Bronwyn sighed deeply as she gazed out the window of the small thatched cottage. She had been idly watching Mrs. McKay across the street talking again to the two tall men. Mrs. McKay’s husband had died ten years ago, a year before Bronwyn was born, and the woman had to work hard to support herself and her five children. She left early in the morning and didn’t return until long after dark. Then the lights burned late into the night as she washed and sewed and cooked for her family. She seldom visited, but went her way unsmiling, wrapped up in her own problems. She certainly looked happy now, however. Suddenly Bronwyn realized that that was what was unusual about her neighbor—Mrs. McKay was smiling!
Bronwyn turned from the window, her thoughts again on Mam. Mam didn’t smile much anymore either—not since Dad had died two years ago. How different it had been then, with laughter, singing, and hugging.
Dad had worked long hours in the coal mine. He would leave early in the morning, while it was still dark, and wouldn’t return until long after the sun had gone down in the evening. In the Welsh mining towns of the 1840s, a man could go for months without seeing the sun, except on the Sabbath.
Oh, the sunshine Dad brought into their home when he was there!
Mam would begin supper, and Bronwyn would hop around like an excited little bird, knowing that soon her father would be home. Mam would work quietly at the fire, heating the delicious stew she made so well, while oatcakes were delicately browning to the side of the bubbling pot. Mam would be humming, and Bronwyn would set the table, fill the mugs with frothy milk, and cut thick slices of rich brown bread.
Finally Bronwyn would hear her father’s deep, laughing voice shouting farewells to his work companions, and the door would fly open. “Mair!” he would call, and he would lift his wife from the floor in a fierce embrace.
Bronwyn always waited in the far corner, for she knew her father would gently set her mother down, open his arms wide, and shout, “Bronny! Where’s my Bronny?”
And Bronwyn would race across the room and leap into his outstretched arms.
After supper Bronwyn and her mother would wash the dishes, and the rest of the evening would be filled with Dad’s booming voice as he danced Bronwyn and her mother around the room. Later, before Bronwyn fell asleep, she would hear her parents’ quiet voices as they sat at the kitchen table.
Then one evening there was a knock at the door just as Mam was starting supper. When she answered the door, she saw Mr. Walters, the mining foreman, standing on the stoop. Mam’s face turned white as she stared at the little man, and Bronwyn felt a tightening in the pit of her stomach. She never took her eyes from Mam, and when Mr. Walters removed his hat and said, “I’m sorry, Mair, there was a cave-in … ,” Bronwyn saw her mother crumple speechlessly to the floor.
The next few days after that were a blur: neighbors coming and going, Mam lying on her bed as she never did during the day, food being brought in, and women taking Bronwyn in their arms and crying.
Bronwyn wasn’t allowed to go to the funeral, and when her mother came to pick her up at the neighbor’s house, Mam’s eyes were dull and her face had a pained look that never quite left it. In the two years since the funeral, Bronwyn rarely saw her mother smile.
“Bronwyn?” Mam’s voice brought Bronwyn’s thoughts back to the present. “Are you ready? We’re going to the chapel on Altwyn Street again.”
Bronwyn’s heart sank, but without comment she quickly tied her bonnet. How many different churches have we gone to this year? she wondered. She knew what her mother was looking for but so far had been unable to find. Bronwyn had heard a neighbor speak of it once to her mother: “Mair, it’s been nearly a year since your Iorwerth died. You’ve got to start living your life again. You should remarry, give Bronwyn a new father.”
Mam had sat serenely in the rocking chair by the fire. “I don’t need another husband, Mrs. Rees. And Bronwyn doesn’t need a new father. I have no doubt that we will be together again with Iorwerth in the next life.”
Mrs. Rees looked shocked. When she regained her voice, she spoke with terrible finality. “Mair Jones, wherever did you get such an idea? Didn’t your wedding vows say ‘till death do you part’?”
“Mam,” Bronwyn had asked hesitantly after Mrs. Rees had left, “is what she said true? Will we never see Dad again?”
Mam held Bronwyn so tightly that it hurt, yet Bronwyn felt a flood of relief when her mother whispered fiercely, “Don’t you ever believe that, Bronwyn. Ever! God would not allow so much happiness in a family, then snatch it away from us forever.”
And that was when they had started going to different churches. After meeting with a new congregation for a few weeks, Mair would find an opportunity to speak to the minister alone while Bronwyn waited outside. Sometimes her mother would be in there for a long time. Sometimes she would stride out of the church after only a few moments. But the outcome was always the same. Mair would come out, take Bronwyn firmly by the hand, and resolutely march home, repeating over and over, “They’re wrong. I know they’re wrong. We belong together.”
