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Tag Archives: Helen Keller

The Tune of Hope

“Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”
― Emily Dickinson”

I read recently that there are over two hundred million copies of Chicken Soup for the Soul in print. This one series includes story-on-story of hope that sing to those without hope.

Listening to or reading the news can clobber us with a world without hope, but perhaps hope is a choice even in circumstances that seem hopeless.

One of my favorite children’s books was called Pollyanna. Eleanor H. Porter was the author, and it was published in 1913. (No, I didn’t read it until the 1950’s.) The main character, eleven-year-old Pollyanna was the most optimistic girl in literature. “When you look for the bad, expecting it, you will get it. When you know you will find the good—you will get that…. ,” she pronounced.

Pollyanna Whittier is a young orphan who goes to live in Beldingsville, Vermont, with her wealthy, but stern and cold, Aunt Polly. Her aunt was concerned about appearances, propriety, and local politics. For Aunt Polly, her niece is a duty, and not welcome.

Pollyanna’s father taught her “The Glad Game,” which encouraged his daughter to look for the good in every situation. This was an on-the-spot lesson about life when the doll Pollyanna was wanting for Christmas was not in the missionary box; only a pair of crutches fit into the barrel.

Bottom line, she learns to face adversity and challenges with a smile on her face.

Even when her aunt puts her into an attic room without carpet or pictures, Pollyanna enjoys the beautiful view of the town. She passes this philosophy on to other residents, before Aunt Polly finally realizes that there is another way to handle disappointments, rather than griping.

When Pollyanna is hit by a car and is paralyzed, she can’t find anything to be happy about with this tragedy. With time and encouragement from Aunt Polly, as well as therapy in a hospital, Pollyanna learns to walk again. Because of her paralysis, she learns how important her legs are and is glad for them.

Image result for pollyanna

In 1960, Disney produced the movie Pollyanna, starring Hayley Mills, and Hayley Mills won an Oscar for her performance.

In 2002 the citizens of Littleton, New Hampshire unveiled a bronze statue in honor of Eleanor H. Porter, author of the Pollyanna books and one of the town’s most famous residents. The statue depicts a smiling Pollyanna, arms flung wide in greeting. Sixteen books by different authors have been written about Pollyanna, so young readers are still enjoying the mind-boggling hope in this young girl’s life.


Believe it or not, Pollyanna was a made-for-TV movie last fall by PBS, and a new generation of girls was introduced to this orphan with a positive outlook on life.

We all know the amazing story of another young girl, who overcame her disabilities. Helen Keller said, “Keep your face to the sunshine, and you cannot see a shadow.”

It is still January, and we are still in a new year/new beginning mode. Why don’t we choose a smile, rather than a frown? Can’t we look for something good in the midst of disappointment?

I have heard that it takes less muscles to smile than to frown, and I, for one, don’t need anymore wrinkles.



“Hope is being able to see there is light despite all of the darkness”

Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness. - Desmond Tutu

Perhaps you have lived through a tornado, but thankfully I have never had that experience. On the TV, I have seen the horrifying images of devastation cased by these funnel clouds. This morning I looked in amazement at a video a friend posted about last night; he lives about 15 miles from us. The image was of a small boat being pushed by the wind across his back yard.

Around dusk, a couple of major thunderstorms wandered across Spartanburg County. It became darker and more silent, as they approached. The winds built up, the skies darkened, and the emergency weather system broadcast its alerts. A tornado was spotted below our town, and another possible one was to the north.

No, we didn’t go to our hallway and shut the doors, but we continued to monitor the situation. In about an hour, the tornado warning was lifted. John went to the basement to be sure the sump pump was running and decided a ham sandwich, rather than a grilled steak was in order for our supper.

This morning we woke to a new day of sunshine; the storms had vanished and moved on.

Helen Keller is a heroine of mine. Her story is one of persistence, and the movie, The Miracle Worker, opened my eyes to how hope changes lives. The scene, at the water pump, where Anne Sullivan is pumping water into Helen’s six-year-old hand and finger spelling the word “water” into the other hand was profound. I can still see this in my mind, as joy, wonder, and hope melted together for Helen; the darkness was miraculously lifted. Her life started over.

Hope is mighty, like the light of one candle. It can pierce the darkness and enable us to sleep at night.

Shel Silverstein defines it this way. “Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”

Don’t you think we should choose hope?


Judith Giton: A Carolina Matriarch and Woman of Substance

In 1684, nineteen-year-old Judith Giton escaped from her home country, France, because of her religious faith. Choosing not to change her Huguenot religion to Catholicism, government restrictions curtailed their lives in France.

The Huguenots were followers of John Calvin and part of the Protestant Reformation. They believed in Bible study and prayer to guide their lives. Worshiping simply was important.

Under house arrest, with her mother Madeline and two brothers, Pierre and Louis, they all fled in the middle of the night with little more than the clothes on their backs. They had planned for weeks their escape route. Even though the guards pursued them, they were helped by sympathizers to their Huguenot faith.

Other Huguenots had left their homes because of the legal and financial harassment from the government that was meant to impoverish them. Over 200,000 fled; 2300 left for America.

Finally sailing from London, the voyage wasn’t easy. Scarlet fever ran rampant on the ship, and Judith’s mother died of this disease. With a layover in Bermuda, the three siblings arrived in Charles Town. They were penniless. This noble family worked the land to survive, and within two years, both brothers died.

Image result for old picture of Charleston in 1710

Pestilence, hard work, famine, and death were their companions. One new settler described his first impressions in a letter saying, “a sail from a boat was our first house and the earth our bed. A cabin like that of savages…was our second house.”

