Because of Christine

by Richard M. Romney

Assistant Managing Editor

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    The saga of a family from Quebec.

    Part 1: The River

    Light danced on the St. Lawrence River, light like a thousand silver coins tossed in the sun. And in the middle of the silver, a single silhouette, a sailboat, glided through the waves. Christine Ferland stood on Cape Diamond, where Quebec City peers over the cliffs. She looked down at the boat and she wondered.

    What would it be like, one time, just to drift along? she asked herself. Why do I always have to make choices?

    Like most high school seniors, Christine was approaching graduation with anticipation, but also with a little fear. Once school was over, would she ever see her friends again? Even the girls in her Young Women class were talking about going away to college. Should she plan on the university in Montreal? Would she have the money? What if she ended up homesick?

    Maybe it’s silly to worry, Christine thought. But she couldn’t help it. She looked down at the broad, smooth water, and she thought how easy sailing seems when seen from a distance. Her mind wandered, and as she watched the river and the boat, she found herself looking to the past in the hope that it would help her look to the future.

    The first memories were vague, memories of the city, of basement apartments and dirty streets, of just enough food and not enough money. She was young then, but her mother had told her the story a hundred times. Father, eager to spend more time with the family, quit his position as communications officer on a ship, then took all kinds of odd jobs to keep ahead of the bills. He delivered pizza, repaired TVs, worked as a gardener and a nurse’s aide.

    It was during those hard times that the missionaries came—Elder Kjar, fresh from the States, tall, blonde, square-jawed, eager; Elder Fitzgerald, brown hair and glasses, calm but reassuring. When he spoke of knowing the truth, his voice was piercing.

    The Church brought a happy new world to Jean-Claude and Micheline Ferland, and to their children, Marie Claude, Clément, and Christine. There were activities during the week and Sunday meetings where their souls were fed. The gospel was warm and filling.

    But joining the Church didn’t solve all their problems. Finances got even tougher, and the family moved to the country. Outside the little village of St. Edouard de Frampton, the Ferlands took charge of a dilapidated farm, and by sheer willpower worked to improve it. Mother still talks about tending children at the same time she was digging post holes in the stubborn earth.

    Though father, now a truck driver, was often on the road, he worked hard at home too. He expanded the cellar, added a new room, stacked wood for the winter. The garden yielded plenty of food. Clément loved to play in the barn, and Marie Claude loved the animals, especially a pig named Pogo who followed the children to school.

    To school. That was the rub for Christine. At age eight, it wasn’t easy being the only Mormon in her class, and except for her brother and sister, the only one in school.

    The teacher talked to Christine’s mother. “Why doesn’t Christine come to church in town? All the other children are ready for their first communion. She’s the only one left out.”

    When the class had to make the sign of the cross and pray in front of statues, Christine would not. Confronted by the teacher, Christine replied simply, “It isn’t right to pray to a statue.”

    Over the years, the others learned to make fun of her. There were rude comments in the halls. Some would call on the phone, just to say stupid things. Christine’s grades, which had always been good, dropped.

    Finally, it was time to move on to secondary school. Christine was excited to advance, to start fresh with new teachers and more students. But the same students from Frampton would be in school there, and she was sure the same old trouble would follow her.

    It didn’t. There were already several students from different religions. Like a miracle, Christine was no longer a “freak.” She made friends. In fact, she found a best friend. They were inseparable for years.

    Christine looked up from the water, turned and looked at the city. Quebec stands tall and proud on the cliffs, a fortress like the old European cities, with narrow streets and stone walls, with battlegrounds preserved as parks.

    She started walking, past the monument of Champlain, past the Château Frontenac, along the massive boardwalk of the Terrasse Dufferin. Her mind was now on a different time, a dark time.

    It started, as such things often do, with an unkind remark. Something faded now, totally forgotten. And yet it turned her father away. Church became too long a drive, too inconvenient. Wouldn’t it be better to spend the time with the family? A cloud settled over Jean-Claude Ferland, something foggy and chilling.

    Mother fretted, worried, talked to the branch president. She finally decided it was better to stay home. Marie Claude—always so constant—and Clément—tall, strong Clément, who used to tease the elders so—they stopped bothering with church.

    Maybe it was the years in elementary school that made the difference for Christine, all those times of quietly defending what she knew to be true. Somehow, she would stand up this time, too.

    She didn’t defy her family. She simply kept going to church. It meant hitching a ride into town with a member on Friday or Saturday night, staying with a family through Sunday. Sometimes she couldn’t get a ride back until Monday morning at 4:00 or 5:00 A.M. And then, if she missed the bus she’d have to pedal her bike for an hour to get to school.

