A love-at-first-sight meeting between Mary Jo and Jack leads to a rash, young marriage. Reality soon hits the excited newlyweds. Yet from their despair and despondency come the desire and ability to learn how to follow God’s path instead of their own.
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Straight Down a Crooked Lane
By Francena H. Arnold
Moody PressCopyright © 1959 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago
All rights reserved.
MARY JO SHIVERED as she trudged through the steadily falling March rain. In spite of raincoat, boots and umbrella she felt pierced by the chill moisture. She hadn't wanted to come out. She thought of the warm living room she had just left, of DeeDee curled up in a big chair trying to study Spanish and watch TV at the same time, and of the fragrant kettle of soup Mother was preparing in the kitchen.
"What am I doing here anyway?" she questioned herself. "I'd much rather eat with the folks at home than try to satisfy my appetite on the dinky little sandwiches we're bound to have at Roach's. And why didn't I just tell Kathy I was busy when she called last night? We haven't been friends for almost four years and she wouldn't be speaking to me now if she didn't need me. What a nerve she has! To think that I'd fall for that silly fib about my invitation having been lost in the mail. I know, and she knows I know, that she never sent one. But she's in a tight spot now and she yells for help, and Mary Jo Hallet, the good old easy mark, comes running as always. Oh, well, I'll live through it, I guess, and next time I'll have better sense, I hope."
How far it seemed to the Roach house! Maybe it was because of the rain. In the days when she and Kathy could not exist longer than a few hours without seeing each other, the distance had not seemed great at all. Of course, they had scuttled through alleys and across back yards then, and the urgency to get together had lent wings to their feet. If it had ever rained in those days it had certainly failed to chill and dampen as this rain did.
Those days were gone, and forever, she was sure. And she was not sorry. Kathy did not interest her at all any more. Why she ever had was a mystery to the whole Hallett family. She must have something however, otherwise how could she have captured Gerald Frayne? His father was the suburb's wealthiest citizen, and Gerald himself was handsome and reputably very brilliant. Mary Joe had her doubts about the latter, for how could a smart young man choose for a wife such a "bird brain" as Kathy?
"Wonder what will happen when he finds out how really dumb she is. She has flunked two schools that I know of; she is probably getting married to keep from trying to graduate from another. Wow! Mary Jo Hallet, what a cat you've turned out to be! Wouldn't your mother give you fits if she heard your thoughts! Are you just jealous because Kathy is getting married while you are still plugging away in high school, and have never had a real date in your life? Would you want to be getting married?"
For the next block she pondered this question, then answered herself so vehemently that the sparrows who had sought shelter in the branches of the cedar tree by the walk flew away frightened.
"I certainly would not. I think Kathy is silly. She's only eighteen. She's not even through high school. I'd hate to miss out on all the fun we have, even for a guy as rich and good-looking as Gerald Frayne. I'm glad this is not my wedding I'm practicing for. Definitely, but definitely!"
The guests were already crowding around the table and buffet when she reached the dining room and she fell quietly into line. When she had filled her plate and refused Mrs. Roach's urgent demands to take more of the assortment of appetizers, salads and sandwiches, she looked about for a vacant chair by someone she knew. Not one familiar face did she see, except Kathy's smiling one in a far corner of the big living room where she sat by the side of her soon-tobe bridegroom. All around the room were chattering and laughing groups with loaded trays, but not one person familiar to Mary Jo.
"Just as I thought. Not one of the old crowd except me. If I weren't a jellyfish I wouldn't be here. Wonder what happened to the girl whose place I'm taking. Maybe she got sick of Kathy's silly laugh and just quit. Well, I guess I'll stand up in a corner and eat alone."
She saw Mrs. Roach approaching with her gracious-hostess smile, and fled into the hall. She didn't intend to become a fifth wheel in any of those groups. She remembered a seat back under the stairs, where she and Kathy used to go to whisper secrets to each other and plan their escapades in the days when it was not so important that Kathy's friends be of her mother's choosing. Perhaps it was empty now and she could eat alone. She had been hungry for an hour, and the food looked delectable. She didn't want to talk to any of these people anyway. All she wanted was to rest her feet and satisfy her hunger before going to the church for the long practice that she felt sure lay ahead of her.
She reached the semidarkness of the under-the-stairs retreat, then began to back out in confusion, finding it already occupied. But looking more closely, she laughed in relief.
"Well, Little Jack Horner yet!"
"And another well! The chairman of the decorating committee yet!"
"May I come in and eat with you?"
"I sure wish you would. Come in and bring all your playthings and stay awhile. Never was I so glad to see a friendly face. I've begun to feel that I have crashed the gate at the Queen's garden party. I'm lost in the woods, in deep water over my head, and most definitely out of my class."
