“An Ageless Evening,” Ensign, Mar. 1987, 28
The phone jangled insistently.
“Now just be patient until I can get there. It takes me several rings,” I complained out loud. Adjusting my hearing aid, I put the phone to my ear.
The voice on the other end came through quite clearly.
“Caroline? This is June Mattsen. Do you have a date for Friday night?”
“A what?” I almost dropped the phone. Well into my seventh decade, I’d never even thought of a date since John’s death five years ago.
“Well, I guess I should explain,” June replied. “My son Dennis is going to call and invite you to the priests’ dinner Wednesday night. You see, the priests are doing something different in the way of service.”
“A date—for a service project?” I laughed incredulously. “What will they have these priesthood boys doing next?”
“This really isn’t such a bad idea, Caroline. Just hang on and hear me out. Each one of the priests is supposed to make a date with one of the older single sisters in the ward for a dinner at the church. The Laurels will prepare the meal. You know, my Dennis doesn’t always go to priesthood meeting, and he wasn’t the least bit interested in this dinner. But he thinks a lot of you—he really does. So he said, ‘If Caroline Bruce would go with me, OK. I won’t ask anybody else, though.’ So, for goodness sake, if some other priest calls, you tell him you’ve already got a date.”
I promised. After all, I figured Dennis would be about as harmless a date as an old lady could have—like a grandson.
That evening Dennis called. I told him I’d be very happy to go with him. He promised to pick me up at 6:15 on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, the day before the dinner, my friend Ruth and I were discussing the upcoming event as we drove to the temple. Wasn’t there some way to wiggle out of it?
“What kind of a time will we have with teenagers?” Ruth complained. “We can’t even speak their language. I’m afraid the generation gap is too wide.”
“On the other hand,” I countered, “we ought to recognize that they’re probably dreading it as much as we are. But they can’t learn to serve unless someone is willing to be served. We’d best be served—and cheerfully.”
Next day I had my hair done at the beauty shop. At best, I would hardly look like an appealing date to a seventeen-year-old, but I wanted to look as spiffy as possible. I put on my prettiest dress and really tried to doll up.
Dennis arrived at 6:15 sharp. When I answered the door, I just kept looking up and up. I didn’t recall his being that big. He had to be over six feet tall. My word, how handsome he looked, scrubbed to a shine, wearing a new suit in a heavenly shade of blue! These young men surely look different when they’re duded up, I thought.
“I’m ready,” I said, grinning. “I’m not like your young girlfriends. I don’t have parents for you to talk to if I keep you waiting.”
He grinned back, and his dark eyes twinkled.
We walked down the path to his parked car. I decided to play this to the hilt. I’ll act like a lady, I mused—let him open the door, the whole bit.
Dennis leaned down and opened the car door. I put one foot in, then sat down. I kept sinking down, down, down, certain I’d end up sitting in the road. Oh, those bucket seats! I’d never sat so low in my whole life. I worried that it would put my back out.
He pulled away and turned the car around, heading for the church. “Nice evening,” I commented after a long pause. We were both silent. How do you break the ice with a teenaged date? I wondered. Then a light went on in my brain. Why, he’s just like my grandson. My Chris is on the track team, and I have watched some of his events.
“Uh—Dennis—are you on the high school track team?”
His face lighted. “Sure am. Took first in the 200 meter at the last meet.” From that moment our conversation flowed freely. I didn’t even think about my aching back.
When we arrived at the church, the cultural hall was alight. Tables were decorated with colorful streamers and big, handrolled paper flowers. I watched my friend Ruth across the room. Her pasted-on smile soon relaxed into one of pleasure. Mattie sat across the table from us with her date, Ron Howell. There were twenty other ladies there just like us—all putting on good fronts for those uneasy priests.
The Laurel girls worked quickly in the kitchen to prepare and serve a piping hot dinner. I had to hand it to those girls (and maybe their leaders) for offering such an appetizing meal.
Dinner conversation was sparkling, to say the least, and I was amazed at the genuine congeniality.
After the entertainment, the bishop stepped to the microphone and said, “Now sisters, we surmise by all the laughing that you’ve had a good time. But please remember not to keep these boys up too late. They have to go to school in the morning.”
In spite of his announcement, no one made a rush for the doors. Everyone milled around, exchanging friendly bits of conversation, reluctant to break the spell, as if the young men’s cars would change into pumpkins.
When Dennis drove me home, he escorted me to my door. Just as we stepped into the living room, the phone rang. It was Mattie.
“Caroline,” she said in her slow, slow drawl, “why don’t you and Dennis come over and play Racko with Ron and me? It’s still early.”
So we drove to Mattie’s house. Of course I knew Mattie would win at her favorite game. She always does.
At eleven, I finally said, “Mattie, we can’t keep these young men up any later. You know the bishop warned us—said they’ve got to go to school in the morning.
As Ron, Dennis, and I stood at the open door, Ron pumped Mattie’s hand enthusiastically. Turning to Dennis, he said, “Say, Dennis, why don’t you pick up Caroline another night, and let’s play some more Racko.”
“Hey—I’ll just do that!” Dennis said, with sincere eagerness.
As Dennis unlocked my front door again, I thanked him for a most enjoyable time. It had been one of the most pleasant evenings I’d had in a long time. Those boys had truly served us, and I knew they would think differently of the older sisters in the ward. We were people to them now. And in one short evening, those boys had become men in our eyes.
The following Sunday, after my interview with the bishop to renew my temple recommend, he leaned back in his chair and asked quizzically, “How did you enjoy the priests’ dinner, Sister Bruce?”
I laughed and shook my head, remembering. “Well, let me tell you, Bishop, that idea was a winner. Believe me, those young men showed us old ladies a great time. In fact, we’ll never be the same again.”
“I’m relieved it didn’t backfire,” the bishop commented.
“I can see so many fringe benefits,” he continued. “The priests have learned the beauty of you sisters. They learned you’re not worlds apart. I dare say, without suggestions from me, they might see little ways they can be of service to you. Now you let them help you. Don’t be so independent.”
I had to think about that a minute. How many times had I assured a young priesthood holder that I was perfectly capable of mowing my own lawn after he asked to do it?
“Well, Bishop,” I finally said, clearing my throat, “all of us older sisters will be watching those boys with a special fondness now. When they get their mission calls, I imagine more than one of them will get regular letters from us.”
The bishop looked me in the eye. “Do you know what your date said this morning in priesthood meeting when we were discussing the dinner? You know, he isn’t the most willing priest in the quorum, but when I asked the fellows for their reactions, he piped up without hesitation, ‘Bishop, you got this all wrong. You said we were to show those older sisters a good time. But it turned around. That was the most fun date I’ve ever had. Let’s do it again next year!’”