Bright Angels and Familiars
by Eugene England, Editor

Chapter 9
The Christianizing of Coburn Heights
Levi S. Peterson

[109] God had blessed Coburn Heights, a suburb on the east bench of Salt Lake City where wealthy Saints shared with their gentile neighbors the pleasures of wide, curving streets, spacious houses, and driveways cluttered with motor homes, power boats, and snowmobiles. The foremost shepherd of the faithful in this prosperous suburb was Sherman Colligan, president of Coburn Heights Stake. On a wintry Saturday morning, Sherman shopped for his wife in Albertson’s supermarket, pushing a shopping cart containing a growing mound of beef roast, pickles, muffins, potato chips, Postum, and all kinds of things which make life tolerable. A few feet into the pet food aisle he stopped abruptly. Coming toward him was a tattered, crooked little woman who might have emerged from the cargo bin of a garbage truck. She wore a soiled brown dress, askew at the hem and pinned at the breast. Dark cotton stockings sagged on her bony legs; warped, scuffed shoes slopped on her feet. Staring at her, Sherman realized that she was lopsided because her entire left side was atrophied: her leg was shortened, her arm dwindled, her breast shrunken, her cheek and ear diminished. She listed and leaned, having not two sides, but one and a half.

[110] The woman pulled a yellow wagon in which she had set her wadded coat, four sixpacks of orange soda pop, and a box of macaroni and cheese. Intuitively Sherman knew her. She had to be Rendella Kranpitz, the bizarre newcomer whose bishop had threatened to excommunicate her for contentiousness. Sherman had found the charge incredible. No one was excommunicated these days for contentiousness. The little woman came up against Sherman’s shopping cart and stopped. He blinked, looking closer to see whether this woman truly had, as her bishop claimed, a heart for fire and rage, a will for running against the wind, for rupturing barricades, for trampling down the walls of the world.

The woman looked Sherman up and down, then put forth her strong right arm and shook his hand. “You’re President Colligan,” she said. “If I were you, I wouldn’t let that second counselor—what’s his name—conduct at stake conference anymore. He isn’t up to snuff. No way at all.”

“It’s certainly nice to meet a new member of my stake,” Sherman said pleasantly.

The woman continued to shake his hand. “I would sure spruce up my stake conferences if I were you. When that choir sang last time, you could have laid me out square for being on a goat farm.”

“You must be Sister Kranpitz,” Sherman said warmly.

She dropped his hand and eyed him suspiciously. “How come you know my name?”

“Bishop Bosen has told me about you.”

“So what’s he say about me behind my back? That’s what I’d like to know!”

“Nothing but the best. He says you’re a good, faithful sister.” Sherman, whose large frame carried fifty pounds of excess weight, towered over the little woman. He wore galoshes and a checkered overcoat and a narrow-brimmed hat. He tried to amplify the friendly smile which he made it a policy to carry on his round, clean-shaven face.

“Say,” Rendella said, “do you have all the Articles of Faith memorized?”

“Not entirely,” Sherman said. “I once had.”

[111] Rendella fixed her eyes on a shelf of bags filled with dried dog food and began to recite. “First: We believe in God, the Eternal Father, and in his Son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost. Second: We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s transgressions. Third: We believe—”

“That’s excellent,” Sherman interrupted with an admiring exhalation of breath. “It looks like you have every one of them down pat.”

Rendella wandered to the side of Sherman’s shopping cart. She picked up a bottle of expensive grape juice, shook it, and peered suspiciously at the label.

“That isn’t wine,” Sherman said. “It’s grape juice imported from Germany.”

Rendella put the bottle down and picked up a jar of peanut butter. “That peanut butter isn’t any good,” she said. “There aren’t any bits in it. ” She tried without success to unscrew the lid and then returned the jar to the cart.

“Who’s your dad?” she said. “He isn’t one of those Colligans from Kanab, is he?”

“Our line never got farther south than Provo. Actually my dad was—”

“That’s good,” Rendella interrupted. “Those Kanab Colligans aren’t worth a bucket of peach pits. Really, you know, you’ve got to do something about this stake. I never saw a worse one in my life. Some of the sermons that get preached in the Fifth Ward would puke a turkey.”

“I don’t know about that. It seems to me we’ve got a pretty good stake. In fact it’s one of the best in the entire church.”

“I can preach, but nobody ever asks me to,” Rendella said. “Maybe you don’t think I can preach,” she added bitterly.

“I don’t doubt you can preach. Why not? The gift of eloquence is given to many.”

“People think I’m crazy, but I’m not.”

“Why would anybody think that?” Sherman said congenially. “You’re just another good, faithful servant of the Lord.”

She looked down at her dress. “What do you expect when somebody has to wear rags like these?”

[112] Sherman brightened. “We can fix that in a minute. Bishop Bosen will get you a welfare order and we’ll get you some nice dresses. ”

She stiffened. “Are you trying to tell me I don’t dress so good?”

“Golly, no,” Sherman said.

“Who did you say your dad was? My dad was Simon B. Kranpitz. He lived in Monroe for seventy-eight years, and he was never anything but a ward clerk. And then they went and made Ranny Jackson second counselor when Chad Hislop got made bishop, and Dad said, ‘That’s it—when old Ranny Jackson gets made counselor and they pass me by, I quit.’ And he never went to church again.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.”

