In our neighborhood everyone is mostly Lutheran or Jewish, that is, if they admit to any religion at all. Mostly everyone is tolerant, and I have a lot of pretty good friends who aren’t LDS. They watch out for me, too—they know I don’t drink, so there’s always a can of soda for me. Whenever anyone felt a prayer was appropriate they’d call on one of the Mormons. They respected us.
Until the Cartchers moved in.
Cheryl Cartcher was nice enough. When they moved in a couple of blocks away had no idea they were members until I heard my mother saying Alice Cartcher was new in her visiting teaching district.
I asked, “That’s not Cheryl and David Cartcher’s mother, is it?”
Mom said, “Yes, I think those are her children’s names.”
“Oh, no,” I groaned. “They haven’t been coming to church, have they?”
“I’m afraid not,” my mother said. “The Relief Society presidency wanted me to help fellowship the family. They’re having some problems.”
“That’s an understatement,” I said. “They are problems. I hope nobody finds out they’re Mormons.”
“Marnee, whatever makes you say that?”
“Ever since they’ve been coming to school Dave Cartcher thinks he’s some big hotshot basketball player, only he fights with the referee and gets sidelined. He drives this big noisy black motorcycle around. And Cheryl …”
“What about Cheryl?”
“She’s okay. She just acts like a mouse. She’s about six inches taller than all the girls, only she hunches over and tries to look shorter, and she’s clumsy so she won’t try sports. She hardly says a word, either. Some example.”
I could feel my mother giving me “the look,” so I tried to slide out of the room without making eye contact.
“Marnee,” she said, using “the voice.”
“We have an opportunity to help, don’t we?”
“I know you’re a good example to the kids at school. Less active members are no less important. Maybe even more important.”
She waited. I sighed.
“All right, Mom,” I said. “I’ll fellowship Cheryl.”
That shouldn’t be too hard, I thought. Anyone who says five words in a row to Cheryl would be her friend forever. But Mom wasn’t through.
“What about Dave?” she said.
“Dave, too? Can’t you find some boy to fellowship him? He’ll just get the idea that I think he’s a hotshot, and he sure doesn’t need any more encouragement along that line.”
“All right, Marnee. Just be friendly. I don’t want the Cartchers to have any excuse to feel that they’re not welcome in church.”
No problem of that, I thought. They’ll never show up at church.
Cheryl was at sacrament meeting on Sunday. Maybe she’d been there before and I hadn’t noticed her. She was sitting in the back as if she wanted to melt into the wall. A lot of the time she didn’t look up, just sat with her head bowed. When the meeting ended she started to go out the front doors instead of toward the classrooms. I followed her out into the parking lot.
“Cheryl,” I called out.
She turned around, surprised. I motioned to her to come back in. She hung back. I motioned harder. “Come on,” I shouted.
Finally she came up the steps, looking like a five-foot, ten-inch cornered rabbit. “Hi, Marnee,” she said in a faint voice.
“You forgot we have Sunday School and Young Women next. Come on back inside.”
“I have to get home.”
“How did you get here?”
It was my turn to be surprised. Their house was over three miles away. “We’ll give you a ride home. So you’ll have enough time anyway. Save wear and tear on your feet.”
Her presence in Sunday School class increased the number of girls to three. The boys looked her over without interest, and the other girl, Shanna who is everyone’s friend, said hi.
When we took her home it was a tight fit, with all eight members of my family besides, but she seemed to enjoy it. When we dropped her off I saw Dave practicing free throw shots at a backboard in the driveway. He didn’t even turn around. Cheryl waved until we drove out of sight.
After that she followed me around. She was a dreamy girl, living in a world of her own. One day she gave me some of her poems to read. I’m not real good with poetry, so I suggested she take them to the creative writing club that met during lunch. In fact, I took her there myself. They welcomed her with open arms. I stayed to listen, but I’m not the poetic type. Cheryl, however, spent every lunch hour there after that.
My family did take her to church every week and I thought I was doing my fellowshipping job pretty well.
Mom was having a harder time with Cheryl’s mother, though. Sister Cartcher worked at a truck stop, and her husband was a trucker. When he came home on weekends sometimes they’d take off together and leave Dave and Cheryl alone. Sister Cartcher wasn’t interested in Relief Society. Mom didn’t know what to do.
“Have you managed to become friendly with David Cartcher?” she asked one day in desperation. “I called to talk to Alice, and he was awfully rude.”
“Don’t take it personally, Mom,” I said. “He’s rude to everyone. In fact, I did say something to him once. I told him he was a pretty good basketball player.”
“And what did he say?”
“He stood there with his mouth hanging open. He must have thought I was going to lecture him for being a bad example.”
“Keep up the good work,” my mother said.
Actually he was a pretty good player. I even went to a basketball game. I’d been practicing with the golf team after school, and by the time we were finished, the basketball team had an early game going, so I went over to watch.
There weren’t that many people on the bleachers yet, but I saw Cheryl sitting next to a gray-haired couple that looked like they might be her grandparents. She waved at me to come sit next to her.
“This is my mother and father,” she said. “Mother, this is Marnee Wingate.”
“Wingate?” her mother said. She had light blue eyes and looked like she’d seen a lot of problems, and her mouth was set in an unsmiling line. “Are you Martha Wingate’s daughter?”
“Your mother has been trying to get me to go to church. You might as well tell her I don’t have time for that anymore. I used to be in the Relief Society presidency once, you know.”
