Emma Belle and the Angels
Angels, it seems, are everywhere these days. They are on calendars, in books and magazines , on T.V. and in the movies. Some are depicted as spiritual beings of light, some in disguise as humans. Angels, in any form, always remind me of Emma Belle.
At a glance, she looked like an ordinary old woman, in her homemade cotton dress and white, starched apron, with her long, gray hair pulled up and twisted into a knot at the back of her head. If you took a second look, you might notice the lines of time that creased her face were softened by the glow of her bright and happy, perpetual smile. You would also notice that she had a quick and witty sense of humor and see the light of mischief, as well as love, that twinkled in her deep blue eyes. Eyes that saw only shadows, after being blinded at the age of ten by a blast of gunpowder.
The adage, you canít judge a book by itís cover, certainly applied to her for she was far from ordinary.
She was married three times, widowed twice and raised six children. At the age of sixty one, after the death of a daughter, she took the responsibility of raising two grand children, a little boy of five years and a little girl of fourteen months. Can you imagine that kind of courage? What two very lucky little children.
Without modern conveniences, life for her was not easy. She prepared three meals a day on a kerosene stove. Water was drawn from a well and heated on the stove for cooking, cleaning and bathing. The stove was also used to heat flat irons for pressing clothes. Her laundry room was the back yard, where she built a fire under an iron cauldron to boil sheets and white linens. She dipped them out with a broom stick and placed them in a galvanized tub where everything was scrubbed on a wash board with lye soap, which she made, then placed in another tub to rinse. Everything from sheets to denim overalls were wrung out by hand and hung on lines to dry. This was a weekly chore, even in winter, and each day of the week had certain chores to be done. In her spare time she baked bread and rolls, canned and preserved, made butter and cheese, even quilted. All these things she did as well as anyone with sight and like anyone with sight, she did make mistakes. Then she would laughingly berate herself, blaming the mistakes on her blindness.
On hot summer days the house became very uncomfortable, with no fans or air-conditioning, so in the evenings she would take the children out in the side yard, under a beautiful Hackberry tree and tell them ghost stories until the house cooled down. Other children from the neighborhood often came to listen. They all squealed with delight, pretending to be frightened, but wanting and begging for more. Occasionally, she would take out her accordion or harmonica, both instruments she played quiet well, and she would sing, teaching them all the old, almost forgotten ballads. She also told them bible stories and taught them lessons for living a life with values.
Her religion was like the poet, Edgar Guestís, "Loving God, who made us one and all". She lived the ten commandments and the golden rule, daily.
In the late thirties, life was not easy for anyone. There were men who roamed from town to town seeking work and some hope for a future. They were called, hoboes, beggars and tramps. She called them "poor souls", down on their luck. When one of the poor souls, and there were many, knocked at her door asking for work or a hand out, she took them into her dining room, sat them at her table and gave them a good meal, no questions asked. However, her sympathetic ear was often taken advantage of and she heard many sad stories.
Friends, family and neighbors, all told her that someday she would be murdered by one of the old beggars she took in, In response she would say, "There, but for the grace of God, go I". Or she would quote Hebrews 13:2,"Be not forgetful to entertain strangers, for thereby, some have entertained angels unawares." She was never harmed in anyway by the poor souls she took in.
Although she has been gone from my life for fifty years, when I see angels, or need a boost of courage or inspiration, I think of Emma Belle, my grandmother, who raised me, the way she lived her life and the valuable lessons she taught me. One, I would like to pass along and share, in her words. "It is not our purpose in life to judge our fellowman but if you feel you must, then judge him by the color and size of his heart, not the color of his skin or the size of his wallet."
I remember when I was about five years of age, waking from an afternoon nap and going in search for my grandmother. I found her in the dining room. There was a man sitting at the table with an empty plate in front of him. He had long white hair and a long white beard. He spoke to me but I didnít answer. Grandmother picked me up on her lap and made the excuse of the cat getting my tongue. They talked for a few minutes more and when he got up to leave, grandmother walked him to the door. When she returned to the dining room, she found me in tears, she asked what on earth was wrong and I told her that Santa didnít leave me a present. She had a hard time convincing me the man was not Santa. He was just another one of her poor souls, or perhaps, one of her angels.
These are just a few of the memories I have of my grandmother, I have put them down for all her descendants who never had the blessing of knowing her, because I want them to know what a beautiful ancestor they have. She not only gave her time and love to home and family, she shared it with her fellowman and judged no one. I like to think that now she is being entertained by all those angels she entertained unawares.
Emma Belle Null Jacobs Hyatt Bennight
By Lora Cox ” 2001
This story has been published
Someone sent me the following recipe in an email. It reminded me so much of the way my grandmother did her laundry, I just had to add it here.
Years ago a Kentucky
grandmother gave the new bride the following recipe for washing clothes.