[p.15]Rosemary was a straight-laced girl who knew how to enjoy herself. After a dance or a game he would drive her down to the river, parking north of the falls, across the water from the temple. Rose loved the temple.
She’d take his glasses off and kiss him very lightly on the lips. She knew how to kiss. She’d kiss him on the forehead, eyes, cheek, chin, nose, and mouth with a delightful variety of hard, soft, dry, and moist kisses.
She had her rules. She had plenty of them. No lying down, no questionable caressing, no kissing on the neck. She didn’t spell everything out, but he knew what was acceptable.
The rules made kissing that much more exciting. He always had her home by 12:30.
He even grew attached to the temple, loving its simple lines and simple whiteness.
Rose was intent on marrying in the temple, but the temples in Logan, Salt Lake City, or even Hawaii would never do.
It had to be the Idaho Falls Temple.
He couldn’t accuse her of misleading him. She made it clear from the start that she would never marry a non-Mormon. And [p.16]he believed her. He just hoped something would happen, however unlikely, that would bring them together, even half-wishing for his own conversion. But that had been a Catch-22.
“Don’t ever consider joining the church because of me,” she said one night. They were parked outside her house on 14th Street, sitting close together in his ’55 Chevy, the best car he ever had.
“What are you talking about? I thought you wanted me to get baptized.”
“I do. But not for me.”
“Sounds like I can’t win.”
“What are you getting mad about?”
“It’s frustrating for me too.”
“What’s wrong with both of us believing what we want to believe?”
“Nothing. As long as we’re not married.”
“Come on. You mean two people are supposed to agree on everything before they can get married?”
“Not everything. But they should agree on religion.”
“I hate these discussions.”
“So do I,” she said, starting to cry.
That would have been 1962. He always traced their relationship in terms of Kennedy’s presidency: they met during the campaign (Rose a staunch Nixon supporter though she knew nothing of politics); they were parking by the river at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis; they were engaged by the time Kennedy went to Dallas.
His mother liked Rose.
“Stop with Rose after the dance and I’ll have some refreshments for you.”
“Oh, I don’t know if we’re going to come here after a dance.”
[p.17]But he and Rose would end up stopping, and his mother would have some coffee cake and hot chocolate ready. She’d sit in the front room and talk with them. Rose liked her from the start.
Ryan wanted Rose to go to Idaho State University with him. But she leaned toward Ricks, the Mormon junior college in Rexburg, and Ryan’s mother encouraged her.
“You’ll be with people who share your values,” she told Rose. “I think that’s important when you’re starting college.”
“I do too,” said Rose.
“Not Ricks,” Ryan argued. “It’s so … so cloistered.”
“Every college is cloistered in one way or another,” his mother said.
One night Rose mentioned she had made the dress she was wearing; that’s all it took. Ryan watched TV while his mother brought out several patterns, and she and Rose sat at the table talking.
If his dad were still up he would mumble hello to Rose and then vanish, going to bed or walking back to the shop to work on some project.
“You could be a little more sociable,” Ryan’s mother said to him once.
“Don’t worry about me, April. I like to give the kids their privacy.”
“It’s more than that.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You look at Ryan and you see Neal sitting there, about to get involved with a nice Mormon girl.”
They were sitting in the kitchen, where they always sat when they argued, and they didn’t know Ryan was eavesdropping.
“What are you bringing Neal into this for?”
“It’s no secret how you feel about Norma.”
“Would you get off my case? I like Norma just fine.”
[p.18]“You’ve always resented her. She wanted your brother to be religious-and you didn’t .”
“I don’t know what in the world you’re talking about,” he said. Then he stood up and walked out the front door.
Neal had gotten involved with a nice Mormon girl. Aunt Norma was the most religious person Ryan had ever met, reading her scriptures every night, attending church every Sunday, and continually cooking for elderly people, making clothes for children, and visiting shut-ins.
Ryan had been in their home more than once when Norma chided Neal for smoking or drinking or swearing. It didn’t change anything. She knew he wasn’t going to give up his Lucky Logger, his Camels, or anything else.
Neal didn’t have much to say when Ryan told him about Rose.
“She’s an active Mormon, Uncle Neal.”
Neal smiled. “Well, you know me. I’ve got nothing against that, nothing at all.”
“She wants to get married in the temple.”
