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Schuermans
Schuermans

2011.167

Schuermans in central Asia

Faith's Miracles

Chapter 5 Contents Chapter 7

Chapter VI. The Neighbors, and Our Mother's Work Amongst Them.

The scene of our mother's most prolonged activity was the before-mentioned village of Thalheim, lying in a narrow valley of a district commonly called the "Baar," part of the mountainous Black Forest. Its inhabitants are distinguished by peculiarities both of costume and character. Their strong and handsome physical development is united to the free simple manners, and marked individualities of race, only observable among Highlanders. The power of custom exercises a singular force over the minds and actions of these primitive folks; it may indeed be described as the strongest moral or spiritual influence in the whole region. In their eyes it would seem an enormity to make light of their traditional notions of propriety, and the mighty law of "custom" is incongruously dragged forward upon all occasions, often even to pronounce upon matters of the most serious nature.

Once, in remonstrating with a naughty maid, my mother asked her how, in following her evil courses she could ever expect to get to heaven. "Why not, I should like to know?" cried the girl in surprise. "Upon what do you found your hopes?" asked my mother. "O Frau Pastorin!" rejoined the damsel with much assurance, "it is the custom with us for people to go to heaven! You see, heaven was made for us— not for the animals."

The dialect of the Baar is harsh and odd, somewhat resembling the Swiss patois,6.1 and possessing a quaint force and drollery of its own. The costume of the place is still more singular, and might seem almost to date back to primeval ages.

A woman's head-gear consists of two caps, one black and tight fitting, drawn down in front to meet the eyebrows, the other of fur, which is worn the whole year round. Two long plaits of hair hang down the back reaching far toward the ground. A black jacket, drawn back in front, exposes a laced vest surmounted by white. Round the waist is passed a thick sausage-shaped roll, from under which emerges the skirt starched stiffly into innumerable tiny folds. Broad, flat shoes, and red woolen hose, complete this strange attire, which altogether weighs twenty pounds, and costs from fifteen to twenty dollars. The wedding costume (or "hippe," as it is called) generally lasts a woman her life time. A very curious effect is produced in the village church, by the sight of the whole female population, down to the smallest girl, dressed in this way, and ranged in long rows. Without this traditional costume however, none of them would set foot within a place of worship.

On one occasion, my mother went round the whole village, vainly trying to hunt up such a dress for a poor unthriftly woman, who had confessed, to her with shame and contrition, that she dared not show herself, for want of a "hippe." In every house she was met by the contemptuous reply, "If she were not a lazy wench, she would have her dress all right enough!" At length, in the cottage of a charcoal burner, the guest proved successful, for his wife, though very poor, immediately discovered that she possessed an extra "hippe," which she freely offered. Deeply touched by this general kindness, and in the name of Him who said, "I was naked, and ye clothed me,"6.2 our mother accepted the gift. She also formed a very hearty friendship with the charcoal owner's wife, who was a most interesting woman, endowed with mental capacity and refinement of a high order, while her disposition was frank and affectionate. Her active kindness and sympathy often proved a real comfort to us.

It was on the New Year's Eve of 1820 that, as our mother sat reviewing her past life, it occurred to her that the store of her father's sermons, hitherto read alone, might be made a means of wide-spread blessing, if a few of the neighbors were to assemble and listen to them in the parlor of her above-mentioned friend. The plan was promptly adopted, and henceforth a company of peasant women met regularly and found great enjoyment in hearing them. The spiritual life of the charcoal-burner's wife especially seemed to receive a marked impulse, so that our mother exclaimed in delight, "One actually sees her grow!" The good woman, on her part, seemed to become more glad-hearted every day, as she sat mending the garments of her large family during the reading; and often declared, "It is only since 'the mother'6.3 came among us that I have found out what I really am and possess; the more I get to know God's word, the more I hunger and thirst after it." Her cordial affection to our mother increased in the meantime, and if ever she noticed the parsonage lights burning late at night, she would come running over and say, "I don't know how it is, Madam, but I cannot sleep when you are up and busy!" And then, actively taking part in any business that, was on hand, she stayed on till all was finished.

Some years later this faithful woman died in my mother's arms; and often, in speaking of her, she used to assure us that in "the resurrection of the just"6.4 the charcoal-burner's wife would be distinguished and honored as the model of a Christian neighbor.

On leaving home, the ancient Greek colonists were always supplied with holy fire from their country's hearth, in order to keep up the glow of patriotism in their hearts, and show their connection with their native land. Surely, we ought, in the same way, to supply our children, those colonists whom we send out into the far country of the Future, with a holy flame of truth and light, such as is furnished for us in the Word of God. This was an idea which forced itself very strongly upon our mother's mind, and caused her to adopt a plan originated by our grandmother. It consisted in assembling the village children, and by the aid of a large colored picture-book, relating Scripture stories to them in a lively and impressive manner. Every Sunday afternoon, she started out, the book under her arm, and going from house to house, gathered round her everywhere a crowd of eager listeners. When she quitted one cottage, the children, intent on hearing more of her attractive stories, ran along by her side into the next. It was a curious sight, this wandering Sunday-school,6.5 such as has rarely been seen, the shepherd in the midst of the flock, the crook being replaced by the famous picture-book, her sign of office; and as she passed up the street, her narrative was often continued for the benefit of apt scholars. This method of teaching embraced one grand advantage, inasmuch as each visit gave opportunities of hearing the truth, to the grown up as well as to the younger members of every family, and many a good seed was thus cast by the wayside. We can see here how ingenious in its resources is the love that seeks and saves.

But our mother's most practical and efficient labor was one unseen by others, for it was accomplished when all around her were at rest. By the time night had set in, and her daily household toil was ended, her great night work began. For then, she entered into communion with a higher world, and like Jacob, wrestled with God in prayer, for special blessings upon her family and friends, our parish and all her other interests. This was done with so much constancy and regularity, that at least two nights in each week were thus spent. When, in later days, we begged that she would allow herself more rest, she always said, "I shall rest in eternity, now I have no time. I have to pray so much for the king, and government, the consistory, universities, seminaries, and schools, beside my own family, that I seem never to have finished." Her cabinet of business for this spiritual work, was a little corner beside the stove in her room, and there she spent countless nights kneeling or stretched upon the floor, yet never growing weary.

Footnotes

6.1 “pa-twa,” dialect.

6.2 Matthew xxv.36.

6.3 Throughout the whole village Madame Paulus was always called "the mother."

6.4 Luke xiv.14, Acts xxiv.15.

6.5 Sunday-schools were at this time an unknown institution in Germany. They were introduced into Stuttgart about eight years ago, by a German who returned home for a visit, after being many years in America. They soon took root, and are now universal throughout that city, and are conducted on the American plan.

Chapter 5 Contents Chapter 7