“Companions,” New Era, June 1982, 44
The day after returning from his mission, Ben Jansen remembered a promise made to his last companion. Rummaging through his wallet, he found the scribbled number and dialed.
“Hello, is this Sue Hopkins?” he asked after she answered.
“This is Susan Hopkins.”
“I’m Ben Jansen.”
After a long pause, she asked, “Should that be important to me?”
“Until yesterday I was Elder Wallace’s companion.”
“You were David’s companion?” she squealed with delight. “How is he?”
“Just fine. He asked me to call and say hello, except he said your name was Sue.”
“Since he’s been gone, I’ve decided I like Susan better. How long were you with him?”
“Six months four days and eight and a half hours.”
“So you must have gotten really close to him.”
“Oh yes, he was a wonderful companion. So neat and clean. We painted the kitchen four times while I was with him—couldn’t get the right shade at first.”
“Did he tell you about me?” she asked.
“You like catsup on your scrambled egg sandwiches.”
“He told you that?” she asked.
“We were discussing odd eating habits. He couldn’t understand the way I ate.”
“Oh,” she said politely. “Why? Do you eat funny?”
“I had a few stomach problems while I was with him and ate a lot of yogurt. I was afraid of getting an ulcer.”
After a long pause, she asked, “Didn’t you get along as companions?”
“Oh, did I give you that impression?” Ben chuckled. “We got along just fine. Oh sure, there were problems at first, but with the help of our mission president, we worked them out.”
“What problems?” she timidly asked.
“Nothing really. I grew to love the guy.”
She gave a sigh of relief. “That makes two of us. After he’s released, we plan on getting married.”
“You can be proud of him. He’s a wonderful missionary.”
“One thing you should know—he snores like crazy.”
“Very bad?” she asked uneasily.
“Unbelievable. It shook the entire apartment, but I adjusted to it.”
“You did?” she asked, her voice betraying her concern. “How?”
“I slept on the porch. Of course, in the winter it was cold, but they say it’s healthy.”
After another long pause, she asked, “What else did he say about me?”
“He talked about how you two were a team, and how you’d bake bread and raise a garden and sew his clothes and raise chickens and milk cows and work as an auto mechanic and a secretary while he finished college.”
“Oh,” she said, clearing her throat. “Of all the companions you had, how would you rate David?”
“For cleanliness,” he said emphatically, “I’d rate him the very highest.”
“But as far as being able to get along with others, how would you rate him?”
Seconds slipped by as he desperately tried to find a diplomatic answer.
“Hello?” she said. “Are you still there?”
“Was it that bad living with him?” she asked.
“No, really. It was fine.”
“Would you have wanted to spend more time with him?”
“Gee,” he stammered, “I learned so much from him. I don’t think I could have learned another thing.”
“Please, will you tell me the problems you had with him?” she pleaded.
Suddenly his fight for diplomacy was lost. “Have you ever painted a stupid kitchen four times in six months?” he exploded. “Other elders played basketball on diversion days, but not us. No, we went to paint stores and compared color swatches!”
He realized his sudden outburst had stunned her, and he felt rotten. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what got into me. I love him like a brother, and I wish you both every happiness. Good-bye.”
“Don’t hang up! I have more questions.”
“I’ve been unfair to him. We had good times, too. It was just a little personality conflict, but I’m sure you’ll get along with him just fine. One word of advice though—decide on the color of your apartment before you marry him.”
“Can you come over to my dorm so we can talk?” she asked.
It was an hour’s drive from his home to her dorm. When she answered the door, he had a hard time recognizing her from David’s description. Instead of a timid clinging vine, he was met by a confident, athletic-looking girl. They said their hellos and sat down on the couch in the dorm living room.
“You’re a lot different than I pictured you,” he said.
“How did you picture me?”
“Shy and dependent, always leaning on David for protection. But you don’t look like a leaner to me.”
Her warm smile made him feel very comfortable.
“I was only 17 when I met David my first semester here. Being from a small farming community, I guess I was scared, and he helped me so much. He even helped me pick classes to take.”
“Just before he left, he had me taking typing, auto repair, and midwifery. He wanted me to learn practical skills to bring in money after we were married and he was in college.”
“Auto repair?” Ben asked. “Could you look at my car? It’s got a little pinging sound.”
“I didn’t take any more courses like that after he left,” she said. “I switched to physical education. I’m on the swim team.”
“You look like a swimmer—very sleek, like you’d slide through the water easily.”
“Do you play sports?” she asked.
“Football. I’m going out in the fall.”
“You look like a football player—very powerful, like you’d slide through the other team easily.”