“You’re a young man, Ryan. Liking a girl—liking her a lot—doesn’t mean you’re going to marry her. You’ll meet a dozen girls you really like before you get married.”
Neal wasn’t going to give you any advice. He would incriminate himself either way.
Neal and Norma. Ryan knew the story well enough. One night in 1936, Neal had been shearing sheep in Hamer. The family invited him in for dinner when he finished . Their niece happened to be visiting, a pretty young girl from Paris, Idaho, Norma Young, a great-granddaughter of Brigham Young.
Religious to the core, she did something Brigham never would have approved: she fell in love with a gentile. Worse yet, she married him.
It was all chance. Neal never would have met her if he hadn’t been invited in that night. Ryan’s meeting Rose was the same [p.19]way. Her family moved from California to Idaho in 1960, making an offer on a house in Rigby. The deal fell through at the last minute, and they ended up buying a house in Idaho Falls. Otherwise Ryan never would have met her.
Whatever had happened, it was all history. It only happened once and could not be altered. Chance meetings, trivial decisions, and circumstances—they all added up until they meant something, and in this case they meant that he could not marry the girl he loved.
Rose was bound and determined not to make Norma’s mistake and marry out of the faith . But she was a product of history just as much as Ryan. With a few changes in circumstances who could tell what might have happened? It could have been him refusing to marry out of the faith.
Of course, Rose would never agree with that. “We made decisions before we were born,” she said. “Our situation now is a result of those decisions.”
“I don’t remember making any decisions,” he would argue.
“That’s the veil of forgetfulness.”
“You tell me this life is a test. What sense does a test make when everyone’s got amnesia?”
“You’re too logical about everything, Ryan. Faith comes from trying to believe. I wish you could do that.”
He didn’t say anything, but he had an inkling of what she was talking about. He remembered nights in Alpine, his dad off on a job, when his mother would sit beside a wooden stove, replenishing it often, and read to him. Sometimes she picked up the Bible. She read the sad stories—Jacob and Rachel, Joseph and his brothers, David and Absalom. She read the 23rd Psalm and the Beatitudes. Listening to his mother read, he had been willing to believe.
“April,” his dad said once, “don’t let Norma catch you reading that or she’ll try to convert you.”
She gave him a quick, cold glance but said nothing. Ryan’s [p.20] mother believed in something. She would not have agreed that things turned out the way they did simply because of circumstance.
She was pleased when Ryan told her Rose had invited him to church.
“Let’s make sure your suit looks good.”
“I hate wearing a suit. I’m just going for Rose.”
“I know you are. But give it a chance.”
“I wonder if Aunt Norma ever got Uncle Neal to go to church.”
“Are you kidding? He’s been to church plenty of times.”
“Sure. Although it’s been a while.”
He couldn’t imagine Neal dressed up and sitting reverently in sacrament meeting or Sunday school.
On a hot Sunday in August of ’62 Ryan went to sacrament meeting with Rose and her parents and her brothers and sisters.
Rose was proud of him, holding his hand and smiling. They sat on a wooden bench in the middle of the chapel, and one of Rose’s brothers climbed up on Ryan’s lap. He handed the bread and water to Rose without taking any. He watched her eat the small piece of bread and drink the small cup of water, and he felt like he was eight years old again, sitting next to the stove while his mother read the Bible.
The meeting dragged on for over ninety minutes; he loosened his tie the moment it ended.
Rose’s mother nudged him with her elbow. “That was a long one, wasn’t it, Ryan.”
“Yeah.” He smiled at her.
Rose didn’t ask how he liked it or if he wanted to go to church again. That was the only time he went.
Rose’s mother understood him. Once when he was waiting for Rose, her mother asked if he wanted a 7 -Up. He said sure and sat down in the living room. Rose’s mother was a [p.21]young, good-looking forty-five-year-old. She smiled at him, and he was embarrassed and excited to find himself attracted to her.
“How’s the cross-country running?” she asked. “Good. We won our meet against Pocatello last week.”
“That’s good. I don’t know how you run so far. It must be very difficult.”
“I just love to run.”
“What was that Australian fellow’s name—who won the gold medal?”
“Elliott—that’s it. He’s a beautiful runner.”
“Yeah, he stopped running.”
“He did? Maybe he found it taking up too much of his life.”
“I guess he did.”
