My great, great, grandmother, Ora Walker, was born April 6, 1891 in Brownsville, TN. She died September 28, 1971 in Kewanee, IL. She came north to Kewanee possibly sometime between 1925-1931, after leaving her first husband, Charley Hess, with whom she had 7 children, 5 of which died in the influenza plague of 1917. She later married Jimmy Walker. She ended up burying her one remaining daughter two years before she herself passed away.
I am inspired by her strength and perseverance, given the incredible struggles and sorrows which she endured. She was a woman of devout faith, and held on to that faith amidst her tribulations.
Following is the story that I wrote about her. (Names have been changed.)
“By and by…”
Monica J. Brown ©2012
By and by, when the morning comes,
all the saints of God will gather home,
we’re going to tell the story of how we’ve overcome,
and we will understand it better by and by.
(excerpt from hymnal by Charles A. Tindley, 1905)
By and by… Cause Lord knows I don’t understand it all right now. I’ve got a question in my heart, but I’ll let it rest there for now as I ponder the word. And I’m sure that the pastor will preach an edifying sermon on Sunday morning. I’ll be there bright and early and ready to hear what the spirit has to say. I’ve got my tan hat and my cream gabardine suit laid out, starched, pressed and ready.
Tomorrow is fourth Sunday. The 4th Sunday dinner with the saints is one of my most treasured times in the house of the Lord. I’ve washed and pressed the linens for the table setting. The silverware is polished, and the menu prepared. The other sisters will make their contributions. This month, Sister Bethel is gonna bake the chickens and make the dressing. Mother Mayfield will make the coleslaw and corn muffins. Sister Ray is doing the mashed potatoes and gravy. Sister Allen will bake the sweet potato pies. I’ll bring the ham and beans. Yes, YES! It’s gonna be a nice Sunday dinner.
In the summertime I gather beans in fresh from my garden. I like to sit out on my front porch in the open air to snap them. The snapping sounds like a song once I settle into my rhythm. Sometimes I sing along, just a little hum. Makes the work go faster, too.
One day at a time, and summer will soon come. Last night’s spring shower felt like a cleansing and washing away of the last of winter. And my daffodils are starting to peek their heads out from the moist, thawing earth. I enjoy gardening: the sowing and the reaping. But for now, dried beans will have to do. There’s a little pleasure in sorting those, too, though. I like moving through to weed out the ones that are blemished, or cracked and not whole. Sometimes I find a small clump of dirt or a pebble in the mix. It helps me meditate on the Good Word… separating the wheat from the chaff.
Although… there is a threshing in that. Chaff doesn’t just easily fall away. It’s a cloak, that conceals. First, it must go through a tribulation.
Lord knows I go through mine. We’ve all got our struggles and plenty of reasons to be discontent should we so choose. I do get weary sometimes. Been standing on my feet all day, cleaning for the Parkers. I’m thankful for the work, but my feet hurt something terrible. And this bunion is like to make me want to stay in my seat. But I will give praise when the spirit moves. I will find joy where there’s joy to be found. I will stand in the sight of the Lord and sing his praises daily. Lord, daily. Because I know his grace is sufficient.
But, there’s still this question in my heart. And one that I’ve been pondering for a while. I just can’t understand why some folks seem to find joy in giving me grief. And some of those folks will be sitting on the pews with me on tomorrow morning. Lord a mercy. And they will jump and shout and sing “hallelujah.” They’ll testify of redemption and saving grace and making it through. And as soon as their feet find the other side of that church door, they’ll jump right in with the devil, creating strife. And some of them won’t even wait until they leave the church. Tell me, what’s the meaning of all that?
Those folks want to judge me for leaving my husband. But as I stand before God, I’d rather pick with the chickens than stay with someone who won’t give me the same respect that he expects of me. He sure thought he could get way with messin’ around with that floozy next door. Thought he was so smooth and stealthy about his business.
I remember… it was a beautiful, brisk, sunny spring morning – a day just like today. I was sitting at my kitchen table enjoying a cup of coffee, (fresh cream, no sugar) when I thought I heard something whispering in my ear telling me to draw my shades open. Right now. Why should I draw those shades right now? Don’t matter none if I get up and do it in the next five minutes, the sun will still be shining. I do like to let the morning light in to feel the fresh start of the new day, but that was not the particular moment that I felt like moving. But I listened to that something and got on up anyway.
And child, didn’t I see that trifling woman next door drawing her shades closed at the same time. My friend. Louisa. And my man, smooth and sweet as he was, standing right there next to her. Made up my mind right then and there to pack my bags and leave.
Me and that man… Don’t you know we survived the death of five of our children during the influenza. Made it through that epidemic with our own lives, and only two of our beautiful children. You’d think that that grief would’ve sealed us in love forever; but the sleight of a scheming friend slices swift and deep like a hot knife through butter. I had to let the both of them go to keep my wits about me.
There are definitely a few good friends and family who have stood by me through hell and high water; but if even but a one of those folks who want to pass judgment now had been there to help support me through any of those losses, I might give heed to their opinions. So, regardless of what they may think of me, I hold my head up high when I enter those church doors. ‘Cause I know my heart is free of malice. And I know for sure that it wouldn’t be had I stayed with him.
(She begins humming “by and by”…)