It was just about fifty years ago that I first met Sophia. She was one of those hardy pioneers who, having come to this country as a very small child nearly a century ago with her immigrant parents and three other small children, had settled in the primeval forest of northern Ohio. A log house was erected, and then began the herculean task of clearing and draining the land. Their first meals were eaten from the top of the chest that had held all of their worldly belongings. From what I learned, the going in the "old country" had been pretty rough for her parents who had received practically no money for their services, merely a roof over their heads and the bare necessities of life from the owner of the large estate on which they had worked and lived. Desiring something better in life for their children, they got enough together for passage to America on a slow sailing vessel, the Atlantic crossing requiring six weeks.
Finally landing at Baltimore, the hard trek to Ohio began, part of the journey being made by canal boat over the Baltimore & Ohio Canal which was the forerunner of the railroad bearing the same name.
The particular section of northern Ohio where they settled was known as the "Black Swamp" due to the fact that the land was so flat and level, and the forest so dense, that in many places water stood on the land throughout the year. Ague, or malarial chills and fever, was prevalent in practically every family, and few were those fortunate enough to escape it. Roads, if they could be called such, were all but impassable, and if the stage made four miles a day on the "pike" or main thoroughfare which was some miles from their settlement, it was doing well.
Such were the primitive conditions of her early years. But there was no desire to return, only a deep and heartfelt gratitude for the privilege and the right to call their souls their own. A few years in a primitive, backwoods, country school comprised her formal education; but as her name implied, Sophia was rich in the "wisdom" of the heart, possessing that innate faith and understanding of life that enables one to meet its vicissitudes with equanimity and poise. One of the most unselfish human beings I have ever known, the wishes and wants of others were always given priority over her own; she reared a family of six children the hard way, before the days of electric appliances for every household task — or even running water.
When a deep and profound sorrow came to her at the noontime of her life, she accepted it without complaint, bitterness, or self pity and carried on, showing little if any external evidence of the heavy cross she was destined to carry in her innermost heart for more than half a century. Perhaps it was the even tenor of her ways that carried her through ninety-eight years of life in this hectic world, possessing a lively sense of humor until the very last. Her daughter once told me that she never remembered seeing her angry, and I simply cannot imagine that she ever wronged another fellow being.
It was my custom for years, when visiting my old home, to drive her down to "Riley Township" to the old farm and the scenes of her first years in America. "My, my, how things have changed!" Beautiful hard surfaced roads where once farm wagons sank into muck nearly to the hubs. But the miracle of America was not that she could now ride in comfort in a smooth-running motor car at fifty miles an hour where there was once mud and wilderness, but that the poor horses were no longer subjected to their grueling tasks. That was wonderful!
Each time she would point out the dilapidated old building, leaning and weatherbeaten, and with one end torn completely out and sheltering farm machinery, where she had once attended school; a gully where years ago a large brook had coursed its way abounding with fish, but now as dry as a bone. It was a ritualistic observance followed religiously each year, and always the same, but one of which I never wearied.
At the age of ninety-five she was quite active around the house, enjoying remarkable health, and with a cheerfulness of spirit that knew neither years nor age. It was during the year's interim when we next saw her that the inevitable hand of Time laid itself upon her shoulder and in a gentle voice said: "Come, it will soon be time to leave." I found her sitting by the window just after the nurse had "prettied" her up. Perhaps I am prejudiced, but it was a picture that made Whistler's Mother look pale and mediocre in depicting the serenity and beauty of a life well lived. There was calmness and strength in her well-preserved Grecian profile; a spiritual beauty that words cannot describe.
As the months passed there was the gradual withdrawal of those spiritual energies which give human beings whatever of the divine they can manifest in this worldly sphere, and to life everything that is noble and abiding. It was a perfect example of gradual rebirth into other realms of life as Mother Nature, who always cares for her own, intended it to be, without disease or suffering when life has been rightly and nobly lived; a peaceful fading away as natural and as painless as a glorious sunset.
It is all too rarely that we are privileged to walk for a time down the highway of life with such souls, but when we do, some of the essence of their spiritual vestures — the simple goodness of their hearts and the nobility of their character — is bound to rub off on us, and we are made the better by it. I doubt if she ever heard or knew the real origin and meaning of her name. She just lived it.
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