He sipped his 7-Up and looked around the living room, at the portrait of Jesus and family photos on the wall, the flowers on the coffee table and the small statue of a woman holding a child, the watercolor still-life over the couch, and the grand piano in the corner. Rose played the piano and played it well.
“That was nice of you to go to church with Rose. What did you think of it?”
“I don’t know. I think it’s good for people to be religious.”
“But it’s a very personal thing, isn’t it?”
“Yes. You can’t force someone to believe.”
“Rose needs to realize that,” her mother admitted.
“I might be interested in religion some day,” Ryan was quick to add.
“I think you probably will.”
“I know it means a lot to Rose. I don’t want to hurt her or anything.”
“I know you don’t.”
Rose came out of her room, and he was irked at her for interrupting them. Rose asked her mother something about [p.22]her schedule for the week. She always had a full schedule. She was in the A Cappella Choir, the Thespian Club, the GAA, Pep Club, and she was vice-president of the Spanish Club. On top of all that she had church activities. Ryan got tired of everything Rose did.
In every yearbook her picture popped up ten or fifteen times, Ryan’s three or four. His favorite picture of her was one taken at the Sadie Hawkins Dance their junior year. She was wearing blue jeans and a checkered shirt, her hair in pig tails and freckles painted on her face. She had a glass in her hand and a crazy grin on her face. The picture was printed in the back of the yearbook, with the caption, What did they put in that punch?
He had been sitting next to her, but someone had cropped him right out of the picture. It looked like Rose was sitting there all by herself.
His picture did appear two pages later. He was sitting on the bus after a track meet, his hair a complete mess. Has anyone seen my Bryl-cream?
The same yearbook had an entire page devoted to Roger Jensen – his graduation picture against a background of clouds and the words IN MEMORIAM in large black type.
Rose’s poem was at the bottom of the page:
In some brilliant, future dawn
An eternal sun will light the sky
Loved ones gather to many mansions
Dwelling there, no more to die.
Ryan had run cross-country with Roger, the two of them often together, running around the golf course or out to the park.
You didn’t expect to be hit by a car while you were running. It was almost unimaginable. You didn’t get hit by a car when you were eighteen years old. If you were five you could wander into the street unaware of the danger; if you were ten [p.23]you could thoughtlessly chase a ball into the path of a truck. But you didn’t slip up like that when you were eighteen.
Roger had gone out to run alone one night in the spring of ’62. He must have been on his way home after running through Tautphaus Park. He crossed South Boulevard right in front of Sacred Heart Hospital; the driver of the pickup didn’t have a chance to slow down.
You didn’t expect a person to die right in front of a hospital. But Roger was dead before they got him to the emergency room.
Stopping for a drink near the tennis courts would have saved his life. Or maybe not stopping for a drink. Who could tell what quirk had caused him to reach the street exactly when he did?
Where Ryan saw the hand of chance, Rose saw the hand of God. She said Roger was a special person, that he had been called home for a greater work.
“That’s hard for me to believe,” said Ryan.
“Because it’s like saying his death was okay, that it wasn’t really bad for him to die. Well, I think it was bad. It cut a good life short, and it took him away from everyone who loved him. There can’t be compensation for that. It’s a tragedy.”
“It is very sad,” said Rose, “but people are strengthened through suffering, the way steel is tempered by fire.”
“What are you telling me, Rose? That suffering is good? Man, if we came here to suffer we ought to be thanking Cortez and Jack the Ripper and Hitler and the whole lot of them for helping us along. If suffering is good then what in the world is bad?”
“Now you’re making fun of me.”
“No. I just don’t understand how suffering can be good.”
He drove the Chevy to 14th, walked her to the door, and said [p.24]goodnight. If she wanted to go into her room, read her scriptures, and believe whatever she wanted to believe, that was fine with him. He wanted to be alone, too, and try to understand why Chance had taken Roger instead of him.
He drove to Boulevard and headed south, past Murphy’s Market, Sundberg Pharmacy, Hawthorne Elementary, and his own house on 20th, all the way to the park. He pulled to the side of the road near the hospital and got out of the car.
Did you feel anything when a truck hit you at forty miles an hour? You probably felt nothing. He wondered who had tried to save Roger’s life, how easily they concluded he was dead, and if anyone had cried when they pulled the sheet over his head. He wondered who told Roger’s parents and if they went to the house or just picked up the phone and made a call. Hello, your son is dead.
Roger was eighteen. Buddy Holly had at least made it to twenty-two.
