First Day of Forever


First Day of Forever

After the temple vows were spoken, after the pictures of the bride and groom were taken outside on the snowy grounds of the Idaho Falls Temple, after Steve and Cathy changed into warm sweaters and ski slacks for their trip, after parting hugs and kisses with parents—finally they were alone, Mr. and Mrs. Steve Holland, driving north for a three-day honeymoon at his uncle’s cabin in Montana.

“I’m a married lady!” she burst out suddenly a few miles out of Idaho Falls. “I’m somebody’s wife!”

“You sure are,” he smiled.

“I’m so happy! It’s all come true—my greatest dream. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been praying that some day I’d be married in the temple. And it’s come true.”

She snuggled close to him. “Steve, when you were in high school, did you ever think about who you’d marry?”

“Sure. I remember I used to look through each month’s issue of the New Era. I’d find a picture of a really neat-looking girl, and I’d think to myself, maybe she’ll be my wife someday. And for that whole month I’d have her picture on my wall and I’d try to do the things she’d want me to do. I was true to her—until the next issue.”

“You’ve never told me that before,” she said.

He grinned and reached out to touch her cheek. “I guess there’s still a few things we don’t know about each other. I bet you don’t even know what my favorite food is.”

“Hamburger,” she answered quickly.

“No.”

“Steve, that’s all you ever ate in your apartment at school.”

“But it’s not my favorite.”

“Steak? Pizza? Spaghetti?”

“Sorry,” he teased.

Suddenly she looked at him as if he were a total stranger. “You’re kidding!”

“No. It’s ham and lima beans.”

“Oh,” she said, moving away from him so she could take off her ski parka. She stayed on her side of the car.

They entered Rexburg. Steve drove around the Ricks College campus, savoring the bustling energy of students changing classes, and then drove back on to the highway north.

She didn’t say much for a long time. Finally she asked, “Steve, are you even just a bit apprehensive?”

“Maybe I am—just a little.”

“Me, too,” she confessed, “just a little. When I saw those girls at Ricks, I realized that I’ve left that for good. I’ll never be a coed again. I guess that sounds silly, doesn’t it?”

It was several miles before she could ask him, “What are you apprehensive about?”

He reached for her hand. “Not about you, Cathy. I’m absolutely sure about my love for you.”

She let out a small sigh and moved closer to him.

“It’s just that I’ve been looking forward to that one big goal called temple marriage for so long, and somehow I’ve never pictured what happens in a marriage a week after the ceremony, or a year, or a decade. Do you understand?”

“I think so,” she said. “It’s like those children’s stories where the handsome prince carries the fair maiden away to his castle. The end. But what do the fair maiden and the handsome prince do for the next 60 years?”

“They live happily ever after,” Steve said.

“We will, won’t we?” she asked with sudden concern in her voice.

“I hope so, Cathy. I really hope so.”

“Steve, you won’t die early, will you? Promise me you won’t.”

“This is our wedding day. We’re not supposed to think about death.”

“What if we have a baby that dies or is born a cripple? Steve, I couldn’t bear that. God won’t let it happen, will he?”

He shook his head. “I don’t know.”

“All of a sudden,” she said soberly, “marriage seems such a heavy responsibility.”

They rode in silence for several miles.

Finally Steve tried to break the somber mood they were in. “We’ll be at my uncle’s cabin in about three hours. It’ll be great! My uncle told me they went up last night to get it ready for us. They’ve got enough firewood split for four days, and they’ve filled the refrigerator with food.”

“It sounds nice,” she said quietly.

“Is anything wrong?” he asked her.

“There’s one thing I need to ask you. Can we start even the first day of our marriage with family prayer at night?”

“I promise,” he answered.

Then the spell was broken. She sat very close to him and asked meekly, “Tell me how to cook lima beans and ham.”

They continued north, finally crossing the Idaho-Montana border.

“It looks like we might get a little snow,” he said, understating his concern at the snow clouds in front of them.

Ten miles from a small town, the red alternator light flashed on. He thumped the glass to see if he could get it to turn off, but it stayed lit.

“It’s probably nothing, but we’ll have to stop at the next town and have somebody look at it.”

By the time they reached the four-store town, the snow was coming down heavily. They pulled into the gas station and parked. They went in, and Steve explained the problem to the attendant, who agreed to look at it as soon as he finished another car.

