Fifty Singing Aprils
A FLASH of cerulean blue wings through the lacy, greening limbs of the old black willow and a lark-flute calling from the fence post announced to Susan Barclay that spring had come. "Another singing April!" she said softly to no one in particular. "Another singing April, and I have a letter to write this morning!"
Her step was buoyant as she walked the winding path of stepping stones from her back garden to her kitchen door, noticing the bordering tulips still in their green nightcaps, and the snow-on-the-mountain just beginning to send out its green tendrils.
A half hour later, she was sitting at her desk when the doorbell rang. She looked up to great four smiling little boys.
"Happy anniversary, Grandma!" they called in unison. Then Rodney, the oldest of the four, continued, "We brought our gift early so you can enjoy it all day, you and Grandpa."
"Daffodils!" exclaimed Susan. "My favorite April flowers! A splash of sunshine, I call them. And so many!"
"There are two dozen, Grandma, for I counted them." Eight-year-old Robert's face was as radiant as the yellow blooms.
"Two dozen! And so beautiful! Let's put them in this large blue swan, with its frog, so each flower will get its proper share of attention. There now, spring is in my room." Susan gave each a kiss and felt little arms about her. Even thirteen-year-old Rodney was not too big to receive and give affection.
"Why, Grandma, you were writing a letter to Grandpa, and he isn't away from home. I saw him in the yard when we came." It was ten-year-old Richard who spoke.
"Yes, my dear, I always write a letter to your grandpa on our anniversary."
"Do you mean you've written Grandpa forth-nine letters before this one? This is your Golden Wedding, you know." Incredulity was in Rodney's voice. "And he has been right at home with you every time?"
"He has been away a few times."
"But why do you do it, Grandma?" asked Richard.
"Because he wanted me to." Susan's eyes were twinkling reminiscently as she explained, "We had been married but one week when your grandpa said, 'Susan, only one regret I have, and that is that I shall not be getting letters from you now. Yours were wonderful letters, darling. I can't give them up entirely.' Before he could finish I said laughingly, 'All right, I'll write you sometime, say on our first anniversary.' "
"And it ended up by your writing a letter each anniversary." Rodney's quick mind anticipated what she was going to say.
"Yes, Rodney, it turned out that way."
Later, after the boys had gone, their hands filled with cookies, and wee Johnny's pockets bulging, too, Susan Barclay sat down to finish her letter. She was thinking how blessed she was to have Aileen and her family living in the same town. The four little Randals, as she called them lovingly, were like the sunshine of spring no matter what the weather. She picked up her pen, but sat idly musing, "Fifty joyous years together! I wonder what John will give me today. Something special, I am sure. And to think that tonight our five children will be here, and our grandchildren, too!"
"Fifty years together!" she wrote. "Can it be possibly! Fifty good, strong, and beautiful years, each with a harvest of its own, yet each a part of one great harvest!" She lifted her pen, looked far away for a moment, then continued writing, "Remember, John, how those teachers at college urged me not to marry?" Again she heard the voice of Miss Janfrey, her creative writing teacher, "Marriage is not for you, Miss Lee. Any woman can marry and raise a family. You must go on unhampered with your career. The world has a right to demand this of you. With your talents, you must influence the race not just a child or two of your own."
Her pen was moving again, "Remember how you laughed, John, when I told you that I had said to her, that my highest ambition was to get married and have a family?"
ND get married we did, and we have our family. Tell me, Susan, have you one little regret or feeling of frustration?" It was John who spoke. He had come in quietly and had been reading over her shoulder. "I did not really intend to snoop, you know, not really," he explained.
Seeing his slight flush of chagrin, Susan consoled him with, "I forgive you, John. and let your mind be at ease, for I haven't any regrets or frustrations. What if I haven't written books, painted pictures, or become a great vocalist? I have created beauty by giving smiles to my children's faces; making little pinafores and shirts; and never once have I taken the brown loaves from the oven without experiencing the thrill and beauty of creation."
"And you have sung lullabies, and solos in church." John continued her line of thought. "You know, my dear, you were the most beautiful of all to me singing a lullaby to a new, little pink-faced guest from heaven, with other little ones about you, wonder in their eyes."
"And always you completed the picture. Don't you see, a living work of art? But now, out with you, John, or I shall never get your letter finished."
Still he lingered and said reminiscently, "It seems but yesterday that you wrote me my first anniversary letter, and it was such a masterpiece, giving the beauty and strength I needed, that I asked you to write me each year as your gift to me. I have all your letters, Susan, every one. They build my morale even now, for in them you seem to forget my failures. Always you have been my inspiration."
Susan interrupted him, "And you have been my strength. There have been no failures, John, no real failures. Time is proving that more and more."
"Thank you, my dear." And with a light kiss on her forehead he was gone.
