Courtship

People ask from time to time how Richard and I met. I have told the story in various ways for different occasions. It all began in 1952, some sixty-eight years ago at this writing. I call the man I eventually married Dick in this account. He later, about 1992, became Richard.

After Dick Bushman had been at Harvard for two years, he was called on a Latter-day Saint mission to the New England states. At that time, the mission home was immediately adjacent to the Latter-day Saint ­chapel in Cambridge on Brattle Street, both located in old houses built by the Longfellow family. Dick was very active in that small church group and acquainted with the mission personnel who had offices next door. He knew the mission president, J. Howard Maughan, well. Sister Hattie Maughan always called him Dick, even as a missionary.

Missionaries were at a low ebb because of the Korean War and the draft for soldiers. Dick got a mission deferment because he lived in Portland, Oregon, where prospective missionaries were few. Many Utah boys were sent off to war instead of to proselyte. The New England Mission had only about fifty missionaries during that time, maybe a quarter of their usual complement, and Dick, known and trusted by the mission president, was frequently sent off alone to supervise the distant elders in all the New England states and Canada’s Maritime Provinces. President Maughan did think that Dick’s college friends might be bad influences, and he was instructed to stay away from them. He was not allowed to accept dinner engagements.

Dick was serving his second year in the mission when I came from San Francisco to Boston to attend Wellesley College. He had begun college three years before me, and so after his two-year mission, he would be only a year ahead. I began to hear about him from young people at church as soon as I arrived. He was a fabled figure, spoken of with awe. The two most memorable stories were that in running for the student council as a freshman at Harvard, then an all-male university, he had knocked at the door of every classmate and asked for his support. Could I imagine such a driven person? The other story was that after election to the student council, he had been asked by another, older Mormon member to nominate him for the council’s presidency. This Dick refused to do, telling his friend that he preferred to support the other candidate. I thought that Dick must be a hard man, a frightening person, one to avoid.

Our actual fateful meeting that year is a blur. A group of Latter-day Saint students gathered one Sunday evening in a Harvard room. Elder Bushman arrived, alone. Why, we can never remember or determine. He must have had a reason. He was not one to break rules. He turned up in this forbidden place, and we met. He says it was passionate love at first sight. I have suspected that he had heard about me, as I had heard about him, and that he knew that my father was a Latter-day Saint stake president and that I had a scholarship to Wellesley, suggesting that I was a more serious student of religion and academics than I actually was. The meeting was soon over. I don’t remember any conversation on that occasion. Later, I wrote, “During the first month of school back in 1952 I met a young elder named Richard Bushman. The group I was with had spoken more than highly of him and I was not disappointed. He was both thoughtful and articulate. However, his reddish hair grew down over one eye in the manner of a romantic poet and my impression was, ‘What a lovely boy; I wish he’d cut his hair.’”

I avoided him as much as possible, though, because he made me uncomfortable. He was generally very busy, but one Sunday in church, when I couldn’t get out of the way fast enough, he forced me to reveal plans for a political science major and then proceeded to try to pry out my views. I blushed painfully and tried to get away, vowing not to get caught again.

After Dick returned to school the next year, our relationship began in deadly earnest. He was never very nice to me. He was stern in his invitations, as if this were an unpleasant duty that he had to fulfill. We usually had study dates at the old Wellesley Recreation Building. He seemed so much more mature and serious than I was that we could hardly carry on a conversation. I knew he disapproved of me. I was always surprised when he called and asked me out—or in, that is—to the rec hall.

He never took me out to any nice places. I, who had been used to going to every football game, every dance, and every concert, found my social life much straitened. There was certainly no romance. Sometimes we walked on the Wellesley campus. Sometimes we attempted a little dancing in the rec hall. Always our conversations were painful and awkward. We could hardly talk to each other at all. I had always felt that if I was not a gorgeous date, at least I was very good company. But not this time. After a while, each date would be followed by a letter in which he would bawl me out for something or lecture me on something else. I hardly knew what to think about this.

During Christmas vacation of my sophomore year, in 1953, he sent me a couple of letters and a book. I was very surprised that he should be so nice. I read his well-written letters to my father, who suggested, in the way of fathers with four daughters, that I should marry this man. I said that there wasn’t a chance; he was the finest of young men but beyond my deserts.