Rendella put her hand into her pocket and pulled out a candy bar. She looked at it a moment, glanced up at Sherman, and thrust it back into her pocket. “You think I’m not going to pay for that, don’t you?” she said angrily. She pulled the bar out and placed it on a sixpack of orange soda pop in her wagon. “Don’t ever say I steal anything!”

She smoothed the front of her dress. ‘Who did you say your folks were? What kind of uppities were they?”

“My folks were just ordinary people.”

“How come you got this job then?” she said. “Let’s see what you know. Tell me what this scripture means.” She drew herself up on her longer leg and said in an oratorical tone: “Lamentations, chapter four, verse twenty-one: ‘Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom, that dwellest in the land of Uz; the cup also shall pass through unto thee: thou shalt be drunken, and shalt make thyself naked.'”

Sherman hemmed and looked about uncomfortably.

“So what does it mean?” she insisted. “You’re supposed to be the stake president and you don’t know anything.”

A half-hour later Sherman sat in his car in the Albertson’s parking lot, eating a doughnut. He had been wise enough to order thirteen doughnuts at the bakery stand; finding an even dozen, his wife would have no reason to be disappointed with him for breaking [113] his diet. Grey winter clouds lowered over Coburn Heights; the parking lot was icy with the remnants of last week’s storm. As Sherman pulled out his handkerchief to wipe away the final crumbs, he saw Rendella Kranpitz emerge from the grocery store. The sleeves of her black coat draped over her hands and the hem hung nearly to her ankles. Pulling her wagon, she lurched erratically across the parking lot. Heedless of speeding cars, she jaywalked across the nearby boulevard and disappeared into a side street. Sherman looked at his watch and decided that he had time to visit Arthur Bosen, bishop of the ward in which Rendella lived.

Arthur was in his backyard dredging out his goldfish pond for the winter. At Sherman’s insistence, Arthur went on with his work as they talked. Chunks of ice lay about the perimeter of the pool, from which Arthur scooped bucketsful of water. Sherman admired the look of outdoor competence which Arthur’s woolen cap and quilted ski jacket gave him. Arthur Bosen was the best of Sherman’s seven bishops. He was punctual in making his reports and successful in turning out his quotas of members for temple work and welfare assignments. Sherman and Arthur had been good friends since high school days and in private had dispensed with the formality of calling one another President Colligan and Bishop Bosen.

“I just met Rendella Kranpitz at Albertson’s,” Sherman said.

Arthur scrutinized Sherman closely. “You seem to have come out of the experience unscathed.”

“Are you still thinking about excommunicating her?”

“You better believe it!” Arthur muttered grimly as he dredged up a shovelful of muck and dumped it into a standing wheelbarrow.

“Is the problem all that bad?”

“It’s worse,” Arthur declared. Three months of that woman were too much for any ward. Rendella Kranpitz was retarded or insane or, more likely, both. She had come from a small town in Sevier County. Arthur couldn’t for the moment remember which one. By an appalling fluke of circumstances, she had inherited a house in Coburn Heights. The trustee of her inherited estate was a gentile lawyer whose office was in downtown Salt Lake. He was a civil liberties crank who resented the way society treated children, [114] prisoners, and idiots, and he protected Rendella in the possession of her house. Rendella had a spirit of deceit and disruption. In any church meeting where there was the slightest possibility that she could take the floor and speak, she usurped time and corrupted purposes. In the monthly testimony meeting she invariably rose and, instead of briefly bearing her testimony, entered upon a lengthy sermon, peeling off in her arrogant voice incessant strings of scriptural passages and quotations from modern prophets and apostles. She exhorted, chided, and berated, and when at last she became silent and sat down, she had brought her fellow worshipers to a seething boil.

“She belongs in an asylum,” Arthur concluded vindictively.

“You are exaggerating, of course,” Sherman said, chuckling with appreciation for Arthur’s ironies.

“You can’t exaggerate anything in the case of this woman.”

“Well,” said Sherman, “we are after all the guardians of the unfortunate.”

“I thought maybe I was the unfortunate one.”

“Sometimes the Lord gives us a burden that is a blessing in disguise. ”

“This one is burden all the way through.”

“We owe special care to those who can’t make distinctions between good and evil.”

“She isn’t one of that kind. She knows exactly how to go for the jugular every time.”

It appeared that Arthur’s ironies were not ironies; he really meant to excommunicate Rendella Kranpitz. A pity for this little woman had come over Sherman. Wasn’t she, after all, a spirit child of their Father in Heaven? Wasn’t she a spirit sister to Sherman himself? And to Arthur? The warrior in Sherman Colligan began to awake. He heard martial trumpets, the hoofbeats of war horses, the clash and clatter of swords. He was proud of his stake. His people tithed with unusual generosity, and they achieved outstanding percentages in home teaching and church attendance. Sherman himself was a model for the members of his stake. He had risen to a vice-presidency in a savings and loan company in the city. He [115] took courses in motivation and management. He had a lust for challenge, resistance, and obstacles. His thick chest and broad shoulders suggested solidity, drive, the ability to move and to make move. Yet his fine face beamed with kindness and good sense. The man-of-arms within him was tamed to Christian purposes; he was tuned entirely to the pastoral services of his calling. He forgave the sinful, comforted the bereaved, sustained the wavering. He prayed for himself and his people a proper testing, a sufficient trial to keep them alert, spiritually fecund, resistant to the softening which comes with abundance and blessings.

