Six

[p.83]For two months after graduation, he didn’t see or call Rose. Then he got a note in the mail. “Ryan, Please come and see me. Love, Rose.”
Three lines. The kind of note you would have expected from Rose. She wouldn’t remember anything mean he had said to her, and she would act as if the whole thing had been her fault.

Nothing had changed. She would never marry him out of the temple. But she was asking him to come back.

He drove over on a Sunday afternoon, and she walked out of the house smiling before he opened his car door. She had her hair braided into a bun, and she was wearing a white shirt with the shirt tail out, tight blue jeans, and black high heels.  She put her arms around him and kissed him, right there in front of her house, in the middle of the afternoon.

“I love you,” she whispered.

They went downstairs to the TV room. She put a Gene Pitney album on the stereo, sat down next to Ryan, and took his glasses off.

It was the first time either of them broke her rules.

She leaned him back on the couch and kept saying she loved him as he kissed her on the ears and neck.

“Oh, Ryan, it feels so wonderful. Oh, I love you.”

“I love you, Rose.”

She had started to take off his shirt when they heard the noise at the top of the stairs.

“Rose?”

She jumped off the couch and turned on the TV.

“Yes—eh, yes, Mom … we’re just watching television.”

“Well, would you like to come up for a piece of pie?”

“Okay, Mom. We’ll be up in a minute.”

She had tears in her eyes. “I’m sorry, Ryan. I was so happy to see you. Now I’ve done something terrible.”

He had mismatched the buttons on his shirt. He looked at her but didn’t say a thing. Her hair was messed up. He didn’t want anything if he couldn’t have her. He just wanted to be alone in darkness and close his eyes and not feel anything. But she brushed her hair and washed her face while he sat on the couch aching. Then she told him she was sorry again.

She got him up the stairs and into the kitchen. Rose’s mother served him a large piece of apple pie with two scoops of Farrs vanilla. He wasn’t sure he could eat it all without getting sick.

“It sure is good to see you, Ryan. What have you been doing this summer?”

Working with Uncle Neal, he told her.

When someone in Salem or Hibbard would call and ask Neal if he could come out to fix a tractor or a truck, Ryan would help him load the tools into the pickup and they’d drive out to the field where the vehicle was stuck. The next day they might be irrigating or pounding nails on a construction project. Neal and Ryan kept busy all summer that way, fixing fence, patching road, thinning beats, moving sprinkler pipe, driving trucks up to Island Park.

But Neal loved to shear more than anything else. In the [p.85]50s Ryan’s dad had come with them, but he claimed he wasn’t interested any more. So Neal and Ryan went together, Ryan trying to shear the way Neal did—holding the sheep with one hand and shearing with the other. The sheep were always terrified, and they always kicked loose unharmed.

He loved the inside of the wool, so thick and white and untouched. He liked the feel of it, the smell of it.

They’d hang a long gunny sack from the roof of a shed or whatever they could use and throw in one fleece after another until the bag was full. Then Ryan would jump into the sack and stomp the wool down to make room for more. Sinking down into the bag, you felt like you were part of the wool, the smell of dust and sheep and manure filling your nostrils, but it was never unpleasant, just something that made you more alive.

You’d come out sweating and smelling of sheep. Then back for more shearing. When darkness came they’d go out behind the barn or a shed and wash down—stripping, lathering up with soap, standing under the frigid water, and lathering up again. You couldn’t get rid of the smell, not with a thousand showers, but you didn’t mind.

Wearing pressed, clean clothes (courtesy of Norma), they’d drive into Rexburg or Rigby or Idaho Falls for a green salad, steak with baked potato and sour cream, and hard rolls. Then Neal would drive Ryan home, sometimes not even stopping to talk to Ryan’s dad.

In junior high, in his first art class, Ryan did a sketch of a man shearing a sheep. The teacher complimented him.

A man shearing, a man sitting next to a camp fire, a man walking alone down a country road—he put Neal into more drawings than anyone else. And when he did landscapes he loved to do Alpine up against the mountains, or the Tetons from the Snake River, or Swan Valley with the marshlands in the foreground, or Palisades Reservoir, the highway winding along [p.86]the edge of the water, or the dam itself, a torrent of water exploding from the concrete.

He and Neal were driving back to Idaho Falls one night when Neal asked him about Rose.

“We’re doing okay.”

“Maybe it’s none of my business, but I think there are a few things you might consider.”

“You mean about Rose being Mormon?”

“Back in the thirties your grandmother took me aside and gave me some advice. I didn’t listen to her. I was too much in love with Norma to worry about the differences between us.  Besides, I thought time would temper this enthusiasm she had for religion. Well, we’ve got three wonderful daughters, and we’ve had a good life, but Norma should have married a man who could take her to the temple.”

“I was ready to break it off.” “Were you?”