Later, Dick passed through San Francisco with his family on the way to Los Angeles for a Church conference his father was involved in. I looked forward to having him come, but when he didn’t call when he said he would, I went out with someone else.

Back at school, Dick invited me to a concert several weeks in advance. That turned out to be the weekend of the Dartmouth game and surrounding events. I usually did the three days of big football weekends solidly with another young man. We both thought Dick wouldn’t mind not going out with me, but Dick insisted that the date go through. We went to the concert and had a nice time, but I could not be at all spontaneous. I was sure he considered me a nice, but very dull, girl.

I was having trouble defining my position. Dick must have been doing more than being nice to me to call me all the time and to take me out, but I was always miserable in his presence: tongue-tied, stilted, and stupid. I didn’t see how I could be even decent company. He was stern and silent. He asked my opinions on things I knew nothing about. I decided that the whole thing must be a plot of the Cambridge church boys to play a trick on Claudia. And I determined to enjoy it but not to be taken in. And it was very flattering. I loved having Dick around. He was much sought after. I hoped that I would be none the worse for the experience and that I could survive with some dignity.

Then, on November 18, 1954, during my junior year, his senior year, Dick came out to Wellesley and suggested we take a walk. He brought a white carnation on a long stem. We walked, and I played with my flower. Dick wore a long red scarf and carried an umbrella, which he later broke. It had been raining. We wandered to the lake’s edge and sat in a spoon holder on Tupelo Point.

The Wellesley campus is built on the shores of beautiful Lake Waban. A path runs around the lake, and there are three or four rustic little nests with benches for conversation and for viewing the lake. These are called spoon holders; they hold the spooners. On our walks around the campus, we would often sit in one and sometimes talk. The campus legend was that after walking around the lake (about two and a half miles) three times, a couple would stop in a spoon holder, and there would be a proposal of marriage. If there was no proposal, the Wellesley girl would push her date into the lake. Richard did not understand the part about walking around the lake, thinking we had only to visit the spoon holders. I had no idea of any serious intent for our peregrinations.

On that fated evening, unseasonably warm, Richard sternly and seriously proposed marriage. I was astonished, completely surprised and undone. He said that he loved me and had for some time. I had already had a few proposals and could read the clues. But I never saw this one coming. Instead of leaping up in enthusiasm, as many other girls would have done, I wondered if he was serious, saying that he did not know me at all. And he certainly did not. I was interested in frivolous things: nonsense poetry, Gilbert and Sullivan, Broadway musicals, birds, frogs, fashion, good times. He was serious, ambitious, driven. I could not believe that he wanted to marry anyone like me or that he would have suggested it if he had any understanding of what I was really like. Other girls were much prettier and more religious than I was. Why was he proposing to me? I was shocked and unhappy that he could be so blind as to choose me but thrilled to be loved by such a man. I came home quite dazed but very happy. Marrying him was a new idea.

Of course, he tells a different story. His memory of the evening was that I had accepted him and that we were engaged. I thought we had moved into a new limbo. We continued our tortured relationship.

The last night of November, the day before he left for Christmas, Dick came out to Wellesley, and we walked and danced, and he quite insisted that I stop in Utah on the way home. My family was in favor of the visit, so I began negotiations for tickets. I dreaded going. I would have to impress the Bushmans, wasn’t really presentable, was still uncomfortable with Dick, and I didn’t try hard for tickets. Then I got sick and went into the infirmary. My mother made reservations in San Francisco, Dick made them in Salt Lake City, and I decided not to go. In Chicago while en route home, I realized that I could change my flight and stop in Salt Lake, but I was five dollars short of the needed funds. I got back on the original plane, feeling sorry for myself, though really glad I didn’t have to go.

I had a good time at home. The first two weeks, I had many dates with men to whom I could talk very well. I helped around the house. My sisters were good friends. I loved my family more than before. I dreaded going back to my dry cell at Wellesley.

