Heroism: Struggle Transformed

Mr. Webster (the dictionary) and I are at odds. It seems that his definition of a hero is “A figure in mythology and legend renowned for great strength, courage, and daring; a man celebrated for special achievements and attributes.” First, I have been blessed to meet real flesh and blood heroes. There is nothing mythical about the lives they have lived. Second, there are just as many women as men who have lived long, heroic lives. Each month I have the privilege of meeting another humble, courageous elder in our community. They feed my very soul – I can only imagine the thousands of souls they have nurtured as they walked and even ran through parts of their life. This month I met the beautiful and talented Marjorie McCannon. She is still lovely at 95 with a well-balanced approach to her life – still looking at the glass half full. Margie’s life began taking major adjustments very early on. Some might call what she has experienced in life trials and perhaps even tragic, but not Margie. It is clear upon spending any time with this woman that she viewed her major adjustments as opportunities. They have matured her into a peaceful and confident woman. First Adjustment: At the age of six, Margie’s mother died leaving her and her youngest brother with a father nearly incapacitated with grief over losing his wife. Fortunately, Margie had an older married sister who offered to raise her and her brother. “With all the inventions since 1912, I’m certain my mother would have survived had antibiotics been in existence in 1918. Even so, my sister and brother-in-law were wonderful parents to me and my brother.” Margie’s father was a traveling salesman so she didn’t see much of him after moving in with her sister. He eventually married a woman who had children of her own. “He didn’t urge me to come back – and I was happy that he didn’t. I was quite content and secure with the home my sister and her husband provided us. ” Margie’s brother-in-law saw early on that she was a bright young woman. Although he couldn’t afford to send her to college himself, he did solicit the help of her two older brothers. They struck an agreement whereby all three of them would split the cost of her education. Although Margie was interested in art, her brother-in-law convinced her to go to law school.  How many families in this era would make that kind of sacrifice for a sibling? Not too many, I’m afraid. Second adjustment: Margie applied and was accepted at Washington University which took her away from home and family. Margie says, “I worked hard at my studies and also held a job all through school. I worked at the National Youth Association for $19 a month. Between school, studies and work I didn’t have time for dating or partying. I also wanted my brothers and brother-in-law to know how appreciative I was of their sacrifice which gave me the opportunity to acquire a good education.” She continues, “I did my Doctoral Thesis on property law. The state of Missouri actually used my thesis as the basis for changing some of their laws. Even so, when I graduated in 1941, no one was interested in hiring a female attorney.” Third Adjustment: “Since no one would hire me in Missouri, I decided to go to Washington DC. My initial position didn’t take advantage of all my education, but at least I was making a living. I was setting up military camps in places like churches and theatres all over the United States. But it wasn’t long before I got a position with Rural Electrification. They provided electrical facilities in rural areas all over the country.  Although I started out as an administrative assistant to the General Counsel, he eventually promoted me to an attorney position.” Fourth Adjustment: “But then a depression hit and I received a pink slip in 1943. I was looking for work once again. An attorney in Florida hired me to do some general legal work. I think the real reason he hired me was so I could do some necessary research for a large case he was working.  In those days, it was illegal to have a monopoly so he was suing DuPont.” That position only lasted a year. Her employer was appointed as Assistant Secretary of the Navy and Margie didn’t like him well enough to follow him into that position. Fifth Adjustment: Margie decided to return to Washington DC and landed a position with the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress under Mr. Frances Whitehair. Finally, at least in the professional arena, she had made her final adjustment. Margie was with the Copyright Office of the Library of Congress until 1972 when she retired as the Assistant Chief of the Reference Division. Sixth Adjustment: This next adjustment was wonderful because it placed a special young man in her life. This relationship introduced her to a special love that lasted for 34 years.  Margie says, “When John left the Marine Corps, he went to work for the National Gallery of Art. It wasn’t long before he transferred to the Library of Congress as a searcher for the copyright office and that’s where we met.  We got married late in life – I was 42 – so we decided it would be best not to have any children.” Margie smiles as she describes the evening he proposed to her. “It was on a hill overlooking what is now the Football Stadium in DC. It was just a swamp back then.”  