by James L. Ferrell
An excerpt from The Peacegiver, published by Deseret Book.
Rick and Carol were both members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints-the “Mormon Church,” as it was nicknamed by early antagonists. They had been married in one of the Church’s holy temples, this one in Los Angeles. Temples differ from ordinary church buildings in that they are set apart solely for the delivery of sacred ordinances pertaining to “eternal families”-the idea being that families can be sealed together as family units into the eternities, each family joined to the generations that preceded it, until all of the worthy members of the human race are sealed up as the family of God.
Rick and Carol had been taught from their earliest days that marriage in the temple by one with the priesthood authority to seal couples beyond death and into the eternities was the crowning ordinance of their faith and the single most important decision of their life. So they did not take marriage lightly. When they entered the temple that late spring day, they believed they were starting something that would last forever.
Like many young men of his faith, Rick had served a mission for the Church for two years-two years away from school, work, and dating, during which time he did nothing but teach people about his beliefs. He had been home from his mission for less than a year, and was dealing with being dumped by his “dream girl,” when he saw Carol for the first time.
It was the first day of the new semester at UCLA. Rick was sitting against the far wall of the Institute classroom-a religious studies course for members of the Mormon faith (and for young Mormons, a great place to meet potential dating partners)-when she walked in, looked around uncertainly, and took her seat on the other side of the room. She was tall, with dark brown, slightly wavy hair about shoulder length. Trim, athletic, and very pretty, physically she reminded Rick of Glenda, his ex-dream, and he looked at her almost in mourning. But as he stole glances in the new girl’s direction, he saw something different in her. She seemed less assured of herself than Glenda had been. He could tell by the way her eyes darted to others in the room, as if wondering what they were thinking of her. Glenda would never have done that, he thought to himself. Believing that everyone was looking at her, she would have sat regally still, trophy-like, showing them what they had no hope of ever winning.
Rick’s eyes had lingered on the new girl as he thought of this, and she busted him-meeting his gaze with her own. He looked quickly away, forcing himself to focus on the instructor, whose words had been nothing but muffled background noise to that point. Still, he could see the girl out of the corner of his eye and finally succumbed to the urge to again look in her direction. He resolved to find a way to meet her.
She left too quickly for him to catch her that night, but Rick sat next to the door two nights later, right behind where she had sat on Tuesday. Sure enough, she walked in again, alone, right before the class started, and sat in front of him.
He didn’t hear much of that lesson either.
He introduced himself after class. Her name was Carol Holly Adamson. She had grown up in Bakersfield, the fourth of an enormous brood of thirteen children. She had returned that semester after two years off to work and save money for her school expenses. She was a twenty-two-year-old sophomore.
Her shyness, Rick discovered later, was due in part to the poverty in which she had been raised. She had also lost considerable weight in the previous year and looked better than she was accustomed to looking. She was now a first-rate beauty without the attitude Rick had come to expect from many who looked as she did. He fell for her immediately.
Their courtship had been lightning quick by L.A. standards-six months to engagement, another three to marriage. Eleven months later, their first child, Alan, was born. Another child, Eric, came three years later, followed a few years after that by two girls born just fifteen months apart-Anika, now five, and Lauren, who was three. The children had added some of the pounds back to Carol that she had lost before Rick had met her, and although at times he longed for the athletically trim girl from the Institute class, he still found her attractive, even with all the trouble they had been having. If there was a problem in the physical attraction department, it was that Carol found his thinning hair and increasing waistline unattractive. The sparks were long gone, and he resented her for it.
The children were Rick’s pride and joy. They were wonderful kids, if a little too prone to teasing, which Rick easily dismissed in light of his own childhood memories. “They’re just kids,” he had protested to Carol on a number of occasions, when it seemed to Rick she was taking too hard of a line. “Ease up a little.” But in Rick’s view of things, she never eased up enough. She harped on the children the way she harped on him, especially the boys. “Clean this.” “Empty that.” “You didn’t do enough of this.” “Why don’t you care about that?” “When will you start thinking of others?” and so on. No positive reinforcement, no grateful recognition, no thanks-just buckets of worries, insecurities, and complaints.
