes of the curious. And lack of tears, you know, does not mean lack of feeling.”
“That’s right,” said Mom. She’d always agree with M’ssevans. “And they say the widow that cries, the most is always the quickest married.”
“Yes,” said Dad, “and the cow that bawls the loudest forgets its calf the soonest.”
“That’s as may be,” said Mr. Smith. “In this life we are all given trials and tribulations and must learn to bear them with Christian fortitude. With your permission, Brother Carter, I would like to have a little talk with your daughter-in-law when she returns. In Medville I always make it a practice to visit the afflicted and bereaved, and they find great comfort in my words. Your daughter-in-law will too, I am sure.”
“Don’t let him, Mr. Carter, please don’t let him,” cried M’ssevans. “Connie has suffered enough.”
“Young lady,” said Mr. Smith, “if I were not a gentleman . . ”
But he didn’t get a chance to finish. “Gentleman!” M’ssevans cried. “Why, you’re nothing but a ... a . . . smug Philistine!”
Mom looked scared and jumped up from the table and started clearing off the dishes, though folks hadn’t finished their supper. She picked up the big chocolate cake, that hadn’t even been cut, and whisked it off into the pantry. At that Mrs. Smith got up. “I think, Henry, we had better be going,” she said.
“Yes, my dear, I think you’re right,” said Mr. Smith. “Brother Carter, may we have a word with you in private?” Dad took Mr. and Mrs. Smith into the parlor for a few minutes and then saw them off in their car. When he came back M’ssevans met him, “Oh, Mr. Carter, I really don’t know how to apologize. I can’t tell you how sorry I am for having caused a scene in your home. But it wasn’t only at the table, it was all the way home from church. That man just wouldn’t leave Connie alone. Talking about England and the war.”
“Now don’t worry your head about it,” said Dad. “We can just be thankful that he won’t have need to come here any more. Pastor Young will be back next week.” He patted her on the shoulder and grinned, “I agreed with
every word you said. I’d have told him the same myself, only you were able to do it better.” «
CONNIE came in then. She looked just as cool and calm as ever. “John’s asleep again,” she said Then she looked at Mom. “Please,” she said, “please don’t, Mrs. Carter. I would have told you about . . . about mother, but I haven’t wanted to upset you. Even Jim doesn’t know the whole story.”
“Daughter,” said Dad, and it was the first time he’d called her that, “we’re proud of you, and honored that you’ve married into our family.”
“I’m proud that Jim wanted me,” • said Connie quietly.
For days then things went on the same. It worried Mom. “She shouldn’t keep all pent up like that,” she’d say to Dad. “If only she’d break down and have a good cry it would do her a world of good. I’m scared for her, Robert. It’s just as though she was froze and couldn’t thaw out. But someday the thaw’s bound to set in. Then maybe she’ll be happy again. It often works that way.”
And then one day when Mary Ellen got home from school Mom sent her to find Connie. “I think she’s round to the south of the house,” said Mom. “I sent her there to see if the bulbs was coming up. I thought she might like to clear in around ’em. There’s nothing like a bit of gardening to cheer you up.”
It was no time before Mary Ellen came running back. “Come quick, Mom,” she cried, “I think Connie’s sick. She’s on her knees, and she’s crying.”
Mom hurried out. She found Connie all huddled in a little heap, sobbing her eyes out. Mom knelt down beside her and put her arms around her. “What’s the trouble, child? Tell me, what’s the trouble?”
“It’s so green,” sobbed Connie. “Oh, it’s so lovely and green.”
“What is?” said Mom, sort of bewildered. “What’s green?”
“The grass,” cried Connie. “Oh, it’s so green!” And there on the slope under the south parlor window Mary Ellen saw a patch of young grass as green as green could be.
“It’s so lovely,” said Connie, “so very lovely. It’s like . . . it’s like the green lawns at home.” She turned and buried her face in Mom’s shoulder and sobbed again. Mom stroked her and made funny little crooning noises. “There, my poor baby . . . there . . . there . .
And then Connie raised her head and looked right into Mom’s eyes, “Oh, Mom,” she said, “I think I’m going to love Canada.” Continued on page 28
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When Connie said, “Mom,” Mom’s face just shone, then the tears came up in her eyes and she cried. Connie got to her feet and helped Mom up and then stood holding her and they both cried. She’s thawing, thought Mary Ellen, Connie’s thawing. It’s all that awful old ice inside melting. Now she’ll be all warm and happy. Oh, glory be! And with that the tears came and she cried too.
At that moment Dad came round the corner of the house. “What’s going on?” he said. “What’s the matter? Mary Ellen, don’t stand there gawkin’, tell me what ails you all. Where’s John? What’s happened to him?”
“He’s all right, he’s sleeping,” whimpered Mary Ellen.
“Well, then, what’s the matter? What’s wrong with the women?”
“Connie just said she was going to love Canada,” said Mary Ellen.
“Well, now,” said Dad, “that’s
nothin’ for (you to cry about, is it?”
! “No, you’re right, it isn’t,” said i Connie, and she let go of Morfi and with both her hands clasped Dad’s I arm.
i “My dear girl,” said Dad. “My dear girl!” With his free hand he patted her two hands. Then he blew his nose l awful hard and Mary Ellen saw the Adam’s apple in his throat bob up and ■ down as he swallowed.
Oh, what can I do—what can I do to make Connie real good and happy, she thought. “You know what,” she said,
’ “when my old setting hen hatches off next week, reckon you can have half ; the chicks, Connie.”
Connie looked over at her and smiled. In spite of a pink nose, tear-stained cheeks and swollen eyes it was a ’ beautiful, heavenly smile. “Oh, Mary Ellen,” she said, “you’re sweet.” And • all over her, from the tip of her head down to her toes, Mary Ellen glowed with happiness.