This past week one of my favorite teachers went quietly to her reward. There was not a big write-up about her passing in our local newspaper. Only a thumbnail portrait and a short obituary in small type.
She was eighty-five, and she slipped away only two days after being stricken by a heart attack. Her seven surviving children, all noble citizens, were at her side. She chatted with them almost to the end.
For some fourteen years she was my teacher. Yet I do not recall ever talking with her. I do not recall ever being in the same classroom with her. I have in years past attended church in the same meetinghouse with her, and we have exchanged greetings. She never occupied the pulpit, in my memory. She never spoke a lesson in my presence.
But for me she was a powerful teacher.
She was a woman who lived in a neat little home with gable roof about a mile from our home. All the time I knew her she was a widow.
Her home’s exterior walls are covered with gray-green asbestos shingles. Her home is near the entrance of one of the delightful canyons that reach from our valley into the pine-tipped Rockies above. Her father hauled from that canyon timber that went into the interior stairs of the Salt Lake Temple.
Folks say that this good woman was born in our area. She lived in it all her days, except on occasions such as when she would buggy with her husband to his sheep in the mountains. Years past she churned her own butter and sewed her daughters’ dresses and her sons’ shirts and pants. She baked her own bread up until a few days before her passing. Neighbors say no one around could make turkey dressing like she made with her homemade bread. Children loved her oatmeal cookies.
But I liked her as a teacher.
How did she teach me? For the past fourteen years I have driven my car past her home almost every morning and evening, on my way to and from the office. Often she was out poking among her rosebushes or petunias or marigolds. Her rosebushes were always well trimmed, with a wide variety of pinks and reds in the petals. The soil around them was always well cultivated. The rows were straight, and the blooms every morning and evening seemed fresh looking, as if they had just been kissed with dew.
No country club fairway ever looked more evenly thick and verdantly green, or better trimmed, than her lawn.
I can see her now, her frame bent and her gray hair in a bob at the back of her head, adjusting a sprinkler or trimming a twig. I can see her there early in the morning when the streaks of dawn are unfurling into a sunrise.
Her home and her lawn and garden were always a message of orderly beauty, of growing things that had become fragrantly beautiful because someone really cared—quietly, patiently, tenderly.
She was one of those teachers who did not speak, who moved about quietly, always as if in stocking feet.
But she kept telling me that there is richness and joy and grandeur in orderly simplicity.
A daughter told me that their home inside was as beautifully orderly as the lawn and garden. Neatly arranged in shoe boxes were the receipts, genealogy sheets, and other records. “Even when we were small children, our floors were always clean as a clinic’s,” the daughter said. “And we had fun at home, with spin-the-bottle, pass-the-button, and other family activities.”
The daughter continued: “Mother loved to read the scriptures, and when she was a Primary teacher, she walked two miles to teach her class. I cannot recall her ever raising her voice with us.”
“But her children always knew what she expected,” a friend told me two days after her passing.
A teacher in stocking feet.
Through the years she taught me what Paul told his young friend, Timothy: “… that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (1 Tim. 2:2), and what Isaiah wrote: “… in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength …” (Isa. 30:15).
I do not ask for a return of the so-called “good old days.” The days now are better in so many ways. But I do hope that in our home we can strive to live the lessons of orderly simplicity I have learned through watching that quiet woman in the little gray-green home at the entrance to a canyon in the mountains.