Here’s a re-issue of a story from One o’the Nine, first published here in Wintersong July 3, 2008. It’s not marked so I’m not absolutely certain which uncle was the author, but it was probably written by the one who went on to become a minister. It is one of the few posts that garnered not a single comment, which didn’t surprise me much, since I’d hesitated to publish initially it because it seemed more appropriate for a Sunday School Handout than for a blog. Lately I’ve been thinking about all the women in my life in light of the controversy and brouhaha brought forth recently by the Republican candidates for President–about a woman’s right to use contraceptives and make her own decisions concerning her body. I’m from the generation when an unwanted pregnancy resulted in limited options. A shot-gun marriage at best, a wire coat-hanger abortion at worst, or a variation of leaving town for a few months in order to carry the pregnancy to term, then making the decision of relinquishing all ties and giving the baby up for adoption by a stranger.
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I was visiting a man named Cleo Bailey in the hospital in Jacksonville a few days ago. Mr. Bailey had just had open heart surgery and was able to return to his private room. When I went in to visit with him he had just put away the FREE PRESS and greeted me with, “hey, I just read ONE OF THE NINE and I want you to know that is the first thing I read when I get the paper.”If I can bring just a moment of joy or happiness to someone’s life, then that is what I have always wanted to do. I have always wanted to make people happy.
I remember once when I was a boy only about our or five years old. We were in a great depression, and as children we did not see many pretty things. There was not even any flowers growing in our yard to bring beauty. There was no grass, no flowers, only a naked yard with dirt and sand that had to raked or swept clean.
One day as a small boy I was playing by a ditch that had lots of mud in the bottom of it. There in the ditch I saw a piece of cloth that someone had thrown away. It was perhaps ten inches square, and on the piece of cloth was [printed] the most beautiful red rose that I had ever seen. I picked up the cloth that was no more than a filthy rag someone had thrown away, and although it had lots of mud and dirt on it, to me it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
I ran to Mama and in my childish way said, “Mama look! Ain’t this pretty?
Mama took the old piece of dirty cloth and said, “Can I have this pretty cloth?”
I was very excited and assured her that I had brought it just for her, and when I saw it brought her happiness it made me twice as happy. I did not know what my mother was going to do with that piece of cloth with the bed rose on it.
About a week or two after I had given it to her she called me in to show me something, and I can assure you I had never seen anything more beautiful in my life than what she showed me that day. You see, Mama had taken the old filthy rag and washed all the mud and dirt off of it and then she had sewed it to lots of other small pieces of cloth and made a quilt. I said, “Mama, this will always be my quilt. It has my piece of cloth in it.”
Then Mama took me and told me a Bible story that was more beautiful than the quilt. She said, “All of us are like that ole dirty piece of cloth you gave to me, but Jesus took us and washed us clean in his own blood, and then he kind of sewed us together. Not as a quilt, but as a beautiful church, and we will always belong to him, just as this quilt will always belong to you.
The day I gave Mama that dirty old cloth I thought I had brought happiness to her, but I found it brought happiness to myself. It still works that way. When I try to bring happiness to someone else, it always bring more to me.
Postscript: I was very fortunate to have my grandmother in my life for 23 years. She was such a gentle soul; I never heard her say anything bad about anybody; it was from her I inherited my love of reading. She remembered my birthday, gave me small presents from time to time–one of them being the plastic harmonica that led to my discovery that I could actually play the thing! But best of all I remember our chats after school as I sat swinging in the porch swing while she sat with a book in hand in a rocking chair nearby. Unfortunately I will chastise myself to my dying day that I became a typical self-centered teenager and visits were few. After I moved away from the farm with my parents when I was 15, I could probably count with the fingers on one hand the times I visited her. I like to remember her now as she looked all those years ago, sitting in that rocking chair by the swing on the front porch. She’s about half way to the end of “The Legend of the Seventh Virgin,” by Victoria Holt. From the time she died to this very day, that book has sat on my library shelf. And–because she hadn’t had time to–I finished reading it for her. Should we ever meet again this side of Heaven as Sister Margie promised, I’ll tell her how it ended.