A Modern Martha: The Listener

by John C. Westervelt

George and I were together every Sunday night with our youth fellowship friends at Wesley Church in Oklahoma City. Immediately following our 1950 graduation exercises at Oklahoma University, George and I were commissioned as ensigns in the U. S. Navy. One month later, the Korean war began.

On annual leave, George returned to Wesley where he met a school teacher who had recently graduated from Oklahoma State University. On Christmas leave during my third year in the service, I stayed over for the wedding of George and Martha.

After my navy duty was complete, I returned to Wesley where I met and married Nelda, another school teacher from O.S.U.

George and Martha had four boys while Nelda and I opted for a boy and a girl. Every four or five years the two families visited briefly.

George and Martha built a successful oil drilling business. George ran the drilling crews while Martha managed the office. Their sons, Dave, Bill, Charles, and James, were the after-school janitors. Life seemed perfect for this family.

In the summer of 1975, after a year of college, Bill worked at Philmont Scout Ranch. At the end of the season, he left the camp riding in a friendís car. George and Martha were called with the news that Bill had been in a highway accident in California. When they arrived at the hospital, the doctor answered the anxious parents questions with, "Bill is a quadriplegic." Billís family and his God nurtured him throughout the immediate crisis and into the acceptance of his new lifestyle.

The drilling business continued to prosper. Six drilling rigs, valued at a million dollars each, were debt free. In 1986, with the collapse of domestic oil, the business was lost.

In 1987, George and Martha came from Great Bend, Kansas along with two other long-time friends, Jed and Jini from Evanston, Illinois, for Neldaís funeral. Our friendship only deepened with our losses.

In September 1991, these four and my sister, my brother and his wife, and I vacationed for a week at Jed and Jiniís in Vermont then attended an Elderhostel in New Hampshire. My September 1991 letter to my family included this excerpt describing Martha and her listening skills.

...In Nelson, New Hampshire we were seated on sun-bleached railroad ties surrounding the Village Green eating sandwiches and fruit. The kelly-green grass was polka-dotted with bright yellow flowers. Martha was sitting on my right. In the previous days, I had discovered that she was a good listener. Martha had attended O.S.U. with Nelda. I don't remember much in the way of her questions, but soon I was talking about Nelda and myself at a depth not shared with others. My feeling was one of joy. The eight in Vermont and the six in New Hampshire were a joyful bunch, but if a vote were taken, Martha would have been selected the most cheerful.

Our fourteen days were up. There had been hugs all around. The air was cool. Under a blue sky, a bright sun shown across Martha's face. She had listened so well. I asked about Bill. Her voice said, "John, he can't even get a drink of water by himself." Her eyes spoke more. I wondered if these eyes remembered how to cry. I think of my own family, not wanting to imagine such a tragedy for them. As I think of Martha and her son Bill, hot tears wet my cheeks. Martha, I know you will be forever brave and cheerful, but all of us should allow you ten minutes to cry. And that is OK; for as you shared in New England, you will quickly smile again when Will, your two year old grandson, makes his near daily visit to climb up on Bill's wheel chair to play with his favorite Uncle.

Since that fall of 1991, the Wesley Eight have vacationed together each year. This last fourth of July, my sister and I went to Great Bend, Kansas to celebrate the holiday with George, Martha, and Bill. Bill led the way in his wheel chair on the quarter mile roll and walk to the city park in the morning for the canoe races, an event which had been started by his father, George, and continued by each of the four boys as an Eagle Scout projects. The Independence Day celebration has been under the direction of the Jaycees ever since Billís brother, Charles, was President of this civic club.

I spent most of the fourth in the park with Bill. I have good memories of the clusters of young people, old people, and families with children in continuous conversation and laughter. They gathered for simple, free entertainment, and by their expressions they were not disappointed.

Bill, as a senior Jaycee, circulated throughout the park all day, encouraging the young Jaycees in their directing of the dayís activities. When I looked at Bill, I thought, "He is the most successful person I have known in my sixty-seven years."

You may be asking, "How could this be?"

The answer is simple: The scorekeeper in the game of life scores by what you do with what you have.

God gave Martha a generous gift for listening to her family and her circle of friends. How grateful I am to be within that circle.

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