“Yeah. Then she asked me to come back.”

“Sure she did. She loves you.”

“I can’t win.”

They came into town on North Yellowstone, past Bear’s Gas Station, Sears, the golf course, and the North Highway Cafe, the temple passing in and out of view. Neal lit up a Camel.

“Look at me. I love Norma. I always have. But I’m forty-eight years old and I’m still smoking. And I’m not kidding myself—I won’t stop.”

“Uncle Neal, did you ever consider joining the church?” Neal smiled. “Of course I did. I was desperate to keep Norma and to please her. And I would have joined, too, if I could have kept my smokes, and still visited the bars, and gone fishing on Sunday, and spent tithing money fixing my pickup.”

“I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

“Believe me, Ryan, I know what it’s like.”

[p.87]Things had changed again with Rose. After a movie one night he started to drive across the river.

“Ryan, let’s not park.”

“What?”

“I don’t think we should kiss in the car any more. I think it’s—I don’t know—dangerous.”

“I’m not going to try to take advantage of you.”

“I know you’re not, unless I want you to.”

He couldn’t argue with that. He turned around in the Westbank parking lot and drove her home. On the step she gave him a long passionate kiss.

Rose was anxious to get to Ricks. She had her class schedule planned out and a room reserved in the dorm.

He would be eighty miles away in Pocatello.

Ryan’s mother turned forty-seven in August. Rose took her a present, an antique cup and saucer she had bought in Salt Lake City.

Ryan’s parents, Uncle Neal and Aunt Norma, and Ryan and Rose sat in the living room eating the birthday cake. Ryan’s mother looked good, and she looked happy. Maybe the truce between her and Ryan’s dad would hold for a while.

Norma and Rose hit it off immediately, discovering within minutes that their ancestors had been close friends—Brigham Young and Willard Richards. They talked about the two families and how many church leaders had come from each one—eight Youngs and seven Richardses. Only the Smith family had more.

“Sounds like a contest,” said Ryan.

“Oh, don’t be silly,” laughed Rose.

Neal talked of a birthday party they had had for April in Alpine.

“It was raining cats and dogs outside,” he said. “Clark got a fire going, and we sat at the table playing cards.”

[p.88]“I remember,” said April. “We played Sevens the entire evening.”

Norma laughed. “We were up till two or three, and Clark and Neal had to be at the dam at six.”

“We made it on time,” said Neal.

Norma asked Ryan if he remembered that night.

“I remember it. I think that was the night Dad and Uncle Neal taught me to play five-card stud.”

“Doesn’t surprise me,” said Norma. “And you were only what—ten years old?”

“About that.”

“Every boy should know how to play five-card stud,” said Clark.

“I doubt that,” said April.

“What’s five-card stud?” asked Rose, and everyone laughed.   It was August, 1963, a Monday night, Ryan’s mother looking like she was ready to begin a new, more peaceful time in her life. She died three days later.

Ryan and Rose played tennis that afternoon. They came back to Ryan’s house and found a note taped to the door.  April’s sick. Have taken her to the hospital. Dad

Rose went to the hospital with him, where she took word of his mother’s death with tears and near hysteria while Ryan took it with paralyzed silence. Rose’s father picked her up, putting a hand on Ryan’s shoulder and saying he was sorry. A nurse helped Ryan and his dad call Wood Funeral Home. Then they drove home.

One of his mother’s patterns was spread out on the kitchen table, her sweater draped over a chair. Ryan collapsed on the couch; he still hadn’t said anything.

His dad picked up the phone. “Better call Neal. And Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth was April’s older sister.

[p.89]Clark’s eyes filled with tears as he started to dial and then put the phone down. “I can’t do it right now.”

She had been sitting at the table sewing when Ryan and Rose left to play tennis.

“Have a good time,” she had said.

He hadn’t even looked at her, just said thanks as he picked up his racket and walked out the door with Rose. She hadn’t said anything about not feeling well.

The house was half-dark, but they hadn’t turned on any lights. Someone knocked at the door, and Ryan stood up.

“I’ll get it, Ryan.”

Clark turned on the light and answered the door.

“Mr. Masterson?”

“Yes.”

‘‘I’m Marjorie Richards, Rose’s mother. I’m very saddened to hear of your wife’s passing. I don’t want to intrude, but I’d like very much to help you .”

“Please come in.”

She saw Ryan as she stepped into the living room.

“Oh, Ryan.” She took his hands, and he started to cry.

She hugged him and he saw that she was crying too. She had her composure in a moment and asked who she could call.  Clark gave her Neal’s number.

She reached Norma and then Elizabeth. After a third call someone knocked on the door. She answered it, thanking the person for something, then brought the casseroles in and put them in the fridge.

“I know you don’t feel like eating now. But when you do, I don’t want you to worry about fixing anything.”

Norma arrived within twenty minutes.

