Monday, August 25, 2014

On the Death of Mother, Anne

Today is the day we switched from opening windows for cooler air in the evenings and at night, to opening windows and doors for warmer air in the mornings. A touch of the next season is upon us.

Elias Pitzer Williams was the insurance man's great, great grandfather, and a pioneer of Oregon. He led a fascinating life, and I have written a series of stories from his life, and have decided to share them here occasionally. The following is story #2...enjoy!

On the Death of Mother, Anne

     Ten year old Elias hurried through the house and up the wooden stairs to mothers' bedroom. His steps slowed with anxiety as he approached the opened door. A small oil lamp was burning low on the table beside her, and she lay against several pillows, hardly making a dent on the mattress, so small and frail she looked. The red, green and yellow quilt she had made for her marriage covered and engulfed her. She heard him and turned her head so that her big eyes looked full at him. The love in her eyes pierced Elias' heart as he rushed to her and fell on his knees. He laid his head on her quilt, and his tears dripped slowly.
     "Mother...mother...," he choked out.
     "Hush, Elias," she soothed, her voice little more than a whisper. She lifted her hand weakly and placed it on his cheek.
     "My first born, my only son," she breathed out with a sigh. "How I have loved to see you grow, and I am proud of you. I wish to tell you what large burdens will be on your shoulders. You must help father to  take care of your sisters and help him to bear the sadness."
     "Mother, I will help him, you know I will. But how are we to stand the sadness?" He raised his head to hear her answer. 
     "Elias, son, God has given us this good land, our good family, and His blessings. We can trust Him now in the hard things."  
     "But I will miss you so," he sobbed into her hand, even as the thought crossed his mind that he should be too old for crying.
     "Will you get my bible, son?" she asked, her voice faint.
Elias stood while brushing his cheeks, and wiping his eyes. He looked around the room for her small Welsh bible, and saw it lying on a table beneath the window, in a patch of moonlight, beside a low burning candle. Picking it up he felt the soft, worn leather in his hand, and returning he brought it to mother before sinking to his knees once again. 
     "Elias, find Romans chapter eight, from verse twenty-eight to the end, where it says God has good plans for us."
Elias had to lean close to her lips to hear her words. Turning frayed pages he found the verses she wanted. He looked at her, and her eyes encouraged him. She wanted him to read them to her he knew, as he had often done before. She had taught him to read Welsh, her native tongue from this little book. 
     "And we know, that all things work together for good..." his voice left him as he wondered how her sickness could work for good, and he waited, until presently he tried again.  
     "to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose." She nodded, and he continued slowly reading the words until he finished chapter eight with "neither death, nor life, nor angels nor things present, nor things to come, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." He looked up at her.
     "Do you really believe this?" she asked him. "Do you believe that God has purpose for me and you?" Elias struggled for an honest answer.
     "Mother I do believe, but I don't understand the sadness. It hurts too much to see you sick and weak, and know you are leaving us."  
Elias closed the little black bible, then got up and sat beside her on the edge of the low bed, picking up her work-worn, blue-tinged hand. Mother spoke only a few words at a time between short breaths. 
     "You are my big son now, and must find faith and strength to believe. The words say that nothing shall come between us and the love of our God, and nothing will come between our love for one another, not even death. God will go on being good, and I will be safe, with Him. Remember forever that I have loved you, but God loves you more, and He will be with you. It will be your choice now to trust Him."  
     She moved slightly, and motioned Elias closer. Slowly, she brought her arms up around his neck, and Elias buried his face in her shoulder, feeling the sharp bones press into him. They stayed together for long moments until her arms dropped away.  
     "You must take my bible," she whispered into his ear. "Father will have the big family one." She closed her near hand over his on the lined leather. 
     "Read it and love it and think of our good times when you do. Now, please Elias, to send father in."
Elias got to his feet, his face wet and his nose running. 
     "I love you mother," he said one last time before turning away and walking to the door.
     He quietly closed it and carefully holding the precious bible, he went down the narrow stairs, feeling a painful knot tight in his chest. After telling father that mother wanted him, he ran outside into the blackness. The darkness of the night matched his insides. He was no longer hunger, he just wanted to be alone.
    After a time he found his way to the barn. Putting the bible down on some hay, he went back to the unfinished work of brushing down Rob, their big work horse. He put all his strength into each stroke, trying to work out the knot in his chest. He felt some comfort in the familiar routine. When all the horses were contentedly munching on forkfuls of fresh hay, Elias slid to the packed earth floor and sat for some time with his head between his knees. He heard the barn door open and felt father sit down beside him. Only soft animal sounds and the occasional creaking of barn wood disturbed the quietness between them.
     "Son, yer mother has gone," father said, choking on the words as he said them. Elias remained silent, burdened by his own pain.
After a while, father got up and went back outside. Elias finally gave in to his grief and lay on the floor sobbing until he was cried out. Sleep found him there, and held him the rest of the night.

