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Jennie Jerome Churchill

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Positive Inspirational Stories

Positive Featured Inspirational Story - May 1 to May 31, 2008

Tenant Farmers

He had been crippled from polio since childhood; but life as a tenant farmer never got him down. He loved the land, the livestock in his charge, and harvest - for it was the true assessment of his year's work. With his disability, each chore required more fortitude than that of a typical farmer. His rough tanned, muscular hands were enormous from years of manual labour but his touch was gentle . . . as was his heart.

He and his wife seldom had an extra dollar to their name but these tenant farmers carved out a life abundant with happiness, joy, and love. They waltzed through life hand in hand and made their own kind of music. They radiated goodness and those around them absorbed it.

I learned at a young age that tenant farming was a two-person operation that included the wife working right along side her husband. My aunt Lillie, my mother's sister and one of eleven siblings, was as content with the backbreaking work as was her husband, Marvin.

Cooking for hired hands during harvest wasn't a dreaded task for Lillie; it was a joy and her talent came naturally. A recipe box did not reside in her kitchen; all culinary delights were simply stored in her memory. The quantity of food consumed by those men of hearty appetite meant more to her than any thank you or compliment.

When the noontime meal was finished, and after cooking since early morn, Lillie still faced heaps of dirty pots, pans, and dishes. Even that she made enjoyable by turning the kitchen into her own private ballroom. She'd turn on the radio, sing along, and when a favorite tune began, a quite heavyset woman danced her heart out as she continued to juggle the cleanup chores.

No value could be placed on the vast amount of knowledge I acquired, or the fun that was had when staying with Lillie and Marvin. Their home was my second home.

Summer afternoons found Aunt Lillie and me traipsing to her garden with mason jars in hand. It was time to rid her prized tomato plants of the nasty tomato worms. That job was not pleasant for a little girl but I toughed it out for the reward. Once finished, I yanked the saltshaker from my pocket, plopped down in the dirt, and ate my fill of sun-warmed, dusty, ripe tomatoes. The payoff was worth every disgusting, wriggly worm dropped into the jars.

Farm babies were a never-ending source of enjoyment and the birth of one animal or another was also never ending on the farm. There were always kittens to cuddle, calves and fuzzy, white lambs to embrace, and baby chicks to hold with care.

I learned to ride so young that I don't recall being taught the ins and outs of handling a horse. Yet, I remember vividly the one time I was thrown! With no serious injuries Aunt Lillie had the perfect prescription - one of her 'to die for' cherry pies hot out of the oven, and all I could eat! She could have easily won a blue ribbon at any State Fair. Each crimp on the edge was exact in size as well as perfectly browned all the way round. To this day, I've never seen a photograph in a cookbook that equaled the beauty of her pastries and pies. They were works of art.

It was a fulfilling life even though money in the bank was scarce. They lived in beautiful, although old, farmhouses. Eggs from chickens were plentiful and employers supplied them with beef. Lillie's garden provided fresh vegetables in the summer and she canned what would be needed during the winter months.

As age crept up on them, Lillie and Marvin were forced to give up the work they loved and retire. At a time when they needed to remain near family members, their only son moved them across country where he was on another 'get rich quick' nomadic escapade. They were not in good hands.

The final years of their lives were heartbreaking to all who loved them. Being under the thumb of their son, they eventually lost nearly all contact with family members. Now and then my mother would get a letter from her beloved sister, Lillie, but addresses changed continually, as did phone numbers. Often phone service was disconnected when Mother tried to call. Staying in touch became almost impossible. When my mom wasn't wringing her hands with worry, she cried countless tears for the sister that had been snatched right out from under her.

Lillie and Marvin passed away and were buried in Montana - far from what had always been home to them. Their numerous living relatives were not notified in a timely manner, nor were proper funeral services held. They were buried in pauper's graves.

My older brother researched, located, and visited the cemetery to find their resting place. It was a somber jolt to learn they did not have headstones. Two God-fearing people that had been loved by many rested with nothing to indicate they had ever existed. Two years had passed since Lillie was laid next to Marvin; if tombstones were a part of their son's plan, they would have long since been in place.

Riding a gamut of emotions, my brother and I seized the moment to once again show our love and respect for a special aunt and uncle. Headstones now mark the graves of two remarkable individuals . . .

In loving Memory of Lillie and Marvin

Written by Kathleene S. Baker

Kathy resides in Plano, Texas with husband Jerry, and two precious pups, Hank and Samantha. She enjoys writing, needlework, and fishing. As a freelancer, she has contributed to newspapers, anthologies, magazines, online ezines, Chicken Soup for the Soul and writes a weekly column entitled The Heart of Texas.

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