Steve and Cathy waited in the office, walking around restlessly, idly reading the instructions on oil additives. The room smelled of stale cigars. A desk in the corner of the office was strewn with piles of paper.

Two men, laughing loudly, stumbled across the road from the bar and entered the station.

“Hank? Where are you?” one of them yelled, taking off his cowboy hat and revealing a nearly bald scalp.

“Hank?Come on, close up! Come with us over to Pete’s Place. We’ll buy you a drink,” the other called. His stomach protruded well beyond the confines of his wide western belt.

They both walked into the garage part of the station. “You’re not going to get much business tonight. There’s a big storm coming. We heard it on the radio.”

“Just one more job and I’ll close it down,” the mechanic replied.

“We’ll wait.” The one who was paunchy stayed in the garage, but the other sat down on the chair in front of the desk, propped his feet on the desk, and took a long drink from his can of beer.

“You folks going far?” he asked.

“Just to Big Sky,” Steve answered.

“Glad it’s not me traveling tonight. Big storm coming. You’d better stay here tonight. That other guy—his name is Oscar—he runs the Star Motel. Gives winter rates, too. Of course,” he said with a wink, “maybe you’re not married.”

“We’re married,” Cathy said firmly. “We were married today.”

“No kidding? Hey, Oscar,” he yelled, “come here!”

The second man stepped into the office.

“Oscar, these good people just got hitched today. Now I told ’em that they ought to stay at your place instead of bucking the storm. How about it?”

“You bet! You can have my best room. The TV works, and I’ll even throw in some free donuts and coffee in the morning.”

“No,” Steve answered firmly. “We’ll be going on.”

Oscar drifted back out to talk with the mechanic, but the other man sat down again and opened another can.

“You got a dog?” he finally asked Steve.

“No.”

“Well, let me tell you something. You get yourself a dog before your wife gets too set in her ways.”

“You like dogs?” he asked Cathy.

“They’re okay.”

“They’re a lot better than okay,” the man said. “A dog’ll never let you down, never complains when you don’t get home on time.” Fumbling for his wallet, he pulled out a picture and handed it to Steve. “Ain’t she something? She’s real pretty, huh?”

“Yes,” Steve answered.

“She’s part German shepherd and part wolf. But you know what?” the man continued. “My wife hates that dog. It’s her own fault, too.”

He bent the empty can in two and tossed it into the already full wastepaper basket. He wiped his mouth and continued his story. “My wife’s got false teeth. When the dog was just a pup, my wife left the teeth on the kitchen table overnight. Well, you know how pups are when they’re young. When we got up next morning, there were pieces of false teeth all over the place. That pup chewed up my wife’s teeth! Ain’t that something?” He reared back in his chair, laughing crazily.

The laughing brought Oscar from the garage; he added some other details about how long it took to get another set of false teeth and how his friend’s wife wouldn’t go out in public until they came. That started them both laughing again.

“You just got hitched, huh?” Oscar asked. “Well, it’s too late to help you now, boy!” he joked. Placing his hand on Steve’s shoulder, he said, “Let me give you a little advice. Lay the law down right at first. Because if you don’t, she’s gonna run all over you.”

“I told ’em he ought to get him a dog right off,” the other man added.

“That’s good advice, real good advice.”

A few minutes later the mechanic was done with the other car. He had Steve pull his car into the vacant stall in the garage.

When he walked back into the office from the garage, he found that Cathy was outside, huddled by the door, her parka hood zipped up, tears in her eyes, staring out at the snow.

“You’ll get cold out here,” he said, putting his arm around her.

“I had to get away from there. To those men their wives are the enemy. What went wrong in their marriages?”

“It won’t happen to us.”

“Steve, it’s only been six hours since we were in the temple, and now look where we are.”

After a few minutes of work by the mechanic, they were back on the road.

The storm seemed much worse after leaving the security of the lights of the small town. The entire road was completely covered with snow so that it became difficult to judge where the center line was.

Steve leaned forward, his arms and back tense as he nervously concentrated on driving. Darting swirls of snow raced across the road.

A car suddenly jumped out of the swirling snow coming toward them. Steve tried to judge where the center line would be if he could see it.