Then came a letter from Dick inviting me to Salt Lake for New Year’s. After a quick family conference, I dispatched a hasty consent. On New Year’s Eve, I set off for Salt Lake City. Dick seemed happy to see me. I forgot to be apprehensive. When the clock struck the witching hour, he kissed me chastely on the forehead, and we went to his beautiful house to meet his family: his successful, good-looking father; his lovely young mother with a charming smile; Cherry, a stately, serious blonde, my age; and Bill, a tall, clean-cut, American-boy type. We went to the church dance at the Bonneville Stake Center and danced until two or so and then came back to a party at the house with some nice young people. We stayed up very late.

At the end of New Year’s Day, the family and I dined at a nice restaurant, and after taking his family home, Dick and I drove high up Capitol Hill overlooking State Street. I was wretchedly tongue-tied and unhappy and couldn’t say anything. I could not speak. Dick was sweet and patient but was obviously disappointed in my reactions. We came home very late. I shivered all night, a chronic upset while in Salt Lake. It was a bad night.

The next day was Sunday, and we went to church. We visited some friends of Dick’s and a houseful of my relatives. I was stiff but tried to be friendly. Dick seemed to have known them all of his life. At dinner that evening, I knew I was a failure. I just wanted to be gone as soon as possible. The feeling persisted that evening when Dick spoke at a fireside gathering to an impressive group of young people who obviously thought he was tops. The next day, he drove me down to Provo to visit my sister Georgia. I said about ten words the whole way, planning to tell people that it had been a very nice weekend and that I had enjoyed it, even though it had been painful. I spent three peaceful days with Georgia, and it didn’t matter there whether I impressed anybody or not.

I hated to come back to school. I felt a vague dread all the way. But after a few days, when I had dispatched all my thank-you notes and gotten back into my courses, I felt better.

Dick had sent a telegram from Kansas City to greet me on my arrival. Light in tone, it contained tempered terms of endearment, and I was pleased. Maybe I hadn’t been such a flop after all. On the day he was due to arrive back, I came back to my little cell and found a pink carnation with a rather tender card. I hoped that it might be a positive symbol. I had a date that evening and so missed his call, but I called him at midnight when I got home. We had a very pleasant chat.

Turbulent as my romantic life was, I was also having a hard time on the academic side. Somehow, I felt compelled to challenge one of my English teachers. I didn’t like what she was teaching me. I went into the final exam with a B grade, but—determined to say what I thought was right and correct, whatever that may have been—I flunked the exam. When grades came out, I had a D in the course. I had tried to be really honest on an exam, and I failed it. I cannot even remember the issue.

Later that evening we attended MIT’s Miami Triad dance at the Hotel Somerset. The a cappella singing group of which I was a member, the Wellesley Widows, sang. I just wanted to go home. Dick saw that I was grim and subdued. He repeatedly asked what had happened. How could I tell him? He was graduating magna cum laude. He was Phi Beta Kappa. He was the class orator. How could I admit to flunking an exam? He would not want anything to do with me. I finally admitted the awful truth and was amazed at his response. Was that all? That was of no significance. He was quite relieved that it wasn’t something serious. What could he have imagined?

Miss Jones, my Wellesley class dean, called me in to talk about my grades. She wondered why I had fallen down in just one course. The teacher had described it as an inexplicable total collapse, an utter failure. Dean Jones asked if I was having problems, if the college could help, maybe some tutoring. She said that such things were usually related to problems at home. I admitted some personal problems, and she arranged an appointment to see the school psychiatrist. This doctor, on call for Wellesley students, spent an afternoon a month at the college.

Going to a psychiatrist was a new and serious business. T. S. Eliot’s play The Cocktail Party about Christ as a psychiatrist was then being performed, and Freud was at the height of his popularity. We considered these mind doctors to be superhuman in many ways.

I went to see Dr. Snyder to tell him all the things that bothered me. What I had to say was that a romantic situation had reached a difficult climax the night before the exam, exacerbating my antagonistic relationship with my professor. I expected the psychiatrist to dispense some moral judgment, to tell me that what I had done was stupid, childish, and wrong.

I knew his time was valuable, twenty-five dollars an hour, so I told this nice-looking young man everything bothering me about my romance and the exam as fast as I could. I did not know what else to say. He listened. He made a few notes as I talked.

