Thursday, July 22, 2010

Martha


(Written in 2010 and updated for the 200th anniversary of Martha's birth: August 10, 2017)

Years ago, on one of my visits to Alvechurch, a friend gave me a great treasure; a little book, the story of a woman who lived in the village all of her life and loved it so much that she could not be away without becoming unbearably homesick.

The tiny book was written after she died in 1904 in her 87th year, by one of her many friends, so that her memory would not die. On the fly leaf it says simply:

 The Story of Martha

Written for her Neighbours and Friends

And there is a quote:
A good heart is the sun and the moon; or rather the sun, and not the moon,--for it shines bright, and never changes, but keeps his course truly

I wonder if the writer of the 27 page booklet ever imagined that 113 years later, a copy would sit upon a bookshelf on another continent, greatly treasured among other books of history.

And I wonder how many others visit her grave, as I do whenever I return to the village, and think of the fine soul whose mortal remains lie beneath the green grass, but who has long ago soared to the One whose character she represented so well.

I love the book because the writer describes the village as it was in the early eighteen hundreds and mentions in passing, villagers about whom I have snippets of information from other sources. It is fascinating to piece together tiny scraps of information about people that lived in the village long ago. Of no great worldly importance, I love to think about and remember them. It is also fascinating to read of the roles people played in the life of a village and how the villagers took care of their own.

Martha's mother Molly, who was hearing impaired, was abandoned, with her large family of children, by her husband, when Martha was small. He was never heard from again. Molly survived by doing laundry for others, starting the wash at nearby Lea End farm at 3.00 in the morning, winter and summer, after walking along dark roads for 2 miles.

She brought her children up to be honest and hardworking, and Martha, never having the luxury of attending school, began her life work as a servant, early. One of her places of service was with a Mrs Wainwright who kept a Dame School, a private form of elementary school. There Martha picked up reading, although writing was a "sealed mystery" to her all her life.

She worked for a Mrs. Davis for 30 years, and did have one brief chance at love during this period, although he was never spoken of by name. Martha simply said of him to someone, "He saw a prettier face, my dear." She wasn't sorry, she said, for if he was "that sort" she was better off without him.

When Mrs. Davis died, Martha was no longer young herself, and the old lady whom she had given her life to serve, left very little as a bequest and most of that was lost by the carelessness of the lawyer dealing with it. But Martha was not one to waste time on bitterness.

Martha survived in a little cottage by selling things, making and selling toffee, looking after children (who considered it a great treat to be in her care for a day) and by taking in a lodger.

All along she was becoming a beloved friend to all who knew her, young and old.

People gravitated to her cottage, often to share the latest news and listen to her stories of the past. Everyone knew this of her, though:
She was pleased to hear it all, although if anyone chanced, thoughtlessly, to repeat to her a piece of unkind gossip or scandal, it would be cut short by a very decided, " Thank you--that'll do!"

In her old age...Martha's homely kitchen was never far from the light of that Earthly Paradise (being thankfully and humbly at one with the blessed Will of God.) And so people went there with their troubles and their happiness, or the little affairs of everyday life. Now it would be a bride on her wedding day, running in at the last to let Martha look at her dress. Next it would be someone who wanted to pour out a grief or a difficulty...Whoever came or went, Martha was...happy herself, and making others happier...

Martha was born on August 10, 1817--the feast day of St. Lawrence, the saint after which the village church is named. She died on May 26th, 1904.

Her quiet, humble life affected the life of many others for good.  She loved to recite poems she had memorized and this is her special favourite, "taken from some newspaper clipping."

Religion is to do and say
The kindest things in the kindest way,
To follow truth, whatever it be,
Be nothing but sincerity.

Religion is the golden rule
Which we should practice in life's school;
'Tis not all doctrine or all creed,
But giving love to those in need

A kind and sympathetic heart,
In joy or sorrow to take a part.
If each obey his inward light
And do as conscience says is right

The world will then not go far wrong,
For God will guide us all day long;
He'll teach each soul its duty clear,
We need but disobeying, fear.

Were we religious, we should know
Our paths were not for all to go;
Each has his individual light
To show what work for him is right.

Matthew 5:16 (New International Version)
16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
(From the Daily Light for August 10th, Martha's birthday)

2 comments:

Dave Hingsburger said...

I love the posts about Alvechurch and miss your family stories. How wonderful it must be to have your friends cobble together a book so you wouldn't be forgotten. How shocked she would be that her life is now virtually immortal!

Brave Raven said...

Beautiful Tribute!!