The car was heading directly toward them. “Get over!” Steve yelled. He cranked the wheel hard to the right to avoid a collision, and the car breezed by, tossing up a giant cloud of snow into the air.

They were off the shoulder of the road. Steve gunned the engine, trying to power out of the slope, but the back wheels spun, causing the back end to slide farther down the slope. In order to correct for that, he steered the car farther down the incline. The snow brought them finally to an almost gentle stop.

He slammed his fist at the steering wheel in frustration. Turning to her, he asked, “You okay?”

“I’m all right.”

He got out of the car and walked around it. The snow was above his knees. Opening the trunk of his car, he rummaged around until he found a small shovel that he used for camping.

He walked to the front of the car and began to furiously scoop up small mounds of snow.

Suddenly she was next to him. “Steve, stop. It’s snowing faster than you can shovel.”

“You shouldn’t be out here.”

“Look, I’m not some helpless glass doll that you have to handle carefully or I’ll break. I’m your wife, and I go with you wherever you go—into the temple, or into run-down gas stations, and, if it happens, into snow banks.”

“I should’ve listened to that man in the gas station. We should’ve stayed in his crummy motel. But no, I have to have my grandiose schemes. What a dumb thing. You married an idiot.”

“We’re both alive, the car’s okay, so what’s the big deal?”

He looked at her, surprised at her strength. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” she barked out in a fake gangster voice. “And another thing, quit knocking the man I married because I love him.” She snuggled close and kissed him.

“Steve, I’m part of this marriage, too. I can help out.”

“How can you help out now?” he asked, amused by the thought of her pulling the car out of the snow.

“By telling you that while you were putting on that impressive snow shoveling demonstration, I thought I saw a light through the trees back there.”

“Oh,” was all he said.

They started toward the light seen just faintly through the trees. It was a small house. There was a look of severity about the place, as if something had forced a style of life that was ordered but without joy.

They stood on the porch and knocked. “Cathy, if we can help it, let’s not tell them we just got married. I can’t stand any more free advice.”

“You ought to get a dog,” she mimicked.

A porch light flashed on, exposing them to unseen inspection. The door opened a crack. “What do you want?” a man’s voice asked harshly.

“Our car went into the ditch. My wife and I need some help.”

Seconds passed. “Martin, ask ’em in,” a woman’s voice chided.

A man opened the door, allowing them just enough room to enter. He was a giant of a man, his face roughened and carved by years of being outdoors.

“What do you want from us?” he asked suspiciously.

“If you have a tractor, could you pull us out?”

“I’ve got a tractor, but I’m not pulling you out tonight.”

“Why not?” Steve asked.

“We just heard on the radio that they’ve pulled off the highway crews. They advise no travel.”

“We’ve only got another 20 miles to go.”

“Look. I’m not pulling you out just to have you go over the canyon ten miles from here.”

“We’ve got to get to my uncle’s place tonight,” Steve said, feeling his temper mount. “So how do we get there?”

“You don’t. Not tonight. You don’t know this country like I do.”

The woman, thin and plain and eroded by her fight against the sterile land, stepped out of the shadows of the dimly lit room.

“You’re welcome to stay with us. Aren’t they, Martin?”

“I don’t see what else they can do,” he mumbled.

“They could stay in David’s room.”

“No! They aren’t staying there!” the man erupted. “It’s his room!”

“Martin, it’s been 15 years!” she complained.

“Don’t get me mad, Ella. The answer is no!” He hurried to a coatrack and put on a heavy sheepskin coat. “I’m going to chop some more wood,” he said, biting off the words.

Steve stole a quick glance at Cathy.

The woman walked to the door and looked at the footprints left by her husband. She turned around slowly, a strange heaviness in her eyes. As she saw Steve and Cathy standing in the middle of the room, she took on the role of hostess. “I’m sorry. Let me get your coats. Please sit down. I’m Mrs. Gibson.”

They talked for several minutes about the weather. Finally Mrs. Gibson asked, “How long have you been married? My guess is less than a week.”

They both grinned sheepishly. “Does it show that much?”

“When a girl twists her wedding ring like that, I think it means that she hasn’t been wearing it long.”

“We were married today in Idaho Falls,” Steve said, taking hold of Cathy’s hand.

