Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Through my Kitchen Window
“Now in Joppa there was a certain disciple named Dorcas; this woman was abounding with deeds of kindness and charity, which she continually did. And it came about that she fell sick and died… [and after Peter was summoned to her bedside] …they brought him into the upper room; and all the widows stood beside him weeping and showing him all the tunics and garments that Dorcas used to make while she was with them.”
My mother was born in rural North Carolina in a small wooden house her father built. He was a farmer with only a 3rd grade education. He supported his wife, 4 children, and 2 old maid aunts with the money he earned working in a textile mill and from the sale of the crops he grew on his farm. My mother’s two older brothers quit school after 6th grade in order to work in the mills and help support the family. My mom (Alice) was the first person in her family to ever graduate from high school.
After high school, Alice attended a nursing school at a nearby hospital. While there, she met my father, Keith. He was a young medical student whose father and grandfather had also been doctors. He was smitten by this tall slim brunette with deep blue eyes. As their relationship developed, the time came for him to meet her family.
My grandfather was beside himself with worry as he stood next to Alice, waiting rather impatiently for Keith’s bus to arrive. He was embarrassed by his humble home which still did not have indoor plumbing. He told her, “That young doctor will take one look at this place and turn around and leave – and never come back!” Alice’s response was, “Well, if he does, then he’s not the man I want anyway!”
I have always loved that story. And I have always loved my mother’s determination and can do attitude. There is no task too difficult for my mother to at least attempt it.
Alice learned to sew as a teenager. Luxuries were rare and money for extra clothes was non existent. But, feed for the cows came in pretty cotton prints which people often used as cloth for new clothes. Alice was no exception. She eagerly learned how to sew; making new dresses for her younger sister and herself. Thus began a life of sewing garments for others. She sewed my wedding dress as well as my sisters’ wedding dresses and her own. This talent came in very handy when my family lived in Nigeria.
One of my missionary aunts told me recently of a special outfit my mom had sewed for her while in Nigeria. Marie had to leave Nigeria with her family quite suddenly due to an illness. She spoke to Alice just a couple of days before she left the mission station. Marie lamented the fact that the only outfit she had to travel in was the one she wore when she came to Nigeria many years earlier. The material was worn and the fit was no longer quite right, but it was all she had. A complaint like that was like throwing red meat in front of a hungry animal – Alice was all over it! She pulled out patterns, material, and a tape measure that she had stored away. Some of the cloth was thicker than that typically worn in tropical Africa. It was perfect for international travel back to a colder climate. Alice worked all through the night and her friend Marie wore a lovely new outfit a few days later as she boarded the plane for the US.
Of all the things my mother has ever sewn, perhaps her greatest challenge came while in Nigeria, with the death of a fellow missionary, Dr. Connell Smith. Dr. Smith was a surgeon at the hospital where both of my parents worked. He was a friend and colleague in the workplace to my mother and was an especially close friend to my father. His death was sudden – the result of an automobile accident. His service and burial were at the hospital chapel. The hospital carpenter made a casket for him out of local wood and my mother sewed its lining out of soft blue satin material that she had brought with her to Nigeria.
My mom told me once that when she saw the blue satin material in a fabric store while on furlough in the US, it caught her eye. She felt sort of silly buying it and packing it in the crates destined for Nigeria. She kept thinking there would never be any reason to use the material. After all, who needed an elegant blue satin dress in rural Africa in the 1960’s? But something seemed to compel her – almost like God was telling her she would be using this material in Nigeria for a very special event.
And so it was that the rough casket, made by the skillful hands of a Nigerian carpenter who loved Dr. Smith was padded and lined by the equally skillful hands of my mother – a woman who also loved him. Dr. Smith, who lost his life in the foreign country where God had called him, was laid to rest beneath the African soil that he loved with the help of people who loved him.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom!!
“And her children will rise up and bless her…”