03396_000_004Based on a true incident (names have been changed)She wasn’t a member. She didn’t like missionaries, and she didn’t like the Church. Unfortunately for us, she was the branch president’s wife
Everyone in the mission knew about Madame Dupont. Her husband, President Dupont, was the branch president of one of the smallest branches in France. He had labored faithfully for years to establish The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in his hometown in the Pyrenees Mountains. In all that time, however, his wife had opposed his membership in the Church. She didn’t like his “folly.” She wouldn’t listen to his testimony. And she wouldn’t allow missionaries in her house—not even in her courtyard!
The day I arrived in town as a brand-new senior companion, my junior informed me that the branch president’s wife was just getting up and around after a short sickness.
“Great,” I said, “let’s take her some flowers to wish her well. Maybe it will help to fellowship her.”
“You don’t know Sister Dupont,” he said. (We called her sister anyway.) “She’ll probably just snarl.”
I couldn’t believe anyone would refuse flowers after an illness. I was wrong.
I held the bouquet while Elder Granville knocked timidly at the gate.
“She’ll never hear you if you don’t knock louder than that!” I said, and I rapped on the wood. A small, gray-haired woman in her 60s peered at us through the window. I knocked again, and the front door of the house opened.
“Go away!” the lady said.
“But we have something to give you,” I replied.
“If it’s for my husband, just leave it at the gate,” she said.
“Let’s go,” Elder Granville whispered.
“We have something for you,” I said again, trying hard not to sound like I was yelling.
She opened the door and walked toward us from the house.
“Oh no!” Elder Granville whispered, pulling at my coat.
By now the short little woman was nearly up to us.
“What could you possibly have for me?” she asked.
“Flowers,” I said. “Flowers to wish you—”
“Don’t like flowers.” She cut me off. “Never did.”
“Don’t like flowers. Don’t like missionaries either. Now leave me alone.”
“But there must be something you like,” I said, almost in desperation.
“Yes,” she said, “I like fruit. Fresh fruit. Never get enough of that around here. Now thanks for bringing the flowers, but I really don’t want them.”
And she turned around and walked back to the house.
“Au revoir,” I shouted after her. “Ayez une bonne journée!” It wasn’t the most authentic French, but I did want her to have a good day.
“Brother, were you ever lucky,” Elder Granville sighed as we walked away. “When Elder Stokeley and I said hello to her one day, she slammed the gate in our face.”
I handed him the bouquet of flowers.
“Let’s go tracting,” I said.
The next day was preparation day, and we were shopping at the market near our apartment. It was then that I saw the bushel of apples.
“Hey, Elder Granville,” I said, “I’ve got an idea.”
I picked up the basket and started toward the check-out stand. Visions of a month of apple crisp at every meal must have danced through Elder Granville’s mind.
“We can’t eat that many apples!” he said.
“They’re not for us. They’re for Sister Dupont.”
That left him speechless. For a moment.
“Elder Romney, you’re the craziest senior I’ve ever had!”
“I’m only your second companion since the LTM.”
“Well, you’re still the craziest senior I’ve ever had.”
By now the clerk was wondering what two Americans were doing arguing in English about a bushel of fruit. I set it on the counter.
“Nous prendrons toute la corbeillée,” I said.
“You’ll take the entire basketful,” the clerk repeated (in French, of course). “Très bien, monsieur.” Then, in an effort to be friendly, “Vous devez beaucoup aimer des pommes.” (“You surely must love apples.”)
“They’re not for us. They’re for a friend,” I said.
“For a friend.” The clerk tried hard not to be amazed. “Très bien, monsieur.”
“The whole bushel!” Elder Granville moaned.
“And we could have spent the grocery money for yogurt!” He picked up the rest of the groceries, and we headed for the door.
We did eat some of the apples. We even made some apple crisp and a pie. But most of the fruit went to Soeur (Sister) Dupont. We never delivered the apples in person. Each day we would leave one, with a note attached, in her mailbox. Sometimes the note would simply say, “Ayez une bonne journée.” Sometimes it would say, “Bon rétablissement!” (“Get well soon!”) One day I even stepped out on a limb and tried to translate “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” into French. I’m sure “Une pomme tousles jours vous protégera contre les maladies” lost something in the translation, but once again the wish was sincere. By the end of the month, when the apples started to shrivel, we would cut paper into the shape of an apple, write a note on the paper, and leave that inside the mailbox instead.