“We can’t abandon this poor sister,” Sherman said. His voice vibrated with compassion. “Excommunicate her! We think a missionary does well to convert one person during a two-year mission. Isn’t it worth as much to save one who is already with us—the one lost sheep strayed from the ninety-nine that are found?”

Arthur leaned disconsolately on his shovel. “It was the other ninety-nine I had in mind when I thought about excommunicating her.”

Sherman waved his hand impatiently. “Gosh, man, we owe Heavenly Father some service for all these blessings he has given us. Look at us here, you and me, standing in this two-acre oakbrush lot of yours. This land alone, without your house and improvements, has got to be worth thirty thousand.”

“If we have many like Rendella Kranpitz around, it won’t be worth two hundred.”

“She balances you out, don’t you see? She puts you on your mettle. Just think of her as a test. You’ll be surprised how quick you get on top of all these problems.” Sherman could see that Arthur was wavering. He had never been a match for Sherman in an argument. Sherman slapped him on the back. “Cheer up, brother! This woman was put in your ward for a special reason. Who else could handle her the way you can?”

“Dang it, Sherm, I just don’t have the spirit to wrestle with her anymore. You don’t know what she’s like.”

“Of course I know what she’s like. I just saw her in the grocery store, didn’t I? Are you going to admit you can’t outthink that poor [116] disadvantaged creature? Just put yourself into her frame of mind and think ahead of her; anticipate her. You’ll come up with some solutions.”

Arthur shook his head dolefully. “So far it’s been her who outthinks me. Every time.”

Sherman put his arm around Arthur. The old technique of loving a subordinate into compliance always worked. “Come on now, Art. No more of that excommunication talk. OK?”

“Well, sure,” Arthur said, “if that’s what you want, we’ll give her another go.”

“That’s the talk I like to hear! That’s what I like about you, Art, and always have. You’re Christian all the way through, and you’ve got drive and guts and energy. Go do’er, man! Keep up your courage, say your prayers, and tear into it. You can’t fail!”

Later, thinking about the little matter involving Arthur and Rendella Kranpitz, Sherman had the warm feeling of a duty well done. He didn’t doubt for a moment that Arthur would come up with a total solution. Arthur had always underrated his own capacities. As for Rendella, Sherman was happy to have done some small thing in behalf of another of the souls entrusted to his care. That’s what made management and leadership rewarding, whether in Sherman’s professional life or in the work of the church. He always felt that what he did was vital; it touched lives and helped people.

 

On a Sunday evening two weeks later, as Sherman sat by the fire working on a church report, his wife escorted into the living room a sober-looking delegation. It was a high-powered group from the Fifth Ward, heavy with rank and distinction even by the standards of Coburn Heights. The three men were a physician, an insurance executive, and the owner of a supermarket; the two women were a state legislator and a hospital trustee. Uttering a hearty welcome, Sherman had an uneasy intuition that he must distract his visitors. He pointed out a painting hanging on the wall. It was a primitive work of Nauvoo, done by one of Sherman’s forebears—a priceless heirloom. Harmon Roylance, the physician [117] and the apparent spokesman of the group, scarcely noticed. It was unusual, Brother Roylance admitted in a grim, braced voice, for church members to rise spontaneously like a posse of vigilantes, but they had been driven to it by the excesses of Rendella Kranpitz.

“I believe Bishop Bosen is taking care of that problem,” Sherman said.

“Yes,” Brother Roylance agreed, “like a man fighting a lion with a toothpick. And he says you say there’s nothing to be done about it.”

There were items of behavior which the bishop might not have made known to President Colligan, the physician said. Rendella Kranpitz was always abroad. On certain days of the week she ranged beyond the boundaries of the Fifth Ward. People humored her in her claim to be an agent for Deseret Industries. She often dragged her yellow wagon home loaded with old furniture or clothes, which she stockpiled in her house on the pretense of calling in a thrift-store truck. But no truck had ever come, and the interior of her house was sordid with debris. Her yard was kept decent only by the unsolicited efforts of neighbors whom Rendella was more likely to berate for trespassing than to thank for their services. On other days Rendella worked within the Fifth Ward, where she exploited certain timid, selfless sisters. She rang doorbells and asked to come in for visits. Some sisters bluntly refused. Others cowered silently behind their drawn drapes while Rendella repeatedly rang their doorbells. But a few responded and let her in. Once there, she stayed all day and ate lunch and sometimes supper, following the housewife around her home with incessant tales of scandalous behavior among ward members and church authorities.

During the week just past she had delivered a political tract from door to door throughout much of Coburn Heights. Brother Roylance put a copy of the tract on the coffee table before Sherman. On it was the photograph of a frantic-looking man with a receding chin and bulging eyes. The pamphlet announced the candidacy of Alphonse D. Farthingage for president of the United States in an election still a year and a half away. Mr. Farthingage proposed a simple platform: if elected, he promised to open negotiations with [118] the occupants of the numerous UFOs intruding in earth’s airspace, in hopes of welding them into a coalition against the Soviet Union. The text of the pamphlet went on to imply that the general authorities of the church supported Mr. Farthingage.

