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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 1 – Beginner)
Topic: Uncles/Aunts (04/17/08)

TITLE: The Unassuming Witness
By Judy Watters


The Unassuming Witness
Great Aunt Florence…Grandpa’s sister. Even her name described her character. Born in 1889, Great Aunt Florence was already “old” when I was born. The story goes that she was once in love, but her parents convinced her that she was needed on the farm and so she stayed with her aging parents. When her parents died, she was past the age of desiring a husband. Instead, she moved to Chicago and sold books. Not just any books. Aunt Florence had a love for children and children’s literature. So for the rest of her life she sold Childcraft. That was before World Book Encyclopedia and Childcraft merged. Aunt Florence was one of the first women hired to walk the streets of Chicago knocking on doors to sell the children’s books to stay-at-home moms.

Whenever Aunt Florence came for a visit, she would try to sell our whole town these “nuggets of joy and learning” as she called the books. My father was always a little annoyed with her walking “our” streets with her books. But he also noted the passion she had for the educational necessity that the books possessed. Yes, we owned a set…we were probably Aunt Florence’s first customer in Wellsboro.

But there was more to Aunt Florence than an assertive sales woman. I looked forward to her visits. She read non-stop and with an avid audience such as I was, she read with great enthusiasm. She had a very soft voice…so soft I had to strain to hear her. The emotion that she put into every character brought each one jumping out of the pages. The poor grandmother who Heidi would visit when she went to take the goats out with Peter…I could see that poor grandmother in her bed. I could also see the rich crippled girl who so wanted a friend and found that friend in Heidi. Bob White and his family of quails running across the field to escape the fox produced a huge lump in my throat.

Every Christmas I knew I would receive a book from Aunt Florence…and they were all different genre. My first biographies came from her. George Washington, Abe Lincoln and George Washington Carver were some of my favorites. But when she read Florence Nightingale, I thought that nurse must have been the most gracious and kind woman in the whole world. Aunt Florence softly and courageously brought Florence Nightingale to life for me. She also taught me the lines that Longfellow penned about her:
Lo! in that hour of misery
A lady with a lamp I see
Pass through the glimmering gloom,
And flit from room to room.

Certain books like Ben Hur brought excitement to her voice. It was amazing how that trembling voice could sound so fierce and yet continue to be soft. It was Aunt Florence who introduced me to Nancy Drew and Spin and Marty. She didn’t read all the books to me…we sometimes shared in the reading and sometimes she would just bring the book to me and ask me to read it so we could talk about it on her next visit.

She brought my first prayer book to me. It was full of beautiful pictures and children’s prayers. Aunt Florence spoke about the Lord as though she really knew Him. This was when her voice got the softest and even sparkled a bit as though there was something exciting about Him. Sometimes she would close her eyes just thinking about her friend, Jesus. I never knew just what to do at those times. But when she had left, I would pretend that I was Aunt Florence and try to see Jesus and talk to Him too as she did.

By the time I had my own children, I had met Jesus and knew what Aunt Florence was feeling. I tried to mirror her reading style with my children, but I know I failed miserably. My voice was never that soft and exciting. But I like to think that a little bit of Aunt Florence came through and was evidenced by my little ones so that Aunt Florence’s testimony will never pass away.

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This article has been read 458 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Julie Paulsen04/24/08
Growing up in the 1950's and 60's I remember a set of Childcraft books in our house. I loved the green bindings, going from dark to light.

However, I didn't have a special person to read them to me. Instead I mostly read them to my younger siblings. Nice read, took me back!
Marlene Austin04/25/08
Glowing tribute to an aunt with an interesting lifestyle. Thanks for sharing.
Debbie Wistrom04/25/08
Thanks for introducing me to a grat lady. Your writing made it real to me. Keep up the good words.
Joanne Sher 04/26/08
Your descriptions are so vivid and characterization so rich, that I feel like I really got to know Aunt Florence. A lovely piece.
Janice Cartwright05/01/08
Judy, your character, Aunt Florence, popped off the page and I loved the way you wove interesting tidbits about children's literature into your story. At our house it was Lands and Peoples I pulled off the shelves flanking the fireplace, but I do remember Childcraft also. Thanks for great read.