“Look,” she said, brightening up, “let me fix you a little snack in the kitchen and then we can talk. Would you like to play some records? They’re old, but you might like some of them.”

She picked up some old 78 rpm records from a shelf and placed them on a coffee table in front of Cathy and Steve. “These are records of Glenn Miller. Martin and I used to play them when we were first married. That was a long time ago, during the Second World War. By the way, do you like tuna fish?”

She went into her kitchen to work. Steve put a few of the records on the phonograph.

“Do you know where I met Martin?” she asked them, coming to the kitchen entrance to talk. “At the five and ten store in Missoula. I was only 18 then. He was home from the army on a 30-day leave. It was a couple of days before Valentine Day, and I was working at the jewelry counter. After about a half an hour, he finally picked out something. He thrust it into my hand, paid for it, and asked if I’d gift wrap it. Well I did, but when I gave it to him, he just looked down, shook his head, gave it back, and mumbled, ‘It’s for you.’ And that was the beginning. Since he was going overseas in just a few weeks, we ended up getting married before he left.”

They listened to the records while they ate their snack.

“When Martin came back from the war, he worked at various jobs for a few years, and then we got a chance to get this place. It had belonged to his father. We’ve been here ever since.”

After the last record on the stack had played, she showed them the necklace. It was a tiny chain with a small silver heart in the middle. “I think it cost all of two dollars. Oh, there’s an inscription on the back. Can you still read it?”

“It says, ‘Love is forever.’” Cathy slowly read the worn inscription.

“I haven’t thought about that necklace for years.”

“I bet there are some grandchildren in your life,” Cathy said with a smile.

“No,” she said bleakly. “We had a son, David, but he was killed in Vietnam.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Cathy said quickly.

“It’s been hardest on my husband. He needed to have grandchildren to show off the ranch to, but we’re all alone now. He can’t let go of the bitterness.”

She took the necklace into the bedroom and then returned to the kitchen. Steve and Cathy played some more records.

Mr. Gibson stayed busy outside until supper.

They had homemade soup and biscuits. Mr. Gibson hunched over his bowl and ate without much talking.

“Martin,” the woman said, uncomfortable with his silence, “they were just married today in Idaho Falls.”

He looked up briefly. “Are you from Idaho?”

“No, I’m from Montana and Cathy is from Nebraska.”

“Then why get married in Idaho?” he asked.

“We’re both members of the Mormon church. We were married in the Idaho Falls Temple.”

“Why there?”

Cathy tried to explain. “We believe that a wedding performed in a temple of our church can continue even after death. We wanted our marriage to last forever.”

The man sat up and glowered at her. “Nothing lasts forever. You’ll learn that soon enough, I reckon.”

“I’ve never been more certain of what I’m saying,” Cathy replied with a quiet firmness in her voice.

“Then you’re a fool!” the man said abruptly.

“Martin, that’s no way to talk to company,” the woman complained.

“Who invited ’em? I didn’t.”

“Martin!”

“What do they know about life? They’re just a couple of kids.”

“Please excuse him; he’s not used to company,” the woman said.

Mr. Gibson got up from his chair and walked over to Steve and Cathy. “You two come with me, and I’ll show you what life does to people and their ideas about forever.”

They followed him into a small back bedroom. The blinds were pulled, and there was only one bare bulb hanging from the ceiling. The room was filled with pictures and trophies and sports equipment.

“Go ahead, look around.”

As they examined each picture, it was as if they were viewing the growth of a small boy into a young man—pictures of a three-year-old being held on a quarter horse by his proud father, a seven-year-old standing beside his father displaying a string of fish, a thirteen-year-old wearing a 4-H jacket and showing a hereford steer he had raised, a boy kneeling beside a trophy elk he had shot, a seventeen-year-old beside a cute girl in a formal gown, a proud graduate in a black cap and gown, a nineteen-year-old in front of the small white house wearing an army uniform.

The last picture frame contained a telegram announcing the boy’s death in combat in Vietnam.

“It took us 19 years to raise him,” the man said bleakly, “but they killed him in one second with a land mine.”

“We’re both sorry,” Cathy said.

“I don’t need your sympathy,” the man said bitterly. He reached down and picked up a fishing reel in his hand, turning it over slowly, studying it. “He was a good boy, and if he’d lived, by now he’d be married and have children, and I’d have some grandchildren, and life would have some meaning.”