"The same here," she said, sitting down with a sigh, and slipping off her shoes. "I couldn't see a familiar face except Kathy's and it's really not very familiar any more. I often used to sleep and eat in this house, and this old corner here was our favorite hide-out. But that hasn't happened since eighth grade. I'm on a detour tonight."
"Who is Kathy, may I inquire? And why did you part so abruptly? Fight?"
"Kathleen is the bride. And if you didn't know that, just what are you doing here?"
"I'm beginning to wonder about that myself. I think Miss Kathleen wanted a military wedding, and the groom was ordered to bring along a sufficient number of his friends to match the horde of gals she had assembled."
"I didn't know you knew Gerald Frayne."
"I don't. I see him every day—but he doesn't often see me. I eat in the same mess hall with him. And once in a long while we exchange a word or two—if we must."
"Aren't you his friend? Then why did he ask you for this?"
"He couldn't find enough fellows who were willing to come all this way for what this is likely to be. I was glad to come because I wanted to come home and didn't have the money. He paid my way, so here I am. We drove over five hundred miles today to get here tonight and I haven't had a chance to meet the fair Kathleen. A guy does like to say hello to his mother and wash his face after such a trip! We came twelve hundred miles in two days and a night. I was glad to get my plate loaded and find this place to eat undisturbed."
"And I came along and spoiled it!"
"You never spoiled anything in your life, Miss Chairman. You're such a good decorator that already this dark corner has become a most pleasant place."
"Is that what the Air Force teaches you? You never talked like that before you went away."
"When I went away you were still a crude Sophomore, I believe. Too young to have pretty things said to you. As for the Air Force. You'd be surprised what you learn there. Not all your education has to bear on flying. Or even on filing, typing, or sweeping the offices, which is my lowly lot. Nor does all the education prepare you for war. And speaking of war, there's a question hanging in the air. What makes in the war between you and the bride? What happened in the eighth grade that sent you off on a sideroad while the fair Kathleen traveled down the highway?"
"I'll answer that question some other time. Just now Kathy is my hostess, and the last thing my mother said to me was to mind my manners. I'm afraid she thinks that sometimes I don't."
"I think they are trying to round up the crowd for the next act. I have my mother's car here. I'd like to take you to the rehearsal if no other arrangements have been made for you."
"I'd like to go with you. I hate to leave all this good food, but I'm afraid they won't wait."
* * *
As Jack started the car he said, "You'll have to show me where the thing is. I wasn't even favored with an invitation. I have a deep, dark suspicion that I am a last hope but I couldn't care less."
"Oh, I know I'm a replacement! I'm even to wear a dress that was made for another girl. I am sure I was picked because I'm a chunky five foot two, and because I'm such a sap that I can't say no when asked."
"I'm sorry for you, but I'm glad for me. Your presence is going to help a lot. I hope we get to come back down that long aisle together after the big show. I never ushered at a wedding before, and I'll need a lot of support. In fact I never attended one. I've just heard of them as something awful—like when a fellow stands before the judge and hears a life sentence pronounced against him."
She laughed. "It oughtn't to be quite that bad. It's my first time as bridesmaid, and I'm not getting the thrill out of it that I am supposed to get. Maybe that is because I've just remembered what Kathy and I quarreled about, and I think I'm still angry at her."
"Whew! What a long time to hold a mad! Especially if you had once buried it, and then dug it up again."
"I'm really not very angry with her. I don't care enough about her now. I won't spoil her wedding if that's what's bothering you."
"What was it all about to cause such a split? Was it a real hair-pulling match?"
"Nothing of the sort. It was in our freshman year at high school, and she was beginning to want to run with the kids from up on the hill instead of the ones she'd always gone with. They had a banquet for our football team—why, you should remember that banquet! You were in Earl's class. He had been quite a star, and the coach told him he should take a girl to the big event of the season. He was terribly bashful then. (He isn't now!) He couldn't think of anyone to ask except Kathy who had been in and out of our house ever since we could remember. So he asked her, and she turned him down flat. None of us has ever forgotten how furious he was. He came home saying he wouldn't go to the banquet, and that I was never to say Kathy's name to him again. He said she had acted as if the dust she was made of were a lot less dusty than was used in our family. It has been a family joke ever since. Even he laughs at it now."
"And that caused the big split?"