“Can you imagine how much this woman is doing single-handedly to damage the image of the church in Coburn Heights?” Brother Roylance said in a voice which had become increasingly melancholy.

That led him to the most insufferable of her traits—worse than her bizarre body, her unkempt clothes, her predatory raids upon the neighborhood, her obscene house, her constant disruption of church services. It was her arrogance, her desire to insult, her aggressive will to attack, accuse, and provoke.

“There’s only one thing to do,” Brother Roylance said, chopping the air with an emphatic hand. “Cut her off! Get her out of the church. Even if we can’t put her out of the neighborhood, we don’t have to associate her with the name of the church.”

The other members of the delegation broke into a medley of accusation and protest.

“We’re ashamed to be Mormons!”

“She’s undercutting the missionary work.”

“My kids don’t learn disrespect in the streets. They learn it in church.”

“We paid for that chapel. I shelled out twenty-five hundred dollars! You’d think I’d get to enjoy it. Either she goes or I go.”

The accumulation of angry respectability cowed Sherman. He shook and quivered with the blows. Then his stubbornness resurged, his anger flared up. He resented these unvaliant brothers and sisters. Even more he resented that lurching, off-centered, cunning fraction of a woman who could singlehandedly obstruct the function of one of the most successful stakes in the church. He became determined. Whether she liked it or not, whether they liked it or not, this woman would go forward in the sustaining fellowship and sanctifying ordinances of the Fifth Ward of the Coburn Heights Stake.

Sherman took the offensive. “So,” he fulminated, “you can’t cope. A ward filled with fifty-thousand-dollars-a-year people—col[118]lege graduates, professionals, members of Rotary, Kiwanis, and the Exchange—and you can’t cope. God Almighty didn’t set up wards and stakes to save ninety-nine percent of the members; he set them up to save 100 percent. Are you telling me we aren’t a 100 percent stake?”

Sherman glared about scornfully. The members of the delegation appeared crestfallen, confused, ready to search their memories to see what they had failed to understand.

Sherman stood and walked up and down before the delegation. He turned to one of the sisters, thrust out his arm, and fingered the sleeve of his shirt. “That’s a forty-dollar shirt—a luxury. Shall I take God’s fine gifts without any pity for someone who doesn’t have so much as a normal body?”

He turned to the fireplace and put another log in the fire. “Well, go ahead if you’ve just got to,” he said wearily. “Throw her to the Gentiles. We won’t try to save anybody in Coburn Heights who isn’t rich and beautiful to start with.”

Tears welled in the eyes of one woman. The men fidgeted and stared at the floor. In one of those moments of inspiration which sometimes came to Sherman in the heat of tough action, he saw what must be done—a plan, a coordinated program to rehabilitate Rendella Kranpitz. He became intense. His voice varied in pitch, it rang with vision and purpose. “We’re going forward. I promise action. I will personally assist Bishop Bosen to devise a plan that will solve this problem. We will energize the entire Fifth Ward. We will not cast off this woman.”

Sherman sat again, took up his pen, and while he talked doodled on a pad of paper. Formless, incoherent lines, loops, scratches fell into order. Two words appeared: firmness, love. Magic ideas, unfailing principles. In the matter of firmness, the authorities would insist that Rendella conform. No more invasions of private homes, no more slovenliness, no more lengthy, out-of-place speeches. She had to know where the limits were, and she had to respect them, order being a divine commandment, an eternal fact to which the human spirit had to adapt itself. In the matter of love—well, wasn’t this a great opportunity, an exciting chance to show how the gospel [120] really worked? Sherman’s face glowed. He gestured with open hands. The entire ward must join together in an outpouring of love which would inundate Rendella with reassurance and sweep away her fractiousness like so much debris in a roaring river.

Sherman sensed that he was clear at last. The good people of the delegation were behind him now. The eyes of the women lighted with admiration and the men nodded their assent. Still he had the feeling that he had won by only a millimeter, and after the group had gone he dialed Arthur.

“I just lost a patch of skin, Art,” he said unhappily. “That was low of you to turn that delegation loose on me.

“I didn’t undercut you,” the bishop said after Sherman had told him about the visit. “Those people are smart enough to figure things out for themselves.”

“Whip them into line, can’t you?”

“Whip them into line! It’s that woman who is out of line.”

“I hope you’re remembering what I told you about outthinking her.”

“Heck, I can’t catch up with her long enough to outthink her. She’s got the ball all the time.”

“Look, I’ve got a solution for you. It came to me when that bunch was here a few minutes ago. You’ll get the whole Fifth Ward into this. You’ll redo that woman; you’ll rehabilitate her; you’ll give her a new personality.”

Arthur groaned into the telephone. ”I’m burned out, Sherm. Why don’t you do it?”

“A violation of administrative principle. This is a ward problem. You and your counselors have got to deal with it.”

“No way, Sherm.”

“What do you mean, no way?”

“I mean I didn’t want this bishop’s job in the first place. I got nothing against you, Sherm. You’re the best. But I resign, right now.”

“Look, Art, I didn’t mean you had to do it alone. I’ll help you with this Rendella Kranpitz thing. OK?”

“I don’t know,” Arthur said. “It really felt good to say I resign.”

[121] “This isn’t any time for joking. The first step is for you and me to call on Sister Kranpitz.”