     The next morning Elias woke at daylight, as bright rays of sun picked their way through cracks in the barn walls. Someone had put a blanket over him in the night, probably father. He all-too-quickly remembered that this day would not hold his precious mother in it, but he also felt his empty belly growl with hunger. He sat up and reached for mother's bible lying next to him in the hay. Looking around he saw a good hiding spot between some cream cans on a wooden shelf. After safely tucking it behind one, he started on his chores. Although he was hungry, he knew it was too early for breakfast to be ready. Somehow doing what he always did helped him not to think or feel. Father did not appear, and that made everything strange, because he could not ever remember a time when father was not doing chores alongside him. When he was through with the chicken house, he went to the pump to wash up. His sister Mary came out and stood beside him. She didn’t speak, but just looked at him with her soft brown eyes, as if waiting. He dried his hands, and then put his arms about her. They communicated and shared their pain without saying a word.
     Resolutely they turned, climbed the stairs and entered the kitchen. His Aunt Carys was busy over the stove, and his cousins Drystan and Brin, along with Elias’ younger sisters, five year-old Martha Claire and two year-old Cecelia, were already eating at the table. The girls were too young to understand that their mother was gone for good, but the feelings of grief about them had subdued the children. Aunt Carys turned to Elias and Mary and told them: 
     “Yer fadder has gon to tak car of things, and yer ta eat nohw. Yer modder will lae in da box in da parlor later, an folks will be comin. Yer ta cleen up and be widd yer fadder.”
     Aunt Carys’ Welsh brogue was thick, but they both understood. Elias had a feeling of dread rush over him at the thought of seeing mothers' body, and he quickly sat down. He ate his porridge rapidly, filling his empty stomach, and  thought his Aunt Carys a good cook. He guessed they would not be going back to the farm for a few days, and that his uncles would be there taking care of the work. After finishing her breakfast, Mary rose to clear the table and clean up the little ones. Elias turned and escaped back to the sky, trees, and sun.
     All day people came and went from the house. The parlor and kitchen were full of food and people. One of his aunts took Martha Clair and Cecelia to her house, while Mary helped to provide for their guests. Just before supper Elias came back to the house, knowing father expected him, and went upstairs. He changed into clean church clothes, then went to the barn and got down mother’s bible. He held it, and sat on the back steps. He ran his finger over the well-worn cover and thought of her giving it to him. He decided he would keep it with him no matter where he went. It would be his connection to mother. Father came out the back door to find him.
     “Elias, son, you must come in to see Mother, and pay respects.”
     “I don’t want to see her gone,” Elias told him.
     “I know, but you will have to trust me tis good, and will do yer good,” Thomas replied as he sadly and knowingly laid an arm across Elias’ shoulders.
     “Death is a part of life, and yer need to learn of it. God is wise and takes as He gives. Come now.
     Father led Elias through the crowded kitchen to the parlor. There were only a few folks standing there, and the wood coffin seemed to entirely fill the room. Thomas left him, knowing Elias needed to be alone to grapple with death. Elias slowly approached, and felt himself gasp as he viewed mother’s face. She was so peaceful and pretty, the way he remembered from when he was younger. Suffering had left no marks, and her pain was gone. Tears started to choke him, but he swallowed them down. He was done with crying. He walked nearer and studied her face, trying to etch every detail onto the slate of his memory. He stood there for a long time, not wanting to touch her, not wanting to feel the difference. He desperately wanted her to open her eyes and smile at him with her special look, to get up and hug him, but he knew that would never happen again. He wondered what it would be like for her now in heaven, and if she could see him here with the body she had left behind. That thought brought a small easing of the knot inside, and he somehow knew he could carry her with him. In the end he clasped his hands and bowed before mother, showing his respect and love. Acknowledging the finality, he whispered his good-bye and walked across the room. Father came up to him.
     “Elias son, I am sending you to the farm tonight to do yer grievin’ there. I know how ya love the farm, and I will be there in days to come. Yer Uncle will take you after supper. Work hard, I am counting on ya.”
     Elias was glad to be going. Now that he had paid his respects to mother, and was carrying her in his heart, he wanted to be away from this room, from sickness and death, and this house. He went upstairs, changed back into his farm overalls, then went to the barn and retrieved mother’s bible. It was his bible now, to carry with him always.
In memory of:
 Anne Goodwin Williams




