Note to Readers: My first blog was created on the Santa Barbara Writer’s Conference site. When the site closed, I lost the web connection for this post written in 2008. I am reposting it so that others can appreciate the woman I considered a second mother–and so that one small piece of her legacy is preserved in the digital age.
Edith Virginia Rhodes Showalter, R.I.P.
First posted on August 31, 2008 at 11:30am
Stuart’s mother Edith died this morning at 5 a.m. We are making plans now to travel to Virginia. She was 87 years old and was living in a nursing home, having suffered a series of mini-strokes beginning a decade ago.
She left no memoir. She was one of the “salt of the earth” people whose legacy is not in money, or in words, but in the fleeting arts–the art of rearing children, cleaning a house, gardening, sewing, making fabulous meals, volunteering in church and community. She shared most of Owen Showalter’s dreams and helped make many of them possible–to live peacefully and honorably, to move the family to Ohio and then back to Virginia, to own a farm, to build a house on a hill in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley.
She left gifts of her own making as a lasting legacy. Every time Stuart and I came to visit, from 1969, when we married, to 1998, when she had her first stroke, there was a new quilt in the frame. We have one blue and white cross-stitched one on the guest bed and another in the cedar chest. She was neither a great reader or a great writer–with eight children, when would she have had the time?– but she did send cards and notes. They always began “Dear Ones,” a lovely phrase that I continue to use with our children. She stitched baby quilts for the grandchildren and had a new afghan ready for every high school graduate.
Edith Virginia Rhodes Showalter was my window into the Old-Order Mennonite World. Her family and church looked a lot like the Amish — to outsiders, at least. She grew up with horses and buggies instead of cars and trucks. She only learned to drive a car only after she was married and had left the Old Order church to join her husband Owen’s less restrictive Virginia Conference Mennonites. She never felt comfortable behind the wheel. Yet, her seventh-grade education took her further in life than Ph.D.’s do for some other folks.
The picture below, probably taken close to her wedding day, shows her before she joined the church and added a white covering on top of the bun.
What Edith did best was show her children, family, and friends love in action. A famous song to a virtuous woman described in Proverbs 31 describes her very well. The rhythms of the King James English help create a vivid picture of who she was:
10 Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies.
11 The heart of her husband doth safely trust in her, so that he shall have no need of spoil.
12 She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life.
13 She seeketh wool, and flax, and worketh willingly with her hands.
14 She is like the merchants’ ships; she bringeth her food from afar.
15 She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.
16 She considereth a field, and buyeth it: with the fruit of her hands she planteth a vineyard.
17 She girdeth her loins with strength, and strengtheneth her arms.
18 She perceiveth that her merchandise is good: her candle goeth not out by night.
19 She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff.
20 She stretcheth out her hand to the poor; yea, she reacheth forth her hands to the needy.
21 She is not afraid of the snow for her household: for all her household are clothed with scarlet.
22 She maketh herself coverings of tapestry; her clothing is silk and purple.
23 Her husband is known in the gates, when he sitteth among the elders of the land.
24 She maketh fine linen, and selleth it; and delivereth girdles unto the merchant.
25 Strength and honour are her clothing; and she shall rejoice in time to come.
26 She openeth her mouth with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness.
27 She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her.
29 Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all.
30 Favour is deceitful, and beauty is vain: but a woman that feareth the LORD, she shall be praised.
31 Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates.
After a lifetime of seeking, and rising, and girding, and holding, and stretching, and reaching, and making, she had a disabling stroke. The last family picture, taken soon after the death of her husband Owen, features the seven sons (Harley, Frank, Stuart, Ruel, Hollis, Welby, Myron) and one daughter (Sharon) arranged around her wheelchair.
As I reflected on her life this morning, I thought about the blessing of having had two mothers. My own mother is a Mary, who loves to read, write, dream, imagine. Edith was a Martha, in the mold of the virtuous woman above. Sometimes these two archetypal woman, the dreamer and the doer, fight a war inside my heart. But I am so glad I have known and loved both of them deeply.