At the funeral Rose cried and gave Ryan a look that made him think she really did believe bad things happened to people.
But it wasn’t all seriousness and dialectic and theology with Rose, not by a long shot. Once she suggested they run together. He chuckled and told her he didn’t want to wear her out.
But Rose had been running since junior high, and she could put in ten miles at a stretch. So they’d run out to the park, Rose with that determined, buoyant stride, and he was surprised at how comfortable he was with her.
She gave him a hardcover copy of The Grapes of Wrath for his eighteenth birthday, the simple note To Ryan, from Rose inside the front cover. Then she bought herself a paperback copy and suggested they read it together. They finished it in less than a week, spending an entire evening in Rose’s basement the last day. Her mother came down the stairs to see Rose on the couch and Ryan in the LAY-Z BOY in the corner.
[p.25]“Are you two still reading?”
“It’s a good book, Mom. We’re getting close to the end.”
“It’s almost eleven. You’ve been reading for almost five hours.”
“My eyes are about to fall out,” said Ryan.
Rose’s mother laughed. “How much have you got left?”
“Twenty pages,” said Rose.
“Thirty pages for me,” said Ryan.
“I remember seeing the movie,” said Rose’s mother. “Henry Fonda. Sad.” She stood there at the bottom of the stairs, looking first at Rose and then Ryan. He watched her over the top of his book. A resignation came to her eyes. “Henry Fonda,” she said, almost to herself. “It was a good movie.” She walked back up the stairs.
Rose’s dad, like Ryan’s, wasn’t much for socializing. Most nights he wasn’t home. He was either out selling insurance or out doing church work. When he was home, he would make a token appearance to say hello, eyeing Ryan suspiciously before going to his desk to do church work or insurance work. He was a good, upstanding man who didn’t want his daughter to marry out of the church.
“I don’t think your dad likes me,” he said to Rose.
“He likes you. He calls you ‘a fine young man.’ He’s just worried about us. You know, I was disobeying him when I dated you the first time.”
“He laid down a rule that I wasn’t supposed to date non-Mormons.”
“That’s crazy, Rose.”
“‘If you don’t date them, you don’t fall in love with them,’—that’s what he says.”
He kissed her. “Not true. I would have fallen in love with you regardless.”
They were sitting near the tennis courts, Ryan in an old [p.26]tee-shirt and a pair of cut-offs, Rose in a white blouse and white skirt, both pressed and clean. She looked great in that outfit, with a perfect tan and long beautiful legs, her long brown hair tied back in a pony tail.
Ryan went for an ace with every serve and always tried to hit the ball near the line; Rose played safely and methodically, playing an excellent net game and taking full advantage of his weak backhand. They were evenly enough matched to be tied after twelve games or two sets.
She played hard and concentrated, ignoring his jokes and complaints. Then they’d walk to a bench under a tree and rest. She wouldn’t even talk about the game—she’d talk about all the things she had planned for the next week and how she had everything organized.
She tried to do too much, and she tried to do it too well. He’d watch her while she talked, tiny beads of sweat on her forehead. All she had to do was touch him, put her hand on his shoulder or bump him accidentally with her knee. That touch never failed to excite him.
Sometimes, sitting there under the tree, they talked about his parents and whether they would stay together.
“After I leave for college I don’t know what will happen,” he said.
“Why can’t they get along?”
“I’m not a marriage counselor. I just know that Dad wants to live a few miles from some hick town in Wyoming that is made up of a gas station and a market. He wants to be able to walk to a fishing hole, or be floating down the Snake River in ten minutes. Mom wants to live in Idaho Falls, close to department stores, libraries, and neighbors. That’s how different they are. They can fight about anything.”
“We need to help them.”
“Help them? How can we?” [p.27]“I don’t know, but it would break my heart if they got a divorce.”
He knew she meant that. That was Rose. She loved him. And he loved her. Nothing could keep them apart. Except theology.
The week they graduated, in the spring of ’63, they were parked across from the temple. But Rose didn’t take his glasses off and she didn’t kiss him.
“What’s the matter, Rose?”
“You’re worried about the damn temple again.”
“Let’s forget about that for a while. We’re only eighteen.”
“I can’t forget about it,” she said.
“Then forget about me.”
“You don’t mean that.”
“Yes, I do.”
He started the car. She turned away from him, staring out the window so he couldn’t see her face.