Friday, August 15, 2014

A Saturday in August....1847

 Elias stopped while putting a night crawler on his hook and looked up long enough to watch the geese flying south in their customary arrow-shaped pattern, honking back and forth boisterously and flying just over his head beneath a clear blue sky. The hot sun on the water before him drew lots of bugs which helped attract the fish, and made him glad for the coolness here under the tree branches along the bank of the river. He looked back at his hook, finished baiting it with the fat worm and cast it into the river, watching it drift around in the eddy. He sat, leaned his back against a cottonwood trunk and relaxed. He dug his toes into the damp mud feeling happy and quiet after finishing his day’s work. This was his favorite spot, where the river eddied and formed a kind of pool and the bigger fish lay quietly in the depths. He eyed the cottonwood branches over him, thinking that this was the perfect time of day, the sun slanting its last hot breath across the river before fading into the hazy purple of twilight. Small water noises and the droning of bugs were all around him.
          Elias held his new pole with pride. He had turned ten last month, and his father had given him this pole after work that day. Elias knew his father had no time to spare, but the gift was his way of letting him know he was proud. His father had cut a good cottonwood branch, shaped it and set it up with string and a real hook. It was a reward for doing his work well. For a while his thoughts drifted back to that wonderful day, then he sat up and checked that his line was still free and bobbing along in the current. Satisfied, he settled back and grew drowsy with the humming of insects in the early evening.
          Today had been one of the rare ones where he had worked in their sawmill, getting lumber ready to sell. Elias enjoyed those days. He liked the smell and feel of raw wood, he liked working with his father, and it was much cooler working inside. Father said they had the only sawmill in all of northwestern Ohio. These days there were more and more people buying land around them and they all needed lumber to build houses and barns. The town needed their lumber too as more buildings went up. He knew he was old enough now to really help and that felt good.      
         Other days he worked out in the fields, where father grew oats, corn and hay. Father bought this land for farming just before Elias was born and he had told him many times how fertile their soil was and how he could grow about anything. On most days, though, he worked with his uncles, cleaning out the barns, working with the cows, pigs and chickens, or hoeing weeds in their large garden. Whatever the day held, Elias liked best to be working alongside his father. He liked being the only son and being needed.
         Suddenly Elias jumped to his feet as he felt his line jerk sharply. It felt like he had a big one, and he pulled up hard on the string to firmly hook the mouth. This was the moment he loved, when the fish tried with all its strength to win the battle of wills. He let the fish fight him for a while, and then he slowly backed up to bring the fish to land. It flashed at the surface then jumped a couple of times, and Elias could see that he had caught a blue catfish. His mouth watered as he thought about fried catfish for supper. In a short time Elias emerged victorious, and the fish flopped about on the grassy bank. Pulling his hook from the fish’s mouth, he put more bait on it and threw it back into the river. He turned and noted with triumph that the fish was one of the bigger ones from the bottom of the eddy, a good catch by any standard. Tossing his fish further up the bank, he slid back down to his spot against the cottonwood tree, and all fell silent once again. Elias was free to return to his thoughts. 
           One thing Elias didn’t like about staying on the farm was being away from his mother while she was sick, and he frowned as he thought about it. He missed mother, who was at their small house in town. He knew father felt the same. In winter father and Elias spent every night in town, and sometimes part of the days. But during spring and summer the work and chores were never ending at the farm. Father drove the two of them into town whenever possible, and they always spent Sundays with mother and the girls. Once in a while father would leave Elias in town to help mother with the chores there. This burden had become larger and larger for Elias of late, as mother was able to do less and less. Now his thoughts became worried ones, thinking about mother and how she had grown weaker, and as often before, he asked God please to make her stronger.
           Suddenly he started, as a hand came to rest on his shoulder. He had been so absorbed in his thoughts he hadn’t heard father approaching. He looked up into his worried face, and knew instantly that something was wrong.



Monday, August 11, 2014

Summer Rain

How beautiful is the rain!
After the dust and the heat,
In the broad and fiery street,
In the narrow lane,
How beautiful is the rain!
~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow~

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Not a Waste of Time

"Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass on a summer day listening to the murmur of water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is hardly a waste of time."                
                                                                                                             John Lubbock

Thursday, July 31, 2014

We Are Silent Together

Hello darkness my old friend,
though I seldom meet with you anymore.
Your shadows spread around us each evening,
but there is always light mixed in...
the neighbors garage light left burning
the little night light I leave on
the moon shinning in and reflecting off dresser mirror
or the blue glow from the phone beside our bed.
But out here in the campground
it is truly you I 'see'
as I cuddle down.
The hour is late, the campfires are just coals
and campers have all drifted
sleepily to their beds.
We are huddled together, tents and trailers
under this stand of Ponderosa pines.
Their canopy shields us from moon or star light.
Does each of us greet you as friend, as I do?
There is a soft gentleness,
a peace in the blanket you fold over us.
We are all silent together,
as sleep overtakes and
I bid you welcome.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Ponderings on Slower is Better