 

A mood of near invincibility had come over Sherman. He was convinced that all would go well, that the disturbance of mind and spirit which afflicted Rendella Kranpitz would be reversed by a bold application of gospel principles. Nonetheless, when Sherman and Arthur called on Rendella on a Tuesday evening, Sherman brought along Celia, his wife, as an added precaution. Rendella’s yard, which lay under a mantle of snow, was not so unusual for Coburn Heights, but the interior of the house jolted Sherman. In the living room relics of fine furniture groaned beneath bundles of newspapers and cardboard boxes from which cast-off clothing dangled. A disorganized mountain of shoe boxes covered one wall. Some were shut tight; others had spilled out ball bearings, yarn remnants, and aquarium gravel. A broken rocking chair sat upside down in a corner. On the coffee table, as if serving as a centerpiece, was a large broiling pan filled nearly to the brim with rancid cooking grease.

Firmness and love: these were the principles Sherman repeated to himself as he set a small, broken drill press onto the floor and sat down in the chair it had occupied. Disciplining himself to a total candor, Sherman told Rendella that her behavior was unacceptable for a member of the Fifth Ward of the Coburn Heights Stake. He forced himself to speak slowly and emphatically as he explained the offenses she had committed. Then he went on to cheer and entice her by explaining that, using welfare funds, they intended to buy appealing new clothes for her and to arrange for a visit to a hair salon. Several fine sisters of the ward were to be called to help her in grooming and dress. Families would invite her to supper several times a week. Certain couples would call for her on Sunday and take her to meetings—making sure, of course, that she was well dressed and groomed.

Braced by her strong leg, Rendella crowded into the corner of an armchair. Her eyes roamed everywhere in the room. Sherman was disconcerted by the relentless, cross-grained squint of her mouth and the startling disparity of her left side, upon which the [122] limbs and features of a smaller person seemed to have been grafted. She was dressed in a faded green bakery uniform; a rip along the thigh was closed by six brass safety pins. She did not seem at all impressed by what he was saying. She could not help hearing, yet when he was through he saw that she had not heard.

“How come nobody ever asks me to be a Sunday school teacher?” she said peevishly.

“We don’t aspire to particular callings in the church,” Sherman said. “We do whatever we are asked to do.”

“Well, I want to know what my calling is. How come I don’t have a calling?”

“Your calling?” Sherman paused a moment, then saw an opening. “Yes, well, your calling is what I’ve just been telling you about. Your calling is to reform your life a little. ” Sherman congratulated himself on his ability to seize the moment. He patiently explained again what had been unacceptable about Rendella’s behavior and what excellent new things awaited her.

“What kind of bishop do you call him?” she interrupted, pointing at Arthur. “You think he’s a good bishop! Word going around is he’s playing hankypanky with more than one. I could tell you who with, if you wanted to know.”

“What next?” Arthur moaned, rolling his eyes in frustration.

“I absolutely will not tolerate that kind of talk,” Sherman roared. “I know for a fact that Bishop Bosen is a righteous man.”

Rendella shrank. “Well, I just wanted to know what my calling is. How come nobody ever asks me to pray? Sister Jenson has got asked to pray five times in the past three months.”

“Gosh,” Arthur said, “I don’t keep track of how many times people get asked to pray.” “He won’t let me sing in the ward choir,” Rendella said to Sherman. “I got all practiced up and now I don’t get to sing.”

“It was Sister Hanney’s decision.”

“You backed her up!”

Arthur turned toward Sherman. “Sister Hanney likes the choir to sing a cappella. She let Sister Kranpitz practice with the choir for three weeks. She even let her sing with them in sacrament [123] meeting once.” Arthur paused and shook his head in disbelief. “A whole choir off key—thirty of them! Sister Hanney stopped them twice to get back on pitch, but it didn’t help.”

“Sister Hanney is a third cousin to that Tinford bunch in Salina. That’s why she doesn’t like me. Ever since Grandfather Kranpitz beat old man Tinford for alderman in Richfield, those Tinfords have been down on the Kranpitzes.”

“Maybe it would help if you didn’t sing so loud,” Arthur said.

“See!” Rendella said to Sherman. “Right there is what is wrong with the music in this ward. They’re all afraid of somebody who can sing louder than they can.”

The bishop shrugged and slumped into his chair.

Sherman cleared his throat and began again. He gestured emphatically to fix her attention as he explained once more the changes to which she would have to submit. Rendella’s eyes wandered. In a moment they came to rest on Celia.

“Why doesn’t she say something?” Rendella said. “You’re looking peaked, honey.” Rendella got up, hobbled into the kitchen, and returned with a bottle and a tablespoon. She poured out a spoonful of dark, gummy liquid and offered it to Celia. “Take this. It’ll build your blood.”

“Gracious, no, thanks; I just couldn’t,” Celia protested in a fluttery voice, whereupon Rendella spooned the liquid into her own mouth, gave the spoon an additional lick, and set it and the bottle on the coffee table.

At that moment just as his will was beginning to waver, Sherman was struck by a brilliant idea. He sized it up and recognized it as inspiration. He called Arthur to a whispered conference in the hallway.

“Let’s call her to be a Sunday school teacher.”

Arthur’s eyes bulged incredulously.

