Nine

[p.127]Rose wanted to get married in December. They could move into an apartment a couple weeks before Christmas and put up a tree and decorations.

“I know how I’m going to decorate the apartment,” she said. “And I know what I’m going to get you for Christmas.”

“What?”

“I’m not telling.”

“You mean I have to wait till Christmas morning?”

“Of course,” she said, kissing him. They were parked across the street from her dorm. It was a cold night just before Halloween, and Ryan had the engine running so they could stay warm.

“Can’t I open it on Christmas Eve?”

“No, Christmas morning.”

He ran his hand along her arm, over her shoulder to her neck. “I don’t think I can stand being away from you for six weeks.”

“I know. I want to be married so bad. I love you so much.”

“Let’s drive to Nevada.”

“Ryan,” she laughed. “We’re not getting married in Nevada.  Six weeks will go fast. We’ve got all kinds of things to do before then. We’re going to have a really nice reception. And a luncheon the afternoon we get married.”

They were planning on living in Rexburg so Rose could keep going to school.

“I won’t mind living in Rexburg,” said Ryan. “Dad and Uncle Neal grew up there. Can we live out in Hibbard?”

“No, we can’t live in Hibbard. I don’t want to be completely isolated.”

“How about Salem or Archer?”

“No. We’re living in the city.”

“Okay.”

He promised her he wouldn’t resent her going to church every Sunday.

“I’m not worried about that, Ryan. I know you won’t hold me back. You know how important it is to me. And will you come to church with me just once in a while?”

“Yeah, to sacrament meeting.”

“Okay. Then you can go back to the apartment and watch football or whatever.”

Rose’s Sundays would probably be like Norma’s—up at 7:00 to do her hair and read scriptures, Neal sleeping till 9:00 or 10:00. Norma would leave for Sunday School at 10:00 and be back at 11:30. She would fix lunch while Neal watched TV.  After lunch, a thirty-minute nap, then off to choir practice and sacrament meeting.

Neal was too restless to stay in the house all afternoon.

He’d drive to Rexburg to help a friend with farm work, or go into an Idaho Falls bar to play pool or pinball and have a couple beers.

When she returned in the evening, Norma put on the Tabernacle Choir and sat in her rocking chair to knit.

She never missed sacrament meeting. If she were sick she [p.129]would skip everything else but still make it over to the church to eat the small piece of bread and drink the small cup of water.

Rose had said more than once that it wasn’t right for Norma to go to church by herself.

“Yeah, but when the kids were home they always went with her.”

“Yes, but that’s worse in a way. When the father is doing all kinds of things that the mother is trying to teach the children not to do. What kind of a family life is that?”

“He’s been a good father. And he’s taught them to be kind to other people. Isn’t that the important thing?”

“Well, yes, it is, but other things are important along with it.”

“Yeah, don’t tell me. Like obeying the Word of Wisdom and going to the temple.”

“You’re mocking me.”

“Sorry. You just don’t give Uncle Neal any credit.”

Rose’s father had taken news of Ryan’s and Rose’s engagement bitterly, telling Rose—in a series of long discussions what a serious mistake she was making and that she couldn’t truly be happy. But Rose’s mother had given Ryan a hug and told him she would be proud to be his mother-in-law.

One night when Clark was working late, Ryan was watching TV. The doorbell rang; he got up to see who it was.

“Hello, Aunt Norma, come in.”

“I hope I’m not interrupting anything.”

“Oh, no.”

He asked her to sit down.

“How is everything?” she asked.

“Fine.”

“That’s good.”

“Dad isn’t here. He’s working late.”

“Oh.”

“Why didn’t Uncle Neal come with you?”

[p.130]“Well, actually, I wanted to come by myself. Ryan, I—eh … I don’t know quite how to say this. I don’t pretend to have any authority over you and I don’t mean to be worrying over something that’s really none of my business.”

“It’s Rose, isn’t it?”

“Yes. I came to … to suggest that you reconsider.”

“Rose wants to get married.”

‘‘I’m sure she does. But sometimes a person in that situation doesn’t see the full picture.”

“Aunt Norma, it’s our decision. Why is everybody trying to make it for us?”

“I know it seems like people are intruding, like I’m intruding.

It’s because we’re concerned about you.”

“I know you are.”

“I understand your situation very well,” she said. “When I look at Rose, I see myself twenty- five years ago.”

“How can you expect us to do something you didn’t do?”

“I don’t know, Ryan. But when a person you love is about to take a wrong turn, a turn you took, you have to warn them.”

“But you and Uncle Neal have had a good marriage.”

“We’ve done the best we could. And we’ve had much happiness.  But Ryan, you know us well enough to know that in some ways both of us regret getting married.”

“I know that. But it’s different with Rose and me—”

“You mean that you’re not going to smoke and drink the way Neal does.”