"Yes. Weren't we all silly? But Earl is my only brother and I thought any girl should be glad to date him. And Kathy soon let it be known that she didn't care for me any more. I shed a few tears over it, but not enough to spoil my looks, such as they are. Then when Earl went to college I found Kathy's and my pictures. He had cut them from an old year book and pasted at opposite ends of a long strip of cardboard. In between he had printed a part of a poem. He said Browning wrote it about us. Mind if I quote? 'They stood apart, the scars remaining like cliffs that had been rent asunder. A dreary sea now rolls between, and neither heat nor frost nor thunder can ever do away, I ween, the marks of that which once had been.' That made me see how foolish I'd been to care so much. I'd dare even Earl to find any marks now of that which once had been. But you can see why I think I'm a softie to go to all this trouble for her wedding. And mother made me go downtown after school and buy her a gift! Phooey!"
"You're a cute kid. And a nice one to be willing to do this for such a 'friend.'"
"Nothing of the sort. As I said, 'just a good old easy mark.' Here's the church. I never was in this one before, and I'll guess that the Roach family didn't darken its doors often. Come on, let's get the operation over."
Inside the church they found that their part for the first hour and a half consisted in sitting quietly in a pew while the "ringmaster," as Jack dubbed him, worked with the more important members of the party. It was a tiresome procedure, for there was no chance for conversation, and the arguments, disagreements, and repetitions were uninteresting to those who waited in the pews. The two young people who felt outside the circle sat alone.
"I'm sure glad you are here," whispered Jack. "I feel like I've wandered into the wrong planet. I'd feel a heap worse if you weren't here. Mind if I go to sleep for a spell? Wake me when it's my turn to put on an act."
He folded his arms on the back of the pew in front of him, pillowed his head on them, and closed his eyes.
Mary Jo looked at him, realizing that he must be very weary. If she were so tired after an easy day at school and an hour's shopping, how wearing all this must be to one who had come twelve hundred miles with only such rest as he could get in a car while another drove! He was thinner than he had been when he went into service almost two years ago. She had never known him well. He had been in Earl's class at school, but never had seemed to take part much in the school activities. One of the fellows had brought him to Youth Group at the church and he had been faithful in attendance. Just before he left for camp he had been baptized and joined the church. She had had no close fellowship with him except for one occasion when she had been responsible for a decorating committee; he had been drafted to help with the heavy work. When he went into military service he had left no apparent void behind him. She had forgotten about him until tonight. In another situation they would have passed with a casual greeting, but in this place they seemed to need each other for moral support. She was certainly glad he was here, and each minute that passed made her feel more keenly her own lack of accord with these people. She wished the evening were over so that she could go home.
When the director signaled that he desired their presence, she touched Jack lightly on the shoulder.
"Wake up, pal. It's time for you to get in the ring."
With a yawn and a sigh he arose. "Will you make a note of this for me please? When I get married I intend to elope!"
The ordeal over at last, they were free. As the crowd departed together, Mary Jo and Jack refused to join them. When the car stopped in front of her house she prepared to alight, feeling that he must be too weary for even a friendly chat. He protested.
"I'm awake now and I'd like to talk awhile. It's been so long since I had any word from the old crowd that I want to hear the gossip—who's dating whom, what fellows are in service, and all that. Can't we just sit and calm our ragged nerves and chew the fat awhile?"
Mary Jo thought many times in after years that if she had insisted on going in, say after the first half hour, the whole course of her life might have been different. Had she been able to look ahead and see the joys, the heartaches, the frustrations the years would bring, would she have done differently? She was never able to decide.
Something about darkness elicits confidences. Many a secret thought or hope that cannot be uttered in daylight or in the brightness of a lighted room, is easy of utterance when darkness hides the self-conscious flush. These two found, as they talked in the quiet car with the bare branches of the great elms that bordered the walks making weird shadows between them and the street lamps, that there was much to learn about each other. So much had not been known during the casual acquaintance of a few years ago. He told of his intention to become a chemist after he had finished his education and she confided the aspiration which was the dearest dream of her life.
"I'm going to be a dress designer. I'm crazy about that sort of thing, and the teachers at school say I'm really good. Daddy says that if I will complete two years of college, he will let me take a course in some good school of designing. When I'm through with that I'll get a job and save my money and go to Paris and study some more. I'm going to be good! That's what I've wanted all my life."
"You'll be good. You have the stuff! I saw some of your work once when the committee met at your house. But I'm not much of a judge of women's styles. So I hadn't remembered about them. What I did remember was your cartooning. You made cartoons of all of us, and they were the real McCoy. I thought that would be your line."
"Oh, I just do that for fun. I can always make pictures that bring laughs, but that's not what I want for a career. I'm shooting higher than that. I'll succeed, I know I will!"
Excerpted from Straight Down a Crooked Lane by Francena H. Arnold. Copyright © 1959 The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of Moody Press.
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