“We’ll schedule her in one of your classrooms, and we’ll call four couples to attend her class for three months. Then we’ll rotate.”

Arthur still had the appearance of a strangled man.

“It’ll work. It’ll be the outlet she needs. And it’s the bargaining [124] point we need. The people can put up with her because it’s a call and won’t last forever.”

Sherman led Arthur into the living room. “Sister Kranpitz,” he said, “we have decided to call you to be a Sunday school teacher in the Fifth Ward.”

Rendella’s face froze. Then her eyes shifted suspiciously from Sherman to Arthur and again to Sherman. She asked what kind of class it would be. Sherman looked expectantly at Arthur, who had not recovered his speech. Well, that didn’t matter, Rendella said, if it was a real Sunday school class. Did he mean a real Sunday school class? Arthur finally spoke, though weakly. It would be a gospel doctrine class—a special course for adults. Rendella relaxed in her chair and beamed with pleasure. She wanted to know if they could go over to the bishop’s office right now and get a manual. Arthur said he would drop one by after work the next evening.

Rendella limped into her bedroom and returned with a copy of the Bible. “Some people say I don’t know the gospel,” she said defiantly. She patted the book and tapped her own forehead with a finger. “I know it, all right. You’ll see I can teach.”

Then Sherman drove his bargains. The class was conditional upon Rendella’s accepting the changes he had been talking about. He knew now that she listened, and point by point he coerced her assent. She must allow some of the sisters to help her dress more nicely; she must call in the truck from Deseret Industries and clear her house of trash; she must stop scouring the neighborhood with her wagon; she must not give lengthy discourses in testimony meeting. In return she would have nice clothes, invitations to supper, friends to take her to meeting. And, of course, her Sunday school class.

The plan was in effect by the following Sunday-another testimony to the efficiency of Sherman Colligan. He followed up every call Arthur made. He stayed on the telephone for hours, assuring the brothers and sisters who had been asked to assume duties in behalf of Sister Kranpitz that their assignment had come from the Lord. The plan, if carried out with enthusiasm and energy, could not fail.

[125] On Sunday night reports of a startling success came in. Brother Horrup, who had been called to attend Rendella’s class, telephoned Sherman to express his satisfaction. He and his wife were proud that their little bit had helped. He had a revised opinion of Rendella. Her lesson had followed the manual closely. He was especially impressed with her knowledge of the gospel. She had no need to pause, search for scriptural passages, and read them; she had them already memorized. Wasn’t it amazing what a little love and kindness could do for a person whom you had written off as deformed and maybe a little crazy? Later Arthur telephoned to express cautious optimism. He was reluctant to believe anything could go right where that woman was concerned, but it looked as if the plan might work. Unless you saw her, Arthur said, you couldn’t believe how good she could look all dressed up and with her hair curled—like Cinderella, a beauty out of the ashes, and so forth. Sherman was charmed. He was already thinking of pushing Rendella toward some kind of simple job—perhaps work at the welfare storehouse or at the Deseret Industries thrift store. Exhilaration came over him and, with it, a sense of gratitude. He always won, but he recognized that he had help far beyond his own abilities.

Early the next Sunday morning Sherman had a telephone call from Arthur. “Things don’t look so good,” Arthur said in a depressed voice. “I’m afraid maybe it’s going to fall to pieces.”

“What’s going to fall to pieces?”

“It looks like one Sunday is about all Rendella Kranpitz is good for. ”

“Dang it, Art, you don’t have enough faith!”

“I don’t know if my faith has anything to do with it. She doesn’t look like a person who intends to stick with her bargains.”

“For heaven’s sake, tell me what’s happened.”

“She’s been on the streets most of the week. And when she disposed of some of that trash, like she promised she would, well, guess what? She called in the opposition.”

“The opposition?”

”The Salvation Army truck. You know, instead of calling in the Deseret Industries truck.”

[126] “What difference does it make? It all goes to the poor, doesn’t it?'”

“It just goes to show you what kind of person she is. If she can figure out a way to dig you, she will.”

”That doesn’t sound so bad, brother,” Sherman said, trying to pitch his voice at an enthusiastic level. “Let’s go forward with this plan. A few setbacks don’t mean anything.”

“It’s today I’m worried about.”

“You mean she won’t teach her Sunday school class?”

“Oh, she won’t miss that, not on your life. The problem is that yesterday Sister Melchoir and Sister Jacobs went over to help her do her hair. Can you imagine the sacrifice it is for those ladies, with all their kids, to get dressed up on Saturday afternoon and go over to Rendella’s for an hour? And she ran them off. She said, What’s the matter. You don’t think I look so good the way I am, huh? She called them names you wouldn’t believe.”

“Shall I go to her class today?”

“Would you do that, Sherman? That would sure be great. If you’re there, maybe she’ll be decent.”

A little before the classes were scheduled to begin, Sherman went up the stairs of the meetinghouse, turned down a corridor, and came to the room assigned to Rendella’s class. He took a seat at the back. Within a few minutes three couples filed in—the Smiths, the Dinwoodys, and the Horrups. All of them smiled at Sherman and spoke a respectful greeting. The men came to the back for a moment and shook his hand. They all appeared a little resigned, yet hopeful and full of good will. The rank and file of the church, Sherman thought appreciatively, were excellent people—always willing to meet new challenges.

