Such a Heavenly Secret
"HOW about it, Doctor, will I make it?" Grandpa Jensen, as he was called by all the children in the small country town, forced a smile as he asked the question. "Of course you'll make it, Papa." It was diminutive Grandma Jensen who assured him. "Of course you will. Why, he's simply got to get better, Doctor. Home wouldn't be home without Papa."
"Now, Mama, I didn't ask you," and looking into the kindly eyes of their old family doctor, Grandpa asked again, "Will I make it?"
Grandma, who reminded one of Lavender-and-Old-Lace in moonlight, with her white hair and twinkling eyes, interrupted again, "Should I send for the children, Doctor?"
"Mama, darling, let the doctor answer my question. We must face reality, Mama."
"Yes, Grandpa, I'm sure you'll make it." Dr. Hartley's voice was reassuring. "Why you've been so healthy all through the years, I don't think even this siege of pneumonia can ease you out of this world. Not for ten or twenty years yet anyway. And you are improving, you know. You won't need to send for the children, Grandma. You are managing very well. In fact, it's better for Grandpa to have it quiet for a while." His eyes twinkled and he winked at Grandma, then continued,"I wouldn't worry if I were you, Grandpa, you'll make it, but if you have any sins to confess to Grandma, here, you better do it and get them off your conscience, old friend."
"Oh, Doctor, always ready with the joking word at the right time, just like when my babies were born--all seven of them--such an indispensable friend you have been, Doctor!"
Doctor Hartley left smiling and Grandpa dozed awhile. When he wakened with a start, Grandma was sitting in the old wooden rocker by his bed knitting mittens for the grandchildren.
"Mama, how do you suppose the doctor knew I had a sin to confess?" Grandpa's voice was almost a whisper.
"My land!" exclaimed Grandma, dropping a stitch. "You must be delirious, Papa. I'll get the thermometer to see if your fever's going up." And before Grandpa could remonstrate or explain, the thermometer was under his tongue.
"Your temperature is the same, thank goodness! My, but you gave me a scare, papa. Whatever made you delirious, talking about confessing your sins?"
"But I do have a sin to confess, Mama. A sin against you."
"I don't believe it, Papa. Why you couldn't sin against me. You've never so much as spoken a harsh word to me in all our fifty-one years together."
"I know, Mama but the wrong happened before we were married."
"Hush, Papa! You mustn't talk so. It will make you worse. If you did sin, it was such a tiny white one, it would not even count. You better quit talking and rest now, Papa darling."
"It will do me good to talk, Mama. If I tell you, I can sleep better tonight. Do you think you can forgive me, Mama, for keeping a secret from you?"
"Of course I can, Papa, but we've never had secrets. Always we've talked things over together. We've worked together, met joy and sorrow together. You know we've had no secrets. So rest, papa darling, while I bring you a bowl of broth."
RANDMA was at the old wood-burning stove when she heard her named called softly, "Sara Ellen." Quickly she went to Grandpa, for when he called her that way she knew something new or important or tragic was taking place, like when he brought home the first bananas she had ever tasted, or their first washer, or when he came in carrying little Alice who had drowned in the river.
"What is it, Papa darling?" she asked almost breathlessly, placing her hand tenderly on his forehead to see if he was feverish again.
"Why, Papa, your forehead is moist. You're better, Papa." She kissed him lovingly and a tear dropped on his cheek.
"Why Sara Ellen, you're crying! Don't worry, Mama. It wasn't too bad a secret, and I never even met the other girl."
"You foolish Papa! I cry because you are better, really better. You couldn't have a bad secret, Papa, and keep it from me, and a good secret doesn't matter. You needn't tell me, Papa."
"But I want to, Sara Ellen. Will you get my deed box? It's there in the bottom dresser drawer. The secret is in it."
"And what kind of a secret can it be in this little tin box?"
Mama placed the box in his hands and gave him the key which they kept beneath it in the drawer. She watched, her eyes bright, as Papa opened the box and took out a folded piece of notepaper, yellowish with the years.
"I found this letter or part of a letter early one morning near the corral gate when I returned from riding the range to bring the horses in for the day. It was the summer before I met you, Mama, when you were visiting your sister and her family whose place joined mine. Remember, Mama?"
