The other morning I went to the post office and found amidst the junk mail a thin package from my grandmother, Helen Hirst. I took it home that evening and gave it to my wife Mariale, who opens most of the mail, and we were surprised to find a book; an auto-biography of sorts. Helen’s Musings is a short book, and easy to read. I read it aloud to Mariale and my young son Simon on a sunny Sunday morning in Africa.
Helen’s Musings is a love story from a now-old woman to the man she was married to for more than sixty years. It is a love story about a young couple and the family they built. And it is a love story between that large and growing family and the God they continue to serve.
The story is an American story, from the time when our land was in its greatest hour. It is about an insurance salesman and his young wife who left the safety and stability of middle-America to embark upon a journey of sacrifice and service to their Lord and their nation. For fifty years through snowy disasters and summer floods, through illness and poverty and misfortune their faith in God was tested but never wavered, because He always provided. Sometimes it was in the simple things like a dinner delivered by a thoughtful parishioner who had a ‘hunch’ that the Hirsts might be going hungry that night; to the hard things like being unjustly fired from an ungrateful church which amazingly opened the door leading them to the perfect place to spend their twilight years of ministry. From hard work of caring for four children in tough economic times to the difficult decisions of taking in sixteen foster kids over the years. An un-sung story about two people who did not seek or need praise. Through it all they kept their gaze firmly on the prize. They never sought political power over others; or economic power at any cost. They never looked in resentment at those more fortunate; never wondered and worried about ‘inequality’ – probably because they knew they were part of the real 1%.
The story is also not without humor. My grandma does not miss the opportunity – delicately put – to remind us that the patient and gentle man we all knew as ‘grandpa’ was a finished product that had perhaps required more spit and polish than we now recognize.
You see, my grandfather died two years ago – which is the central theme of the story; and is what makes the tale bittersweet. A now-old woman coming to terms with the loss of a life partner – sixty-two years of loving, sharing, fighting, and worrying. Missing terribly the thanksgiving dinners shared in family and even the difficult decisions taken without money or means – because they were taken together. As I think about my grandmother, knowing that the loneliness must be felt even more than the physical presence of my grandfather was – the kind of loneliness that at times leaves you breathless – I’m sure it is also mixed with the gratitude of a life that was worth living and the patience that a wait to be re-united makes livable.
Helen’s Musings is not available on Amazon or Barnes & Noble – it was not written for you; it was written for me and mine – those of us who must now carry the torch. Yet perhaps, if you reach out, you might find yourself with a copy. If you do, you will learn what all the Hirsts know – we perhaps more than most have a great cloud of witnesses.
Joel D. Hirst is a novelist, author of “The Lieutenant of San Porfirio” and its upcoming sequel “The Burning of San Porfirio”