She Never Stopped

“She Never Stopped,” Ensign, Mar. 1977, 43–45

She Never Stopped

They might not need me, but they might.

I’ll let my head be just in sight.

A smile as small as mine might be

Precisely their necessity.

Emily Dickinson

I would never have thought girls’ camp would be the place to learn about marriage. In fact, I wouldn’t have thought it would be the place to learn much at all at my age. But I was the ward activity counselor; there had been six cancellations from those who had planned to be camp counselors; and though I was reluctant, pregnant, and grumpy, I found myself in a pickup full of girls, on my way to what was to be one of the most profound learning experiences of my life. And all because of “Granny.”

“Go with Granny on the all-day hike,” I was told by a leader who didn’t know Mary Cardwell very well. “She’ll only be able to go up about halfway and then you can be company for her on the way down.” If I had noticed the twinkle in Sister Cardwell’s eye, I would have realized just how unrealistic this counsel really was. Mary Cardwell, “Granny” to the girls at camp, never did anything halfway.

We started off at 7:00 A.M. and she actually did keep a slow pace, appropriate for a sixty-two-year-old woman. The only trouble was that she never stopped! At 4:30 that afternoon I collapsed on my sleeping bag, dusty and exhausted, and realized that one hike had taught me more about love, about determination, and about marriage than any books I had ever read. Mary Cardwell approached that hike as she approaches each of life’s problems: slowly, and with such determination as to be virtually unstoppable.

“I’m really not tired just yet,” she would say. “I think I could make it just to that little bluff over there. It’s so pretty out; come on, and we’ll rest a little bit when we get there.” A half hour later, she said, “This next little bit is downhill almost all the way. We can surely make that!” Eventually we began to overtake girls and counselors who had begun at a much faster pace. At last we reached the place where the group had stopped to rest before turning back, but even this wasn’t enough for Granny. “There’s a lake just over this next little hill that they say is lovely. Let’s you and I take a quick walk over there while the girls are resting.” What could I do? What can anyone do with such a person but shake his head in admiration and try to follow?

And she still had breath to talk—in this case about Bill, her husband of forty-six years.

“My husband should arrive at camp today, and I just hope he doesn’t get here before we’ve had time to shower and clean up. I’ve saved out a clean outfit, but I’ve got to wash my hair before I see him.”

Since we were all sleeping outdoors, I was amused at her concern for her appearance and teased her about it. “Oh, now Granny, you’ve been married for forty-six years. You can’t tell me your husband has never seen you like this before!”

Her look was surprised. “Not if I can help it!” she replied. “I always tidy up to greet my husband, whatever the circumstances.”

When Brother Cardwell arrived, he dusted chairs for her to sit on, helped her walk over rocks and branches, and held her hand almost continually. It was obvious that they were thoroughly pleased to be reunited. Impressed, I assumed that their marriage must have been forty-six years of sweetness.

“Not many people know this,” Brother Cardwell confided to me, “but I was the hardest problem Mary faced in her life. Sometimes I think she developed all that determination by using it on me! You see, I’m a pretty hotheaded guy, although I don’t seem that way in public. Many times when I was younger I lost my temper, and when a husband is like that, the wife always takes the brunt of it. We had some pretty stormy times when we were younger, but do you know, Mary never gave up on me. By 1956 we were able to be married in the temple, and that changed our lives altogether.”

I was anxious to find out from Mary how she had effected such a change in her husband. How does a wife develop such devotion in a man? She chuckled. “Bill was ornery at times, I’ll admit. But he never was the least bit boring! I think one of the most important things to remember about marriage is not to say everything that comes to mind. For instance, I was canning applesauce the other day, and Bill started giving me advice about how to do it. I felt like saying, ‘Don’t tell me how to can applesauce! I’ve been canning for all these years without any help from you!’ But if you want a peaceful home, you must learn to swallow such words.

“Another important thing to remember is that your husband is more important to you than anyone else. My husband likes to read the newspaper very thoroughly. Even when we’ve been away for several days, he enjoys going through the whole stack and reading them carefully. I certainly don’t want company to drop in and see newspapers everywhere, but I never touch them until I’m certain he’s through with each one. His wishes are more important to me than what someone else might think, so I wait.

“I don’t believe that there are any perfect marriages, but if you keep in mind all the time that your husband or wife is worth everything to you, it will change your attitude. We had times, years ago, when I wasn’t certain that I could do it, but now I know that any difficulty can be overcome if you just keep fighting it out.

“Don’t be silent with your husband. If you have angry feelings and you can’t work them out, let him know how you feel. You may have to apologize later, but things will be out in the open so that you can both understand.”

She watched Bill Cardwell as he helped the girls build the evening fire, and smiled. “You know, it’s amazing. Sometime next week Bill and I will be great-grandparents. We have eight grown children. We laugh when we think of it, because we feel like honeymooners now.”

Mary Cardwell loves noise, fun, family gatherings, and being in the middle of everything all the time. Her boundless confidence carries over into associations with young people. She’ll shake her head as she looks at a particularly mischievous child. “He’s a humdinger now, but he’ll grow.”

“She wasn’t like that when I met her,” Brother Cardwell remembers. “She was shy and wouldn’t dance or join in any group activity. When she joined the Church, she got over it. And when she got over it, she got over it thoroughly! The Church made clear to Mary what she wanted to be and do. She saw that Church people have such good feelings that they shake hands and hug each other and express love all the time. She really liked the feeling, and soon felt free enough to join in. In many ways, joining the Church was the beginning of Mary’s life.”

Around Napa California First Ward, Mary Cardwell is famous for taking swimming lessons. She took them for the first time when she was thirty and couldn’t learn to swim, so she quit. Dissatisfied with this failure, she tried and failed again at forty, again at fifty, and again at sixty. “I’ve decided now that I can’t wait another ten years to try again, so I’m taking lessons every summer, and do you know—I think I’ve just about got it this time. My crawl is pretty good—now if I can just master the sidestroke …” And so every morning of camp found Mary Cardwell in the icy mountain lake—finishing what she’d begun over thirty years before.

Bill and Mary Cardwell have built a life together that is a beautiful example to everyone who knows them. And it was not easy. Now they are reaping the blessings of a determined devotion to right principles and to each other. Mary will be going to camp again this summer. She doesn’t want to miss the fun. And sometime before the week is over, Bill will drive up to join her there. He doesn’t want to miss Mary.

  • Sharon Elwell, a homemaker, serves as a seminary teacher and Relief Society family health leader in the Napa Second Ward, Napa California Stake.

Mary Cardwell. (Photography by Kent Miles.)