“No, I’m not,” he said. “And I’m going to go to church with her sometimes.”

“Oh, Ryan, I wish you could see that will just make it harder.”

“Why?” He was angry now.

“Rose has a testimony. You won’t be able to share in the things that are most important to her.”

“You mean going to the temple.”

[p.131]“Yes,” she said. “I don’t like to say it, but marrying outside the church will bring her a lifetime of heartache.”

“You make it sound like everything will be just fine if we break up.”

“I’m not trying to minimize that. I have some feeling for how devastating that would be.”

“Everyone talks about how hard things will be if we get married. No one says anything about how hard it will be if we don’t.”

“That’s true. But there’s a difference. Your sadness over Rose will end when you fall in love with someone you’re better suited for.”

“You mean we’ll get over it. That’s easy for people to say.”

“I know it’s easy. Those were the very words I said to my mother. She’s been gone for fifteen years, but I’ll never forget how she tried to warn me when I was in this situation.”

“I’ll feel like dying if I lose Rose.”

Aunt Norma had tears in her eyes. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I shouldn’t have come.”

“No, I’ve wanted to talk to somebody about it. Dad and Uncle Neal are both leaning over backwards to stay neutral.”

“You’re in a difficult situation.”

“Uncle Neal would say between a rock and a hard place.”

“That’s right,” she smiled and wiped her eyes. “But I want you to know that whatever decision you make, Neal and I will support you all the way. We feel like you’re one of the family.”

“Thanks, Aunt Norma.”

He watched her walk out to the car. She had been married to Neal for over twenty-five years. Ryan wondered if she had ever considered divorcing him. If marrying him had been a mistake, why hadn’t she ever done anything to correct it?

He didn’t tell Rose about Norma’s visit. Rose had problems enough of her own. Her dad had convinced her to talk to [p.132]her bishop, who strongly urged her to break off the engagement.

“It’s none of his business,” said Ryan.

“It’s not his decision, but it is his business. He does have a stewardship.”

“How can he tell you not to marry me when he doesn’t even know me?”

“He wants me to get married in the temple.”

“Right, the temple. I get so tired of hearing that.”

“You don’t understand the temple,” she said.

“I know it’s keeping me away from you.”

“No, it’s not. We’re getting married.”

“Not by your bishop, I hope.”

“What is wrong with you?” she yelled. He said nothing was wrong.

He knew a lot more about the temple than he let on. Staying overnight with Neal and Norma, he had read magazine articles and parts of books. He knew about baptism for the dead and eternal marriage. He knew Joseph Smith had had a vision in the Kirtland Temple and Lorenzo Snow in the Salt Lake Temple.

Temple ordinances allowed you to be reunited with loved ones after death. But his mother had never been baptized and had never been through the temple. Did that mean she would spend her life after death alone? For his mother to be alone would only compound injustice. She died young, never living the kind of life she deserved to live, falling into a lonely and dreary marriage. But she had lived a good life. So what would happen to her?

 

One week after Kennedy died and two weeks before the wedding, Rose’s father finally played his trump card.

He told Rose that she and Ryan would not be welcome in his home after they got married.

[p.133]Ryan and Rose were sitting in a cafe in Rexburg when she told him. She had talked to her dad earlier that day, and Ryan could tell she had been crying.

“What do you want to do?” he asked.

“I don’t know.”

“What does your mom think about this?”

“She’s not speaking to him.”

“But even she can’t be hoping we get married. She wants you to get married in the temple just like he does.”

“Yes, but she’s willing to let me decide. He isn’t. I’m never going to forgive him.”

“He might change his mind.”

“He never changed his mind in his life.”

“We could put it off for a while, give him a chance to cool down,” Ryan said.

“No, that will just make him think we’re giving in. He’ll just get more determined.”

“Then what do we do? Get married without your dad at the wedding?”

“It’s his fault, not ours.”

Then she started to cry as she talked about the invitations they had already sent out.

She hadn’t touched her salad. Her make-up was streaked and her face drawn, like she hadn’t slept for nights. A couple two tables away were thoroughly enjoying themselves, talking about some professor at Ricks College and laughing. The guy looked like a returned missionary. If he were in love with this girl he wouldn’t have any trouble marrying her. Her folks would be proud to have him in the family. He would take her through the temple, and everyone would treat him like some kind of hero. Even though it was all an accident of birth. With a few changes in circumstance, he and Ryan could have been sitting at opposite tables.

“We can’t get married now,” said Ryan.

[p.134]“Why not?”

“We can’t start out on a note like that.”

“So now you don’t want to get married?”

“Of course I do. But Rose, we need to see if we can work out some of these problems. We can’t get married fast just to spite your dad.”

“You don’t even sound like yourself.”

“Maybe I don’t.”

“I think I liked you better when you wanted to run off to Nevada.”

“What in the world do you mean by that?”