Rendella Kranpitz came in. Sherman shuddered, closed his eyes, then took a second look. Men’s shoes, unlaced, clattered on her feet; a vile bag of a dress fluttered around her bony frame; her hair sprouted from her scalp like Swiss chard or turnip tops. Her arms were filled with books—the scriptures, a lesson manual, sermons by some of the general authorities of the church. She set the books on the table at the front of the room and surveyed the class.

[127] “Where’s Brother and Sister Brown?” Rendella asked in a tone of accusation. At that moment the door opened and the couple entered. “There isn’t anything so crude and unrefined as busting into a class late,” Rendella said. “Can’t you come on time?”

The tardy couple murmured an apology as they took seats. Looking up, Sister Brown uttered a gasp of surprise. Rendella advanced threateningly toward her. “Maybe you don’t think I dress so good.” She glared around the room as if to dare anyone else to disapprove.

“Now the lesson.” She returned to the side of the table and stood erect on her good leg, maintaining the other leg at tiptoe in the throat of its unlaced shoe. “Our lesson today is on the gathering of Israel. If you are going to gather Israel, you’ve got to know who you’re gathering. So let’s see if you know who Issachar was. Who was Issachar?”

The class members looked blank. Sister Dinwoody thumbed through the pages of her lesson manual.

“You won’t find it there,” Rendella said. “You’re just wasting your time. How come you don’t read your scriptures? Issachar is one of the twelve sons of Jacob.” She raised her eyes to the ceiling. “Genesis, chapter forty-nine, verse fourteen: ‘Issachar is a strong ass couching down between two burdens.'” She looked about triumphantly. “I got you on that one, didn’t I?”

Rendella shuffled back and forth, as if undecided. Then, leaning against the table, she directed her eyes toward the light fixture on the ceiling and began to recite: “First Chronicles, chapter two: ‘These are the sons of Israel; Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun, Dan, Joseph, and Benjamin, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. The sons of Judah; Er, and Onan, and Shelah: which three were born unto him of the daughter of Shua the Canaanitess. And Er, the firstborn of Judah, was evil in the sight of the Lord; and he slew him.'” She went on for ten or fifteen minutes, unfolding the genealogies of the sons of Jacob. She spoke in a high, oratorical voice and, without hesitation, as if she read from a prompter projected on the ceiling. Sherman listened intently, trying to appear alert and interested, but the rocking cadence and monotonous [128] sonority of her words lulled him. With winking eyes and slumping shoulders, he teetered toward sleep.

Rendella’s hand suddenly slapped down on the tabletop. “Can’t you get your sleeping done at home?” she cried out. Sherman’s eyes snapped open, but it was not Sherman she had shouted at. Rendella glowered down on Sister Dinwoody in the second row. “You’ve got the manners of a magpie,” Rendella said belligerently. “Now I’ve forgotten where I was. I’m going to have to go all the way back to the beginning. Our lesson today is on the gathering of Israel. Israel is a word that means the people of God. At first it was the name of the twelve tribes descended from …”

Sister Dinwoody rummaged in her purse. Rendella broke off her speech and waited, arms akimbo, with a mock patience until Sister Dinwoody had found her handkerchief. “You just won’t listen to anything, will you?” Rendella said. “Well, if you think you know everything, let’s see if you know what this scripture means. Amos, chapter two, verse two: ‘But I will send a fire upon Moab, and it shall devour the palaces of Kirioth: and Moab shall die with tumult, with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.'”

Rendella leaned toward Sister Dinwoody. “So what does that mean?” Sister Dinwoody dabbed at her eyes with her handkerchief. “Sniffling won’t help you any,” Rendella said. “Maybe you don’t think I teach so good.”

Tears flowed from Sister Dinwoody’s eyes. She got up, crowded past her husband, and made for the door. “No you don’t, not on your dingdong tintype!” Rendella shouted. She seized Sister Dinwoody by the arm. “Nobody gets out of this class till the bell rings.”

Brother Dinwoody leaped up. “Let loose of my wife, you old catfish!” he cried. He shook Rendella until she released her. Rendella bent over, took off a shoe, and launched an attack upon Brother Dinwoody. With a roar he grappled with her, but the best he could manage was to grip her shoulder with one hand while he used the other to fend off the flailing shoe.

“Run for it!” Brother Dinwoody shouted. His wife darted out the door. The other couples, mouths agape, looked about uncertainly. “Get out of here before she kills me!” he yelled.

[129] “Let her go, for pity’s sake,” Sherman shouted. “I can handle this.”

“Sorry it didn’t work out better,” Brother Dinwoody said as he made for the door.

Rendella stood panting like an animal at bay. Sherman came forward slowly and deliberately, swollen with a magnificent wrath. Rendella dropped her shoe and with astounding speed lunged through the door and disappeared beyond the turn in the corridor.

Coming down the stairs into the foyer of the meetinghouse, Sherman met Arthur. Arthur eyed Rendella’s abandoned shoe, which Sherman held in his hand, and said in awe, “What happened, Sherm? I sure hope Brother and Sister Dinwoody don’t apostatize.”

“Go after them and cool them off,” Sherman snapped.

“I don’t think I want to get involved in it,” Arthur said, backing away. “Maybe you ought to go talk to them.”