“I am so sorry, Clark,” she said, embracing him. “How did she die?”

“Heart attack .”

“It was sudden; she didn’t suffer?”

[p.90]“No.”

“She was so young,” said Norma. Then she told them Neal was not at home so she had left a note for him.

Norma and Rose’s mother arranged for meals to be brought in by the Relief Society. Then they helped Ryan and Clark plan the funeral and found out whom to contact for a plot in Rose Hill Cemetery. Then phone calls to more relatives and friends, first to April’s parents in Wyoming, Ryan’s only living grandparents.  They were in their late 70s. Norma cried when she talked to them.

Ryan sat on the couch, Clark in a living room chair.

Tomorrow was the day the garbage trucks came. About this time his mother would have reminded him to get the garbage out to the alley, making sure he got everything from the shed.

“Clark,” said Rose’s mother, “I think it might help if I put some of April’s things away, for right now.”

She took the sweater away, and the pattern and sewing machine. A copy of Good Housekeeping, the purse Ryan had bought her for her birthday, the faded slip-on shoes she wore around the house, and a Neville Shute book, The Chequerboard.

The two women left around nine, promising to return the next day. Half an hour later Ryan heard Neal’s pickup in the driveway. He came into the house without knocking.

“I just heard.”

He looked more shaken than Clark.

“Totally unexpected,” said Clark.

“What are you going to do?” asked Neal.

“I don’t know.”

Neal walked to the couch, sat near Ryan. “I can’t believe it,” he said. He patted Ryan’s arm. “You hang in there, Ry’.  We’ll get through this.”

Ryan nodded.

[p.91]“Norma wants me to bring you back,” said Neal. “She’s sorry she didn’t ask you. Stay at our place tonight.”

“We’ll be okay,” said Clark.

“No, no you won’t. Get what you need and let’s go. We’ve got plenty of room with the girls gone.”

“Okay.”

Ryan was glad his dad had agreed.

They got in the pickup together. On the way to Menan Neal talked about April. “She lived a good life. That’s all any of us can hope for. But I have never understood death.”

Norma had beds ready for them. Ryan went to Susan’s room.

He lay on the bedspread with his clothes on and pulled a blanket over him. He started to cry as soon as he was alone, weeping until his whole body shook.

 

Rose sat with him at the funeral, and she held his hand at the cemetery, and she sat with him in the car on the way home.  She helped the Relief Society sisters serve dinner to all the relatives and then washed dishes with her mother and Norma, the three of them talking in Mormonisms Ryan could only half understand.

Before Rose left she and Ryan walked out to her car. She put her arms around him and kissed him on the cheek.

“I’m going to make sure I never lose you,” she said. “Not ever.”

She had tears in her eyes.

Two weeks later she persuaded him to go out. They went to a movie at the Rio, Come September, with Rock Hudson, Gina Lollobrigida, Sandra Dee, and Bobby Darin. Rose asked him if he liked it when they left.

“It was okay.”

“I think that means you didn’t like it too much.”

“Oh, you know.”

[p.92]“We should have gone to that John Wayne movie.”

“No, this was fine.”

“Ry’, are you getting ready to leave for Pocatello?”

“Not yet.”

“I know it’s hard,” she said, “but the semester starts in a couple of weeks.”

“I’m not sure I’m going.”

“What?”

“I might wait till winter semester, or next year.”

“What about the deposit you put down on the apartment?”

“I think I can get that back.”

“Don’t you want to go?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know anything any more. I can keep working with Uncle Neal.”

“Ryan, you don’t want to shear sheep the rest of your life.”

“Don’t start knocking Uncle Neal, okay. He’s a hard worker. Besides, how do you know what I want to do for the rest of my life?”

“I’m sorry.”

“You think shearing sheep is a low-class job, don’t you?”

“Ryan, I said I was sorry.”

“Okay, let’s just forget it.”

Neither of them spoke on the way home, and he didn’t kiss her goodnight.

The semester started with Ryan still working with Neal.  He didn’t try to get his deposit back. He didn’t care. He didn’t want to run or paint or go to school. He wanted to work with Neal because it felt good to work hard and exhaust your body, and it passed the time.

When Neal dropped him off he would go in and eat with his dad, take a shower, and watch TV until he went to bed. His dad had been a cook in the CCC camps, and they ate well, steak and potatoes two or three times a week. Then Clark would  [p.93]tinker in the shop or go to bed early, and Ryan would get comfortable in front of the TV.

It was a good year for television. Rawhide, Mr. Ed, Ozzie and Harriet, Peter Gunn, 77 Sunset Strip, Leave It to Beaver, The Rifleman, Dobie Gillis, Candid Camera, Gunsmoke, Wells Fargo, The Detectives. His favorite was Have Gun … Will Travel; he never missed it. And he never missed Rose’s favorite—The Defenders, with E. G. Marshall and Robert Reed. He watched The Fugitive for his mother; she had loved that show.

