Clara led a very hard life, much of which I did not witness, as I had not yet been born. Her husband, Brady, was a police officer. It was said that he treated her very badly. He would drink and then become physically abusive. Clara lived in fear of him.
I don't know what tormented the man. Maybe no one ever knew. Maybe that's something he took to the grave with him. One thing is for sure, whatever tormented him was much stronger than he was.
Clara walked into the bedroom one day and found Brady. He was half on and half off the bed. He had taken a belt, made a loop at the buckle end and placed the loop around his neck. He tied the other end to one of the iron posts of the bedstead and then rolled off the bed. Brady would be tormented no more.
In those days there were no paramedics, but someone did make a call for help. I'm sure it was not Clara. Soon after, police and possibly emergency first aid arrived. The attendants immediately began to remove the belt so they could begin resuscitation on Brady.
Clara begged, 'Please don't. No! Please don't do that. He wants to die. Please let him die. If you help him to live, he will think I was the one who called for help and he will kill me. Please let him die.
The attendants frantically continued their efforts to save Brady. Their efforts were in vain. Brady was dead. A new life began the moment Brady's ended. Clara would begin a new life, a life without fear of ever being beaten by an abusive husband, again.
Clara and Brady had three sons, all a good bit older than me. After her husband's death, she continued to lead a simple life. During the time we were neighbors, she worked in a cotton mill and made a home for her three sons. She had no television or phone. She did not own a car. She never saw a movie, raised a garden or flowers, she had no hobbies. She never went anywhere.
As for material goods, she had very few. When one lives in a three room house with three boys, there is precious little room for anything except the barest necessities. One thing she did have was contentment. Her life consisted of cotton mill labor and staying at home. And yet, I have never seen a more contented person in my life.
Clara was my very best friend. My very best. She was always home and she always welcomed me over. Much of her time after work was spent in a rocking chair on her front porch. When other adults were too busy to talk with me, Clara was not. She always had time for me.
Being four or five, I had trouble pronouncing her name. I took a lot of kidding from the older children. They would mock me and say, 'Mama, can I go see Miz Kawker'? The kidding didn't bother me. Her sons were in their late teens and early twenties. And now, I was her favorite little boy.
She often invited me into her kitchen and would serve me a glass of milk and a couple of big cookies that were called 'Johnny Cakes'. She knew I seldom got such treats at home. With four brothers and four sisters, we rarely could afford store bought cookies.
I would drink my milk and eat my cookies and watch Clara go about her duties. She was a small woman with a quick smile. Her hair was always in braids atop her head and she always wore an apron. Not a touch of worldly makeup. In that day and that milieu, ladies did not wear makeup.
She had a wood cook range that looked pretty much like Mama's. From behind, a chimney projected out from the wall. Clara was as poor as we were. Just like us, she seldom had meat to eat. There was fat back though, and the occasional piece of side or middlin' meat. I never will forget. Before she sliced meat, she always took her butcher knife to the chimney. There she would sharpen it on the rough corner of the chimney.
Clara was a source of big money for me. The company store was half a block away; a trip she didn't want to make. At least once a week she would hire me to run to the store. After she handed me the money for the items, she then put another nickle in my hand. She would say, 'This is for you. Now don't spend it on candy. Get yourself an apple or some ice cream, OK? My reply was always the same. 'Yes, Ma'am'. A whole nickle. I was rich. I would have agreed to anything.
One day when I was about six, I got some news that shattered my world. I asked if I could go see Miz Kawker. I was told Mrs. Walker was not home and that she would not be home for a long time. She was in the hospital, very badly burned.
Her youngest son who was about seventeen, had set about polishing his shoes. In those days, most all shoe polish was a wax type. It tended to dry out in the can after several uses. Heating the wax would restore it to a usable state.
The son placed the open can on the wood stove to melt the wax. The stove must have been hotter than he thought. The can of wax quickly burst into flames, and then into a large uncontrollable fire.
Clara, hearing all the commotion, rushed into the kitchen. She saw her son with his clothes afire. She must put the fire out now! Her son could be burned to death! This little woman would save her son's life if it meant giving up her very own.
The next few moments were surely a living hell for both. I doubt either could have given an accurate account of exactly what happened. In life and death situations like this, one acts on pure adrenaline and by pure instinct. There's no time for storing memories.
Her son was the least burned. There were some burns to his scalp and much more serious burns to one of his arms. The arm stayed bandaged and in a cast for a long time.
Clara was very badly burned. Second and third degree burns over a good portion of her body. The months she was in the hospital seemed like years to me. I missed her so much. I wanted her to be well so much. She was my best friend.
Eventually, Clara did get to come home. She was bed ridden for a long time, she suffered a lot. I never missed a day crossing the street to be by her bedside. In all her pain and confinement, there was still that air of contentment. I never once heard her complain.
Her attachment to me never failed. For a woman who had almost nothing, she still wanted to give me what she could of the things she knew I seldom got at home. She would see me eyeing the delicious fruit baskets the church members brought to her. She would say, 'Doug, would you like some fruit? Reach in and pick out the biggest and the prettiest apple in the lot.
My family moved a couple blocks away shortly after that. I always found time to go down and visit with Clara at least once a week. In time, she made an almost full recovery. I attribute that recovery to her strong sense of contentment, regardless of the hardships life threw her way.
