Mammy had an autographed photo of Billy Sunday’s wife.
She kept it in her Bible.
According to Wikipedia, William Ashley Sunday was an American athlete who, after being a popular outfielder in baseball’s National League during the 1880s, became the most celebrated and influential American Christian evangelist during the first two decades of the 20th century. Helen Amelia Thompson Sunday was his wife, an indefatigable organizer of his huge evangelistic campaigns during the first decades of the twentieth century, and eventually, an evangelistic speaker in her own right.
Mammy was my grandmother. Born in 1890, she and Pappy moved to Erie from Scranton/Wilkes-Barre when Pappy was hired by BuCyrus-Erie to build cranes.
She used to tell me of the tent meetings down state which she had attended, where she met Pappy. These were huge gatherings of people, who came together from all points rural to hear the Gospel preached by Billy Sunday. I believe Mammy recounted that she was led to the Lord by Helen Sunday, after one of these meetings. I also remember that, while she used to enjoy playing Solitaire alone in her bedroom, Mammy gave up the deck of cards once she got saved. I often wonder if thereafter she stopped playing the Key Game, which celebrated psychic skill and at which she excelled, as well.
Mammy’s name was Mae Elisabeth Learn. She’d been second maid to a wealthy, Jewish brewer in the Poconos before meeting Henry. He courted her, to and from Sunday’s tent meetings, until the day he declared: “ You Mae Learn to be Sweet.”
Pappy’s name was Henry Thomas Sweet, and his parents had hailed from Cornwall, England. When he and Mammy married and traveled to Erie, Pappy carried on Billy Sunday’s evangelism by preaching on the street corners. His was a hellfire and brimstone, Bible brandishing English orator’s style; with his booming, a-tonal baritone, he’d hand down God’s order to the vagrants: get up from the gutter! repent! and, get a job.
When I look at images of Billy Sunday, I can’t help but note how much he resembled my grandfather. They shared cut features and a strong jaw and the same, resolute expression. Mammy did not resemble Helen Sunday; she had a softer countenance, and always bore a sweet smile.
But, together, they had both responded to the call of evangelism proposed by Billy and Helen Sunday. They’d pulled up stakes and moved all the way across the Commonwealth to carry it forward. And, Mammy, who spent the rest of her days raising their four daughters, tending two flower and vegetable gardens and, together with Pappy baking hundreds of loaves of bread and both hooking and braiding rugs, sat in her rocking chair when day was done, Bible in hand, praying for everyone who came to mind, with Helen Sunday’s photograph just inside the cover of her Bible.
I remember the year I met my husband. We’d been introduced through a mutual friend, whom we both respected greatly. Our friend, and his private teacher, was the principal oboeist of the Erie Philharmonic during the years when Maestro Eiji Oue held the baton.
I had developed a deep respect for our maestro, which bordered on fixation. He had aroused every passion within me, from artistic to sensual to spiritual. He, however, had a strong preference for his principal oboeist, whose petite stature and feisty nature matched his own.
My husband to be was enamored of her, as well; but, she was soundly married to the love of her own life, consumed by their mutual performing careers and and the raising of their four children.
And so, each of us foundlings was brought together by stronger forces, upon the common ground of emotional commitment to another – he, to our mutual friend, and I to my Maestro. When my husband proposed marriage to me, the act was spurred by her very challenge; when I accepted, my anticipations extended to include the potential for an expanding realm of human connection which a bond with him would create. I would marry up, into a world which could include, by scant degrees, the object of my passions.
Maestro Oue did not attend our wedding, though I believe we sent him an invitation, and both of us were sure to include our beloved oboeist in the musical ceremony. Our marriage lasted just over two and a half years (not counting the year of courtship), the second of which my husband spent living and working in Indiana, and it ended seven months after my mother’s death.
I have two, framed companion photos of myself with our maestro. And, there is a Wheaties cereal box which features his image, nestled on the top shelf of my entertainment center in the music room of my home where I have practiced, rehearsed, and provided private lessons for 30 years.
At the top of the box, just above the logo, in Japanese:
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“And Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘Are ye come out, as against a thief, with swords and staves to take me? I was daily with you in the temple teaching, and ye took me not: but — the scriptures must be fulfilled.’
And they all forsook him, and fled.”
Mark 14: 48-50. KJV
Two angles from which this quote can be viewed, both of them compelling.
One: Jesus, exclaiming his dismay at those who sought by aggressively seizing him to betray him, when they’d had ample opportunity to take him without incident and did not. Two: Jesus, relinquishing to prophecy’s requisite.
Jesus both saw the illogic in their behavior, declaring it, and felt the pain it brought to him – and, in the same breath, knew that their acts were unavoidable.
But, it was his final statement which sent them running for the hills.
The very fact that their actions were a fulfillment of prophecy, as such essentially pre-determined. The power of destiny. Fear. Scary stuff.
Even when those who seek to dismiss, discredit, or otherwise hurt others carry out their alleged intentions against them, the real power is quite beyond even these who bow to such manipulations. Frightening, it would seem, indeed, to face that in the very act of deliberate betrayal one’s role is as a pawn to a much greater power.
But, comforting to the victim of such acts, to reflect upon such power. Jesus’ agony would prove temporary; though he would cry out from the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? ” he would rise from the dead, and ascend back to the Father, God Almighty, All Powerful. Those who carried out their role against him would diminish into the shadows, to face their own mortality in due time.
Better, rather, to consider what the Apostle Paul advised those at Philippi:
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.”