Clark couldn’t sleep. Ryan would hear him up at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, shuffling through the house, getting a drink of milk before sitting on the couch. But Ryan didn’t have trouble sleeping. Neal worked him too hard. He went to bed at 10:00 every night. Even weekends if he wasn’t with Rose.

He told her he was able to see her more than if he had gone to school.

“Uncle Neal and I are always working in and around Rexburg. Now I can see you all the time. I’m closer and I’m free on weekends.”

“But I was looking forward to discussing our classes, reading the same books, you know—growing together.”

‘‘I’ll get back to reading pretty soon.”

Growing together. Ryan knew what she really meant by that.  She wanted to be going to firesides and sacrament meetings together, reading the Book of Mormon, praying.

One Sunday afternoon in October Ryan tired of a football game on TV and went out for a drive. He thought Rose might be home for the weekend so he drove down South Boulevard to 14th and past her house. No cars were there, and he remembered they would still be in church. So he drove the two blocks to the church, hoping to see Rose.

He did see her, walking out of the church, but she wasn’t alone. The guy next to her looked like he was twenty-two or [p.94]twenty-three, with a sharp blue suit and an all-American smile, looking like the perfect candidate to take Rose to the temple.

They were walking down the steps of the church, close together but not holding hands, Rose wearing a pink outfit Ryan loved, and she looked up just as Ryan passed them.

It was the one time she saw him without acknowledging him. And he her. She watched him drive by without altering her expression in the least, and he turned back to the road.

He was in Rexburg a few days later and called her at her dorm.

“Ryan, where are you?”

“At a Texaco station coming into town. Neal and I just finished a job. He loaned me his pickup, and I drove in from Menan.”

“Come and get me, okay? I need to talk to you.”

He picked her up, and they drove toward Idaho Falls.

“Were you coming to see me last Sunday?” she asked.

“Yes.”

“I’m sorry I didn’t wave or anything. I was just surprised.”

“That’s okay.”

“A guy I met at Ricks asked me to church. I wanted to go to my own ward. Did it make you angry?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t know you were dating anyone else.”

“That’s the first time I have.”

“You don’t need to confess anything to me, Rose.”

‘‘I’m not confessing. I just want to be honest.”

“Okay.”

She kissed him on the neck. “Don’t worry about the guy you saw me with. He talked about his mission the whole time we were together. I couldn’t stand him.”

“He probably doesn’t even like Gene Pitney,” said Ryan.

“As a matter of fact, he doesn’t. He likes Frank Sinatra and Glen Miller.”

“The poor guy has never lived. Imagine, unacquainted with [p.95]the joys of rock and roll. I hope you treated him with sympathy.”

“I didn’t.”

“He’s probably never read The Grapes of Wrath.”

“Of course not.”

They drove to Idaho Falls and ate at the Westbank, Rose saying she was glad to be away from “cruddy little Rexburg.”  He turned right as he pulled out of the parking lot.

“The other way,” said Rose. “There.” She pointed to the spot where they always parked. “We’ve never been here in a pickup before.”

“I guess we haven’t.”

“The stick shift’s in my way.”

He put it in third gear.

“That’s better,” she said, taking off his glasses. Then she kissed him. He kissed her on the neck and she didn’t object. After ten or fifteen minutes he reached for the button of her blouse. She moved his hand away without saying anything. A few minutes later she said they had better stop.

“I love you, Ryan, but we can’t do certain things until we’re married.”

“What?”

“You heard me.”

“Rose, you know I can’t take you to the temple.”

“I’m not worried about that. I want to marry you and be with you for the rest of my life.”

“I can’t believe it.”

“Believe it.”

“Let’s be wild about it. Let’s drive to Nevada right now.  We could be married in a few hours.”

“No,” she laughed. “We’ve got to have a nice ceremony in the Sixth Ward Chapel. And my bishop will marry us. Is that okay?”

[p.96]“Of course it’s okay. It’s the greatest thing I’ve ever heard in my life.”

“Ryan, I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy.”

He kissed her.

“Of course you haven’t,” he said. “I haven’t either. Wait till I tell Mom—”

She held him silently, her arms around him, his face against her neck and hair. She had a pained expression on her face that he’d never seen before.

They talked about when they might get married and who they would invite. Then she shrieked as she looked at her watch.

“You’ve got to get me back to Rexburg. I’m going to miss curfew.”

“How much time have we got?”

“Twenty minutes.”

“Twenty-five miles in twenty-minutes—no sweat, not for Parnelli Masterson.”

He gunned the engine, the truck rattling as they bounced along the gravel road next to the river. Then onto the pavement and across John Hole’s Bridge, Rose kissing him and telling him how happy she was. He was pushing seventy-five when they reached the Louisville Highway.