FRANCES CRAW – LIFE SKETCHES
I want to tell you about my mother, but the story starts before Elsie Bartlett [born Elsie Allee] was my mother. It begins on the plains of Nebraska where she sprang from strong American pioneers, some of whom I’m told once lived in a house built of chunks of sod cut from the prairie floor. Though I have seen a picture of that sod house some one of my ancestors built and lived in, I can’t envision how existing in such a structure could be. But, from history books, I understand this kind of improvising was not uncommon to hardy American pioneers when lumber from trees was unavailable.
The knowledge of just when or how Adventism came to my mother’s parents is a story that isn’t too clear to me, but whatever the circumstances, it completely changed the course and destiny of my family. My mother’s father, Albert Allee, moved his wife and five daughters, of whom my mother was the middle child, to Lincoln, Nebraska, where he became one of the builders of Union College. And, in that environment, my mother obtained an education and became an elementary teacher for the Church.
And, as providence dictated, her first assignment was to teach at the Adventist church school in Roswell, New Mexico. It was here that she met and married my father, and it was here that she became mother of three sons and two daughters, of whom I am the middle child.
When I was six, my father’s health broke, and he moved his family to the upper peninsula of Michigan to begin life on his aged father’s homestead. Here my father hoped to regain his strength. But pioneering in that harsh climate only worsened his condition; and this, together with isolation from church and friends, brought hardships to which my sensitive mother was altogether unaccustomed. However, as light shines brightest in darkness, so here my mother’s courage began its special glow which was never to be extinguished.
Though sparse of many common comforts, by various creative ways, my mother made that small, rough, log cabin bright with cheerfulness, and taught her children order and purpose. We lived miles from a school, so she taught us around the table by the kitchen stove. Sabbaths were a particular joy. I remember so well saying the week’s Bible memory verse, and coloring in special books saved for Sabbath use only – pictures depicting some aspect of our children’s Sabbath School lesson. And while Daddy, in his broken health condition, sat in the rocking chair he had whittled from tree slabs, read His Bible or the Review and Sabbath Harold, Mamma would read missionary and nature stories to us hour after hour. Or we would go for long Sabbath walks down the snow covered ice of the creek that ran near our house, pulling warmly wrapped little sister on the sled my father had made with his draw knife and chisel – and all the way along those long walks, my mother would point out the wonders of winter’s beauty.
But it was not to last.
Two years after moving North, my father lost his battle for life, leaving my mother with five children and meager monetary support. And here’s where the story of my mother’s strong faith and indomitable courage really shows most brightly. My mother’s mother, not a Christian, invited the family to come and live with her; but, realizing that by this move, the goals she had set for our family would be compromised, she instead moved the family to the environs of the nearest Adventist Academy where we children would have the best chance for church attendance and a Christian education. My older brothers were yet young boys, but they had been taught industry and faithfulness, and found various kinds of work in that farming community. My mother earned what she could at whatever was available, and we younger children hired out to neighbors at such backbreaking things as picking strawberries, or cucumbers for the pickle factory.
It was during this time that one experience stands out above others. My older brothers were away at some kind of work on an afternoon when a storm struck. I remember so vividly the dark green color of the angry cloud that formed suddenly on the otherwise sunny afternoon. Abruptly there was a cold wind, and my younger brother and sister and I, who had been playing in the orchard, ran to the house. And then came the rain and hail that pounded on the roof of our little house with such force that we could scarcely hear one another speak. Mamma gathered we three trembling children in her arms at a chair by the west window as the storm raged. The hail was large, and the wind so strong, that suddenly the glass in the window broke, letting in the force of the elements. It was then that, above the din of the hail and wind, I remember Mamma’s clear voice in the words of a song which I had never remembered hearing before, but which ever since has held a very special meaning in my life:
“The Lord’s our Rock, in Him we hide, A Shelter in the time of storm…
The raging floods may round us beat, We find in God a safe retreat…
A shelter in the time of storm.”
Those words were so meaningful to me back there as a child, but they have held even deeper meaning for me as, in adulthood, I recognize that the most dangerous storms are not those of hail and wind, but situations of great uncertainty and perplexity which we so often meet.
God is still my “shelter in the time of storm.”
It was the depression years when everyone was poor, but our family, by comparison, was much more deprived than others – the depth of poverty something I know was most hard for my sensitive mother’s spirit to bear. Yet she never let us forget that we children were in no way to sink to mediocrity, but were destined to make a real contribution to the world as missionaries for God; and, although it would mean that we would need to earn our entire way, never was there the slightest hint that we weren’t all going to college.
There’s so much more to tell, but there’s no time to tell it here. So let me note quickly the end of the story. All five of the children in our family graduated from what is now Andrews University, and all five of us spent our careers in serving the Lord as either teachers or preachers. My oldest brother, William Bartlett, served on the staff of Maplewood and Paradise Valley Academies. My brother Virgil Bartlett, besides serving as principle in various academies, became the first president of our college on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines, and finished his career as Professor of Education on the faculty of Andrews University. My husband, Dr. H. Allen Craw [pianist and musicologist] and I, after serving on the faculty at what is now Southwestern University, spent thirty-four years at La Sierra University in California. My younger brother, Alvin Bartlett, spent almost his whole career as a missionary in Indonesia. And my baby sister, Louise, and her pastor husband, Andrew Wolcott, served 40 years as a pastoring team, including a stent as missionaries in the Far East.
And what of my mother? She spent the last twenty-five years of her life living in a comfortable apartment which my husband and I built for her adjoining our home in La Sierra. It was a very large blessing for us to give her, in her declining years, all the comfort and honor she so richly disserved.
And now, in closing, I want to offer a prose-poem which I found in my mother’s scrapbook called “A Parable for Mothers” – lines which describe my mother so well that I scarcely can ever read them to the end without sobbing in appreciation of the wonderful gift God gave me and the world in the life teaching and example of my wonderful mother.
A PARABLE FOR MOTHERS
And the morning came, and there was a hill ahead, and the children grew weary and the mother was weary, but at all times she said to the children, “A little patience, and we are there.”
So the children climbed and when they reached the top, they said, “We could not have done it without you, Mother.” And the mother said, “This is a better day than the last, for my children have learned fortitude in the face of hardness. Yesterday I taught them courage. Today I have given them strength.”
And the next day came strange clouds which darkened the earth – clouds of war and hate, and evil; and the children groped and stumbled and the mother said, “Look up. Lift your eyes to the Light.”
And the children looked and saw above the clouds the everlasting glory, and it guided them and brought them beyond the darkness. And that night the mother said, “This is the best day of all, for I have shown my children God.”
And the days went on, and the weeks and months and years, and the mother grew old, and she was little and bent. But her children were tall and strong, and walked with courage. And when the way was hard, they helped their mother; and when the way was rough they lifted her, for she was as light as a feather.
And at last they came to a hill, and beyond that hill they could see a shining road and golden gates flung wide. And the children said, “You will always walk with us, Mother, even when you have gone through the gates.”
And they stood and watched her as she went on alone, and the gates closed after her. And they said, “We cannot see her, but she is with us still. A mother like ours is more than a memory. She is a living presence.”