“I said go after them and cool them off. You’re bishop, aren’t you?”

“Well, no,” Arthur said. “I resign for sure this time. I’ve had it up to here with this business.”

“You can’t resign. You were called by inspiration, and by golly you’ll get released by inspiration, which I haven’t had any of on the subject of your release.”

“Disfellowship me if you want to,” Arthur said gloomily. “I can’t take any more of this stress.”

“Suffering salamanders, Art!” Sherman roared. “Why do you have to turn belly up on me every time I get a crisis?”

“I just wasn’t cut out to be a bishop. Especially in a ward with Rendella Kranpitz.”

“OK, OK, I get your message. You shut up about resigning, and I take over that woman. She’s a stake problem now. We’ll declare her house a non-ward territory. Now where is she? I’m going to lean on her so hard she won’t know up from down.”

Sister Horrup informed Sherman that Rendella was cowering in the ladies’ rest room in the back wing of the meetinghouse. Sherman strode down the darkened corridor and pounded on the door with Rendella’s shoe.

[130] “Rendella Kranpitz, you come out of there,” he commanded. There was no response. He pounded and shouted louder. At last he shouted, “I’m counting to ten and then I’m coming in after you. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six …” The door opened a crack, and an eye gleamed in the dim light.

“Well,” Sherman said, a little more calmly, “you sure messed things up royally, didn’t you?”

“Yes, sir.”

“The best chance you ever had to do something decent, and you spit all over it, didn’t you?”

“Yes, sir.”

“We are going to give you one more chance. The whole works. And if you mess it up this time, you know what I’m going to do?”

“No, sir.”

“I’m going to excommunicate you. You won’t be able to go to church anymore. And when you die, you’ll go to the telestial kingdom. And you’ll never get out. Forever and ever.” He smacked his palm with the heel of the shoe. “Now you shape up! Got that?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And you get this straight, too. Sherman Colligan never quits. If you misbehave, I’ll hunt you down personally. And you’re going to get rid of the rest of the trash in your house this week. All of it.”

“Yes, sir.”

“You’re going to let the sisters come over and get you lined up with some decent dresses and a nice hairdo. And you’re going to teach a class next Sunday. But you’re going to do it right. Just like you did last Sunday. Got that?”

“Yes, sir.”

“OK. Take this abominable shoe and go home.”

Sherman spent the afternoon reorganizing the rehabilitation of Rendella Kranpitz. For hours he was on the telephone in his office in the stake center. Outside a storm had begun. Looking out his office window from time to time, Sherman saw the thick, jostling swirl of snowflakes. Ordinarily he would have watched with tranquil satisfaction, but during this long afternoon he was on edge, still unnerved and disgusted with himself for having spoken abruptly to [131] his good friend Arthur and for having threatened Rendella with such anger. Love and firmness? It seemed rather that the rehabilitation of this woman might degenerate into fire and brimstone. With that thought, fresh determination came to Sherman. He would personally see to it that the loving pattern of the gospel would prevail. He decided to call people from all wards in the stake, with the exception of the Fifth Ward, which could be considered already to have done its duty in this matter. He telephoned a score of people—the individuals who would assist in his project and, of course, their bishops, whose support and approval were vital. When evening had come and Sherman stepped out into the storm, he felt at peace. He could take a moment to appreciate the luminous gyrations of the snowflakes beneath the streetlights. None of the good people he had called seemed half-hearted or doubtful. Once again he felt sure his project would succeed.

Sherman drove home in the snowy darkness, parked in his garage, and tramped along the walk to the front entrance. Celia had turned on the porchlight for him. Its rays created an iridescent aura among the floating snowflakes.

And there, sitting on his doorstep, deposited upon a salad plate a little larger than a saucer, was a human stool—a small, looped mound of fresh human excrement.

For a moment Sherman stood transfixed. Then his eyes fell upon tracks in the snow. Though they were half-obliterated, he knew that shuffling foot could belong only to Rendella Kranpitz. Sherman picked up the plate and hid it beneath the drooping branches of a shrub. He shook the snow from his hat and went into the house.

“Hello, sweetheart,” Celia said, giving him a kiss. “Isn’t it a fine night?”

“Um, yes, a fine night,” Sherman mumbled as she helped him take off his overcoat.

“There are sandwiches and soup in the kitchen,” she said. “If you want to hurry and wash your hands, Randy is still at the table. You could eat with him.”

“Right, good idea. That would be great. I’ll hurry,” Sherman [132] said. But when he had gotten into the bedroom and had taken off his suitcoat, he sat on the bed, feeling strangely disoriented and removed from reality. It seemed as if nothing in the world was very important. He wondered how long a man could continue in intensive combat without breaking. He remembered having read that some soldiers held up for years. That cheered him for a moment. He reminded himself that Sherman Colligan never quit. There was no reason why he should lose his nerve because of a frail, demented little woman. There was a godly purpose for the affliction which had come to him and his stake—there had to be. His testimony, his sanity depended upon it. Rendella Kranpitz was obviously not a run-of-the-mill test, an ordinary, everyday trial. She was an epic probe, an examination of heroic proportions. Nonetheless, Sherman took out his wallet and looked at his pocket calendar. When his wife came in, she found him still trying to calculate how long it would be until he had served the normal term of a stake president and might expect to be released.