It is Sunday morning, and I am taping a huge yellow sun to the wall. It is not at all reflective of my mood. We have just moved into a new ward, and no time has been wasted in getting new callings. I say “new,” but I use the term loosely. The nursery is anything but new to me.
I made careful note of my years of nursery service on the information sheet I filled out for the bishop. I also noted my abilities in homemaking, compassionate service, teaching, welfare, sewing, cooking, home beautification, and any other Relief Society-related task I could think of. It didn’t work.
What am I doing here? With three preschoolers to care for every day, the last thing I need is the responsibility for a dozen more every Sunday.
Now I look at the list of children who will soon be clamoring into my classroom, fifteen little strangers to teach for nearly two hours. Tired even before starting, I sit.
Except for the yellow sun and a few other pictures I’ve taped to the walls, this nursery looks familiar. Not like the last ward’s nursery or the one before, but one long ago. Suddenly I am there, and feelings rush back like warm, familiar friends. And all of them revolve around Sister Frantz, a large German woman with dark hair and smiling eyes. In my mind, she was the nursery.
I remember going to the church one Sunday night with my father. While he went to his meeting, I ran down the dim gray hallway to visit Sister Frantz. I was stunned to find the door hanging open and lights off. I had thought she lived there. True, there wasn’t a bed or even an easy chair in the room, but such logistics rarely enter into childhood reasoning. Despite my father’s reassurance, I was worried. And it wasn’t until the following Tuesday morning when Relief Society nursery reconvened and she was back that I found relief.
Sister Frantz was born in East Germany. My mother later told me of her narrow escape to America with only her daughter and a few possessions. All I knew as a child was the tender lady who represented security in the nursery.
I visualize her sitting roundly on a folding chair, two lucky children perched on her ample lap while the rest of us held a finger or sleeve or hem, all wanting to be close. With less than adequate mastery of the English language in our two or three years, I’m not sure how we ever managed to wade through Sister Frantz’s quick German accent. It didn’t seem to matter.
In her clear, robust voice, she sang the Primary songs, interspersed with German and American folk tunes. I was well into my third year of Primary before it occurred to me that “When It’s Springtime in the Rockies” did not appear in the hymnbook. That explained the blank look I always received when the chorister allowed me to name my favorite song.
My favorite story was also decided in Sister Frantz’s nursery—Noah and the ark. She paired us up and marched us happily into her own crude representation of an ark, a circle of chairs. There we sat, making our animal chortles while the rains descended and the floods came. Perhaps that is why for so long I pictured Noah as jolly and round-faced, always cheerful in his adversity and, of course, German.
“Jesus loves you,” she would say. “He vill alvays vatch over you.” And something told me that here was the voice of experience. How could Sister Frantz be wrong about love? She was so good at it.
She sat on the floor with us and watched and cheered as we stacked perilous towers of blocks. And when they reached their ultimate tottering height, she designated one of us (how fortunate to be chosen!) to knock them down.
Praying was a special privilege. It meant standing close to Sister Frantz, her soft arm around our shoulders. Even if we vaguely knew the gist of praying, we always asked for her help. There we stood cuddled in, imitating her gentle words and accent, feeling the comforting warmth of prayer.
Not until today did it occur to me that Sister Frantz, steady and solid, was missing Relief Society to be with us. She, who had missed out on Primary and Junior Sunday School and MIA, who had missed the benefits of fellowship for most of her life, was now stranded with fifteen children. If anyone ever had a case for forfeiting her turn in the nursery, it was Sister Frantz. Yet there seemed to be no place she would rather have been.
In that bleak cinderblock room, she distilled on us the joyous gospel beginnings she hadn’t had. Though most of the stories have disappeared from memory, her fervor remains bright and inspiring these twenty-five years later.
The children file in now, small and timid. They look longingly as parents disappear. Then their round, uncertain eyes turn to me. My mind is filled with Sister Frantz. I gather the children close, and I am one of them.
“I’m so glad you’re here with me,” I say, “and I love you.” I look at each of them, and they step closer.
“Now, who will help me?” I stand, and most of them are by my side. “We’re going to do something wonderful today.”
Carefully, happily, we assemble a circle of chairs.