Even though April is the month when A Flickering Light is released; and even though I hope to see many of you at the Paducah Quilt show in Kentucky and at other venues in that fine city and in places in Oregon, too -- Eugene and Roseburg among others- please check my schedule on the site; and even though I should be urging you to call your local bookstore and tell them to order in that book, what I want to tell you today, instead, is this lovely story that has nothing to do with me. It has to do with charity, giving, listening to inner voices and then acting. It has to do with endurance, perseverance and an abiding faith.
In 1930, in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, a family faced great loss at the death of the husband and father in a logging accident. He left behind 11 children. Their mother rented a fifteen acre farm in order to grow as much food as they could themselves. Only four of the children were old enough to farm out, as they used to say, to help out, working for others for nickels and dimes so critical for the survival of them all.
The mother did what she could: planting a huge garden, canning and preserving, sewing and mending. And every week when the children took their baths, their mother cut the buttons off their under ware because they'd break in the old ringer washing machines and she could not afford to buy buttons to replace them. They had no money to spare. Then after wash day, she'd sew them all back onto clean pairs. She did this every week without complaint. Likely, only the older children were aware of her late night efforts with buttons.
During one harsh winter when rare snows hit the Willamette Valley near Canby, Oregon (not far from Aurora, I might add), she realized that the cupboard was bare. There'd be nothing for breakfast, nothing to send with the children to school for lunch; nothing for breakfast or lunch or dinner. Her children recall that she got down on her knees that night - they were of Amish and Mennonite faith traditions -- and prayed. It was all she had left.
While doing so, someone knocked on the door.
As she opened the door, she saw a boy scout leave a box of groceries for the family, tipped his hat "good evening" and walked away. The family didn't know who their benefactor was but at that moment they were grateful beyond measure for God's provision. As the older children, still awake, unpacked the box they found in the bottom, a bag of what their mother needed most after food for her children: buttons. Dozens of buttons.
Thirty years later, one of the daughters, Lela Landis Yoder learned the "rest of the story" while delivering Easter Lilies for her church. An elderly woman in the same area where she'd grown up invited her in for a few minutes of conversation along with the flower. The car was loaded with lilies, but the daughter took the time for tea.
In the course of that conversation, the woman asked Lela who her people were and she was told that she was one of those eleven children of Ida Egli. The elderly woman then described how much she'd admired Ida, how she'd taken care of those eleven children, doing what she must. She also told her it was Frank Cutsforth, owner of a local grocery store (and his family still owns a grocery store!) who packed that box of food and he asked this elderly woman if she had anything to spare. The elderly woman operated a dry goods store and while she didn't have any food to give, she looked around and there was a bag of buttons. She wasn't sure what possessed her to include them in the box, but she had, making Mrs. Egli's life so much easier.
I love the full circle of this story. Hard times; people giving of what they have; someone deciding to put together a food box yet having the foresight to ask at a dry goods store to see if something besides food might bring nourishment to the family. And then years later, the discovery of the rest of the story. Incidentally, I learned of this story through the generosity of Frank Cutsforth who sent me a copy of a book written about the life of Elsie Egli Cutsforth and the story written by Lela Landis Yoder was included as a clip. It had been published in Country magazine some years back. Frank is involved in the Rotary in Canby where I met him while speaking on Aurora during Valentine's week earlier this year. The family store includes a community meeting place above it.
That story made me cry. It reminded me of conversations about the depression years that I was fortunate enough not to have to life through. It also reminded me of a news story I heard recently, that during hard times, people with little tended to give more than people who had a lot. Perhaps they understood the great joy that comes from giving, from listening to the lives of others and acting. Maybe giving rather than hanging on to what they had was a mark of their trust, their faith that like the lilies of the field, we are tended and cared about.
The store owner; the dry goods woman; the mother herself doing what she could to give to her children speaks of the human condition, the spirit of life and care for one's neighbor. And then years later, that sense of generosity is reflected in the lives of that woman's children: the daughter who took time to deliver Easter Lilies and stayed for tea receiving a blessing in the process.
Buttons held those long johns together but it was Elsie Egli's faith and persistence to do what she could and trust God for the rest that held that family together. I suspect there are stories like that in each of your family histories too and I hope this April, you'll share them with your children. Even if they're your stories. Especially if they're your stories.
During this season of renewal, when Christians around the world celebrate the risen Lord, it's little stories like the one above that keep reminding me that he is a "risen" Lord, still touching the lives of others as they pray, attempt to meet the needs of their families and neighbors and even when times are difficult, reaching into their reserve of living to pull out something that another could benefit from, something as insignificant as buttons; as significant as generosity even when it feels like we have little to share.
Have a wonderful month of April!