Susan sat motionless for a while, a half-smile playing upon her features. Then her pen broke the silence with its rhythmic strokes, "Did you know you are a handsome man, John, that age is becoming to you? And you have been handsome all through the years, not with the flawless perfection of features, but with a certain rugged and honest beauty reflecting the sincerity of your soul. Now, in recalling the past years, never have you been more handsome, your countenance lit by a light from within, than you were that afternoon when I returned from seeing Dr. Eliason and he had assured me that another baby was coming, our third. Do you remember, John?
"I shall never forget. That had been our poverty year, but clouds were lifting, and our budget showed we could afford you a new overcoat. Remember how I had mended the old one, the one you had before we were married? As I told my news, I watched your face closely to see if the slightest shadow would cross it to dim the exultance I felt. Not a flicker of a shadow, John! But the sun in full glory! You said, 'Mend my old overcoat once more, Mother. I'll wear it another year, and wear it proudly.' "
Susan finished her letter and gave it to John at lunch time. His tender smile and his kiss after reading it told her his heart was satisfied.
As the hours sped happily, Susan's heart never once stopped singing, but she wondered shat John was up to in delaying giving her his gift. She knew he had not forgotten, but had purposely timed its giving. So, although her anticipation increased, she felt no anxiety whatever. She could wait, for she knew her John.
* * * * *
GUESS it's a good thing you didn't have any more children, Grandma Susan, you and Grandpa, or where would you have put us all?" It was seventeen-year-old Patty who asked the question, her eyes surveying the one long table and the two small ones with the family seated around them.
"Why, that's easy to answer. Grandma would set a table in the kitchen, too, if there were more of us," volunteered twelve-year-old Janet.
"And in the bedroom, too, if she needed!" said four-year-old Jamie. "Wouldn't you, Grandma?"
"At any rate she would never leave any of us out." Rodney spoke with conviction.
"Now it's time for the candle-lighting ceremony! Boy, oh, boy!" cried Robert a half hour later while Susan's daughters removed the dinner plates.
"Then come the ice cream and the cake!" cried Richard. "The best of all!"
Father and Mother Barclay lighted the fifty candles, all of them, and John, Jr. turned out the lights in the room. As the candles burned, each one in turn, even two-year-old little Susie spoke a wish for the honored pair.
"Now to see if your wishes will come true!" cried several grandchildren in chorus.
John and Susan stood up, leaned over the cake and, with one united blow, extinguished every candle.
"That is teamwork for you, the result of pulling together for fifty years." Grandpa's voice held overtones of love, and he placed his arm about his wife as he spoke.
"Grandma Susan, what did Grandpa give you?" asked Patty innocently. "I haven't heard you say, and none of the gifts on your chest bear his name. You didn't forget her, did you Grandpa John?"
Grandpa smiled tantalizingly as he answered, "I don't have to give a give this year, do I? Surely when I've given her forth-nine of them I should be exempt this time. Don't you think so, Susan?"
Without hesitation his wife answered, "You have done very well, I am sure." But the twinkle in her eyes spoke her faith that fiftieth gift was forthcoming.
OHN, Jr. was master of ceremonies for the program which followed in which everyone participated.
"Bless their talented hearts," said Mother Barclay as their grandchildren sang a melody of loved childhood songs.
The in-laws brought laughter with their rollicking song, "When Grandpa Courted Grandma," the words having been written by Francine and the music by Gordon.
Father Barclay cleared his throat a time or two, and Mother wiped her eyes while John, Jr. gave the "Live History of John and Susan Barclay," concluding with, "So Father worked joyously and unceasingly to feed and clothe and educate us, and Mother gave up her career of being a writer, musician, and artist to create boys and girls and men and women."
Father blew his nose then, and the tears ran gently down Mother's cheeks.
After Francine had given the story she, herself, had written for the occasion, Gordon played old loved melodies on the organ around which they had sung in childhood. Then Aileen and Janice sang "I Love You Truly," Followed by "This Day Is the Beginning Not the Ending," another creation by Francine and Gordon.
When Mother Barclay arose to speak, Patty, with shining eyes, exclaimed in an audible whisper, "Isn't Grandma Susan beautiful! Why, she looks young as a girl!"
"Thank you, Patty dear," was Susan Barclay's introduction, "I think I feel as young in spirit as you tonight." Then, facing them all, she continued, "I am a proud and blessed mother and grandmother. Proud of each one of you. John, Jr. has told you of my girlhood dreams. I have found fulfillment of them all in you children; I am writing my poems and stories through you, Francine, and you, John; singing through you, Janice and Aileen; and playing my music through your fingers, Gordon." Her eyes took on a faraway look of tenderness, and she continued, "And I think I am painting my pictures through the artist hands of my own son in heaven. And I shall continue these activities through you, my grandchildren."
OTHER doesn't need to be known through the work of you children. She is already an author of merit in her own right," John announced.
Susan looked quickly and inquiringly at John as he continued, "In proof of this, I now present my gift to you, Mother." He handed his wife a small, neatly wrapped parcel. "Here, Susan, I hope you like it."
Susan's fingers were trembling with eagerness and excitement as she removed the ribbon and tissue to reveal a book, beautiful with its restful blue jacket with the words, Fifty Singing Aprils, by Susan Barclay staring out at her.
