Each Monday they rotate drivers. Every three weeks it is my momâ€™s turn. She picks up Margarete and MaryLou in her Buick and they drive to St. George to visit Shirlee. Margarete and mom tolerate MaryLouâ€™s week to drive with mild impatience. MaryLou only drives the speed limit, while mom and Margarete operate at a faster pace than what the limit allows. Even then their playful banter, in a strange but efficient communication triangle, much of which goes unsaid in half sentences but understood in full, gets them to their destination before mom or Margarete can really complain.
It has been about twenty years since these three women served as the Stake Relief Society presidency, but the bonds of friendship were already tight from prior service in both church and community functions and only grew tighter when they worked together at the stake level.
Mom was the president and she selected Margaret and MaryLou as counselors and Shirlee as the secretary. I was on my mission at the time and recall the letters, asking for my prayers in behalf of the new presidency, most specifically in behalf of Shirlee. Mom would explain that she â€œknewâ€ that Shirlee was to be her secretary; the spirit confirmed it to her in an undeniable way. Yet Shirlee balked at the number of meetings and resisted giving herself to the calling. The Church was still somewhat new to her. She moved to Utah from Chicago late in life to retire with her husband, Meno. They settled in Moab at first and then in the small central Utah town of Joseph and were taught the gospel there by stake missionaries. They joined the church and slowly began to acculturate to the gospel and to life in rural Utah. They eventually moved to Hurricane where I was their home teacher before leaving on a mission. Mom became Shirleeâ€™s visiting teacher shortly thereafter.
Meno died peacefully in his sleep one night. Shirlee couldnâ€™t wake him the next morning. It was devastating to her. They had no children and Shirlee had little contact with her family. She frequently told me how her mother had placed her in a Catholic boarding school and was content to let the nuns and her grandmother raise her. â€œYouâ€™re a mistake,â€ her mom would say to Shirlee; â€œWe didnâ€™t want you.â€ Understandably, Shirlee developed a tough defensive exterior that was difficult to reach beyond. She had nothing but contempt for her parents and similar contempt for the nuns who did their best to teach her values; bitterness and hurt sank deeply into her soul. Meno was her worldâ€”all that she hadâ€”her anchor, solace, stability, and strength. He led her to Utah and into this new faith and then he left her, cold, waxy, and immovable next to her in bed.
She only wanted her visiting teacher that day, but she couldnâ€™t get in contact with her. Even after the bishop arrived she only wanted to talk to mom. It was hours later when mom finally showed and Shirlee was mad. Mom quickly explained that she had been getting stitches in her leg from a minor accident that occurred while trying to park my motor scooter. (I had made her promise to ride it while I was on my mission so that it didnâ€™t just sit for two years.) â€œMeno died,â€ mom wrote me, â€œand Iâ€™m not riding your scooter again.â€ â€œShirlee was mad by the time I got to her house, wondering what took me so long. She understood after I showed her my leg. We talked for hours and I tried to comfort her.â€
It was shortly thereafter that Mom was called as the stake Relief Society President. She and Margarete and MaryLou were already close. The challenge was fitting Shirlee into an existing bond. Over time Shirlee softened and the presidency jelled into a formidable foursome. The four women became fast friends and centered their efforts on Relief and personal visits to the homes of those in need. Shirlee became an integral part of the â€œteamâ€ and seemed to enjoy herself to the point that she even stopped complaining about the meetings.
The comments from some sisters stung, however. One told her she had no business being in a stake calling without having first been through the temple. Even more hurtful, Shirlee approached Mom in a bit of a defensive tone one day: â€œSomeone told me that once we are released as a presidency you three will drop me like a hot potato. No more friendship; it is only a calling.â€
How wrong that â€œsomeoneâ€ proved to be.
Long after the presidency was released, Shirlee continues to be a part of my familyâ€™s every day life. After my mission, I recall including her in our Thanksgiving and Christmas feasts. Iâ€™d always be sent to pick her up. Iâ€™d ring the doorbell, punching the button incessantly, mostly because it bothered Shirlee so much. Sheâ€™d come to the door with some comment about how annoying I was and when was I going to get married anyway. â€œToo picky,â€ sheâ€™d say. Margarete and MaryLou also continued to include Shirlee as a part of the warp and woof of their lives: visits; drives to the store; social, church, and family functions.
Then the dementia started, the voices, the kids sitting on the hot stove, the noises in the night. The police brought her to momâ€™s house at 2 a.m. They found her wandering the streets in her night gown. She threatened to cut momâ€™s liver out and to kill Margarete that night. Mom, Margarete and MaryLou took turns sleeping on her couch after that. She refused to see a doctor. They eventually convinced a doctor to make a house call and prescribe medication. They administered that medication each day and stood by to make sure she swallowed it.
When the medicine no longer effectively controlled the symptoms, the trio made plans for a more permanent solution. They hired a lawyer, went to court, appeared before a judge, and attempted to gain power of attorney. Shirleeâ€™s will made provision for such an event and they were already signatories on her bank account. They itemized her furniture, divided it up according to Shirleeâ€™s will, orchestrated the move, cleaned her home, sold her home, and placed her in a dementia care facility.
Each month they pay for her care out of the proceeds from the sale of her home, as well as Menoâ€™s small pension, and Shirleeâ€™s Social Security check. Each year Social Security requests an accounting of how the government money is being spent. Mom gives an accounting of the cost of the care facility and medicine. This year Social Security wanted to know more: Who provides her clothing, lotion, tooth paste, and other necessary items? Why are there no expenses for those items? Mom replied diplomatically, explaining that she, Margarete, and MaryLou buy those things, out of their own pockets.
Momâ€™s answer, however, fails to explain that these â€œwomen who knowâ€ provide those necessities more out of the goodness of their hearts than out of the depth of their pockets. Menoâ€™s and Shirleeâ€™s will stipulates that their surviving assets be given to the missionary fund of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mom, Margarete, and MaryLou feel a sacred obligation to preserve as much of that money as possible to honor Menoâ€™s and Shirleeâ€™s wish.
Every Monday morning (a bit later if MaryLou drives) the former Stake Relief Society Presidency reunites in Shirleeâ€™s room at the end of the hall on the left. Sometimes Shirlee doesnâ€™t wake for the reunion, but they rub her back and arm, leave her a chocolate, and whisper in her ear anyway. Sometimes sheâ€™s alert and tells them to leave after only a few minutes. Occasionally she says, â€œThank you.â€
And so they keep coming back. Charity never faileth, after all, and is kind.