Then they jumped up and cheered at a basket Dave made.
It was hard for me to imagine Alice Cartcher as a member of a Relief Society presidency, but then, you couldn’t tell Cheryl wrote poetry just by looking, either. Cheryl told me she was having three of her poems published in the school’s literary magazine. I said congratulations.
At halftime Dave came over to see us. Cheryl said, “Look who’s coming over to talk. Usually he acts like we aren’t here.”
“Do you always come to his basketball games?”
“Whenever Dad’s not on the road. Dad’s really proud of him, you know. Dave acts like it’s no big thing. But I think he really is glad we come.”
Dave talked to his parents, and he didn’t swear once. Then as he was leaving he gave me one of those chin-up nods like some guys do when they think they’re too good for you. I smiled anyway and waved. I guess this fellowshipping wasn’t so hard.
When I told Mom about it afterward she asked all about the Cartchers, what they had said, etc. I told her how the parents had their two kids when they were older, and sometimes Cheryl and Dave felt like they were imposing. It wasn’t like our family—I mean, our family may be like a three-ring circus, but it’s fun, and everyone pulls together. Mom and Dad are busy all the time, but we know they love each other and they love us. They want what’s best and they expect the best from us. I had a hard time describing my feelings.
Mom was nodding like she understood. “That was lovely what you said about our family, Marnee.”
I wished I could write a poem about it, like Cheryl, put it into words. Then I said to Mom, “The Cartchers act like they’re afraid to let their feelings show. I think they love each other, but I’m not sure any of them knows how much.”
“Maybe they don’t know how to be close, like you said,” my mother said. “But even Cheryl realizes that underneath they all really do care. Maybe they just need some encouragement. Keep trying, Marnee.”
One Sunday we took Cheryl home after church. Her parents’ cars were gone and so was Dave’s motorcycle, so I knew she’d be alone. I asked if she wanted to have lunch with us. She said she’d better make lunch for Dave. She stood in the yard and watched us go. The noisy, laughing Wingate bunch. I thought it might be nice to spend a quiet afternoon alone, like she did, but I’d probably never know.
Cheryl called that afternoon. Dave had been in an accident, and would we come down to the hospital with her?
Mom and Dad and I went to pick her up. I knew motorcycle accidents could be bad, but she hadn’t sounded as if it were a life and death situation. Still, you can’t help worrying until you get there and see how things are.
When she ran out of the house I couldn’t help thinking how different she was from when I first met her. She wasn’t hunched over anymore. Her cheeks were flushed and her eyes sparkling, like she was interested in life, not afraid of it.
When she got into the van she said, “Thanks so much for coming. Mom and Dad are in Las Vegas this weekend. Maybe they’ll call tonight. When they aren’t here I always think of you as my family. With your mom being our visiting teacher and your dad our home teacher, I guess I just thought of you first when there was a problem. They said at the hospital that Dave never lost consciousness. He broke some bones, but it’s not too serious. The other driver was driving a little foreign car and ran a stop sign. It’s good it wasn’t a big car. Oh, Marnee, I’m so glad you’re here.”
Mom was looking over the front seat at us with a big smile on her face. She’d never heard Cheryl chatter like that. I hadn’t either. In spite of the fact that we were on our way to the hospital, something good had happened.
Dave was sitting up in the hospital bed. His right leg was up on some sort of frame to hold the blankets off, and a sling was around his right wrist. He’d broken his shin bone just below the knee, and his wrist. He looked dazed and in pain, and his face was white. When we walked in, he asked Cheryl, “Did Mom and Dad call?”
“No, Dave.” She sat down beside him. “I came over as soon as I heard. The Wingates brought me. Brother Wingate says the home teachers can give you a blessing if you want one.” She handed him a card in an envelope. He opened it and read it, smiling at his sister shyly.
Then he looked straight at me, as if waiting for me to pass judgment on him. I said, “Hi, Dave. I’m glad … you weren’t hurt any worse. I mean, you could have been killed, but you just … broke some bones.
Talk about stupid. I’m sure that cheered him up immensely. My mother was standing there with a strained expression. Father had his best concerned look on. Cheryl started to chuckle, then to laugh out loud.
Dave started to laugh too. Finally I started laughing, too. When the laughing died down, I said, “I’m sorry, that didn’t come out right. I meant we’re glad everything wasn’t worse.”
He sat there staring at me as if I’d said something profound. I decided not to try to say anything else. Then Brother Harker, Dad’s home teaching companion, walked in and saved me.
Dave had them give him a blessing. I always peek during the prayer, because sometimes it feels like there are angels in the room when my dad gives a blessing. Dave’s eyes were closed like a little boy’s, and there were tears on his cheeks.
On the way back home Cheryl said, “Do you know, Dave must respect you a lot.”
“Why do you say that?”
“He acts like a gentleman around you, and he listens to you,” she said. “You know that card I gave him? I wrote a poem telling him how much he means to me. I put in about how broken bones don’t matter as long as the spirit is safe. I think that’s why I laughed when you said what you did. I was so relieved it was just broken bones!”
After that Sister Cartcher came to church with Cheryl several times, and when Dave got his cast off he came on crutches. I never saw the dad. In the summer they moved away.
Cheryl wrote to me after they moved. She said her mother had better hours on her new job, so she was able to go to church more often. Dave got a scholarship to play basketball, and he was attending institute at the college he went to. She said that being friends with our family had changed their family, except her dad, but she wasn’t going to give up on him.
At the end of her letter there was a poem.