Ben returned her smile and realized he was out of practice at flirting.
“Tell me about the problems you had with David,” she asked.
“You must think we were at each other’s throats, but missionary work is too important to let personality conflicts slow it down. Actually we hardly argued at all. I just learned to adjust. I’m sure the experience will make me a better husband. In fact, every potential husband should have a chance to live with him for a while to learn to adjust.”
“Give me an example,” she asked.
He gave her an embarrassed look and said, “You’ll think it’s such a little thing.”
“If it was important to you, I’d like to hear about it.”
“Well, one time I made a special dessert, a plum pudding. It took half our diversion day, but it turned out great.”
“I’d like to get your recipe,” she said.
“David just wolfed it down, didn’t say a word, and then left the table for me to clean up.”
“And that made you feel unappreciated, right?”
“He could’ve said something,” Ben grumbled. He noticed the worry on her face and added, “But I’m sure he’ll compliment you on your cooking. You’re probably a very good cook.”
“I don’t know how to make plum pudding,” she confessed.
“Take my advice—don’t bother to learn.”
“What else did he say about me?”
“He kept saying he was the sunshine of your life, like in the song, and how much you needed him. It sounds nice, but to tell you the truth, it’s not my ideal. I want my wife to be a partner.”
“Oh, I agree,” she said quickly.
They found themselves looking at each other with a puzzled expression.
“Did you have someone waiting for you during your mission?” she asked.
“Yes, she’s married now.”
“Oh, I see.”
“Have you dated much while David’s been gone?” he asked as innocently as he could.
“Not up to now, but …”
“Maybe I should, just in case.”
“Oh, but I wouldn’t want you to date just anyone. You know how returned missionaries are on this campus. No sir, for David’s sake, I’d better take you out a few times—just until he gets back, of course.”
“That’d be nice,” she purred.
And so they dated. Their common interests in sports led them to go skiing and play racquetball and swim and go dancing. And that was just on their first date.
It didn’t take more than a month before he realized he was in trouble. The social standing of a returned missionary who goes home and falls in love with his companion’s girl is just above that of a snake—except snakes are held in much higher regard among missionaries.
The night before David returned, they took a long walk.
“I guess I won’t be seeing you much after tomorrow,” he said.
“He’s a lucky guy.”
“You’ve been a real friend to me,” she said.
“Susan, I’ve never told you how I feel about you. I promised myself that until David got back and you decided about him, I’d just be a friend. The last thing I wanted to do was take his girl away from him.”
“I can’t be transferred like the title to a car. You can’t take me away from him, can you? It’s a decision I make myself, but I owe him a certain loyalty, at least until tomorrow.”
The plan for David’s return was that his family and Susan would meet him at the airport. Unfortunately, three hours before the plane was to arrive, his family called her to say they had all come down with the flu. They asked if Ben and Susan could pick him up.
The plane was on time. As David came into the terminal from the plane, he saw them, rushed forward, and was buried in their hugs.
As they left the airport, David suggested they drop by Temple Square. They walked around for an hour and then decided to have something to eat at the coffee shop of the Hotel Utah.
“Hey, Elder Jansen,” David said, giving the waitress the menu after they’d ordered, “this is just like old times, isn’t it—us eating together again?”
“Yes,” Ben said, wondering if he should order some yogurt.
“Ben and I had some great times as companions, Sue.”
“Her name is Susan,” Ben said.
“He worked hard when he was with me. I made sure about that.”
“I always worked hard,” Ben added, anxious that Susan not think he had been lazy on his mission.
“Yeah, but you let down once in a while,” David said, grinning smugly.
“When?” Ben challenged.
“When I suggested we paint the living room.”
Ben took a long drink of water before he trusted himself to speak again.
“I never complained, elder. I even held my tongue when you said you developed an allergy to washing dishes.”
“Please,” Susan said, “don’t argue.”
“We’re not arguing,” Ben said. “We’re discussing; that’s all. While I was with him on my mission, we concentrated on working together, but there were always a couple of things I wanted to discuss, and now we can. I just want to say one thing, David. I slaved all day making you a nice plum pudding and what thanks did I get?”
“Plum pudding?” David asked. “What plum pudding?”
“Oh yeah, and I suppose you forgot the nice lemon sauce on top of it too?”
“David,” Susan suggested, “I think you should thank Ben for his pudding.”
“I don’t remember any pudding.”
Ben realized his face was beet red. Susan placed her hand on David’s shoulder and pleaded, “I’m sure it was a wonderful pudding. What harm is there in thanking him?”
“It must not have been that great if I can’t remember it, right?”
