When I was growing up in Aroostook County during the fifty's and sixty's, as in most small towns, many of the people who lived around us were related to us in one way or another. One of those who come to mind was a woman named Emma Goodrich.
At the age of sixteen, Emma had married a local farmer and they lived in a tiny four-room house on the corner of the old Richmond Road. At the time of her marriage, she was slim, pink cheeked and vibrant. Her hair, which was long and naturally gold, was kept rolled up into a bun and pinned at the nape of her slender neck. She was soft spoken and quite shy and as she went about her business, she usually had a slight smile on her lips. She was a lovely lady in all manners and ways.
By the time she was in her early twenties, Emma had six children and the endless drudgery of childbearing and housework had taken its toll on her youth and beauty. Whenever anyone stopped by our house for a visit, Emma's name and present condition unfailingly entered the conversation and mother's kitchen would be filled with the latest gossip about what was or what wasn't wrong with Emma.
Now, all those women who gossiped about Emma should have understood or tried to understand her predicament, especially all those "good"
God-fearing Christians. Over and over it was repeated, "Did you see Emma's kids today?" "They are always so dirty and Lord how that house stinks!" one clucked while another said, "Well, someone ought to do something!" "Why I'd like to send some of my kid's outgrown clothes over to her kids but you know she doesn't take care of anything!" Another woman sniffed as she dabbed her lips with a napkin.
A group of church goin ladies banded together and demanded a meeting with the local minister to urge him "in tha name of the Lord" to go to Emma's house and see for himself the slovenly conditions for himself and insist that she clean up her house and her children. "Why there's no tellin what diseases her kids might bright to school and to our children," one mother said to him.
On and on it went throughout the years. Those self-righteous women would puff up their chests and cluck to one another about the ever-worsening conditions in the Goodrich home. Some of these "good" Christians even had the audacity to hint that a dirty house was, well you know; it was "unchristian!"
Others, after paying a visit to Emma's house, would deny that Emma could possibly be sick. Perhaps she was just uncommonly lazy. That's it! She was lazy, pure and simple. After all, old Doc Haggerty couldn't seem to find anything wrong with her after all these years now, could he?
It continued on this way throughout the years until one gray morning, Emma, in the midst of all her squalor and crying children, quietly lay down on her bed and died. She left behind a stinking house, six children, a bewildered husband and a sink full of dirty dishes.
The news of Emma's death spread around town like wildfire. The neighbors came sniffing around to give Seth sympathy and to get a closer look at her dirty, smelly house. They sent over dishes of food for Seth and the kids, all the while clucking under their breath, "My!" "My!" "Goodness!" "Goodness!" Why, the townsfolk couldn't do enough for the poor Goodrich family now.
Then one day, not too long after Emma was buried and some of the broo-ha-ha had died a bit, one of the town's worst gossips met old Doc Haggarty coming up the street. Invariably, the cause of Emma's death was brought up again. Old Doc Haggarty, know by all as being a man of integrity and honor, looked the nosey inquirer full in the face and gave his final diagnosis. "Emma was a wonderful lady and mother. She was a very sick woman for a long, long time and there wasn't a damn thing that I could do to help her. She was riddled with cancer and I know for a fact that she never once complained, ever! I, for one, never understood how she held on as long as she did! I guess it was because she loved her kids so much that she just couldn't stand to be parted from them."
The gossiper, knowin that she was about to get a good chastising by the country doctor, looked at her watch, mumbled something about having an appointment, slid away while the gittin was good, in a hurry to spread the latest news around "tha county" as fast as she could.
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Memories, Another Place - Another Time
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See also Vengeance is Mine a short mystery novel published at Magic City over 4 days.
All works by Martha Stevens-David published at Magic City Morning Star News are her copyright property and may not be reproduced without her permission.