This summer has been delightfully slow, deliberate and full of things and people I love.
 I finally finished a little book I picked up entitled Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. The book was published in 1955 after the author spent a short vacation in a small beach house on a Florida island by herself. The book has a lot to say about slowing down and incorporating simplicity into our everyday lives. There are many jewels in this book, but in her last chapter I found real inspiration.
A rather lengthy quote from her last chapter:
"My life back in Connecticut, I begin to realize, lacks the quality of significance and therefore of beauty, because there is so little empty space. The space is scribbled on, the time has been filled. There are so few empty pages in my engagement pad, or empty hours in the day, or empty rooms in my life in which to stand alone and find myself. Too many activities, and people, and things. Too many worthy activities, valuable things and interesting people. For it is not merely the trivial which clutters our lives but the important as well. We can have a surfeit of treasures.... Here on this island I have had space. Paradoxically, in this limited area, space has been forced upon me. The geographical boundaries, the physical limitations, the restrictions on communication, have enforced a natural selectivity. There are not too many activities or things or people, and each one, I find, is significant, set apart in the frame of sufficient time and space. Here there is time, time to be quiet, time to work without pressure, time to think, time to watch the heron. Time to look at the stars or to study a shell, time to see friends, to gossip, to laugh, to talk. Time, even, not to talk. At home, when I meet my friends in those cubby-holed hours, time is so precious we feel we must cram every available instant with conversation. We can not afford the luxury of silence."
"When I go back home, will I be submerged again?..... Not only by distractions but by too many opportunities? Not only by dull people but by too many interesting ones? The multiplicity of the world will crowd in on me again with its false sense of values. Values weighed in quantity, not quality; in speed, not stillness; in noise, not silence; in words, not in thoughts; in acquisitiveness, not beauty. How shall I resist the onslaught? How shall I remain whole against the strains and stresses? For the natural selectivity of island living I will have to substitute a conscious selectivity based on another sense of values.... signposts toward another way of living. Simplicity of living, as much as possible, to retain a true awareness of life. Balance of physical, intellectual and spiritual life. Work without pressure, and space for significance and beauty. Time for solitude and sharing. Closeness to nature to strengthen understanding and faith in the intermittency of life and human relationships.
I have had time this summer to re-evaluate where I am in my slowing down process. After retiring from work, I was plunged into a dizzying round of caring for my sick and aging parents. No time for deliberate living, for thinking or solitude. Sometimes life is like that and we cling to Jesus for a lamp unto our way. But since my parents passed away ten years ago things have been a bit muddled. I have read that women my age struggle with finding a new purpose in life, of being needed. (Probably men too if retired). It's so easy to become addicted to 'accomplishing things', and I have a tendency to do that each day and then measure the days worth by that yardstick. That yardstick is not found in scripture however, but it makes me feel more fulfilled somehow. There are certainly good and worthy things to fill our days with, different for each woman and personality and circumstance. But the key is the slowing down mentality, to release the stress and pressure and evaluate our days by God's measure not ours. I also think this concept varies greatly depending on where you live. The city is the worst, and living there increases the speed of life tremendously. We live in what I would call a mini-city, not in size but in mentality. Bend wishes it were a big city in many ways, and people are streaming here to live, so that might happen some day. The stresses here are much the same as in city living. I think the smaller and more rural the town is the slower the pace of life. Isn't that the true attraction of country living? Certainly not the back breaking work that accompanies living on a farm or ranch. In my own case, I have taken a break this summer from teaching piano, and have found a great freedom. That doesn't mean that I shouldn't resume my schedule this fall, (with the goal of helping more people learn the language of music), but the summertime space and time to think about these concepts, will give me more focused and hopefully God-honoring days, work without pressure, and time for simplicity and solitude as well. I won't get everything done, but that is a lesson I need to learn, just as much as the woman who needs to learn to get more done. Isn't it wonderful how God keeps on teaching us and leading us towards lives lived for His Glory and Honor?
*A point of clarification:  There are concepts in this book that I don't agree with, so read with your discerning glasses on for the nuggets of wisdom.

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Poem Shared

This is a drawing our grandson (and Julie's son) Samuel sent to the insurance man for Father's Day. It is a Native American arrowhead, submerged in a stream. It came along with an original poem that Sam wrote for his Papa. I asked him for permission to share it here.

"Here he lies, the old arrowhead
who sits undisturbed
on the quiet creek bed.
Through sun, moon and stars
his path has led.
When he was  young he used to fly
like some bird of death,
high into the sky.
Though from the day he was lost
he was made here to lie.
But now without knowing it
a hope he has got
though lies he abandoned
he lies not unsought,
because we remember the battles he fought."
Samuel Jones 
June 2014