Years come and go. I grew up and moved away. I lost track of my very best friend. I did make it back to my hometown after a few years. One of the first things I did was to inquire about Mrs. Walker. Again, I got some very bad news. Clara had contracted lung cancer and died. It was thought the scarring of her lungs while fighting the fire to save her son's life eventually led to her developing lung cancer.
Her youngest son had also died. He was in an automobile accident. That left two survivors, her two other sons.
The following account was told to me. There is a good side and a bad side. I will not state that the bad side is the absolute truth. I will just tell you what was told to me.
As for the good side, I will rejoice in sharing this good news with you. I hope your spirit will be moved to the point you will rejoice with me.
The account is as follows:
Clara became sick with cancer. Eventually, she could not take care of herself. It was said that both sons not only refused to take her in, neither would do anything to try to make provisions for her in any way. The woman was dying of lung cancer and it seemed she would die alone. She had no one to turn to.
There was a nice elderly couple who lived a few houses down the street from Clara. I remember them well. As far as I know they never had children. They were a rather quiet and humble couple. Well liked and respected. The lady's name was Kate.
Upon hearing of Clara's plight, Kate and her husband asked Clara to come live with them and share their home. Clara accepted. She lived her last days in the home of Kate and her husband. It was said that they did everything they could to make Clara's end time and passing as comfortable as possible.
Clara died being given the care and respect any loving mother deserves. That respect came not from children, rather from neighbors who knew the real meaning of giving of yourself and doing unselfish deeds.
Again, I was told, neither son came to visit their mother while she stayed with Kate. One did come to Kate's home shortly after Clara's death, inquiring about any belongings she might have left behind.
Upon spotting an old, worn purse lying atop a bureau in the room where Clara slept, the son asked, 'Is that Mama's pocket book'? Kate replied, 'Yes, that's your mama's.
The son then asked, 'How much money is in it'? Kate replied, 'I don't know. I've never looked in it'. The son took the purse and walked out the door.
When I need restoration of my faith in Mankind, all I have to do is think of Kate and her husband and the unselfish deed they did for a neighbor.
Clara was not related to Kate or her husband. They were not close as neighbors, just good neighbors. I really don't know that they saw that much of each other. I never knew them to visit with each other.
Yet, Kate and her husband took Clara in. They fed her, took care of her, and gave her a home til the very end. They never asked for a penny in return. People, I ask you; how many do you know who would give so unselfishly of themselves?
I would like to think Clara died in a state of contentment. That same contentment she carried throughout her life. If she did, credit can be given not only to her nature, but also to Kate and her husband who cared for her to the very end. Angels Unawares?
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That was an amazing story. So wonderful to know good people still exist when some days it is hard to see the good in anything. Thank you for sharing.
This is so well written. I feel like I know Clara. Have you thought of submitting it for publication (Readers Digest perhaps)?
Beautiful and such sadness. Thank you for sharing.
One of the nicest stories I have ever read and knowing it is true made it even more special. Bless you for sharing with us.
I enjoyed your story. What a beautiful woman she was. You write so well, I feel as if I know her.
That Story has the whole Gospel in it. Clara Walker's love for a small boy and the Neighbors who took Clara Walker. In the book of Gal_5:22 (KJV) it says But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Both Clara Walker and the Neighbors had the fruit of the spirit.
I enjoyed this story so much. Keep writing some more!
Thank you for sharing this lovely memory with us. I feel sure your love and fellowship meant a great deal to Clara and maybe you were meant to be the caring son she never had.
You really have a gift in writing, so sincere and well written. Thankyou for remembering this lady with such clarity and care.
How many Clares out there are forgotten and left to die with out a loving neighbour. Jesus says those that look after the least of mine I will remember them.
likekinds- Your story made me cry. Just cry and cry and cry. I am an abuse survivor. I can tell you a little boy coming to visit me every day for a shiny apple and a couple of homemade cookies would give me blessed contentment beyond belief. Her horrible children doing that to their mama.
Thank you, aylaane.
I hope you are well past those abusive years. I think there still may be some hurt lingering in the deep recesses of your mind. Tears are for healing. I hope the tears you shed over my story will help heal even the smallest remaining hurtful memory.
I haven't cried in many, many years. Maybe I need a bit of healing, too.
Ha Ha! I just noticed. Jess has dated me. I wasn't born til shortly after the depression era.
I did know many people who did live through those extraordinary times. For most all, it was a 'make do' situation to say the least. You had to make do with what you had or do without.
Briefly, nylon was rationed to the military for parachutes. Women couldn't but nylon hosiery. They used an eyebrow pencil to paint a 'seam' on the back of their legs to fake full fashion hosiery.
You could buy margarine, but it was white. A little packet of coloring came with the margarine. If you wanted it to look like butter, you had to color it yourself.
Coffee was in short supply. People were desperate for a caffeine fix. Some even resorted to parching corn, then grinding it to use as a substitute.
I think a compilation of 'make do' accounts would be good 'rag' for an essay. If I can come up with enough interesting material, I will put it all together for submission.
My husband wouldn't like it if I "dated" you, Doug. :) I was looking for a guide location for your wonderful essay and Clara's life certainly had a lot of depression era advice.
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