Mary the Great
November 24, 2020 by Mason Bell

Never interacting with my grandparents as an adult is one of the biggest regrets. However, I had the honor of spending twenty years with my husband’s family’s matriarch. Mary the Great dedicated time to family and her Christian faith, both of which carried her through a life of hardship.

In the last five years of her life, we’d spent quite a bit of time pouring over family photographs and mementos kept from a time long passed. Newspaper clippings of great uncles in the Second War and medals for bravery were only a small part of the adventure her life had entailed.

Born in the early part of 1930, she was one of four children, two boys and two girls. She’d first-hand knowledge of the Great Depression and the lengths a family traveled to survive.

Raised on a broiler farm, land dedicated to raising chickens, she lived in a small town. Because of the economic strain of the day, the city defaulted. The local schoolhouse was closed, resulting in her having to attend one in a neighboring town. This wasn’t so bad as she would spend the entire day at the library reading before taking the bus home for dinnertime.

The Emergency Farm Mortgage Act of 1938 set aside funds for failing farms. Her father was the only man in the county who declined the government’s offer. His skilled farmers’ lineage taught him to live with what he already had and make due, working harder and smarter.

Flour sack dresses were typical in small towns across the country, and Mary owned several herself. Her mother sewn them and searched for the fun patterns that flour companies printed on their bags. Mary never favored the dresses, finding them stiff and itchy. In the early 2000’s they became trendy to wear, and she found it strange people would choose such clothing.

When dresses weren’t made at the farmhouse, they were ordered through a catalog. Tax was applied to each sale, but sometimes Mary’s mother would accidentally overpay. The issued refund would be given to Mary. The few pennies were enough for her to save for tennis rackets and new strings.

Mary the Great finished salutatorian in her graduating class and went on to business school. Holding jobs ranging from typist to school superintendent to retail sales, she raised seven kids on a meager budget, a skill she learned from her own parents.

She held to a single idea throughout her life passed from one generation to the next; Make the best of what you have. Life won’t be easy, and trials will come.