    But it also meant that she could keep her family in touch with the Church. In time, she was able to get Clément and Marie Claude to join her for meetings or activities. And mother fasted and prayed, and kept the hope alive that someday father would return to activity.

    Part 2: The Temple

    Christine stopped to catch her breath. She exhaled a cloud of white mist which slowly disappeared. Then she leaned against a green railing thick with chipped enamel. Out on the water, the sailboat maneuvered, tacking against the wind. She found herself wondering about the sailors on the boat. The gliding that seemed so effortless to her—was it work for them, the muscle-straining labor of tugging ropes and trimming sails, of leaning hard on the rudder? Did they find joy in the sailing, in the combat with deep currents and stiff winds? And it made Christine look to the past again, a deep look to a time when struggle seemed worthwhile.

    Dinner at the Ferland’s was always a glorious affair—plates heaped with home-grown tomatoes, beans, and pickled beets, with lamb and potatoes browned together until the meat was tender and the vegetables sweet. In the wood-burning oven, an apple pie simmered. The room spoke of families and of love.

    It was at such a dinner that father called his wife and children near. Christine noticed a happy mischief in his eyes, a spark of something that for too long had been distant.

    “We have to make your mother happy,” he said, looking each teenager firmly in the eye. He let them guess what he was planning to do.

    After a minute he said, “Whatever it takes, we’re going to the temple.”

    Of course, saying and doing are two different things. But even when he wasn’t attending his meetings, Jean-Claude Ferland had never thought of himself as anything less than a Latter-day Saint. He was still friendly with people from the branch, still in contact with home teachers, still “active” in his heart. So when he decided to be involved, he gave full dedication.

    Sunday meetings were not considered optional. Service projects, branch parties, cottage meetings, whatever was asked, the Ferlands would gladly participate. Callings were willingly accepted, instructions from the branch president explicitly heeded. Even tithing, which had been a struggle in the past, was now a privilege. Once, when it was paid twice by mistake, mother and father decided to “let the Lord keep it.”

    Time passed quickly. In August 1986, interviews were held and recommends were signed. The dream was coming true.

    Christine can see it still, every time she closes her eyes—the Washington D. C. Temple, its white spires bright against the woods. Inside, everything is calm and bright. People smile and share a great peace.

    In a sacred room, maman and papa, dressed in white, kneel at the altar. Christine, Clément, and Marie Claude, also in white, kneel beside them. Hands are placed on hands, children and parents sealed. By the power of the priesthood they are given the promises of eternity.

    Part 3: The Trucker

    It was a cold day, though the sun was bright and clear. Christine looked upriver now, searching for other ships. But the sailboat was by itself.

    “I wonder if sailboats ever feel lonely?” she said to herself. “Do they ever wonder if anyone notices how well they turn, or how they bump when they hit a swell?” Clément might, she thought. Then again, so might father. They were both fascinated by movement.

    From the day when father first brought home his truck, Clément was admiringly by his side. There was a wonder to all that chrome and steel, the thrill of thunder roaring under the hood. Clément wanted to climb in the cab, fire up the engine, shift the gears and roll through mile after mile of freedom. Whenever he could, he rode with his father, and he dreamed of the day when he would have his own rig and a route like his father’s to Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.

    Now, however, there was a competing dream. Not a barrier, not even a detour. A different road, but a good one.

    “The prophet said it,” Mother would begin the conversation, like a dozen others already held in the kitchen. “All young men should serve a mission. You’re a young man. You should serve a mission.”

    “But the openings in the military won’t wait. Or I could take that job working on cars. Or I could drive with Papa …”

    “And those are better ways to spend the next two years?”

    Clément would review his options, again and again and again. The chances for work were exciting, all that he’d hoped for. But the mission? It was a better thing.

    He prayed. He spoke to the branch president, then the district president. He submitted his papers. One by one the obstacles to serving disappeared.

    The job with cars would wait. He couldn’t get a license to drive a big rig for at least two years. He had signed a preliminary agreement with the military, but turned it down the same day his call to the Louisiana Baton Rouge Mission arrived in the mail.

    Then Christine thought of another day, just last October. It was overcast, gray, cool. The heavy air smelled of rain. Papa and Clément were up early, as usual on a Monday. The big diesel engine was already throbbing, mildly vibrating the entire house.

    Clément stuffed the compartment behind the cab with blankets, canned pudding, instant soup, snack food. He ran inside to get some tapes, his earphones, and a tape player.

    Then he thought again, and laid them aside. This was his last trip to Mechanicsburg for two years. He and father would be talking all the way there, talking about his mission.

