In the Biblical story of Ruth, so important that it is contained in its own Book we learn of a wise lady who undertook a journey with her daughters in law to her Old Country. They were all widowed and the economy and law dictated that they could not maintain their own household but must remarry within the Tribe for support and home.
This was tricky business. Not all men wanted to be hubby and baby daddy to an additional family, but Naomi knew the rules and she schooled her charges in the manners. There came a point in the journey where the young ladies were at the point of no turning back. Ruth declared to Naomi
Your people shall be my people, thy God shall be my God and where thou diest, there shall I be buried.
There came a point in my mother’s life where she adopted such a declaration in her heart to her beloved Foster Mother Naomi Martin. I don’t know the words she might have used but I know that they were seated in deep gratitude and a kind of love and hope mom hadn’t experienced.
Mary Alice Robison was the oldest of a large family. Country folks, near Clearspring MD, her dad worked on the Railroad and her mom raised her kids with a wooden spoon. Mary got up to stuff and ended up in a girls home, the old timey version of juvenile hall. Her boyfriend Raymond Henson married her at this young age and assumed the legal responsibility for her instead of her parents. I don’t know what their life was like but looking at photos and hearing stories we can figure they were rather poor. Mom was their second child and by 1957, just five years later the youngest of seven was born.
Times were hard. Salvation Army provided Christmas gifts for the family. Toys beyond the hopes of little Jeannie like a bicycle and a doll. Just how poor? Jeannie’s bike was soon sold for bill money.
Our family did not celebrate Christmas. Partly because it was simply a Catholic Holiday with no sound theological underpinnings and partly to avoid the worldly and wasteful gift giving and spending.
Every year mom went to the toy store and bought a beautiful doll and gave it to The Salvation Army gift drive. I don’t recall ever thinking this was wrong odd that mom participated in something we forbade. There are necessities in the lives of little children that must not be held back just so adults may look right to their friends. Not only was my mom showing her thankfulness for that doll way back in the 1950’s but she was teaching me that little children deserve a doll to love and it’s our job to make sure they get one.
Mom moved from her Mother Mary in 1963 and began living with her new mom, Elva Martin a young farmers wife. Elva is from an era where feelings took such a back seat to hard work and thrift that there’s almost not a vocabulary for emotion. I know Elva loved mom. I can tell by her loss for words when she thinks about her being gone so young.
Catherine Martin played the role of mom for a short while. They were always friendly but I think mom’s illness and other factors prevented a close bond.
Naomi Martin became mom for the rest of her life. The love, attention and promises in that new family gave Jeannie a break. They told her that where they went on a trip, she went. And that they would be her family as long as she wanted.
With Mom Martin my mother found a guide. A trustworthy companion and a grandmother for her children.
Naomi Martin is still doing what she promised. It was 8 years after my mother passed and I was trying to figure out what to do with the business and property dad had just left behind. I went to Grandmother and in just a few sentences clearly mapped the steps I must take and the reasoning behind it. It took a while to discover just how much money Grandmother had invested in our family and business and she trusted us to handle it wisely. Not once did she push an agenda of her own.
Grandmother Martin was a ministers wife and a good one. She knew all the sins and sorrows of the church people but never betrayed once. She did not repeat gossip and does not say unkind things.
A few years back I was visiting Naomi when she brought up a sensitive topic. Church. Most people from my childhood church did not discuss religious matters with me. They knew they blew it. Blew that one bad so they didn’t pretend otherwise. But she wanted to know. After listening to my stories of why I felt like I belonged in the little church, she nodded and smiled. Then grandmother did the unthinkable.
I am sorry that things happened like they did when you were young. I don’t understand why they treated you like that and it was left to go on. We have a different ministry now and our church is filling up.
The thing we must do is leave the past in the past and not live only looking back. We must look forward.
In that short chat grandmother did more to lift the curse of abuse and emotional sickness. I felt it was an apology on behalf of the whole congregation and took it that way, The wisdom older ladies is profound and too often overloooked.
Mom kept her vow to the Martins. We worshiped at that little church through ups and downs – eras of new rules. Many times as a teen I would plead with my parents to go somewhere else, away from what was essentially bullshit. Mom stayed even though in the end jaws of that monster of hatred and lust for power turned to her and began to tear her life and family apart.
Dad left the church after that but the family ties went deep. I always felt a little odd claiming Maurice and Naomi as grandparents. Obviously they weren’t – and they were well off, well known people. I carried the notes of a hangers on. I got to understand that deep love that created this family when dad died.
At the end of the funeral after the congregation had left the building our family gathered around the casket to say farewell and close the lid on our dad’s body. I was not mourning the loss of dad and preferred not to even be in proximity so I pushed grand mother’s wheelchair up. She stood up and kissed dad’s face. Weeping, oh John my son. I can’t believe you got to go first. Grandmother had lost a beloved son. I stood there observing this and realized I had no idea of the depths of longtime relationships, What it will be like to loose a friend of 40 years. Safely behind the buffer of this kind and loving lady I followed dad out of the Churcb. Nobody but I knew that I had promised him that he’d never see me again because I’d not be the black sheep anymore. He had to carry his own sins and I would not lie to hide them anymore.
I don’t know what all Mom Martin knew. She always kept her mouth shut