She could not speak, but when she removed the jacket and saw the subdued gray-blue cover, with its silver writing, she gasped, "The very colors I would have chosen!"
"Tell the children about it, Susan," her husband prompted tenderly.
"You did it, John, please." Mother Barclay's joy welled from her brimming heart to her eyes and ran in slow tears down her cheeks.
"This book is entitled Fifty Singing Aprils, and was written by your mother, Susan Barclay, as it says here." He held up the book for them to see.
"Most of you know that Mother has written me an anniversary letter each year. Nearly a year ago when I was rereading them, their literary merit struck me forcibly. Your mother, in a style that to me seemed perfect, had really written the history of our years of joyous struggle together. It came to me she had given a pattern for successful married life which could profitably be read by the young and old.
"You remember, Susan, when I was gone those three days those months ago? That was when I took your letters to find out what value those who knew would place on them. I went first to a highly recommended family counselor. He glanced through them and was all interest as he requested, 'Leave those with me till tomorrow, will you? I want to read every word. Come back in the morning and I will give you my opinion of their value.' "
"Oh, John, did he really?" interrupted his wife.
"He did, my dear, for when I returned he said, 'These should be published in book form and made available to the public. Such a book is one of the most needed additions to the literature on family living, for herein is the story of a sound, normal, happy, and lasting marriage. Such detailed pictures of wholesome family life with its joys and occasional sorrows are almost nonexistent. These letters give the story of a family whose budget was never large, yet who enjoyed celebrations which sometimes consisted of a simple picnic lunch eaten in a canyon or even their own back yard, with perhaps a book of poetry or a story to read, or games with the children--a way in which we all should emphasize our happiness more frequently by looking for the simple realities that can make life more worthwhile, then sharing them. The parents in this family have the values of life straight, and hold that the greatest of all vocations is parenthood.' You see I've been reading this from the flap of the jacket.
"Buoyed up with this encouragement, I went to the publishing house."
"And what did they think, John?"
Y dear, this book is evidence of what they thought. And listen, Mother, they published your book on the royalty basis. They have that much faith in it. All I had to put out was the cash to pay for the books I ordered for myself. And what is more, Mother, you will receive thirty per cent royalty on all sales, and it may be a best seller."
"Surely not, John!"
"The publishers think so, Susan. And I must tell you they did not change one word of your letters. Here, I'll read part of their comment--on the other flap--'Here we have the work of an artist with words which at times flow with the lyric imagery of poetry, and always with beauty.'
"So, little Mother, you are a writer and may yet be famous. And, who knows, you may achieve in music and painting, too. You have time for study now and to do the things you love. We have good years ahead of us. Susan."
John Barclay spoke directly to his posterity then, "I have your mother's book for each of you. Come, Patty, Janet, and Rodney, you may help me pass them out."
He took them into his room. In a few moments they returned with the precious books.
Janet was giggling as she said, "Bet you wish you knew where these books were hidden, Grandma!" But her remark went unchallenged in the excitement of turning pages.
"But how could Grandma Susan write her fiftieth anniversary letter before the anniversary was here?" Wonder was in Patty's voice. With young-girl eagerness, she had opened her book at the back to get the ending.
John Barclay smiled, sent the silent message to Susan that he knew she would understand, and said, "You see I could not be left entirely out of the book--as a writer I mean--so I wrote the last letter for her."
Instantly all turned to the last letter, Susan first of all. This is what she read: "Our Fiftieth Singing April! The best and most rewarding of them all: the anniversary with its shining halo of dreams fulfilled, and its prophecy of new dreams yet to be spun.
"Fifty joyous years, fifty Singing Aprils, have proved the truth of my philosophy that life is beautiful and earth can be heaven."
"Father, you are a writer, too." It was John, Jr. who spoke, his voice husky with emotion.
Later, John and Susan stood by their front gate in the moonlight till their dear ones could no longer be seen or heard. As they walked arm in arm to the house, the air fragrant with hyacinths in their garden, John asked, "Satisfied, Susan?" After fifth years his voice still fell like music on her ears.
"Yes, dear more than satisfied. To think that by giving up one career for a greater one, I have achieved both. And always there will be another Singing April, for eternity is forever."
Mabel Law Atkinson, Dayton, Idaho, began writing poetry in childhood, and some of these poems were published. However, it was not until 1950 that she again began to publish her work. She has received many awards for her poems, stories, and radio scripts, some of these awards being in national contests. A graduate of two poetry classes (after she was fifty) by correspondence, she is a member of the American Poetry League, Avalon, Idaho Writers League, Midwest Chaparral Poets, Word Weavers, and Ars Poetica. She is the author of a brochure and two books of poetry: Portrait of Mother, Inviolate Eden, and Touch of Wings. The wife of Earl J. Atkinson, she is the mother of three daughters and two sons, the eldest of whom died in 1942. She has served the Church in many capacities in the Auxiliary organizations.