Rick tried to spend frequent and quality time with the kids, partly to compensate for what he thought was Carol’s lack of positive attention and partly to bury himself in relationships of unquestioning love. “Every child deserves a dog,” a friend had once told him, “because puppies love their child masters no matter what has happened at school.” To Rick, his children were his puppies. They ran to him when he arrived home, begged him to play, and enjoyed resting in his arms. Their warm and buoyant affection kept him afloat. It also, however, ripped him apart. If they knew their parents’ feelings, he thought, they wouldn’t survive it; they’d be devastated and scarred for life. His heart ached for them.
If not for the children, and for the social ramifications of divorce-both familial and in the Church-Rick was no longer confident he would still be married. He was teetering at the edge of an unthinkable abyss, an abyss with eternal implications and complications, and not just for him.
The thoughts were too painful, so he did what he always did-he tried to think of other things, the way one of his friends foolishly tried to think of other things when he began to feel the Spirit, in order not to cry. Rick closed his eyes and tried to force his way to sleep-an hour-long process or so, interrupted by frequent glances at the alarm clock to see how much time had passed.
Finally, he gave up, rolled to his back, and began to think of one of his heroes-his Grandpa Carson.
Grandpa Carson had been dead for ten years, and his death had been very difficult for Rick. They had grown close through Rick’s childhood and teenage years, as he often spent extended periods during the summer months with Grandpa and Grandma on the farm. Sometimes Rick’s younger sister and brother would join them, but very often it was just Rick and his grandparents for days and sometimes weeks at a time. During those periods, Grandpa taught him how to fish, how to golf, how to care for horses, and, perhaps more than anything, how to care for a wife. For Grandma Carson was notorious in the family for being an impossibly difficult woman. She was the best grandmother anyone could ever hope for-doting over her grandkids and complimenting them from sunup to sundown. But she was a very different person toward Grandpa. It seemed he couldn’t do anything right. It was always “Dale this” and “Dale that.” She put him down mercilessly, from his poor driving (even though she was the one who had backed over gas pumps on more than one occasion), to his few strands of hair that he combed proudly over his otherwise bald pate, to the way he had lied to a couple of robbers about money he said he wasn’t carrying (a falsehood she quickly made the robbers aware of). She delivered most of her jabs with a smile, almost as if she were joking. But the sheer volume of her comments must have taken a terrible toll. Rick and the other grandchildren always marveled at the magnanimous way Grandpa reacted. He would wink to the nearest grandchild, and his eyes would twinkle as he drawled “Oh, Grandma” in apparent mock protest. He didn’t seem to take her seriously when she talked that way, playing her comments as if she were merely having fun and giving the grandchildren the cue to read them the same way. After years together it was almost like the two of them had perfected a stand-up comic routine, Grandpa playing Laurel to Grandma’s Hardy.
But Rick knew it wasn’t quite that way, for he was seated between his grandparents during a ride back to the farm one warm summer evening when Grandpa lost his twinkle and forgot his wink. Rick was about nine years old at the time. Grandma had been badgering Grandpa about something and Grandpa suddenly lost his temper. “Oh, go to hell!” he blurted in disgust.
Rick sat stunned as they continued home in silence, for he had been raised to believe that swearing was taboo. He felt like the proverbial elephant in the middle of the room that no one dared acknowledge. When they arrived at the farm, Rick went straight to his room. From his bed he listened to them argue about how Grandma treated Grandpa around the grandkids.
The anger and argument didn’t diminish his grandfather in Rick’s eyes but rather enlarged him, for he knew that Grandpa was hurt by Grandma’s negative comments but seemed to be able to love her all the same. And for the rest of his days, he never again lost his twinkle or forgot his wink. At least, not in front of Rick.
Over the past few years, Rick had thought often of his grandfather. More and more he found himself feeling that he had married a younger version of his grandmother. He thought of Grandpa and his example of perseverance as a way to survive. At times he had the feeling that his grandfather was watching him from wherever he was. This thought had often acted as a brake on Rick’s worst impulses and helped him make the best of his unhappy situation.
Somewhere in the middle of these thoughts, Rick drifted into the sleep he had been searching for. As he settled into slumber, his memories constructed themselves around him, and he found himself in his grandfather’s farmhouse.
2004 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.