Notes from Jan

Mrs. M.’s Dash in Brown Oxfords

April 9, 2022

She came to mind a few days back, a plain woman who walked with a no-nonsense gait in her practical brown oxfords. She and her husband came from Norway and farmed the fertile soil around DeKalb, Illinois. They attended the small Swedish Baptist church, where my Daddy served as the pastor. I was ten when I last saw them, just before we moved to Georgia to test out another branch of Baptists, the Southern kind.

One day Mama and I walked to the small JCPenny store in downtown DeKalb. It, like the Sears catalog and Woolworths, stocked dreams. We weren’t into buying much back then, just looking. But then we bumped into Mrs. M. Her arms held a gazillion dresses, sweaters and more, piled up to her eyeballs. She said a muffled ,”God dag.” Mama offered to help but you know sometimes it’s just easier to hold on and keep moving. So Mrs. M. said, “Takk.” Then waddled to the sales desk and dropped her bundle atop another stash she’d chosen earlier.

I couldn’t help but wonder what she’d do with all those clothes. She only wore a couple of plain outfits Sunday after Sunday. These were brightly colored fabrics, stylish clothes, unlike anything I’d ever seen her wear. Later I asked Mama about Mrs. M and those clothes. Mama said, “I’ll tell you a secret. They are not for her.” Well, I knew some weren’t since they had no children and some of the clothes would fit me. Then Mama said, ” Twice a year when there are sales, she comes here and shops. Mrs.M. loves to buy new clothes for the missionaries we support. She says they deserve the best, not used or things we no longer want or need.”

Mama told me how she grew up with missionary barrels sent to them in Canada. I asked, thinking of Mrs. M’s stash, “Did it feel like Christmas when you saw all the clothes and surprises inside?” Mama laughed and said, “No! It was more like Halloween! I didn’t want to be caught dead in most of the used clothes that came our way.” But then she added, “Mama was big on gratitude. She saw each moth-eaten relic with possibilities. And late at night I heard her at the Singer treadle machine making something better out of nothing much.”

After we moved to Georgia, I watched Mama sew something beautiful out of feed sacks. Her Singer machine and creativity produced curtains, dresses, doll clothes and more. Mama reminded me often by words and actions that a thankful heart can produce possibilities out of impossibilities.

Well, wherever Mrs.M. is buried, her tombstone marks the beginning and ending years of her life. There’s that one small dash between the dates, representing her time on earth. Nothing remarkable to a passer by. A reminder like the old song says,”This world is not my home. I’m just a passin’ through.”

But now that I’m older, Mrs. M.’s life reminds me of lines from Middlemarch by George Eliot:

“…for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”

Thank you, Mrs. M.

and Mama.

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11 Comments

  • Reply Stan Gaede April 9, 2022 at 11:21 am

    So true! And so easily forgotten, in the flow of daily life. Bless you, Jan, for remembering. And….sharing!!

    • Reply Jan Carlberg April 9, 2022 at 8:37 pm

      You’re so welcome, dear Stan. Small and hidden acts of kindness matter. But then, you and Judy, know that well, since you are two who do so well those small acts of kindness , most hidden, I’m sure.

  • Reply Nancy Vecchio April 9, 2022 at 11:58 am

    Jan, you are a treasure. Each time you share a blog, or in recent, speaking at CBS retreat last Saturday, I come away more blessed then ever. We all do that are privileged to be some part of your life. You help us grow, encourage to draw closer to God, feed us “good medicine’ that laughter kind!!, and make hearts grow bigger as they are filled with more of Gods love.
    You have the best hugs too!!
    May God bless you, make His face shine to upon you and give you peace today. Truly truly I love you!!

    • Reply Jan Carlberg April 9, 2022 at 8:41 pm

      Oh, dear Nancy, it was so great to finally see you in person last Saturday at the CBS retreat. Zoom groups have been a great gift during the pandemic but such a treat to see your smiling face and get to hug you. You continue to bless many, like me, through your persevering faith and caring heart. Thank you for your encouragement to me and your blessing. I felt both. Still do.

  • Reply Raquel Lipez April 9, 2022 at 3:06 pm

    Dearest MamaJan: Amazing story! You are so inspiring! Thank you for sharing and for bringing hope to this world! God bless you! Love you, R.

    • Reply Jan Carlberg April 9, 2022 at 8:45 pm

      Well, how fun to see your name pop up, dear Raquelita. We all need hope and I’m grateful if something I wrote God used to infuse you with some. May God bless you and Lilly in your new home in the Dominican Republic. I know your family is happy to have you back.
      Love always, MamaJan

  • Reply dale April 10, 2022 at 7:58 am

    Thanks Jan,
    Our parents and grandparents gave us great memories. I often wonder what our “offspring” will remember about us (e.g., they could not agree on Fox News or CNN 🙁 We still have the Singer sewing machine – at least we can pass this on.

    Blessings, Dale

    • Reply Jan Carlberg April 10, 2022 at 5:45 pm

      Often I think about that, too, my very dear friend. We connected with generations before us in attending church and singing familiar hymns. We ate similar foods .(no kale and tofu, for example. ) And we saw vaccines as life-savers not freedom squelchers.
      However, I know each generation has issues with past and current generations. And I tend to scrub up history and make the past more perfect than it was. But I am concerned about the grip social media has on too many and the decreasing importance of family mealtime, civil discourse and the place of Sunday as a day unlike the other six. Church is another whole topic and issue.

      You still have a Singer machine? Mine’s gone. I’ve seen them turned into tables in more than one home, like a relic of another time and place. Dodo birds of a mechanical sort. Oh dear, turns my thoughts to the long ago past, sitting outside with you and Marty, catching up while our young children ran around and played games like tag. And the only phone we had sat on a small table or hung from a wall and was hard to hear outside, leaving us blessed by the sounds of nature, shouts of “You’re it!”and the gift of friendship. Which reminds me to say how grateful I am that our friendship continues.

  • Reply Wendy April 11, 2022 at 12:38 pm

    Aw what a beautiful memory Jan! And great reminder for us to do whatever we can with what our Good Lord has given us. Even if, ESPECIALLY if, no one else sees or knows. He knows!

    • Reply Jan Carlberg April 11, 2022 at 8:44 pm

      Yes, dear Wendy. i’m sure you and Steve have been tapped to give, known -only- to -Jesus, gifts of time and more. Stories emerging from the war in Ukraine, tell of sacrificial love, bravery and generosity. They remind us that Light is stronger than darkness.

      • Reply Wendy April 11, 2022 at 10:27 pm

        Yes! ❤️

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