My uncle owned a country store that was the center of activity for the village. On a Saturday evening, after chores were finished for the day, the farmers would start arriving to buy groceries and spend an hour or two catching up on the local news. During the year or so that I lived in the village I remember spending almost every Saturday evening, standing around the store listening to the locals spin out stories and anecdote about the community. There was never anything mean in the retelling of incidents from the lives of their family and friends. It was just a good-natured celebration of the peculiarities and strange doings of people they loved and cared for.
I learned a lot about people from my connection to the store and the people who inhabited it on a Saturday evening. I learned that it was the character of a person that determined their status in the community, and not how wealthy they were. I learned that people who cheated you in business or took advantage of your trust were considered “not much” in the eyes of those hard working, no-nonsense farmers. While the men were laughing and entertaining themselves with stories and jokes, the women were busy talking over the “important ” news about who was sick or the outrageous cost of sewing materials. Every once and awhile, however, they would lower their voices and speak in a more reverent tone about what was happening in the life of one of their friends. When they were finished their assessment of the situation they would end with the statement, “she’s a good woman.”
In an age before political correctness that little phrase, “a good woman,” was used in a technical manner, and not every woman was considered worthy of the compliment. It meant you raised your children well. Back in those days how your children acted and carried themselves did reflect on their upbringing. “A good woman” didn’t send her children to school without breakfast or in dirty clothes. And most certainly children didn’t go out of the house wearing inappropriate clothing or back talk their mothers.
“A good woman” held community values of hard work, honesty, friendship and hospitality. If you showed up at her home there was always a place set for you around the table. Many times I can remember my mother saying to my father as we drove home from someone’s house, “I know she wasn’t expecting us, but she put that meal together in no time and it was delicious.”
Most of all “a good woman” raised her family with spiritual values and an appreciation of the wonder of God in their lives. God and family were important to the lives of these hard working people and they were the values that kept the community together. Someone got sick and couldn’t do his or her chores, a “good woman” would organize her friends and help out till their friend recovered. There was no government structure to run to for help, just neighbors, friends and family and they didn’t let you down.
A few days ago our family had a graveside service for Ruth’s mother, and I started thinking over my relationship to her. Ruth and I have been married forty-three years and during those years never once have I heard Ruth’s mother say a harsh word about anyone. She was honest, hardworking and never complained regardless of the hurts in her life. She was generous, and loved her family and friends from the depths of her heart. Right up until the end, though she could no longer talk, she kept a beautiful smile on her face. Most of all she was a Christian lady who looked forward to the return of Christ when she would be united with her husband who passed away many years earlier. As we stood around the graveside telling stories and remembrances we couldn’t help but rejoice in her life. That’s what a legacy should be like, not how much money you left, but how much your family loves and misses you. We came from Boston, Minnesota, Florida, Oregon, and Canada to stand around that grave for an hour, and share stories of her life. None of us would have missed being there for anything. The ladies standing around my uncle’s store on a Saturday night would have all agreed that Sylvia (Ruth’s mom) was “a good woman.”
We live in a world where character doesn’t mean as much as it once did. Celebrities enthrall people, regardless of how little character those celebrities possess. It was nice to stand with family in the shade of the Maples and reminisce over the life of a woman who had character, and when the Lord returns He will remember where we laid Sylvia to rest. “For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality.” 1 Corinthians 15: 52b, 53