A HIGHER CALLING
She was a godly woman. A godly woman who lived
the Golden Rule—Dale Evans blazed a happy trail.
Naomi Judd, singer-songwriter
Dale Evans stood in the entrance of her new home staring at the furniture and boxes waiting in the foyer. The job of combining two households would be a daunting one, but she and Roy were looking forward to it. The Rogerses had spent the first few weeks of their marriage honeymooning and traveling about Northern California, appearing in parades and rodeos. Fans cheered the newlyweds and appeared to enthusiastically approve of their union. Dale prayed their children were just as happy for them and that the transition from single living to a two-parent household would be smooth.
Dale sat down on a couch in the living room, amid the unopened crates and barrels, and kicked off her shoes. A framed photograph of Roy's children rested on top of a coffee table. She gently lifted the picture up and cradled it in her lap. Three pairs of innocent eyes stared back at her. "I'll do the best job I can raising you," she promised the youngsters.
Her heart was filled with love as she reflected on the children in the picture. Cheryl was the most outgoing of the three. She had honey-colored hair and bright brown eyes, and she was quite a talker. Linda was a lot like her father, quiet, but behind her sparkling eyes was a torrent of emotion. Dusty, the baby, was a happy boy, affectionate and always laughing. They'll keep me on my toes, but I'm up for the job, she told herself as she placed the photo back on the table. Dale wasn't naive. She knew there would be obstacles to overcome, but she was hopeful that they would eventually be one cohesive family.
Dale forced herself up from her comfortable spot and examined the placement of the furniture in the room. Deciding to rearrange a bit, she moved the couch out of the way and scooted an oversized chair into the open spot. Linda snuck into the room and intensely watched Dale change things around. Marching over to the couch, she looked up at Dale and frowned. "This isn't your furniture," she told her. "This is Mommy's."
Dale stood staring into the child's face, frozen, at a loss for words. She'd never anticipated this reaction. "Honey, your mommy has gone to heaven, and she doesn't need this furniture anymore." Dale gently explained. "So it's okay for us to use it."'
Linda didn't say a word. She simply turned and went to her room.
Dale sank into the chair and watched the little girl disappear from sight. I am up for this, she reminded herself.
While Roy worked long hours at Republic Studios, Dale worked long hours at their home. Until she was to report to the next production, her job would be solely that of wife and mother.
She devoted herself to setting up house and trying to forge a new bond with Linda and Cheryl. The trail was a rocky one. Although the girls had initially been happy that their father was going to marry Dale, after the fact they were resentful and brooding. Dale understood that the response was out of loyalty to their mother. She felt her young stepdaughters' reaction was a natural one, and that with love and patience everything would work out.
One morning shortly after they'd all moved in together she sat at the kitchen table pondering her shaky relationship with her stepdaughters and rereading a distressing note from her agent. Studio officials had decided Dale would not be cast in any more roles opposite Roy. "Roy plays a strong, silent man of the West who never kisses his leading lady. Republic Studios thinks no one would believe it if you played opposite him now," Danny Winkler relayed.
Dale drew a cigarette out of a nearby pack lying on the counter and lit it. She was disturbed about the studio's decision, and so was Roy. She thought about the matter over a cup of coffee, finally coming to the conclusion that her focus would now strictly be on her new family.
She flipped the ashes off her cigarette just as Cheryl walked into the room. Dale smiled at the girl, but she did not return the favor. "I wish you didn't smoke," she chastised Dale. "My mother never smoked." The pretty seven-year-old didn't wait for Dale to answer. She simply turned and left the room. Dale put her cigarette out, tossed the pack in the trash, and vowed to never smoke again.
Just as Dale had resolved to be a full-time mother, however, the opportunity she had been waiting for came knocking.
Danny greeted Dale with an elated "Happy day!" when she answered the ringing phone. Without pausing for Dale to return the sentiment, he blurted it out:
"London producers want you as the lead in their production of Annie Get Your Gun" he told her. Dale didn't say a word. "Are you there?" he asked.
"I can't accept it," she heard herself saying. "Tom is getting married; the little ones have been exposed to chicken pox, couldn't possibly think of leaving...."
Danny was thrown by her answer. "They need you right now," he added hopefully.
"I can't," she concluded.
After a few more minutes of listening to her agent's attempts at persuasion, Dale said good-bye and hung up, deep in thought. Her commitment to her new family, however difficult it might be to handle at the moment, was her top priority.
AT the end of each day, Roy would return home and the newly-weds would fill each other in on their days. Roy talked about the latest film production and the singing engagements he had coming up. Dale shared news about the children, confiding in him the trouble she continued to have with the girls. Some days Cheryl and Linda seemed to be adjusting nicely; others, they refused to eat, clean up their rooms, or go to bed. Roy was sympathetic but refused to take sides. "No matter how much it hurts," he told his bride, "I have to keep my mouth shut. Love and respect are things you can't force on anybody, much less kids. No one can win them over for you but you," he added comfortingly.
When Dale wasn't spending time with the girls and playing with Dusty, she was helping plan Tom's wedding to Barbara Miller, a talented young woman he'd met in college. Dale approved wholeheartedly of her son's decision.
Although she was always ready to give of her time and expertise, whenever Tom was around his mother he sensed she was preoccupied and worried about something. He knew things at home were hard and offered to listen to Dale if she wanted to talk.
Tom had been very supportive of Dale marrying Roy. Indeed, the two men had the kind of relationship she longed to have with Cheryl and Linda. After she confessed this to Tom, he suggested that she might find a way to reach the girls in church. He encouraged her to enroll the children in Sunday school and for Dale to attend a service. "Maybe God can lend a hand," he told her. "Why don't you come with me next Sunday?" Dale respected her son's opinion and decided to take him up on his offer.
On Sunday morning Dale helped ready the children and headed off to the Sunday service. The topic of the sermon was "The House That Is Built on the Rock." The pastor's message to the congregation about building a home on the rock of faith in Jesus Christ spoke right to Dale's heart. "A house set on a foundation like this can survive anything," the pastor promised.
The preacher extended an invitation that anyone whose heart was moved for the Lord could come forward to take him into their lives. Tom discerned the conflict in his mother.
She wanted to go to the altar and confess her sins, but pride held her back. He gently laid his hand on her shoulder and whispered into her ear. "Why don't you go?" he asked. "Give him your life and let him give you the peace you've sought for so long."
Dale shot Tom a defensive look. "I made that decision long ago," she snapped. "I've been a Christian since I was ten."
Tom's eyes filled with tears. He pitied her troubled soul. "Do you really know Christ?" he kindly probed.
The words of the sermon played over and over again in Dale's head. The conflict she felt at church followed her on the drive home. Glancing back at her three stepchildren, she ached to make things right, not only for herself, but for them as well. I need time to think about this, she said to herself. Maybe next Sunday.
Walking into the her home that evening, Dale was consumed with loneliness. Roy was on a hunting trip with friend, and she was unable to talk with him about the forlorn feeling she was experiencing. The emotion intensified until it overwhelmed her and drove her to her knees. In that desperate moment, with tears pouring down her face, she talked to God as she never had before. She confessed every sin and missed opportunity to be the Lord's servant.
She cried out to be changed. She cried out to be forgiven, and she bargained with God. "Let me live until next Sunday," she said. "And I will go down that aisle."
The following Sunday's sermon ended with the customary invitation for the lost to come forward. As the choir softly sang, "Jesus Gave It All," Dale Evans stepped out of the pew and hurried to the altar. A warm peace fell over her, and happiness invaded her being. It was as if a crushing burden had been lifted off her shoulders. Nothing would ever be the same for her or her family again.
Excited over the change in her life, Dale enthusiastically shared her experience with her skeptical husband. He was happy for her, but cautioned her about going overboard. Roy still questioned a God who could allow children to suffer. He would not easily be persuaded that the Lord was good. Even when he saw the miraculous changes in his own home as a result of God's love, he struggled with accepting the reason behind it.
Tom's suggestion had helped work a miracle for Dale. Her relationship with Cheryl and Linda improved tremendously. They prayed and sang hymns together, attended Sunday school, and memorized Scripture. Everyday they grew closer and closer. Now and then the girls would call Dale Mom.
Cheryl and Linda competed with one another over who would say grace before meals. With their heads bowed and hands folded, they would take turns thanking God for the food before them. Roy never said grace. With all the respect and sincerity she had, six-year-old Linda asked her dad why that was. "Don't you know how to talk to God, Daddy?" she inquired.
The question stayed with Roy for days. Unwittingly, his daughter had fanned an ember of belief burning in his soul. Linda's query, along with Dale's comment that "children don't imitate what we say; they imitate what we do," prompted Roy to consider attending church. Someday, he told himself.