Judith married a man not of her social status; Noe Royer was a weaver; this was considered a mesalliance. He bought land and built a house on Church Street. The couple had three children.

Shortly, 35-year-old Royer died, and Judith married another French Huguenot named Pierre Manigault. Manigault was a cooper/barrel maker, and they had two children. Again she married outside her social status. Since Judith had inherited Royer’s house, they stayed there. She took in boarders for extra money. In a seaport town like Charles Town, there was always a full house.

Joining the French Huguenot congregation that met in its church building on Church Street, the blended family was faithful in attendance. Expanding his business to include distilleries, he was wealthy by 1710.

What a brave, single woman Judith was to leave for America; she survived by working hard and putting aside her nobility. She was one of the first women to begin a new life here. When Judith’s life was finally an easier one again, she died in 1711.

The American poet, Robert Frost, wrote, “Freedom lies in being bold.”

Little is known of Judith Giton’s life, and they are mostly facts. Below is a letter, written six years after her arrival, she wrote to the soldier brother that stayed in France; she describes her early life here. Judith was a survivor, and she chose a new life and independence here in America.

This South Carolina woman struggled, but never gave up. The understatements in it speak louder than the details she chose not to include.

“For eight months we had suffered from the contributions and the quartering of the soldiers, on account of religion, enduring many inconveniences. We therefore resolved on quitting France at night, leaving the soldiers in their beds, and abandoning the house with its furniture. . . . [They hid for ten days, then traveled from city to city to get out of France. At one point they were only 90 miles from where her brother, to whom she is writing, was stationed as a soldier.] Mother and I entreated my eldest brother to consent that we should go that way. . . . It was in the depth of winter. But he would not hear of it, having nothing in his mind but “Carolina,” and dreading to miss any chance of coming hither. The thought that we thus lost so good an opportunity to see you at least once more, has been a constant source of grief to me, ever since.

After this, we passed into Holland, in order to go to England. We were detained in London for three months, waiting for a vessel ready to sail for Carolina. Once embarked, we were miserably off indeed. The scarlet fever broke out in our ship, and many died, among them our aged mother. . . .

Our vessel put in [at Bermuda] for repairs, having been badly injured in a severe storm. Our captain . . . was thrown into prison, and the ship was seized. It was with the greatest difficulty that we secured our passage in another ship, for our money had all been spent. After our arrival in Carolina, we suffered all sorts of evils. Our eldest brother died of a fever, eighteen months after coming here. . . .

We ourselves have been exposed, since leaving France, to all kinds of afflictions, in the forms of sickness, pestilence, famine, poverty, and the roughest labor. I have been for six months at a time in this country without tasting bread, laboring meanwhile like a slave in tilling the ground. Indeed I have spent three or four years without knowing what it was to eat bread whenever I wanted it.

God has been very good to us in enabling us to bear up under trials of every kind.

from “Letter of Judith Giton Manigault,” trans. by Charles W. Baird in History of the Huguenot Emigration to America, Vol. 2 (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1885), 112–114.

The present French Huguenot church was built in 1844 and is located on Church Street in Charleston. It is the oldest Gothic Revival Church in South Carolina. This congregation is Judith Giton’s congregation, and it is breath-taking.

I applaud the Giton family’s move to the colony of Carolina. Walking away from what was known and familiar to a world that held a slew of unknowns took courage. Judith Giton worked hard to survive; this matriarch of the Manigault family has influenced our state for the better.

As Helen Keller said, “Remember, no effort that we make to attain something beautiful is ever lost.”

“Beulah Land”

Allison Kraus visited our community in the 1980’s at a concert at Converse College, and I bought tickets for John and Scott. They talked about it for years. Here is her rendition of “Beulah Land.”

Edgar P. Stites was a veteran of the Civil War and a riverboat captain. He wrote the lyrics to this song in 1876. The musician, John R. Sweeney, composed the hymn tune.

This Southern gospel song describes a longing of an unseen land. It is an eternal country over a river. Often this hymn used to be sung at funerals, because of its promise of a better place than our earthly existence. It is based on the scripture, Isaiah 62:4 “Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah: for the LORD delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married.”

This is the beginning of a new year, 2015. Many are making resolutions to either stop or start something.  Others are specifically adding trips to foreign countries on their bucket lists. If we watch the news, we wonder what is happening to mankind, as some make destructive choices. Choosing a simpler life in the mountains, off the grid as it is called, looks like an attractive possibility.

My great grandmother, called Granny by all of us, was a member of a small church off Kanuga Road in Hendersonville, NC. I can barely remember the steep hill going up to the church and my surprise that cars parked all over the grass. There wasn’t a parking lot, and there were grave markers all around. There was only a sanctuary with open windows and hard benches to sit on.

We went to worship with her there only a few times. This would have been in the mid 1950’s during the spring and summer. It was different and foreign to me. I was young, and the memory has faded with time. But I remember the happy faces of those there; hugs were added to greetings. Bird songs competed with the preacher, and butterflies flew in and out.

“Beulah Land” was the song they sang at the end of the service every time we went. Just like the author of this song, who was looking for a better land after the Civil War, this congregation had their eyes wide open for one, too.

As I look toward this new year and wonder what it has in store, the optimist in me is wide awake. One of the most endearing compliments our son has ever given me is when he said I was the most positive person he knew. The cup is always half full in my eyes. Helen Keller once said, “Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.”

Happy New Year!