Susan turned next to Ben. “Aren’t you forgetting something? You haven’t thanked David for all he did for you. I bet he must’ve cooked some yummy dishes for you.”
“That’s just it,” Ben grumbled, “he never cooked anything. He said he was allergic to the kitchen. I cooked everything, I washed everything, and what thanks do I get?”
Susan nervously wiped her forehead and sighed, “Good grief! I feel like a marriage counselor. Look, let’s just drop the subject of puddings, okay?”
At that point the soup and crackers arrived. They all were relieved to be able to concentrate on the food. Once Ben looked up to see David grabbing half a dozen crackers and crumbling them into his soup, leaving one cracker for Susan and himself to share.
He didn’t even look up as David slurped his soup.
After the meal was over, they walked around the lobby of the hotel.
“Sue, you really deserve an award for waiting for me,” David said, looking at a five hundred dollar necklace in one of the hotel shops, then moving on.
“Her name is Susan.”
“Typing up all my notes and sending cookies once a month.”
“Cookies?” Ben asked. “What cookies? I never saw any cookies while I was with you.”
“Oh, well …” David stammered.
“You held out on cookies?” Ben asked, shocked and disappointed.
“Well, I …”
“Is that what kept coming in those packages? When did you eat ’em?”
“Well, I may have nibbled on one or two in the morning while you were in the shower.”
“How could you hold out on cookies?” Ben asked.
“I didn’t want you to get cavities,” David lamely explained.
“Well, what about your cavities?”
“I was raised in an area with natural fluoride. I don’t get cavities.”
Ben looked forlornly at Susan and muttered quietly, “He ate cookies without me. That’s the lowest thing a companion can do.”
“No, it isn’t,” David said. “We talked about that once after a zone conference, and we decided the lowest thing an elder can do is go home and fall in love with his companion’s girl.”
Ben started to cough. When he could finally speak again, he looked at Susan and said, “He ate your cookies without giving me a single one.”
“Look, if you want,” she said, “I’ll make some just for you.”
“I hardly think that’d be appropriate,” David objected.
“Why not?” Susan asked.
“It’s not right for a girl who’s engaged to bake cookies for another guy.”
Susan touched David’s hand gently. “I think we need to talk about that some more.”
David pursed his lips thoughtfully and gave in. “Okay, one batch of cookies.”
“That’s not what we need to talk about,” Susan said.
“We’ll talk about cookies later,” David said. “Right now I want you to remember back two years when we were here for supper. It was the night before I entered the mission home. Remember, my neighbor, the one who used to work here, gave us a tour of one of the bridal suites because he knew we were planning on marriage after my mission. Do you remember that, Sue?”
“Her name is Susan,” Ben glumly said.
Before Susan could object, David was at the desk making arrangements for the manager to show them the bridal suite.
On the way up in the elevator, Ben stood close to her on one side, with David next to her on the other side.
“Planning a wedding, huh?” the manager asked.
“Sure are,” David grinned.
The confused manager looked at the three of them and asked, “Which one is the groom?”
“That’s funny!” David roared. “Sue, he thinks Ben’d marry you. No, I’m the groom, and Ben here is just an old missionary companion.”
The manager let them into the vacant suite.
“Will you look at that?” David said, looking at the walls. “Sue, look, they’ve painted the room since we looked at it two years ago.”
“It was painted last spring,” the manager explained.
“What’s the name of the color?” David asked.
“I’m not sure,” the manager said.
“It could be honey butter … but it might be toasted coconut too,” David said.
“Nobody’s ever asked about the color before,” the manager said.
“Hey, Sue, what do you think if, after our honeymoon, we paint our bedroom this same color?”
“Oh, no,” Ben moaned, shaking his head.
“Of course, we’d want to get it the same exact shade.”
“You poor girl,” Ben said, patting her on the back.
“Hey, this’d be a super time to make it official, to announce our engagement,” David said cheerfully.
“David,” Ben said, “you’ve only been home from your mission for an hour. Wouldn’t you like to go home and at least unpack before you get engaged? You need to get to know her again.”
“Sue and I know each other.”
“If you knew her, you wouldn’t call her Sue.”
“Sue, Susan, what’s the difference?”
“David,” Susan said gently, “you’re not the sunshine of my life anymore in the way you used to be.”
“I’m not? Who is?”
“Boy, talk about conceited.”
“With you I was always little Sue, the shy girl you helped sign up for auto repair and typing. But I’ve grown up and overcome my fears. I can’t go back to being Sue again.”
“You’re not my little Sue?”
“I’m afraid not.”