All this time Elder Granville kept telling me I was crazy. And all this time we never heard a word from Sister Dupont. At church President Dupont was as cordial and friendly as usual, but he never said a word about the apples.
We were having a dish of soup for lunch one day when we heard a knock at the door. I stepped from the kitchen into the hallway to answer it. I couldn’t believe it when I opened the latch and neither could Elder Granville. There stood Sister Dupont, with our latest apple message in her hand.
“What’s the deal with all these apples?” she asked. “Who do you think I am, Eve?”
“We just wanted to let you know we care,” I said.
“I thank you,” she managed. And she actually tried to smile. “But please, I’ve had enough apples for a while.” She pulled her black shawl more tightly around her head. I was about to invite her inside when she turned to go.
“Oh, by the way,” she said when she reached the top of the stairway, “my husband says I should invite you for dinner on Sunday night.”
“Dinner?” Elder Granville gasped from somewhere behind me. “With Sister Dupont?” I thought he was going to faint. But as soon as the door closed, we both whooped for joy.
Sister Dupont was a marvelous cook. There’s no cuisine like French cuisine, and it’s even better when it’s homemade. That first Sunday evening we mostly ate well and offered compliments. We also watched hope glimmer in Brother Dupont’s eyes. It had been a long, long time since he’d had missionaries in his home. This was the first time since his baptism some 17 years before. We returned for dinner the following Sunday, and the next, and the next. Through bits and pieces of the conversation, we patched together the Duponts’ story.
Before he met the missionaries, Brother Dupont said, he had been like a wanderer in a drought-ravaged land. Then suddenly he stumbled into a lake of water. The gospel was rich and refreshing to him, and he could not drink his fill. In his exuberance to immerse himself in his new-found treasure, he could not understand why others did not want to savor the same message. This lack of communication spilled into his marriage. His wife didn’t understand what had changed her husband.
As we ate, she told us of the war years, when he was bedridden. She had managed to find food for both of them, even during shortages. She had nursed him daily. Even after the war, he had required her constant care for several years before he gained the strength to walk. Then he had spent more years training and rehabilitating himself while she supported the family. No sooner had he started working again than two Americans began talking religion with him. Then he joined their church—he was the only member in town, and they baptized him in the river—and more and more of his life belonged to his church, not to her. She felt deprived, then embarrassed when parishioners laughed at her, the wife of the town fanatic.
President Dupont repeated over and over again that the Church was true, that he knew it was true, and that he would do whatever he could to share it with his wife. “But,” he said, “she just won’t listen.”
“Can’t you see?” I said one night after they had been sharp with each other. “What you’re really saying is that you love each other. Sister Dupont, all these years you’ve been asking your husband to spend more time with you. That’s important and it’s right. And President Dupont, all you want to do is share with your wife the thing that’s most precious to you. Right?”
He nodded yes. I turned to Sister Dupont.
“Can’t you see that he wants to share the gospel with you because he loves you?”
She didn’t say anything, but you could tell she was thinking. We excused ourselves quietly and went home.
Elder Granville’s prayer that night was straightforward and concerned.
“Please, Heavenly Father, help the Duponts to understand each other. They’re both good people.”
“Amen,” I said. And it sounded so good that I said it again in a whisper.
We had teaching appointments elsewhere for the next two weeks, and then we had to go to Bordeaux for district conference. Although we stopped to see President Dupont on branch business a couple of times, it was almost a month before we were asked back to the Duponts’ home. President Dupont delivered the invitation.
“You won’t believe it,” he said. “My wife’s been reading Church books! And she’s asking questions—good, honest questions. I try to answer them, but I get too pushy. She really wants to talk to you again.”
If we hadn’t had another teaching appointment, we might have rushed over right then.
“C’est incroyable!” Sister Dupont said the next time we all sat in the kitchen. “It’s incredible. Or it’s stupid! A 14-year-old boy can’t talk to God. And the Bible. It’s complete. Why should we need any more scriptures than we already have? And the priesthood. My husband’s never been to divinity school. Why should he be able to hold the priesthood?”
Good questions, all right. How could we handle this? I could imagine Elder Granville thinking this was more like the Sister Dupont of old. Maybe the niceness had been too good to last.
