As important as the stories told about us are the early things we remember and the stories that we tell about our families. The Macys were Sabbath Keepers. So were most of their neighbors. Since no stores were open it was not hard to not buy on the Sabbath. There really no public entertainments to be had, so refraining from them was not hard. The only thing to refrain from was work, so farm chores were kept to the essential care of the livestock. Children played quietly, if at all. And church was attended; Sunday School, worship and Evening Worship, which was another preaching service much like the morning one. At home, Bibles were read and hymns played on the piano. Food was mostly cooked the day before and enjoyed at family tables. People stayed in their best clothes all day, and often paid visits to family and neighbors. The Macy children had one tale they told about Sabbath Keeping. It told you everything you needed to know about their father. It went like this.
Out at the end of the lane, Harlan kept a chalkboard. On it he posted any extra produce or supplies that he had for sale. His prices were fair and his produce and stock were always quality. Folks noticed what he put on his board. One Sunday a man stopped by the farm during the afternoon rest period and asked for Harlan. The board said that there were lambs for sale. Harlan took the man out to the barn and let him inspect the lambs. The man offered him his asking price for the lot of them. Harlan said that he would be happy to promise them to him, but that being as it was Sunday, he could not take any money or let the man take the lambs. He would have to come back on Monday. The man was put out, and thought it an attempt to get a better price. He hemmed and hawed and raised his offer just a bit. Harlan stood firm. He was not selling any lambs on the Lord’s Day, - it was unscriptural. The man left angry and didn’t come back.
Now, being the depression, Harlan could have used that cash. It was a hard loss. The man was not a neighbor or a Friend, all of his neighbors and Friends had plenty of lambs and little cash just like he did. No one would have known if he made that sale, but his own children, and his own conscience, and his Lord. Harlan was an immovable object when it came to the Sabbath. A couple of children thought to themselves that perhaps dad should have taken the money. Harlan did not give it another thought.
Come Monday, mid-day, another stranger rolled up the lane. Two strangers in two days was a noticeable event. This man was also interested in lambs. He thought the lambs in question were excellent quality and without prompting or negotiation offered a higher price than the best price of the previous day. Harlan sold those lambs. And at the supper table read to his children about Sabbath Keeping and God’s abundant provision for those who follow His precepts. The children took the lesson in somewhere deep and were telling the story 70 years later.
photo wikicommons(Glasford Illinois)
We are our histories.
The stories we tell ourselves and the stories that are told about us.
Most of us, if we think about it, can come up with our earliest clear memory. It usually comes from our third to fifth year of life.
Just as interesting is the first story that is told about us. This story may come from our babyhood, even the pregnancy that held us. But the best ones are the stories that encapsulate our nascent personality. Our family tells them as retrospective evidence of what they believe about us. And when they are told about us in our presence while we are still growing they shape who we become. Such powers stories have.
Charlotte's parents were long gone before I started collecting these stories. But I was able to spend some good time with her brother Mahlon.
Mahlon and Charlotte were buddies.
Her whole life, they were close. He was two years older in a family of nine children. He watched her as often her as her mother did. For the first few years of life they slept at opposite ends of the same old iron bed. They knew each others' nightmares. He made her toys. They learned the children's games together - kick the can, rolling a barrel hoop with a stick.
And the the first story of Charlotte was told to me by the last person alive to remember it. It is a story of adventure, of temptation, crime and punishment.
And it goes like this...
"We were little, preschoolers really. And we took it into our heads to leave the farm without asking and walk the mile or two to our Aunt Huldah's. Aunt Huldah made the BEST cookies. At an opportune moment we lit out. Holding hands and walking fast we made it the best part of a mile before we were caught. I don't believe we were spanked, but mother did tether us to an outdoor table for most of the afternoon so that she could get some work done."
Because Mahlon lived to old age, and Charlotte did not, he got to be the historian. It is probably more his story than hers. Odds are he was the instigator. But she was his partner in crime. She was a good person to have around if you were trying to pull off something bold. And she would do the time with you as well as the crime. The first story is one of risk-taking and comraderie.
Didn't pay off that day.
But that didn't even slow her down.
The Root Stock
Harlan and Clara Macy had nine children in 20 years. Baby Howard died in infancy, the rest made it to adulthood. Losing one in nine was about par for the course, many lost more.
They considered themselves to be stewards. They practiced stewardship in every area of their lives. We have only an echo of this attitude. For younger readers, think about the Tolkien story. The steward runs the kingdom in trust until the return of the King. This was not a metaphor for the Macys or their Quaker kin. They believed they held everything in trust from a Christ who would imminently return and that an accounting would be made. The land and all its produce was held in trust. Health and physical strength was a trust. The children were given by God to be raised for God - you fostered your own children. They owned nothing, but took care of it all. They attempted to run all by God's precepts.
This attitude pervaded every area of their life. On one corner of their 80 acre farm sat the two room schoolhouse to educate the community's children. They tithed their land as well as their money.
Harlan was known as an especially good steward. He worked hard and smart. He saved some of whatever cash came through his hands. He gave ten percent and more to the work of the church. But that was not God's share - it was all God's - that was the share that God wanted to be given to the church. Harlan was the man you went to if you needed a loan. He loaned freely, without interest, to members of the community, because this is what the Bible said to do. And because of the respect he had in that community he almost always got his money back.
Clara was the nurturer. She had an easy laugh and a forgiving nature. She did all the hard work that farm wives did while bearing those 9 children. She cooked on a wood stove for most of that time. Once Charlotte and young Hazel McIndoo, (then a friend and neighbor, one day to become a sister-in-law,) were left with the task of preparing food for some Iowa relatives about to arrive. Clara had business out of the house. Charlotte and Hazel stoked up the stove unaware that Clara had left one of her shoes in the cooling oven to dry out. When the aroma of their food suddenly seemed off, they checked all the compartments of the old giant. They had cooked Clara's shoe to ruination. A shoe was a valuable, cash paid for, object during the great depression most women owned no more than two pair. But Clara neither punished nor scolded the girls when she arrived home to grave faces and apologies. Young stewards were imperfect and Grace was God's way, and so grace was applied.