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By Robert Graef Library Director, Sno-Isle Libraries ‘Saints’ can be found in our communities
All Saints Day is the day after Halloween, the day when children recover from overdoses of sweets. All Saints Day was celebrated as a memorial to early martyrs until the 9th Century. That’s when Pope Leo figured out that his church wasn’t going to ferret out all the true saints so he gave official recognition to “unknown saints” too. It was a nice touch though they aren’t logged in the official list of saints.
Surely there are local saints who won’t make the Church of Rome’s official cut. We’ve heard about St. Vincent de Paul and St. Francis of Assisi but who ever heard of St. Martha of Beaver Lake, the Beaver Lake east of Mount Vernon. She was Martha Wiles, better known as Toots, or Auntie Tootsie. Toots was my mother in law.
Toots’ husband lost part of his brain to an industrial accident at age 37. His insurance agent had pocketed his health and accident insurance premiums so months in the hospital and a lifetime of dependency were left uncovered. St. Toots was left with three children and no income. The way she handled her burden with uncommon grace was in itself a sainthood-qualifying miracle. No matter how dark her prospects, she radiated serene happiness about whatever was happening at the moment.
What’s more, she never bothered to draw a line between what of her energy, time or resources was hers to hold and what she gave freely to anyone in need. St. Toots was living proof of the old adage that if you want to find real charity, go to the poor.
Come fall, the family sorted windfall apples into certain boxes, picked-from-the-tree apples into others. The boxes went into the basement where a few apples lasted into early March. Toots let us take only bruised or blemished fruit to preserve the rest. Carve out the good parts and throw the waste to Muscovie ducks wandering the lawn. Her rigid rule for making fruit last never permitted anyone to enjoy a perfect apple. Such are the trade-offs when in survival mode.
Toots’ grocery shopping was limited to sugar, flour, baking powder, yeast, shortening, salt and pepper. The rest came from her garden, chicken house and her brother’s cows. Springing from parents who made their own soap, her life was a study in basics. Because she often did without and never had too much of anything, her daily prayer was literally, give us this day our daily bread. After the sun went down she was at the sewing machine patching and altering her kids’ clothes. No adult toys or destructive ambitions cluttered her days. Meeting the need of the day was challenge enough. She remained up-beat, even as life was flitting away after a car accident at age 59.
St. Toots actually had it good. Unlike today’s unemployed, Toots’ home was paid for and with a garden, fruit trees, chickens and a fattening beef-calf, no one went hungry though today’s jaded appetites might wish for more variety. No Chilean grapes or French cheeses in the Wiles’ refrigerator. More important, her Native American ancestors helped equip her for a close-to-nature life-style that required little from the store. The well of survival skills she drew from was deep. But that was then. This is now.
Why this topic right now? The level of poverty that Toots Wiles faced may be just around the corner for some of our neighbors. Nearly 1,000 workers were recently cut from just two area payrolls and more cuts can be expected. Is it possible for today’s suddenly-poor to achieve the state of grace that carried Toots through?
We’ll get a clearer picture of the recession’s depth once Christmas sales-volumes tell us that money is either circulating or not. Then we’ll have a better idea of how many might be stripped back to the basics. For a yet-undetermined number, hard times will visit Marysville and Arlington. For some, it has already struck.
How will Marysville’s people handle today’s reverses of fortune? It will certainly be tougher than it was for Toots because few can match her survival skills and resources. I caught myself asking, what if I fell from a $70,000 salary at Arlington’s U.S. Marine to $9.00 per hour at Wal-Mart? That is, if Wal-Mart were hiring. How would I cope? Might I know joy like St. Toots did when there was routinely too much month left at the end of her money. Probably not.
It will take all the goodness in families, friends and neighbors to get through this. As during every historic time of trial, new saints will rise up in the face of need. You’ll find them working at the food bank or seeing that children are clothed and supplied for school, driving people to shops or doctors, sharing when they have surplus. It takes hard times for a population to rediscover that when the going gets tough, the best resource people have is each other. Don’t look to Washington D.C. for a grass-roots bail-out. Staying afloat in these times will depend more to how we respond to each other as family, friends and neighbors than on federal programs.
Happy All Saints Day.
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