“Sister Dupont,” Elder Granville’s calm voice interrupted my thoughts, “we can answer all those questions for you. But we can’t answer them all at the same time. We have a series of discussions that will answer them one at a time. Would you be interested in listening to those discussions?”
She said yes.
How about that! I said to myself. There’s hope for this junior companion yet!
I wouldn’t exactly say that Sister Dupont became a golden investigator. But she did become our friend. She listened intently to the first discussion. She even joined us as her husband kneeled in prayer. And she invited us to dinner again the following Sunday. It was while we were finishing a serving of the thin mashed potatoes the French call purée that Elder Granville told Sister Dupont a story.
“Did you ever hear about the missionary who was eating dinner and asked his companion to pass the butter? The butter was right in front of him, but he couldn’t see it because it was so close.”
“Simple. It’s like you and the gospel. All these years your husband has had it right here in front of you, but you couldn’t see it because it was so close. You keep asking where the butter is when it’s right in front of your plate.”
It may not have been the strongest analogy, but Elder Granville was trying. When we got home that night, he brought me a copy of the Book of Mormon.
“Why don’t you sign this with me?” he said, turning to a dedication on the flyleaf. “It’s for Sister Dupont.”
I looked at what he’d written.
“Voici le beurre,” it said. “Here is the butter.”
During the next two months Sister Dupont read the book—at least, she read more than half of it. And she had two more discussions, and prayed, and was talking to her husband more and more. And he was seeming happier and happier all the time. That’s when my transfer letter came.
I was moving north to Brittany where I would finish my mission. Elder Granville would be getting his third senior. The letter had been delayed by postal strikes. I would have to catch the first train in the morning.
“I don’t know if I’m ready to leave, Elder Granville,” I said. “We’ve been working so well here. The branch president’s happy and excited again, and the members are working with him. We’ve got some inactives coming out to church and a couple of solid investigators. The Marcellas family is getting ready for baptism. I guess I’ll just have to leave it up to you.”
A knock at the door.
“President Dupont!” Elder Granville greeted the visitor. “Come in, come in.”
President Dupont looked at me.
“I heard about the transfer,” he said. “I know you’re leaving tomorrow. My wife wants you to come say good-bye.”
There was a lot of packing and farewelling to take care of, but I knew I had to visit his wife.
“Of course we’ll be by,” I said.
The living room was dark, illuminated by a single bare bulb as many French living rooms are. The wallpaper, however, was a bright combination of browns, yellows, and tans. Sister Dupont was seated on the orange couch, a tray of cookies and hot chocolate before her.
“Hello, elders,” she said. “Have a seat. What’s this about Elder Romney leaving?”
“I’m afraid that’s right. Tomorrow morning.”
“That means there will be a new missionary here, too.”
“That’s right. Elder Taylor. He’s from New York.”
“I guess I’ll have to get to know him, too.”
I could see the smile on President Dupont’s face.
“I hope you will,” I said.
“Will you write to us?”
“Of course I’ll keep in touch,” I promised. “Trust me.”
“If you can’t trust the elders, who can you trust?” she said.
I thought I might cry.
I did keep in touch, especially five months later when I got home from my mission. It was hard, and President Dupont wrote to me more than I wrote to him. But we did exchange photos (I still have a nice picture of the Duponts with their grandchildren on vacation on the Spanish coast), and Christmas cards, and news of our families. Whatever I sent, even a postcard, I always got letters back, scrawled out in President Dupont’s longhand. He would let me know when he heard from one of the elders, especially from Elder Granville. He always included greetings from his wife, but I never received anything written personally by her. Other missionaries told me that she remained friendly and supported her husband, but she never joined the Church. Every once in a while I would write to her personally and bear my testimony to her through the mail.
I’ve been home for several years now, and this week I received an unusual letter from France. The address was strange, the handwriting unfamiliar. I opened it before I got to my desk.
“Dear Elder Romney,” it began, “I’ve wanted to write to you many times over the years, but I always figured my husband kept us in contact with you. Now my husband is gone. I wanted to let you know so that you could tell the other missionaries. He loved them all so much. Let them know the Church members held a funeral for him.
“I remember much of what you both told me about life after death. Perhaps my husband is there waiting for me, as you said he would be. I never did understand all you tried to tell me, all that he wanted to share with me, but I know you both believed it was true. I’m living with my daughter and her family now. Please write to me if you will.”
You know I will, Sister Dupont. You know I will.