The Altwyn Street church was on the other side of Pontygwyn. As they trudged down the dusty road, their long, heavy skirts rustling against their shoes, Bronwyn asked, “Are you going to speak to Reverend Hugh today?”
Mair’s grasp tightened on Bronwyn’s hand. “I hope to catch him after the service.”
Mair wasn’t with the minister long. The determined look on her mother’s face as she emerged from the minister’s office answered Bronwyn’s unspoken question. And she wondered, Can all the ministers be wrong? Is Mrs. Rees right? Will we never be with Dad again?
Later that week, while her mother washed the clothes she had started taking in after Dad died, Bronwyn entertained herself by swinging back and forth on the front gate. She was so involved in counting how many times she could slam the gate without falling off that she didn’t see the two men turn the corner until she had swung against one of them and had fallen into his arms.
“Mae’n ddrwg gen i (I’m very sorry),” she gasped. Only when she got over her embarrassment did she recognize them as the strangers she had seen talking to Mrs. McKay.
“You needn’t be sorry,” the one with blond hair said, laughing. “It would be fun to swing on a gate again.” Ruffling Bronwyn’s long dark hair, he and his friend hurried on their way.
He talks differently than we do, Bronwyn thought as she watched them cross the street. He used the right words, but they sounded funny. She watched them knock on Mrs. McKay’s door and noticed her neighbor’s bright smile as they entered the house.
“Are we going to a different church today?” Bronwyn asked Mam the following Sunday.
“No,” her mother answered. “I thought we would take a lunch and go picnic by the river.”
Unable to believe her good fortune, Bronwyn hurried to help Mam pack some cheese and bread and boiled eggs into a small hamper. Soon they were striding down the road. It was a beautiful spring day, and Bronwyn was alive with enthusiasm. She would run ahead, dash back to hurry her mother along, then race off to the side to pick some wildflowers. And each time Bronwyn looked up at her mother and saw the relaxed flush on Mam’s cheeks, she wanted even more to dance with joy.
“It’s a good day, isn’t it, Mam?”
Mother smiled suddenly and answered, “Yes, Bronny, it is. I don’t know why, but I feel like it’s a very good day.”
It was then that they heard the singing. It seemed to come out of nowhere, but as they walked closer to the river, they saw a small cottage just ahead of them, and the music was coming from it. Curious, they approached and read the neatly printed sign to the right of the door: THE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST OF LATTER-DAY SAINTS.
“What does that mean, Mam?” Bronwyn whispered.
Her mother shook her head slowly, and they both peered in through the open door. Perhaps a dozen people were now standing about, chatting quietly.
“Is this a church, Mam?”
“That’s what the sign says,” Mair answered, looking puzzled.
“It’s different from any other church I’ve ever seen,” Bronwyn said as she looked at the small cottage.
“Let’s go on,” Mair urged, taking Bronwyn’s hand. “Some of the people are beginning to leave.”
But Bronwyn had seen the two tall strangers inside, and she pulled back excitedly. The young men were coming toward them now, and suddenly—unable to explain why—Bronwyn very much wanted them to talk to her mother, to make her mother smile the way they did Mrs. McKay. “Wait, Mam,” she said urgently, “they want to talk to us.”
“Mair! Bronwyn!” To their astonishment, Mrs. McKay rushed over to them just ahead of the two young men.
Bronwyn suddenly felt shy, and her face reddened as the tall blond man knelt beside her and smiled. “Isn’t this the little gate-swinger?”
Bronwyn glanced up at her mother, who stood looking bewildered. “You know Bronwyn?” Mam asked.
“Mair,” Mrs. McKay was saying, “how strange that you would appear at the door like this! I have been telling the elders that I had a neighbor who very much needed to hear their message.”
“Elders?” Mam repeated.
The blond man turned to her. “I’m Elder Butler. My companion and I are missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We have come all the way from America to deliver the message of Christ’s restored church.”
“They’ve been teaching me, Mair,” continued Mrs. McKay. “Let them talk to you too.”
“Mam, they’re nice,” Bronwyn added. “They make Mrs. McKay smile. Maybe they can make you smile too.”
Bronwyn took her mother’s hand, and they entered the small building with Mrs. McKay and the two young men. But Bronwyn’s heart sank as her mother said, “I have been to many churches, and none of them have been able to answer an important question to my satisfaction. Before we go any further, I want to ask you just one thing: Can Bronwyn and I ever be with my deceased husband again?”
Tears of joy streamed down Mrs. McKay’s face as Elder Butler answered kindly, “My dear Mrs. Jones, yes, you can. You and your daughter can be reunited with your husband as a family forever. Won’t you sit down and let us tell you about it?”
The look of peace that spread over Mam’s face sent shivers of happiness and excitement down Bronwyn’s back. And as she and her mother sat down to listen, she understood why this day was indeed a very good day.