Saturday, June 2, 2007

Miss Mattie Lou: A Follower of Christ

I read Cold Sassy Tree on the recommendation of my mother, and her favorite in the book was Grandpa Blakeslee because of his love of life. But my favorite was someone who was not alive in the story, Miss Mattie Lou, Grandpa Blakeslee's first wife who had recently passed away. She seemed to be heads above either of her daughters, who were far more selfish and concerned mostly with what the neighbors thought. Her successor as Mr. Blakeslee's wife comes in a distant second.
As the narrator, Miss Mattie Lou's grandson, Will Tweedy, tells it: "But though Miss Love might not be a good cook after boarding so long, and probably couldn't of outworked Granny in a vegetable garden or rose garden or sickroom, most anybody could outdo granny with a broom and feather duster. She used to say, 'A house will keep, whether you weed it or not, but that-air yard will get away from you in the bat of an eye.' The only thing she liked to do indoors was cook and tend the sick. I remember one time she pulled off her apron after two days and nights nursing a neighbor lady, and said, 'They ain't no feelin' in the world like takin' on somebody wilted and near 'bout gone, and you do what you can, and then all of a sudden the poor thang starts to put out new growth, and git well.'"
Even her successor as a wife, Miss Love, who labored hard to clean Miss Mattie Lou's home for her funeral, explained, "'The first winter I was here when I had the flu, Miss Mattie Lou came and bathed me every morning--like she was my own mother. I won't ever forget that. I want to do anything I can to help you now.' She said it so sweet, with tears in her eyes."
Miss Mattie Lou also kept a garden, a section of which she devoted to the herbs that she used to help the sick. As her grandson describes her garden, "Over yonder were what she called her 'word plants'--the wild flowers she planted because they had names she liked. Creepin' Charlie, Lizzie run by the fence, love's a-bustin', fetch me some ivy because Baby's got the croup.... In the next bed were the medicinal herbs she used in potions for sick folks: squaw weed, hepatica, goldenseal, ginseng for the brain, jewelweed for poison ivy rash, wolf milk for warts, and fleabane and pale hergamot, which Granny would rub on her face and arms to keep off mosquitos and gnats."
Her nursing of the sick, her care for them in cultivating her herb medicinal garden, her love of beauty in cultivating her rose garden, and her humble devotion to others set Miss Mattie Lou apart from those in her own family and also from those in the town. As Will Tweedy tells it, "Everybody in Cold Sassy Tree admired my grandmother. At her funeral, I heard someone say, 'Miss Mattie Lou just reeked of re-finement, didn't she?' and I knew what was meant.
"Her refinement wasn't like Aunt Carrie's. Granny didn't sit on the porch reading Greek and Latin and Shakespeare, or get up lectures for children, or recite poetry. She didn't think she always knew best, the way Aunt Carrie did, and didn't throw off on people who said, 'I seen' or 'I taken,' like Aunt Loma, and didn't make children practice manners, like Mama. But Granny was a fine lady anyway, never mind her grammar or her country ways and never mind how plain she was.
"To my thinking, it was refined that she didn't fuss at Grandpa about not having his house wired for electricity... But you didn't hear Granny complain about having to trim wicks, clean smoked-up chimneys, and fool with kerosene when other ladies could just pull a ceiling cord to get light."
She countered her husband's wish for a party rather than a funeral for his death with her own thoughts: "She said the dead body was sacred, it having been a house for the mind and the soul, and as such it deserved proper respect. 'A nice funeral is a sort of thank you,' she added. 'A person's body oughtn't to be treated like no old dead dog." Her husband buried her in a bed a roses.