When Calvin started stuttering just asking for the salt and pepper, I knew something was wrong. Calvin had always had trouble talking. It was cute when he was two or three years old, and endearing when he was five or six. But by the time he was seven or eight and still stuttering, Mom took him to a speech clinic. After that the problem seemed to clear up, except for certain times when Calvin was upset about something.
Calvin is my older brother, and I can tell when he’s scared about something—partly because of the stuttering but also because of little things that he says or does.
He was worried about becoming a priest and blessing the sacrament. It isn’t that he didn’t want to bless the sacrament—he did. That was the whole problem. Calvin takes things like that very seriously. He didn’t want anybody, especially the deacons on the front bench, to have an excuse for giggling during that sacred ordinance, even if they were only making fun of the way that Calvin said the prayer.
Calvin is a reader, and I guess that’s where he got the idea of using marbles. Some Greek man by the name of Demosthenes used to recite aloud while climbing steep hills or put rocks in his mouth and then shout speeches over the roar of the ocean waves so that he could talk more clearly. I thought it was a silly thing to do when Calvin told me about it—he might swallow the rocks or something—but Calvin was desperate, I guess. He knew Mom would be angry if she ever caught him putting rocks in his mouth, so marbles were the closest substitute he could think of.
I collect marbles. I can’t do much with them, but I like to look at the different colors and what light can do when it shines through them. Calvin came downstairs to my room one day and stood in the doorway for a long time, just watching me. My brother has a way of standing sometimes that tells me he has something on his mind, and he was standing that way then. A tall guy, maybe too skinny, with very short, very blond hair. Calvin likes to play ball in the summer and hair gets in his way. There was a funny look on his face while he watched me. I was sitting on my bed, and I had all my marbles spread out in front of me. They looked gorgeous.
“Jenny,” he said finally. I looked up and waited. “Would you sell me five or six of your marbles?” That’s when he turned red—a dead giveaway. My brother always turns red when he talks about something important to him. The speech therapist says that it’s part of the same pattern that makes Calvin stutter and that it would go away in time. So far that part hadn’t come true.
Then Calvin seemed to change his mind and said, “It’s not important.”
I scooped up a red marble and held it up to the light so that I could see the bubbles inside. “If it isn’t important,” I asked, “then why buy them?”
He didn’t say anything, and I knew that if he tried to talk, the words would come out in a long stream of stuttering. He looked at me though, and there was agony in that expression. Then he turned around and walked out of my room.
Later, of course, I gave some marbles to him. What else could I do? I washed six of them, dried them off, and put them in a box. Then I put the box on his bed. When he came to the supper table, I said, “There’s something for you on your bed, Calvin.”
He didn’t say anything then either, but I could see what was in his eyes.
I didn’t hear anything more about the marbles for a long time. Calvin is pretty cautious when he doesn’t want people to know about something. But his birthday was coming closer every day. And each Sunday when the sacrament was being prepared, I would find myself looking at my brother. He would be scrunched down in his seat, and I could imagine what he was thinking. Sometimes while the prayer was being said, I almost forgot to close my eyes. He’d listen so intently that it seemed he was listening hard enough for both of us.
The thing that I dreaded was when someone made a mistake in repeating the sacrament prayer. When it happened I looked at Calvin, and I could see him hurting inside, waiting for the time when he would have to kneel and say the prayer. He had such a strong feeling for that prayer that he wanted it to be perfect. It really mattered to him and I knew it!
One day I went downstairs and I could hear mumbling, so I began looking for the source. It was coming from the laundry room. I turned out the downstairs light, walked over to the laundry room door as quietly as I could, and opened it. Calvin was standing by the washing machine with my marbles in his mouth. He was saying something, though I couldn’t make out the words through all the marbles.
I stood there for a long time. But I didn’t want Calvin to know that I had seen him, so I turned around and went out. Then I came back into the room a second time as noisily as I could, on the pretense of getting some soap. The mumbling sound stopped immediately. Calvin nodded and I went out again and up to my room. In a few minutes I heard him come upstairs.
Several weeks later it was Calvin’s birthday. The Sunday after, he was ordained a priest and assigned to give one of the sacrament prayers.
I can still remember sitting there, staring at him and seeing how the light hit his blond hair, making it shine. Boys aren’t supposed to be beautiful—or at least, you’re not supposed to admit that they are—but Calvin was beautiful. I was so scared for him that I thought my heart would stop beating. I was sure his agony was going to make me cry.
Suddenly he looked straight at me, and there was in his eyes an expression that made me know that he knew that he would be all right. Then he got down on his knees, the way the priests do, and started the prayer.
Nobody cries during the sacrament except the older ladies, but that Sunday I couldn’t help crying too. Calvin’s voice was soft, but it carried to the back of the chapel. I’ve never heard anybody else give the prayer the way he gave it that Sunday. He began, “O God, the Eternal Father, we ask thee . …” And he didn’t make a single mistake.
I sat and wept, because it was beautiful, and because I love my brother! And that night when I went upstairs I found the marbles back on my bed.
Someday I guess I’m going to be old, and there’s not much I can do about it. But even if I’m ninety, I’ll never get rid of those marbles, any more than I can get rid of the memory of that first time Calvin blessed the sacrament.