Tales My Grandmother Told Me

by Arlea H. Howell, Ephraim, Utah 

Second Place the 1969 Saga of the Sanpitch historical writing contest

Our early pioneer people brought with them from their homes in the old country many strange beliefs and superstitions. I can remember my telling me as a child that the sure cure for warts was to cut a potato in half and rub the wart with half of it and bury the other half. She was equally sure that a pinch of salt thrown over the shoulder would prevent bad luck if by chance the salt had been spilled. The following is one which she told as having happened to her own mother but I was never sure that she really believed it happened like this.

Traveling across the sky that night, the moon was a watermelon slice circled with a faint halo of the rainbow.

“Storm tomorrow,” said Mother as she sat silently beside the bed.

Our neighbor, six-year-old Marian, was ill with some kind of fever, and Marian’s own mother was sleeping, exhausted from many days of the relentless watch over her sick child.

“Storm tomorrow,” repeated Mother to herself and closed the window to the night breeze.

She went back to the bedside and touched the hand of the sleeping child, then the forehead, and noted with some concern that her breathing was very weak. She turned up the lamp and bent her head to place her ear on little Marian’s chest. Satisfied that the fluttering heart was still pumping life into the child she turned to the doorway to see Marian’s mother watching her with wide eyes.

“Did she call out?” she asked.

“She’s all right, go back to bed, Carrie,” coaxed Mother.

“I thought I heard a child call,” said Carrie.

“She hasn’t stirred for more than two hours” answered Mother, “but there’s life in her yet. Do go back to bed for a while.”

Then the two women froze in horror and turned their faces toward the screened door. From that direction came a child’s voice and the unmistakable words, “Marian, Oh Marian!”

Mother glanced at the clock in the corner shelf. Four o’clock in the morning. What would a child be doing out at this time of night and calling to the near-dead girl? Of all things! She walked toward the door busily.

“No, Lucinda. Come back! That’s Myrtle! I’d know that voice anywhere,” warned Carrie.

“Myrtle who?” asked Mother

“Myrtle Larsen! Myrtle Larsen! I’d know that voice anywhere,” whispered Carrie.

“You’re hearing things,” consoled Mother, but the hair began to crawl on the back of her neck. She went on, “you know that couldn’t be Myrtle. You’re tired and jumpy. Come and sit down.”

She led Carrie to a chair in the corner. The older woman sank down and covered her face with her long apron.

“You know,” she said, “I always knew I wouldn’t have Marian very long. I’m really too old to have a child that age anyway. Here I am with seven grandchildren and only that little one at home. I’ve just known I couldn’t keep her long. She’s so fragile and small, why like as not, first big breeze might blow her away from me.”

“Now, Carrie,” sympathized Mother, “of course she’s fragile but she’ll be all right if we can just get her over this sickness.”

“No,” answered Carrie, “this is the time and that voice we heard calling to her was Myrtle. You know what dear friends those two are and now with both of them having the fever—”Her voice trailed off and once again the childish cry, “Marian” echoed through their hearts.

Mother stepped to the window and her hand flew to her heart. Coming up the path between the lilac bushes was a column of children, boys and girls, and each held in his hand a lighted candle. They seemed to float through the pre-dawn darkness up to the steps and silently through the screened door. Myrtle Larsen in a rumpled nightgown headed the procession with two candles in her hands. One was lighted, the other, new and unused. In clear tones, she said, “I have a candle and I need a light for Marian.” She walked toward the bedroom doorway and Mother could see her bending over the bed trying to light one candle from another. Carrie sat in stunned Silence. Then a choking sound came from the bed. Mother rushed to the door and as the candlewick took flame, Marian jerked up in bed and then collapsed, the life drained from her body. Mother turned to see the children but there was no one there except Carrie sitting in silence in the chair.

The Father’s step was heard on the porch. His big body filled the doorway and his voice seemed loud and brought the two women back to reality.

“Just came from Larsen,” he said, “Myrtle died about four o’clock.”

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