"Yes, I remember, Papa. How could I ever forget meeting you. You were on a load of grain talking to Pete, my brother-in-law. I thought I would never be interested in you, Papa darling, for you had a red face--from the sun and wind. And I had always said I would never marry a red-haired man."
"But my hair wasn't red, Mama. It was never red." Papa smoothed his snowy white locks as he spoke.
"Your hair was a glossy brown, I learned later, but all I saw then was your mustache--and your whiskers--and they were red, Papa."
"Not red, Mama, just sandy."
"And I didn't like your name, Papa. I remember I told Pete that Frank was a horse's name."
"You never told me, Mama."
"And why should I? For when I fell in love with you, it didn't matter, and you could shave your whiskers. You always have, every day, Papa, since we were married."
"To please you, my Sara Ellen. It seems only yesterday that I first saw you. You were wearing a cartwheel hat and a bustle. I had always said I would never marry a woman who wore a bustle."
"But you did, Papa. I wore one on my wedding day. See, Papa, there we are on the bureau in that wooden frame you made yourself. I remember I stood for a side view on purpose so my bustle would show to good advantage. How elegant I felt in my wedding dress of heavy twilled silk with rows of wide silk lace around the skirt--do you remember the color, Papa?"
ES, Mama, a deep maroon. The lace was cream color. Wait! I still have a sample I found on the floor when I called to see you one night." And Papa took a small piece of silk and a tiny triangle of lace from a faded envelope he kept in the deed box.
"And I was always so careful to pick up every scrap so my dress for the reception when we got home from the temple would be a surprise to you."
"You were queenly in it, Sara Ellen."
"And you were kingly, Papa, beside me in your celluloid collar, your new suit, and your button shoes. But what about that letter? Who wrote it, Papa?"
"I don't know, Mama. I don't know. And it doesn't matter at all now that I don't know. It's the fact that I didn't tell you about it that matters. I still think it strange I should find it and yet not know how it got there."
"Go on, Papa. Did you read it?" Mama was just making conversation to cover her interest, for she knew Papa had read it.
"Of course I read it, and Sara Ellen, when I had I said to myself, 'I'm going to find that girl and marry her.' But I never found her, and I fell in love with you. I tried not to, Sara Ellen, for I wanted so to find that girl I felt was meant for me--the one girl in all the world--but I couldn't keep from loving you, Mama. I tried to tell you about my other love but, I couldn't. It didn't seem right when I knew I loved you. Guess I was afraid you might not understand. Now you know, can you forgive me, Mama darling?"
"There is nothing to forgive, Papa. You were just being kind. May I read the letter?"
"Yes, Sara Ellen. It's a lovely message. I know now it was the message I fell in love with. Read it aloud, Mama darling."
ARA ELLEN took the paper, unfolded it, and read: Somewhere you are waiting for me as I am waiting for you. Someday we shall meet and recognize the tie that binds. I shall bring to you a clean body and mind and a loving, willing spirit, and you will bring the same to me. Together we shall strive to build beautiful and flawless temples for immortal souls, as many as God shall send. We shall walk the road of years together--always together ... forever ....
Sara Ellen ceased, and almost in a whisper, Papa asked, "Isn't it beautiful, Sara Ellen! More beautiful than ever before with your voice saying the words. Why, my dear, you are crying again. Don't cry, Mama."
Sara Ellen smiled, and her eyes were shining bright as a rain-washed sky in the sun as she spoke softly, "I am crying for gladness, Papa. How beautiful! Oh, how beautiful! Surely 'our times are in his hand'! I wrote that letter, Papa, watching the sunrise one morning when I was visiting Pete and Tillie the summer before I met you. What a blessed little wind it was that took it out of my hand and carried to to you!"
Stars were in Papa's eyes as he said in reverence, "My own Sara Ellen! So it was you all the time!"
"Yes, Papa darling. Now you must go to sleep and tomorrow we shall watch the sunrise together through your window. Always we shall be together." She kissed him tenderly and he fell into a sound, restful sleep.
"Dear, dear Papa," she crooned as gently as though he were a sleeping child. "Dear, darling Papa. Such a heavenly secret!"