David whipped out his handkerchief and energetically blew his nose. “Excuse me,” he blurted out, “I’ll be waiting in the car. I need some time to think.” Then he rushed out of the room.
“Well, that’s it,” Susan said, shrugging her shoulders. “Two years to the day, and now it’s over.”
“You waited for him. You sent him cookies. Nobody could’ve done any better.”
“I’d like to close up the room and get back to the desk,” the manager announced.
“Susan,” Ben said, wiping away a tear from her cheek, “I told you I wouldn’t say anything until you made up your mind, and now you have.”
The manager looked at his watch. “I really must get back.”
“Could we see the view of the temple from the window?” Ben asked, trying to set the stage.
Reluctantly the manager opened the drapes. “I love you, Susan. Let’s get married in the temple and reserve the room for a month from now.”
Susan sat down quickly on the couch. “I’ve heard of people being fast on the rebound after breaking up, but this is ridiculous.”
“Will you marry me?” Ben asked.
“What about the other one?” the confused manager asked, “the one who said he was going to marry her?”
“The reservation will be just for her and me,” Ben said.
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” Susan said, shaking her head. “Give me a little time to think.”
Down at the car, David sat and brooded as they traveled along the interstate. Finally he said, “Sue, I have something to say. I know you waited for me, but I don’t think this is going to work out. I think we should break up. Now I know this is a shock for you, but I’m sure it’s for the best.”
“Okay, David,” she said, “if that’s what you think.”
David spent several minutes consoling her for losing him.
Finally Ben interrupted. “I have a little something to say too. After you left, I asked her to marry me.”
“You asked Sue to marry you?” David gasped.
“In the five minutes I was waiting in the car?”
“That’s right,” Ben said.
There was a long pause. Finally David snapped, “You’re just trying to get back at me because of the cookies, aren’t you?”
“That’s not it. I love her.” Nobody spoke for five minutes.
“Are you going to marry him, Sue?”
“I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
“Don’t do it, Sue! Look, I lived with him for six months, and the most sickening sight I ever saw on my mission was watching him use dental floss. And his dirty socks—he just throws ’em on the floor and expects me to pick ’em up.”
“But at least he knows me the way I am now,” Susan said.
“So you might end up marrying him?”
“Yes, David, I might.”
“This is the lowest thing a companion can do!” David said, turning to accuse Ben.
Another five minutes of silence.
“Well, let me tell you something!” David barked. “While I was waiting in the car, I had a chance to remember back. And you know what?”
“THE PLUM PUDDING WAS AWFUL!”
They rode several more miles in silence. Finally David turned to Sue and said, “It’s not too early to begin thinking about the color for your kitchen.”
“I made up my mind!” Susan cried out.
“All right!” Ben shouted. “I’ll make the hotel reservation as soon as I get home, and we’ll need to get temple recommends.”
“Rats!” David complained.
“I’m going to do what I always wanted to do, and that’s go to BYU in Hawaii next semester. It’ll give me time to decide about marriage. Besides, I may never get another chance to go there. Ben, will you take me home first?”
They all sat in silence until they reached her dorm.
“I’ll write every day,” Ben said, as she entered the dorm.
“I will too,” David added.
Then Ben continued south to David’s house.
“You ought to have Sue look at your motor to see what that funny noise is,” David suggested.
“I already asked. She says she doesn’t know anything.”
“Are you going to college?” David asked, breaking the silence again.
“Living at home?”
“No, I decided to live in Provo. It’s an off-campus apartment.”
“Any vacancies in your apartment?” David asked.
“One,” Ben said, biting off the word.
“One vacancy,” David said. “Mind if I move in next semester?”
“I don’t think it would work out,” Ben said glumly.
“There are laws against discrimination,” David said.
“It’s not discrimination! I just don’t think it would work out!”
Two minutes of silence.
“Because I love Susan and so do you. That’s why.”
A minute of silence.
“Well, then we have something in common, don’t we?”
“We don’t have anything in common!” Ben roared.
Another minute of silence.
“Well, what about the time we fasted and prayed for the Sorenson couple? And what about the Johnson family we taught and baptized? We have that in common, don’t we?”
Ben remembered back to the times they had shared which were spiritual, when they had felt the influence of the Holy Ghost. That influence had united them in spite of their individual differences.
Several minutes later, Ben quietly said, “All right, you can move in.”
“On one condition. If you mention, even mention painting a room, you’re out. Do you understand that?”
“Clear as a bell,” David said.
After letting David out at his home, Ben drove back to Provo. On his way, he stopped by a grocery store to pick up some yogurt. He wondered if he’d be using it on a regular basis now.