He then said that writing the exam in that way was an unconscious attempt to get back at the professor, that there were better ways to do it, and that he could not get excited about the grade. He made a few other comments. It was magic for me. I rose from the chair a new person. I left all my troubles on the floor. I felt cleansed, renewed. I was myself again. I was calm and happy and ready to commit myself to marriage.

Back in my room, I wrote Dick a letter unconsciously full of Freudian imagery, frank and loving, and telling him what I felt and hoped for. I mailed the letter. The letter was delivered.

On Thursday, February 17, 1955, I lived in real terror but heard nothing. At four o’clock, I went to a Widows rehearsal. We were singing to the Harvard freshmen that night. On returning from the rehearsal, I was told that Dick had been calling all afternoon and that there were flowers. I dashed down and got my flowers, a dozen yellow and white roses. The card said that I should give the flowers names, half boys and half girls. I was joyful and overcome.

I chatted gaily with the Widows and our drivers on the way into Cambridge. Dick was waiting inside the door of Harvard’s Memorial Hall. He’d had his hair cut, and it was still a little wet. He enclosed me in a most welcome arm and said he’d see me after the show.

Afterwards I was scooped up and taken home. We walked to Tupelo Point, the same spoon holder we had used about three months before, and there looking out over the lake, we pledged our troth. Dick offered a prayer of thanks and for help in the future. We were officially engaged.

The next day was a big Wellesley weekend, Carousel. Dick came before lunch bearing daffodils and a balloon. We wandered the campus, identifying trees, enjoying the unseasonably nice weather, ignoring everybody we knew. As a special celebration, we two drove to Boston for a ritzy dinner at Locke-Obers. We had a very posh meal, which took a long time to eat. We made many jokes about finishing the meal with baked Alaska, which we called “Baked Elastics.”

The next day, the Widows made a new recording of our songs. We worked for about five hours. By the end, five of our dates had collected. Dick and I had dinner at Winthrop, his Harvard house, and then went up to his room to have a little discussion. His roommate, Charles, was out for the evening. Dick produced a stack of congratulatory letters. He took a bath while I read the letters and looked through his journal. Then we laid some broad plans for our future together. Trust was first mentioned; we are to be complete and total confidants and tell all. We are to respect each other and not only to not make fun of our love or take it lightly, but also to never flirt or pay undue attention to anyone else. We are to be constantly alert of ways to help others and of ways in which to disseminate the gospel. I didn’t know that I could do very well in these things and doubted that I could keep up. We planned nice things that we’d do for our children: take them out, teach them languages, learn ’em the social graces, stimulate their precocious minds by teaching them the same things we were learning at the time. And we would be civic leaders and good hosts and kind to all. We were full of aspiration.

And so we were engaged. We planned and executed our own engagement dinner. I had my picture taken at Bachrach’s, and it ran in the New York Times. People proffered congratulations and felicitations.

Dick decided, to my family’s chagrin, that he should spend the summer with us in San Francisco. He said that we should be close until the wedding so that we would not drift apart. He lived in the basement, and my father was impressed when he very quickly got a summer job, worked hard, and helped around the house and the church.

In August, we had a big pre-wedding reception in the Sunset Ward cultural hall and then set off across the desert to Salt Lake City to be married in the temple. As we pulled away in Dick’s black Ford, my mother turned to my father and murmured, “I wonder if she’s good enough for him.” My own mother.

We still had trouble talking to each other and had some rough patches in our early marriage. Eventually, I discovered that he was very different from the man I had imagined him to be, and for many, many years, we have considered ourselves to be very fortunate in our marriage to each other.

Claudia L. Bushman, a social and cultural historian of the nineteenth-century United States, holds degrees from Wellesley College, Brigham Young University, and Boston University. She collaborates with Richard Lyman Bushman on historical publications, the Center for Latter-day Saint Arts, and a family of six children, twenty grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Published in BYU Studies Quarterly 59:3
Purchase this Issue

BRIGHAM YOUNG UNIVERSITY


PROVO, UT 84602, USA | 801-422-4636 | © 2020 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED