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A neighbor and new dear friend gave Hubby Dear a marvelous book that featured tales of the rural South, as spoken by those who lived in the early years when refrigerators and stoves, washers and dryers, microwaves and toasters were non-existent.
He spoke warmly of the tales he read, the images that came to mind through the colloquialisms that flavored the written word with the spice of life. His own warm feelings about the people he allowed into his heart won the heart of one of our own “locals” who has kept us close to the earth with her reminders of the way it was in those days.
Her stories matched those he read, and subsequently I read as well. They were tales of courage and ingenuity, perseverance and pain, togetherness and sharing. Unlike the poignancy of Barbra Streisand’s misty, water-colored memories, these remained vividly painted, etched forever in the smiles that were not left behind, but brought forward into a world where comfortableness reigns, or so it would seem.
It was simple then. At the very least, it was simpler then. Hardships were viewed as part of life. Though death often came too soon after weeks of suffering without appropriate medication, it was also perceived as an inevitable accompaniment to life. The memories did not leave the corners of their minds. Time has not rewritten every line. Time has underscored the values gained and gleaned in tough times.
L’Lena Holden has written a delightful story honoring her mother, Rose Ella Smith Hewett, a woman held in memory as Wonder Woman because that is how L’Lena saw and wants to remember her...a wonderful woman.
Eller, as her siblings called her, was one of 11 children. She married when she was 17 and gave birth to 11 children of her own, raising the younger ones during the Depression as a widow. Her husband, like her father, died young from an illness that would be easily treated today with medication.
Her mother-in-law and a beloved sister both died within two years of her husband’s demise, events that evoked a courage was noted, valued and a source of inspiration for her children and grandchildren. Their smiles are deep with the joy that comes only when pain has pierced the heart to allow growth and emerging holiness.
Creativity ruled the day. Imagination and inventiveness filled the spaces of those scattered pictures of long ago. L’lena smiles broadly when she relates the way her mother used bicycle spokes as needles to knit mittens and socks for her grandchildren. I smile as I listen because I tried so hard, without success, to learn to knit while I was in college and it was “the thing to do.” Maybe bicycle spokes would have helped!
Indeed, it was a simpler life then. Its simplicity was both comfort and challenge. Folks tried to put others before themselves. Eller did that all of her life. She cut up the only winter coat she had to make coats for her grandchildren who needed them. She used cloth bags that had contained flour or fertilizer or chicken feed to make sheets, clothes and underwear. Scraps of cloth were used to make quilts. Nothing was to be wasted.
Waste did not refer solely to material goods. Eller did not believe that one’s goodness should be expended carelessly. Honesty was a cornerstone of her life. Helping others was expected. Love was to be generously shared. Neighbors were to be assisted without hesitation. An orphaned relative would find a home in her home and be raised as one of her children, loved without exception. The hungry, family or not, would be fed.
Some might say Eller and her family were poor. L’lena sees it differently. She believes, “We might not have had a lot as far as money goes, but as far as parents go we were very rich.” She believes she, and all her family, neighbors, and friends, were blessed to have had Eller and her husband Melvin in their lives. Their presence was a model of holiness, blessedness, generosity and profound love.
Memories of the way that was are not too painful to remember. They are not forsaken in the choice to forget. It is not just the laughter that is remembered. It is the reason for laughter in the midst of sorrow, smiles in the face of tears. It is the recognition that formal education is important, but those who did not have the opportunity to receive it are not lost. Eller was not formally educated but L’Lena recalls, “she had enough common sense to make up for the education she missed out on.”
If her story was a single example, we might dismiss it as the fond remembrance of a daughter who wished to leave a legacy of family pride to her family. But, it is not. Eller’s life can be visited and revisited in the snippets many recall of life in the rural South. They hold the common elements of bravery in the face of terrible events; determination when many might give up.
They are stories that reflect gratitude for that which one has rather than greed for what is not ours. Most of all, these are the tales that cause us to smile because those who lived them did so joyfully. Theirs were not faces of doom and gloom but ones wreathed with mischievous grins and faith-filled optimism. These folks did not deal with recollections that were water-colored and misty. The memories cannot be relegated to the corners of our minds. They must be pondered and shared lest we become impoverished people, people who are not happy with others and ourselves.
If we had the chance to do it all again, would we? Could we? I think we would. I think we could. I think we want the values, no matter the cost.
What do you think?