She was born 138 years ago.
Married at 19.
Died at 95.
In between the beginning and ending she raised five children, kept home with none of the conveniences we take for granted, was an accomplished pianist and did fine needlework. She survived the 1906 San Francisco earthquake while pregnant with her oldest daughter.
She worked hard, cleaned thoroughly and no matter what might be expected at any given moment, her dress was tidy and her hair curled, twisted up and pinned into place like a proper lady.
And she was always a proper lady.
She knew well the contents of her Bible, but never preached. Simply lived it.
She fed homeless people.
In fact, until recently I labored under the misconception that she ran a boarding house in San Francisco, but my mother corrected me – – – “no” she chuckled “my grandfather just liked to bring bums home for a hot meal…. and my dad happened to be one of them”.
While no one I know would ever describe my grandfather as a bum (he was a self-proclaimed “hooligan”), it was a great day when his path crossed hers because she took a liking to him. In fact she loved him as her own and invited him to stay… as long as he went to church.
So he did.
Then he married my grandmother.
And because of all that I got to be the great-granddaughter of Mattie May Jordan from Mariaville, Maine.
I’ve been a little bit obsessed the last few months with Ancestry.com. I love putting small bits of info into the system about people I already know and build a picture of where they came from, what they did, who and what influenced their life.
Here’s a picture of Mattie on her wedding day in 1897 and another of her at my wedding in 1969.
Wow! How tiny her waist was!
And, wow! How big my nose looks from that angle! Well anyway….
She was loving and generous. Her children adored her. And no one, not one person I know ever heard her complain. About anything. Other than traveling as a teenager from Maine to California, she never went anywhere. Never owned anything. She lived with her youngest daughter all of my growing up years. And later with her youngest son.
Her specialty was prayer. She did it well and often. My favorite memory is hearing her pray for her sons as I climbed the stairs to her apartment. I didn’t want to disturb her so sat on the steps for a long, long time. Although they were grandfathers with well established lives, her prayer for them was as fervent as if they were young men in battle, as if she were in battle. I think she was.
She left me with a template for prayer for my own sons, even though she didn’t know it.
Her fingers were badly twisted with arthritis, but it didn’t stop the piano playing. Nor the stitching. I broke the zipper in my skirt one day and as I sat beside her in my slip, she ripped out the old, pinned in the new, and sewed that zipper in by hand. The stitches were tiny and even, almost invisible. The zipper was still going strong when the skirt met it’s end.
I wondered if her fingers hurt. But then, how would anyone know?
She has an amazing family heritage. And it turns out there were a lot of Jordans in Maine. The earliest ancestor I’ve traced settled there in the mid-1600s. Her grandfathers and uncles were farmers, clergymen, mariners, soldiers, carpenters and lumbermen. Mattie’s father was a tanner. They had great, solid sounding names like Solomon, Nathaniel, Ebenezer, Dominicus and Fredman.
One of her great-great-grandfathers was killed in an Indian uprising, his wife and children “carried off”. They were later released in Quebec.
Her grandmothers and aunts were “home keepers”. Many worked along side their husbands. They had children. Lots and lots of children! I love their names – Jerusha, Priscilla, Eliza, Adah and Abigail. Oh, and Hannah. Lots of Hannahs.
But only one Mattie.
I look back at these connections to people who really existed, people who struggled so hard to build lives, families and a nation, and wonder what they would think of us now. Especially in this ugly political season when we show how soft and entitled we’ve become.
I’m glad I live now, but admire who they were then.
And on those days when I feel put upon and tired, tempted to slip off the edge of my own path, I think of Mattie. While it’s too late for me to be known as a non-complainer, I do feel an encouragement to hang on, to believe, to put love first.
They speak without a sound or word; their voice is silent in the skies, yet their message has gone out to all the earth and their words to all the world. Psalm 19: 3&4
That verse was speaking of the heavens displaying God’s glory, but it instantly brings my great-grandmother to mind.
She may not physically be here to impact a life, but her words, prayers and examples already have. They linger on in unseen places.
I carry them with me every day. Along with the question…
What will I leave behind?