    Part 4: The Routine

    The stairs were steep at the south end of the terrasse, but Christine took them easily. Hours of volleyball practice had conditioned her to run, and her lungs pulled in air that was crisp and pure. She reached a narrower boardwalk, the Promenade des Gouverneurs, which stretches along the cliffs to reach the Plains of Abraham.

    The French love to tell of a great struggle here, when the Chevalier de Lévis, battling to reclaim Quebec, lured the British far from the city and beat them. But those assigned to cut off the retreat failed, and the rest of the army, too tired to pursue, let the enemy escape. British reinforcements arrived soon, and what should have been a French victory turned to defeat.

    Christine breathed deeply and let the air out slowly. It surprised her when she thought of a scripture: “Look unto me, and endure to the end, and ye shall live” (3 Ne. 15:9).

    “Endure,” she said aloud. “Sometimes you just have to endure.” And then she was remembering again.

    It was a routine, the same routine Marie Claude had followed every morning for years. Get up early and care for the animals. Feed Daisy, Belle, and Lady, the horses. Feed Fido, the bull in the barn. Feed three pigs, three sheep, two dogs, four ducks, and any other animals calling the farm home at the moment.

    From upstairs, Christine heard Marie Claude come in the house and bolt the back door against the wind. She could imagine her hanging her flannel coat on the peg in the kitchen. Then she heard her pull a chair across the floor and put breakfast dishes on the table.

    For as long as Christine could remember, Marie Claude got up early to take care of the animals. But today the routine was different—the movements slower, the pauses longer, the sighs heavy and audible.

    And Christine knew why. Last night, Marie Claude had finally told her boyfriend good-bye. He was a decent fellow, a nice man. But he didn’t understand. He’d had the missionary discussions, even been to church a time or two. But all this religion, meetings every Sunday, marriage in a temple—for him it just wouldn’t do.

    And now Marie Claude, who loved him and had dated him for a couple of years, who had argued with him before, had sent him away. She sat at the breakfast table, numb, almost crying, wrenching solace from the everyday routine.

    At the end of the promenade, there’s a gazebo. To get there, Christine had to mount steps again. Quickly she bounded up them, the end of her run in sight. And as she ran, her mind flashed ahead, like a video on fast forward.

    Here was Marie Claude again, but this time she was smiling. Dressed in embroidered chiffon, she sat by a cheery window in a friend’s house, holding hands with an amiable young man in a blue sweater.

    It was amazing. When they laughed, it was the same laugh. The smile was the same smile. They looked like each other, they talked like each other. They both had kind eyes. You’d think they were brother and sister, not fiances.

    Yet there on the table was their wedding announcement, and it really did seem like a dream come true—“C’est avec joie que nous vous annonçons notre mariage qui aura lieu au Temple de Washington, D.C., mercredi le six mai.” (It is with joy that we announce our marriage in the Washington, D.C. Temple on May 6, 1987.)

    André and Marie Claude. They met at church, and fell in love quickly. But after years of struggling to feel right about something that was wrong, it was easy for Marie Claude to do something that felt so true.

    Part 5: To Eternity

    At the gazebo, Christine stopped.

    She thought about the family. She pictured her mother, joking with the visiting teachers, happily discussing her hobby of decorating cakes. She saw Father, smiling broadly, the proudest sacrament meeting usher the Branche de Québec has as ever had. She imagined Clément, Elder Ferland, teaching missionary lessons in broken English. And she pictured Marie Claude, in her own home as a newlywed, so happy she was almost dancing.

    Then she thought of spires of white, rising from a green woodland, and she cherished the promises of eternity.

    Christine looked across the ancient battlefields. The rolling hills seemed to be resting, calm now as she was calm. In the distance, a calèche, a carriage, bobbed along the folds of green. From so far away, it seemed to be in slow motion. But in the evening air, she could hear the clip-clop, clip-clop of the horse’s hooves.

    She turned and looked again at the river. It was shining still, but it was no longer silver. The setting sun had turned it to gold. And the sailboat, still a silhouette, pulled up to its moorings.

    Dusk was past. The time for returning was here.

    Photography by Richard M. Romney

    For the Ferlands, life has at times been as bumpy as the backroads of provincial Quebec. But as a family they have strengthened each other—by pulling together, by leaning on memories, by building hope for the future. Life has taught them that the gospel road, though sometimes tough, will always lead upward.

    There’s a reassuring calmness in the quiet woods that surround the Ferland family farm. It’s the same kind of calmness you feel from Christine, a strength born from making decisions. Christine isn’t brash or showy. She simply tries her best to do what’s right.