Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Personal Peace (06/01/06)
- TITLE: Willow Baskets and Poetry Books
By Marty Wellington
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Her presence was a constant at our home for family dinners and all holidays. Though my dad’s family was very large, she was our closest relative. Each time she arrived, she tottered in toting one of her ancient willow baskets burdened down with fresh cut flowers, strawberry preserves, apple butter, and many times an ancient book of poetry for me. Her generosity outshone her contagious smile. Since my grandparents were no longer alive, Mattie’s joyful spirit helped fill a special place in my heart.
Unbeknownst to me at the time, our small family of three filled a similar gap for Mattie. We became the family that had been denied her. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I learned of her tremendous loss and subsequent triumph over adversities. Looking back, I sometimes wish I could have been a witness to that part of her life so I would be better equipped to deal with death. Now as an adult, I am proud to say I shared life with this special cousin and I learned more from her than she would ever realize.
Mattie’s great-grandfather, my great-great grandfather, immigrated to the Missouri River country in 1840. He settled his family on the high bluffs overlooking the Missouri River not far from the military outpost at Ft. Osage. The farm ground was fertile; musty woods birthed elusive morels; and cattle dined on verdant pastures. Charles Stewart carved out a successful farming enterprise that prospered through the Civil War, the Industrial Age, and the Great Depression. The Stewart farm became a showcase in the county. It was into this idyllic setting that Mattie and her sister, Nellie, and two brothers, Cisco and Frank, were born in the late 1800s.
The Stewarts were a close family, devoted to the land and their faith. Nellie and Mattie pursued their love of learning by becoming teachers. Frank and Cisco stayed close to home, never to marry, for farming was their first love.
In 1914, Mattie married and she and Bill Smith enjoyed a quiet life in the country for three decades with their horses and fruit trees. Together they survived World War I, the Stock Market Crash, and World War II. Throughout these years, though, no children arrived to complete their family. Then, within the short span of a year, Mattie lost nearly all that was dear to her. First, her husband was found dead in a hotel room in Iowa while traveling alone on a business trip.
Initially, she found solace in her siblings, her farm, and her God, but before she could mourn the anniversary of her husband’s death, she faced the loss of both her brothers and her sister to heart disease. While she dealt with funeral arrangements for each of her closest relatives, what must she have been thinking? How could God have seized all she held dear and tossed it away so carelessly, so quickly?
Wading through the details of farming, land management, and housework were overwhelming to her for many years. The only thing that kept her from surrendering to her heartache was her faith in a God who was real and consistent throughout the turbulence of her circumstances.
By the time I knew her, when I was a little girl, she was in her seventies and a zest for living to its fullest could be seen in every aspect of her life. She traveled around the world in the 1960s—experiencing the Great Pyramids and drinking Darjeeling in India. She savored life in every way. She was an honored member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, an active member of a local poetry club, and a faithful worker at her United Methodist church.
As I reflect on Mattie’s countenance, some twenty years after she died, I remember a delicate, refined woman of God—joyous and robust. A woman who found true contentment through some of life’s most tumultuous storms.
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