He put the reel down on the shelf and turned to confront them. “Who remembers my boy anymore?”

They didn’t know what to say.

“Nobody does. Not anymore. This is all that’s left of him. What you see in this room. A few pictures and some ribbons from a county fair. And when my wife and I die, somebody will buy the house and toss it all away.”

He took a step toward them, his face in agony. “Now you tell me, where is this forever you keep harping about? Where is forever for my boy?”

Cathy threw her arms around him as if he were her grandfather. Steve could hear her crying. At first the man stood there mutely, his arms at his side, untouchable in his grief. But then, seeing that she shared his sorrow, he put an arm around her to comfort her.

A moment later she stepped back and said, “God loves your son. His body is destroyed but his spirit is alive. Someday his body and his spirit will come back together, and he will stand on this earth with a perfect body. I know that is true.”

He examined her face, searching for any insincerity, but he found none.

She continued, “God has commanded that temples be built so that we can help those who have died to receive the rich blessings they might have had if they’d lived. Your boy will live again.”

Somehow the despair that had filled the room lifted. Steve felt the sweet influence of the Holy Ghost bear witness to Cathy’s words.

The man looked at her upturned face for a long time and then simply said, “Nobody’s ever told me that before.”

“Mr. Gibson,” Cathy said, “today I was in one of those temples. I’ve never been more certain that God loves all his children. He loves your son David.”

The man slowly nodded his head. “David was a good boy.” Then looking around and seeing for the first time that it was only a room, he said simply, “It’s cold in here, isn’t it? Let’s go in the living room and talk some more.”

Steve, with his mission experience, began to teach Mr. and Mrs. Gibson the gospel.

At 10:00 Mrs. Gibson invited them into the kitchen for a piece of cake she’d baked especially for Steve and Cathy. While they were eating, the electric power went out. They lit a candle and finished.

“Martin, it’s going to get cold tonight without our electric heater.”

“We can all stay by the fire and keep warm,” he said.

Huddled around the fire, with the wind howling outside, they continued to talk. At 2:00 A.M., Mrs. Gibson turned to her husband and asked, “Martin, what do you think?”

“It’s the first thing I’ve heard that makes any sense. We better learn more about it, though, before we join.”

Cathy burst out excitedly, “You and your wife and your son can be sealed together as a family forever! Steve and I want to go with you through the temple when you go!”

Mr. Gibson cleared his throat nervously and reached a little awkwardly for his wife’s hand. “Ella and me have been through a lot together. It’d be nice to be together forever.”

Finally they agreed that it was time for sleep. While Mr. and Mrs. Gibson went to get some blankets, Steve reached over and kissed Cathy. “You are a terrific missionary.”

“Wasn’t it special?” she asked happily. “I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.”

They sat and watched the fire. The embers that had been in the fire the longest glowed the deepest red.

“Cathy, are you still afraid of the future? We can’t guarantee that we won’t have the same unhappiness in our lives that they’ve had.”

“I know,” she said quietly.

“If you knew now that I’d die in a few years, or that a baby would suffer sickness, would you walk away from our marriage?”

“I used to think that Heavenly Father would spare me that kind of trial,” she said.

“And now what do you think?”

“I think that a testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ can help us live through whatever comes.”

“You’re not scared anymore?”

She shook her head thoughtfully. “Not anymore.”

Mr. and Mrs. Gibson returned to the fire, carrying some blankets. They pulled the couch and two chairs close to the fireplace. Mr. Gibson piled two large logs on the fire. Then he placed a small gift in Cathy’s hand. It was wrapped in tissue paper.

All he said was, “Don’t open it until you’re on your way tomorrow.”

A few minutes later Cathy whispered something to Steve. He nodded his head and then spoke to Mr. Gibson. “I promised my wife something about tonight. Would it be all right if we had family prayer?”

By the next morning the storm had let up, and by 11:00 they had managed to pull the car back on the highway. Shortly after that, Steve and Cathy were on their way.

Not until they were unloading their suitcases from the car into the cabin did Cathy remember the small package on the back seat. Unwrapping it, she found the old necklace with the words inscribed on the back—“Love is forever.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Dick Brown