Mirthright: The Bishop’s Wife

The Bishop’s Wife

My father was our bishop, and busy as he was he would sometimes forget things. Usually it was an appointment. But one incident in particular has been handed down through the years as an example of humanity at its absent-minded best. The story, told often at family gatherings, began one Sunday night following sacrament meeting …

Dad had asked Mom to wait in the church so they could walk home together. Since Dad had been made bishop, the times that he and Mom were alone together were few and highly valued. It seemed all his free hours were spent in the bishop’s office, just inside the big oak doors on the southwest corner of the multi-level pioneer structure.

“I’ve only got one more short meeting,” he had told her right after sacrament meeting that October evening. “The kids’ll be fine for a few minutes.”

Agreeing to wait for him, Mom walked on down the hall to the kitchen. While Dad was in his meeting, she busied herself with checking the sacrament linens, making sure that they were clean and in good repair.

She was just putting the last table cover back into the long wooden drawer when Dad and his counselors came out of the office. They flipped the main switch, cutting the power to the building, then locked the big doors securely behind them, said goodnight, and went their separate ways.

Plunged into total darkness, Mom heard the big double doors of the ward meetinghouse close and the heavy lock slide into place. She called out, but there was no answer.

The old building was being re-wired, and she knew that the lights were being temporarily controlled by one main power switch. She didn’t know where the switch was.

“The telephone,” she thought, and breathed a sigh of relief. Then she remembered—the telephone would be locked inside the bishop’s office.

Carefully, she made her way across the kitchen and groped around for a chair. Finding one, she slowly sat down, trying to figure out what to do next.

“Certainly, when he gets home and finds I’m not there, he’ll remember and come back,” she reassured herself. “After all, he did ask me to wait.”

I still remember clearly the events of that night. Arriving home, Dad quickly got out of his grey Sunday suit and settled down in the comfortable old rocker to read the paper. Some time passed before he inquired politely if any of us knew where Mother might be. We shrugged our shoulders and shook our heads. Dad finished reading the paper and then, dropping it on the floor beside the rocker, he dozed for a few minutes.

His nap was uneasy, and a few moments later he woke up and reached for the telephone. By this time, he was sure that Mom must have stopped in to visit Grandma after church. He dialed Grandma Powell’s number. Upon learning that Mom was not there, he became a little impatient. Deciding she must have stopped off at some friend’s home, he went into the kitchen and made himself a man-sized honey and peanut-butter sandwich. Just as he was pulling the kitchen stool up to the breadboard to eat, the phone rang. On the other end was Brother Ogden.

Meanwhile, Mom, after sitting in the meetinghouse for what seemed forever, noticed that the building was becoming chilly. She fumbled about until she found her coat, slipped it on, and began feeling her way down the long hall to Dad’s office and the doors which she’d heard him lock, hoping to find the power switch.

Giving that up, she slowly negotiated the long, winding stairway to the upstairs chapel. By this time, she was trying hard to remain calm and to disregard the creeking and cracking of the old building and the howling wind outside.

As she entered the chapel, there was a little light coming eerily in from the corner street lamp. There were menacing shadows in every corner, and the ticking of the clock seemed to echo through the building like the ticking of a time bomb. She took a deep breath to steady her nerves and made her way over to the west side of the chapel. Taking off her shoes, she climbed onto one of the high-backed benches, up onto the back of it with one foot, and then, straddling the aisle, placed her other foot on one of the metal water-type heaters just below a window.

From there, she somehow managed to hoist herself onto the wide window sill some eight feet above the floor. She parted the curtains, and through sheer willpower was able to raise the heavy window about eighteen inches. As the cold wind came in, she reached into the pocket of her white coat and pulled out the matching white wool scarf, which she tied around her head.

She knew it would be impossible to get safely to the ground, so she sat and waited, hoping someone would walk by on the sidewalk below.

After a long wait, she thought she heard voices in the distance. Finally, as the voices got louder, she could see several youngsters walking down the other side of the street. “Thank goodness,” she thought. “The youth fireside’s over and the kids will be coming by on their way home.”

Relieved, she hollered as loudly as she could above the wind. “Yoo-hoo, yoo-hoo …”

The youngsters reacted immediately. Their heads jerked up, eyes searching the face of the building for the origin of the strange sound. Suddenly, one of the girls screamed.

“It’s a ghost!” There was instant panic, and the youngsters bolted down the middle of the street and out of sight.

Each time Mom thought she might attract some help, she only succeeded in scaring someone who immediately scurried off.

Finally, when she was near tears, Brother Ogden came walking by, heard her yelling, and, recognizing her voice, came close to the building, looked up at her, and exclaimed, “Why, Sister Gardner, what on earth are you doing up there? Does your husband know where you are?”

That did it. The tears flowed as she told him of her awful predicament. When she had finished and regained her composure, he promised her that he would hurry right home and call Dad the minute he got there.

“Don’t worry, you’ll be out of there in no time,” he assured her.

Not until he was well out of sight and out of range of Mom’s ears did he allow a broad grin to spread across his rosy cheeks. He was still chuckling when he entered his living room and hurried to the telephone.

[illustration] Illustrated by Dale Kilbourn

Joyce Gardner, a school teacher, lives in the South Cottonwood 14th Ward, Salt Lake City.