The Literacy and Spirituality of a Day Gone By; A Tattered Yellowed Page; A Poem I Found from my Great-Grandmother

by Steve Ray on July 1, 2015

I never knew my Great Grandmother Frances Picard. She was originally an O’Grady. They had a deep spirituality and she converted to the Catholic Church later in her life. (By the way, this was all new to me since I never knew – in my childhood – that I had several lines of Catholic ancestors.) 

My Great grandmother is bottom right

They were literate people back in those days. Detroit was in it’s glory days (oh, how it has fallen). The culture still believed in God; they still had a sense of honor, morality and natural law – all honoring Nature’s God.

During some cleaning and organizing we dug through dusty old books gathered from family archives and attics. I am the family archivist now working on genealogies and digitizing old photos.

We came across a tattered and brittle piece of paper, yellowed with age. It was buried in the binding of an old book. On it was the handwritten script of those who learned great penmanship – before we lost it after the keyboard was invented. On that page and in the lines of poetry I can step back in time and meet my ancestors and get a whiff of the world as it was – better times in many ways.

Here are a few lines from a poem she loved entitled Prelude to the Vision of Sir Launfal by James Russell Lowell. I read it aloud to my wife Janet and we were for a moment whisked away. Notice especially stanzas 9 and 10. What is free when everything else has a cost?

Earth gets its price for what Earth gives us;
The beggar is taxed for a corner to die in,
The priest hath his fee who comes and shrives us,
We bargain for the graves we lie in;
At the devil’s booth are all things sold,
Each ounce of dross costs its ounce of gold;
For a cap and bells our lives we pay,
Bubbles we buy with a whole soul’s tasking
‘Tis heaven alone that is given away
‘Tis only God may be had for the asking;
No price is set on the lavish summer;
June may be had by the poorest comer.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Rosemary July 1, 2015 at 1:59 AM

Nice post. I wonder if your Catholic ancestors were instrumental in your conversion. I have to think so. (I mean, of course, that they were interceding.) The communion of saints! God is so good.

Suzanne Haney July 3, 2015 at 10:02 AM

I agree with Rosemary. The poem is evocative of another time when people knew that words matter. I was blessed to grow up with a mother and grandmother who loved reading and writing. Steve, I like your comment about “great penmanship” before the invention of the keyboard. I always wanted penmanship like my mother’s. Keep up the good work that you and Janet do for the Kingdom of God!

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