“It was always me worrying about the problems. You just wanted to get married. But you start having second thoughts as soon as I say yes.”

“I’m not having second thoughts.”

“Then why weren’t you worried about any of these things before?”

“What? Your dad hadn’t made any threats then.”

“It’s all wrong. We can’t get married at all.”

“Rose, one minute you tell me we can’t put it off, and the next minute you tell me we can’t do it at all.”

“I’m sorry.” She was crying. “I’m sorry; I don’t know what I’m saying.”

“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. But let’s hang in there, okay?”

“Okay.”

He took her back to the dorm, kissing her goodnight at the door. It was no longer the unrestrained kiss of a high-school girl thrilled with newly discovered sensuality. This was the deadly serious, passionless kiss of a worried woman. The decision to get married had changed everything. Before, it had been possible to park and make out in the car and enjoy it because you were playing with fire. Now everything was so complex [p.135]and so many problems had popped up that kissing had lost its excitement.

He didn’t see her on Christmas day. She was home and he didn’t want to run into her dad, and he had no place to meet her. He and his dad had put up a tree in the front room, but April would have been displeased with the meager decorations.  Christmas made her absence more conspicuous than anything since her death: no smell of cooking while she made fudge, banana nut bread, and cookies for neighbors; no addressing and mailing Christmas cards; no telephone calls to friends; no reading from the New Testament or A Christmas Carol.

Ryan was up at 7:00 on Christmas morning. It was still dark outside, and he stared out at the lighted homes up and down the block, kids no doubt up for hours already, still in their pajamas, playing with bikes and dolls and electric trains and Monopoly games; families handing each other presents, laughing, eating breakfast together. His mother had always fixed a big breakfast on Christmas: bacon and eggs, hashbrowns, French toast, juice, and coffee.

He sat on the couch and turned on the TV.

Clark woke him at 9:30. “You must have fallen asleep, Ryan.”

“I guess I did.”

“Let’s open the presents.”

“Okay.”

“Here’s one for you.”

“Thanks, Dad.”

He took the package, obviously wrapped by his father.  April criticized him every Christmas for using too much tape, using too much paper, not tucking the corners in neatly.

“Leather gloves. How did you know I needed a new pair?”

“It wasn’t hard. Your old ones are falling apart.”

“I appreciate these, Dad.”

“You bet.”

[p.136]“Here’s one for you.”

“Thanks, Ryan. Let’s see … oh, a seat cover for the pickup.  Great. April was going to get one of these.”

“She mentioned it to me once.”

“Old April. If you just happened to mention that you needed something, she’d jot it down and then get it for you at Christmas.  She was that way.”

“I guess I’ll open this one from Grandma.”

Clark stood up. “Would you mind if we opened the rest of them a little later?”

“No, I wouldn’t mind,” said Ryan.

“Okay.” He walked back to his room.

Ryan put the half-opened package back under the tree and sat in the green chair, where he had sat in astonishment the night his mother died. She would not have liked the tree. Clark had picked it up in a hurry, stopping for just a minute at a lot on First Street. It was too thin. When they lived in Alpine he and Clark always went into the hills for a tree, April telling them she wanted a six-foot fir, full and triangular. They’d drive the pickup as far as they could, then climb out and hike through the snow with an ax and a rope. Clark always spent a long time searching. He didn’t want April to send him back a second time.

You had to have chains to get into the hills. And you had to have weight in the back of the pickup, preferably two or three hundred pounds. Clark kept several fifty-pound bags of salt and two shovels in the back of the truck. If they got stuck they went to work with the shovels, then threw salt under all four tires. Ryan and Clark would come back with a tree and then start a fire. Christmas was a good time. He didn’t remember his folks fighting at Christmas.

Clark was still in his room when Norma called.

“Hello, Ryan. You and your dad are coming, aren’t you?” He looked at the clock. “Gosh, I’m sorry, Aunt Norma, I didn’t [p.137]realize what time it was. We were … opening presents and kind of forgot the time.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re enjoying yourselves.”

“We’ll be there in half an hour,” he said.

“Good. We’ve got turkey, dressing, spuds, pumpkin pie, and lots more ready for you.”

Norma salvaged the day, serving them a delicious dinner, giving them presents, and convincing them to stay through the evening. They talked, watched television, and played dwindle bridge. Around 8:00 Norma brought out turkey sandwiches, chips, and milk. They ate and played cards for two more hours.

“Norma,” Clark said as they left, “this has been a good Christmas, thanks to you.”

“No, we’ve just been blessed.”

The house was dark. They hadn’t left a light on the tree the way April always did. Clark said goodnight and went back to his room. Ryan checked the doors and sat down in the living room. April would have stayed up late by herself, reading a book and listening to the radio, taking time to unwind. But Ryan didn’t have the energy to read or do anything else. He just wanted to fall asleep, sleeping till he woke and found his mother alive again.