Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Guest blogger this week is: Mary Helen

My Great-Aunt

One thing I loved about my great-aunt Martha Pearsall was her perseverance.
If you had asked her about it, she probably would not have thought it meant her, but it did.

She was born in 1892, the only daughter in her family. She had four brothers, one of whom was my grand-father. She had lived through World Wars I and II, Vietnam,
The Great Depression, and who knows how many hurricanes. They were known as “great blows” to her or bad storms. It was in later days that they were called hurricanes.

She dated some, but never got married. She planned to marry a salesman, but her family put a stop to that. She took care of her parents until they died in the 30s of cancer. She then lived with her brother James Franklin. His wife died in 1938 of a cerebral hemorrhage and she helped raise his family.

She saw many changes in her life, but she lived life as it came. She had had malaria as a child and occasionally had relapsed. That meant days of laying and taking it easy although she continued to cook for herself. She was a great cook and could cook ham hocks, fresh vegetablea, or canned or frozen ones like fresh tomatoes and turnip greens.

She was a good gardener and loved her plants. I would help her garden, hoe trenches, and then later see the seeds that grew wonderful dahlias, zinnias, poppies, etc. She taught me flower arranging and to appreciate them. With five kids, our family had few flowers. I also helped her hoe her regular garden and bring in items. I even helped her wash clothes the old fashioned way, with running the clothes through the wringer and boiling water.

She had an arsenal of old National Geographic’s and Reader's Digests. I spent many afternoons after school reading in her living room while she cooked dinner, which I usually sampled some of. She occasionally made a great orange, apple salad and a black walnut cake. She cracked the nuts with a hammer to get to the insides. It was difficult to do with their thick skins.

Aunt Martha lived with the furniture, house hold goods, and other things she inherited. She enjoyed reading and kept up to date on things. She had strong opinions on a few things. She had a sense of history and had photos and letters from civil-war dates on, which I often read and looked at. She got me interested in history.

I never heard her complain of her life. She stayed in the present. She was appreciative of any help she got, but she also gave to others---her wisdom, her love of flowers, her help to others, like me, a loner, in need of a safe place to explore and learn.

With all she had seen, she continued to live each day, doing what needed to be done, and passed that heritage on to others and myself.

She taught herself to sew at age 30, made clothes that remained classics. She fixed her hair each night, brushing its long length even up to her death; occasionally washing it when it was warm enough she could sit and let it hang lose and get done. She waited patiently for it to dry as she waited patiently for someone to repair something. She knew things did not often happen quickly.

Patience and perseverance marked her. She had a few questions of faith and did not see herself as one who had all the answers. Yet she continued on and on until her 97th year. The last two of which were spent in a nursing home, where she had her garden growing outside her room.

Aunt Martha was a special person in my life. Now, I wonder how she did it. She did it because she had to, it was what happened, it was life. Life was to be lived through. I once asked her about World War II and she told me about the rationing of things like sugar and material for clothes. That was the way it was. You just did what you had to do, no whining no complaining.

She even took care of an unknown sailor's parrot (green South African) for years, knowing he would not return for it. Soldiers camped on the church lawn across from her home waiting to be shipped to Europe from Wilmington. Of course, my great-uncle's teenage and college daughters were attractive and next to the house was his general store. Censored letters to and from soldiers by the girls were to be found in one of their rooms.

Her home was a treasure trove, her life was too, although she would never have claimed any fame or seen herself as a beloved character in my life story and others. I am thankful to have known her and hope I learned from her those same characteristics--living simply, taking life as it is, trusting God for what I do not understand, bringing some beauty and balance into the world, not questioning, but having faith, continuing on till the Lord calls me home.

I had the privilege of singing In the Garden at her funeral. I knew she had entered her final garden, the one with her Lord, and I was comforted.

~ Mary Helen Pearsall

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