Kansas Collection books


A Saint

woman playing with baby

    Somewhere I read a passage that said "Saints and sinners all around.  Somewhere in between we all abound."  I've known quite a few sinners in my time and most of them I prefer to forget I've also known some people I consider saints.  One lady in particular was Ida Harris.  In my book she came as near as it is possible to be a true Saint.

    Ida was a member of a poor Irish family that lived a few miles up the road in a little village called Irish Creek.  She had 10 brothers and sisters and her parents were honest, hard working farmers.  Ida finished the 8th grade and was married to John Harris on her 14th birthday.  They set up housekeeping in a dilapidated log cabin nearby.  Soon the first of nine children arrived.  Life was hard but John and Ida survived, and raised three boys and six girls.  One by one their children grew up and moved away, usually to start a family of their own.

    John and Ida came to work for my grandparents and lived in the tenant house nearby.  John helped with the field work while Ida helped my grandmother with the household tasks.  Grandma remarked several times that Ida "had a way with children."  She was a nursemaid at a very critical time in my life.

    My premature birth at seven months left my mother in a weakened condition.  When I was just a few days short of one month old, my mother passed away.  The shock was devastating to my grandparents.  But they were strong pioneers, so they adopted me and raised me as their own.  The problem was finding food that would agree with me.  Nothing they fed me agreed with my premature system.  It was Ida who came to the rescue.  She made a thin gruel of oatmeal, sugar and milk.  Then she strained it through a cheesecloth.  That was my "formula."  I liked it, and it worked.  The trouble was that I screamed to be fed every two hours.  It was Ida who slept beside my crib and kept a warm bottle of this special formula ready all night through.  I was nourished and I flourished and began to grow.

    Ida could do so many things with children.  She loved them all --- and most of the time her love and care was all she had to give them.  I was especially fond of curling up in her spacious lap and begging for a bedtime story.

    She helped Grandma with the cooking and housework whenever needed.  However, she would occasionally put on a pair of John's overalls, bundle up against the cold and go with John to pick corn.  Grandpa swore she picked more ears than John did.  Together they harvested more corn than any other two pickers.  Ida was also a whiz at butchering time.  And she had a special knack for preserving food.

    John Harris came down with a bad cold and the flu one winter.  Although the doctor came to see him several times, he quickly became very ill and passed away.  Because John and Ida had no home of their own, the funeral service was held in my grandparents' home.  It was a large funeral, beautifully done by the Catholic Father.

    Ida stayed on with Grandma for a while, but finally moved in with one of her daughters, who had lost her husband.  One of John and Ida's sons, Ben, came to work for us.  He was a lovable fellow and at 30 plus years had never married.  One Mother's Day he announced that he was going down to Irish Creek to visit his mother.  I begged to go along and so he took me.  By then Ida was living alone in an old clapboard house set back in a large pasture.  It was several miles from town and a long distance from any neighbors.  She was alone and lonesome.

    Ida didn't know we were coming, but was obviously glad to see us.  The old house was pretty bare and her kitchen was also bare.  But she insisted on fixing dinner for us.  There were three or four chickens running around the yard.  Quickly Ida caught one and in a short time that chicken was in the frying pan.  She also mixed a batch of biscuits and fried some potatoes.  It was a delicious meal and we topped it off with some red, ripe apples that Ben had brought along.  She fed us generously but I often wondered what she had left to the next few days.

    When Grandpa became very sick, Grandma sent for Ida.  She nursed Grandpa for several weeks but he grew steadily weaker.  It was Ida who sat by his bedside and put cold cloths on his brow and made him as comfortable as possible.  It was Ida who was with him at the end and said a final prayer for him --- although she knew that he wasn't Catholic.  It was Ida who gave cousin Marsh and me comfort as we witnessed the first death of our lifetimes.

    As we travel through life, we encounter saints on one end of life's rainbow and sinners on the other.  It is Ida that I remember as a symbol of sainthood.  And I sort of think that she may be enjoying her status as a saint more than she did real life.  I sure hope so.

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