Sometime in the early 1940s, well before I was born, my mother wrote a story and placed it in a denominational magazine. The title was “My Life with The Dominie.” It was the true story of a young pastor and his wife serving their first parish. The members of the church were Palatine Germans. They called their pastor “Dominie.”
The church was in apple country and so my mother wrote about the smell of apple blossoms in the springtime. It was also dairy country. The dairy farmers milked their own cows in those days before industrial farming and milking machines. They thought it was important to do that bare-handed, and so they didn’t wear gloves even in the coldest weather.
The result was frostbite, leaving large cracks in their big hands. On Sunday mornings, they would go to the warm church and casually sew up the cracks in their hands with a needle and thread while they listened intently to the sermon, stood for the hymns, and knelt for the prayers.
The salary was supposed to be $1,200 a year, but in many months there was no money to pay the pastor and his wife. There was always enough to eat, though. The church families shared their food, the women taught my mother how to grow a garden and preserve food and how to butcher chickens. The men took my father hunting.
It’s not clear to me if my father knew which end of the shotgun to hold, but when the dogs flushed some birds he would often hear a shot that brought down a bird, followed by a shout, “Nice shot, Dominie!” That night there might be quail or duck on the table for dinner.
It was still the depression when my parents went to that parish, and my mother wrote about hobos She was amazed that they would always offer to work when they came to the back door seeking food. There was always work to be done, of course, but she was impressed that they didn’t just want a handout.
One day, one of the hobos told her about the hobo code. He showed her the “pictures” scratched in a rock, which he said meant “Nice lady here. Work for food.”
I had heard those stories, and more, but I had never seen the article. My mother’s copy was lost when their apartment was burglarized while I was still an infant. That changed one day in January 2002.
I had given a speech in Phoenix that morning. It was about the future of business and the internet, and it had gotten some play in the press. I had even done a couple of interviews about my books on e-commerce. As I was packing up to leave, a woman came up behind me. “Are you related to Natalie Bock?” she asked.
I said that that was my mother’s name. She handed me a copy of the article my mother had written 60 years before.
The woman told me that she read it all the time because it was a good story. She gave me a copy. She told me she had many more copies.
When we share our stories, we entertain people, of course. But we also give the people we write about a kind of immortality. Sometimes our words reach farther than we know.
My mother wrote her story in the early 1940s. The woman who came to me in Phoenix that day and gave me a copy of the article had many copies, and she had given out many more to her friends. All of them learned about a place in time that they could never visit. They learned the stories and lessons of people they would never meet. My mother wrote a story, and it has resonated down the years. I hope I can do as well.
I was thinking about this today because today would have been my mother’s 102nd birthday.