In March 1947 the den of the Rogers' home was filled with show people, such as Pat Brady, Gale Storm, Andy Devine, and Smiley Burnette. Roy was hosting a party for friends, celebrities, and film crew involved in the production of another Republic western. The people on hand were drinking and smoking. Roy was giving tours of the home, and Dale was visiting with the guests. Those who knew her well recognized something different about her. She seemed to always be on the verge of blurting out some exciting news. One of Roy's costars couldn't help but ask about the change.
As Dale was explaining her new outlook on life and how her responsibilities had shifted from parties and fame to her marriage and children, Roy walked by.
The cowboy misunderstood her remark about responsibility and was quite irritated about the comment. He assumed she was complaining about how long the party was going on and passing judgment on the others in the room. "If you have a problem, this is no place to talk about it," he told her bluntly. He turned and walked away before Dale had a chance to defend herself. She choked back a tear, electing to cry out the hurt feelings over the scolding later upstairs in her room.
Roy and Dale were not speaking to one another the following morning. Roy stood by their bedroom window, thinking. His eyes fixed on the scenery and trees outside. Dale quietly dressed for Sunday service. She occasionally glanced over at her husband. Neither one of them knew what to say. Finally, Roy broke the silence. "If you're going to church I'm going with you," he told her.
Dale smiled and nodded. "That'll be fine," she replied.
Flanked on either side by his children and his wife, Roy sat in the middle of a pew listening to the sermon. From time to time Dale would sneak a hopeful peek over at him.
Toward the end of the service, she noticed that his head was down and his eyes were closed. The previous night's party had gone on rather long, and she deduced that he was tired from being up late.
But in fact Roy was not sleeping; he was praying. When the altar call was made, he lifted his head and sat bolt upright. "I'm going down there," he leaned over and whispered to Dale.
The King of the Cowboys was baptized the very next Sunday. He later told Dale that his decision to accept Jesus Christ as his savior came the very night the two had their disagreement.
"As I stood there looking out the window, it occurred to me that any financial provisions I might be able to leave my kids would someday be gone. The fame of being a movie star wouldn't last forever. I want my kids to remember me for something special, something that matters. I want them to remember me as a daddy who took them to church on Sundays and helped them learn how to live a good Christian life."
By the time Roy and Dale were approaching their second anniversary, their blended family was thriving. The children were happy and healthy, and everyone was looking forward to Tom's wedding. They were prospering not only spiritually, but financially as well.
Roy had signed a new contract with Republic under which he received a 100 percent increase in pay. Dale was invited back to the studio as well. Executives had decided the married couple were not box-office poison after all and were planning to star them again in another series of westerns.
In addition their motion-picture work, the pair would be kept busy with another radio program, television appearances, and a long rodeo tour across the country. They would also make another album with the Sons of the Pioneers and a religious record for RCA Victor. Many of the songs they recorded were written by Dale. The success of their records inspired Roy to form his own company. Dale's tune "Aha, San Antone" became a hit, selling more than 200,000 copies. In November 1949 Roy Rogers and Dale Evans were the top moneymaking western stars in the country.
Dale pondered all these things and more as she watched Tom standing at the altar awaiting his bride. She was proud of the man her son had grown to be, proud of the Christian influence he had on her and the family. She was proud of her home, children, marriage, and the opportunity she and Roy continued to have to visit hospitals and entertain ailing children. Truly we are blessed, she thought to herself.
Tom and Barbara stood side by side exchanging their vows. Dale wept, remembering her boy as the baby she cradled in her arms. The journey to this point had been a long one. She was excited for her son and daughter-in-law, knowing the wondrous adventure ahead of them.
"I wonder what God has in store for us next?" Roy asked Dale as the newlyweds marched out of the church at the end of the ceremony.
Dale didn't have to wait long to find out. A few months after the wedding she learned she was going to have a baby. Years before she had been told that the possibility of having another child without surgery was remote. Now she and Roy giggled happily when the doctor confirmed the pregnancy test.
News that the Rogerses were expecting was made public on February 1, 1950. Cards and letters from well-wishers across the country arrived at their home daily. Cowboys and cowgirls of all ages eagerly anticipated the arrival of the newest addition to the royal couple.
"Dear Roy and Miss Dale," wrote seven-year-old Sammy Finn of St. Joseph, Missouri. "My mom says you are going to have a baby. I hope it's a boy and that he will be best friends with Trigger and that he can help you fight robbers. That's what I would do anyway."
TO BE CONTINUED