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.
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