On learning to tell more and more of our “Her-Story"

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When I was a kid, my favorite place in the whole wide world was Harrisburg, SD.  Harrisburg was where my grandma lived.  Being number 7 out of 8 children in my family I didn’t get a chance to get much “me time!”  But in the summer, Grandma Annie would take the McBride clan in sections to her house for a little of what I’d call spoilage. Ida, Rachel, and Gretchen (the three oldest) came for the first week in June.  Joe and Erin (the two oldest boys) for the second week in June.  And then, Liz, myself, and Hope (the youngest three) for the third week in June. If we were lucky the three youngest got to stay until the 4th of July!  It was there in Harrisburg that Grandma Annie would lavish us with a ton of “firsts” in my life: my first bottle of soda (I loved orange and it took me a couple years until I was able to finish a whole bottle in one sitting), my first pizza (it was at Shakey’s Pizza and she was disappointed we ordered cheese…“But there  are so many more toppings you could choose!”), my first pair of “new” jeans (they were Sears “Tough Jeans,”… I got them two sizes too big, so I could roll them up and wear them longer. All my other jeans were “hand-me-downs” from Joe and Erin).  

But, perhaps the warmest memory I have of Grandma Annie is one morning when she woke me up early and asked if I wanted to go with her to the post office. Grandma, you see, was the US postmaster for Harrisburg, SD (one of the first women in her state to carry that title).   As I think back on that morning it’s as if it was dusted with magic.   I can still remember the smells and the sounds as Grandma opened the back door of the post office, after we stuffed mail for an hour, as she lifted the bars to the post office window signifying that we were open for business. I watched proudly as grandma greeted every person who came into that little building as if they were family.   I still get goosebumps when I walk into a post office or see an old mailbox with a combination lock!

As I look back at my life, I’m shocked at what I don’t know about the “her-story” of my life.  I know quite a bit about the male side of my family, but the female side is hazy.   I’m embarrassed by that, because when I look back at my life, it has been the female side of my family that has often carried the day…gotten us through to the other side!   Grandma Annie certainly did. During the depression she raised 5 children all by herself.  My grandfather, Emmett, took off to who knows where and rarely came back. He was supposed to send money, but never did.  Grandma Annie got by, got us through, by cleaning houses and ironing clothes.  One of my dad’s memories is of going to the school superintendent while it was dark and begging for a bag of coal to bring home because they didn’t have any heat. 

In 1941, right before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Grandma passed her test for the postal service and was awarded the postmaster’s job at Harrisburg. That appointment changed her life. It was at the post office that Annie McBride became the true heart and soul of the little town of Harrisburg.  It was her faith that my father caught and passed down to me.  During WWII Grandma Annie sent letters to every young man from Harrisburg who was in the war.  Just 5 years ago, one of them came to my office in Sioux Falls, SD in tears, telling me how precious those letters were.  When he came home from the war the first person he went to thank was Annie McBride.  “Those letters got me through, Brook.  I saved and cherished each letter and read them over and over.  I’m not sure if I could have kept going without her words of encouragement.”

One of the parts of Grandma’s “herstory” that I wish I knew more about is my Grandma’s political nature. I do remember going through an old dresser of hers as a child and finding a pin much like the one pictured above.  Upon asking her about it, there was first silence.  I listened as my Grandma struggled to clear her throat.   And then, as a gentle tear trickled down her cheek, she whispered, “don’t ever forget to vote, Brook.” My guess is that my Grandma Annie fought hard and long for that vote.  And I pray that we all will continue the fight for all “her-story” to be heard in our world.  

Today, as our country continues it’s struggle against the suppression of our “her-story,” may we here at Bear Creek UMC, join the likes of great women like Bathsheba, Ruth, Naomi, Mary, Martha, my Grandma Annie, and so many more as we learn to listen and live the story that would never have been heard without them.

Your pastor and friend, learning to tell more and more of our “her-story,” Brook

Tim Schaaf