The sparkle in her eyes tells you that this wasn’t remembered as a swamp. That moment was the start of a whole new phase in her life. Margie continues, “John and I retired at the same time. He had always wanted a farm. He had been raised on one and I guess it was just in his blood. So upon retirement we began looking. We looked at land in Georgia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia. But it was in West Virginia that we found exactly what we were looking for.” John and Margie purchased just over 90 acres located off Harmison Road between Augusta and Slanesville. “We lived in the rundown house that came with the property while we remodeled it.” Seventh Adjustment: Margie, now age 60, had never canned, tended livestock or done much gardening, so this was a whole new lifestyle for her. She says, “All I knew about growing vegetables before the farm was the Victory Garden I had during the War.” Although life was very different for her and it was a daily learning experience, she loved every minute of it. She says, “John taught me so much. I may have had more education than John, but he was much smarter than me.” She laughs, “When I retired from the Copyright Office, the staff enjoyed giving me my first big canner. I guess they knew a little about what I was getting myself into. We had animals, an orchard and several gardens. John was enthusiastic and very ambitious when it came to the farm. He was wearing us both out”, she laughs. “He loved to hunt and he loved to entertain large groups of people on the farm. While he was clearing land and planting, I was learning how to prepare meals with a southern flare. Southern cooking was John’s favorite.” Margie has always been a people person and a joiner. Moving to West Virginia didn’t change her personality or drive for intellectual stimulation. It wasn’t long after they settled in at the farm that they joined the Zion Church of Christ. But for Margie, people, new ideas and the needs of others around her motivated her to take on many projects.  She joined the Homemakers (now called the CEOs) and the Easter Seals. She and John raised so much money in the Easter Seals program that they decided to create another local organization called the Helping Hands – still alive and well in Romney. She has been a long time member of the Ruritan, Chamber of Commerce, and Augusta Church Women United as well as a member of the Executive Committee for the Republican Club. She is still a member of the Red Hatters and is on the Committee for the Aging as well. She smiles, “I’m certain I’ve missed naming some organization I belonged to at one time or another. Like I said, I have always been a joiner.” She laughs, “I always end up being the Secretary for organizations I join. I use shorthand for nearly everything I do and once that information would get out, I was certain to be elected Secretary wherever I went. I still use shorthand.” Margie and John did a great deal of traveling after they retired to the farm. So it wasn’t all work for Margie – although there were weeks when the gardens were ready for canning and it probably felt like it. Where did their travels take them? She says, “Well, I’ve crossed the Nile and the Rhine by boat and the Amazon by plane. I’ve been to South America, the Arctic and to Europe. The last trip John and I took together was across country. We stopped over in every state where we had family or friends. It was a wonderful trip. We were gone well over a month.” Margie also went to China with friends from Alaska after John’s death. She loved the country, but said “We didn’t get a lot of rest on that trip. I can’t really say that I favor one country over another. They were all so different and it’s the differences in the food and lifestyles that I love. ” She did share a small tidbit about China. She says, “I would have starved to death if I had to depend on chopsticks to eat. Did you know that the Chinese use chopsticks because food was scarce at times?” I guess if some of us used chopsticks more frequently when we sat down at the dinner table, weight would not be such a big deal. I’m with Margie – I don’t care to eat with chopsticks when I’m hungry. Eighth Adjustment: John died of a massive heart attack in 1992. In her 80’s, she just didn’t feel that she could keep up with everything on the farm and decided she would sell it. “I sold it to David and Tammy Bradfield. David is the youth pastor at Zion Church of Christ. I did keep two acres on top of this hill and built a new house. This was actually the spot that John and I had decided we would build on one day together when we were ready to give up the farm. Unfortunately, he never got to see it.” David and Tammy have adopted Margie into their family. Even the children call her Granny. “They are so good to me. Even Snuggles, their poodle, adopted me. They brought him over to the house one time and he just stayed. He’s always excited to see his owners when they come over to visit, but he doesn’t seem to have any desire to leave me,” she laughs. Ninth Adjustment: “I retired last year from the Augusta Church Women United and Helping Hands. Although I am retiring from the Republican Club, I have not lost interest in politics. I just don’t have the energy to work at so many things any longer. I’m trying to free myself up. My energy level was much higher prior to catching pneumonia a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, this illness has zapped my usual energy.” Margie might not be skipping through her house these days, but she still goes to the gym at the Augusta Church of Christ and walks 16 laps three times a week. She still has guests over for an occasional card game; keeps up her weekly Scrabble game with Shorty Grapes and plays cards at the Romney Senior Center weekly. Margie says her biggest frustration as she ages is her eyes. There doesn’t seem to be anything medical science can do for her. She just can’t see well anymore and that limits her activities. “My hearing isn’t the best, but I can live with that. I can usually turn up the volume on something I really want to hear.” Margie has classical music playing throughout her home 24/7. She doesn’t watch much TV because she says “There really isn’t much worth watching on it these days.” What Margie misses most is reading. Although she does read, she doesn’t read as much these days. She has to put the piece right up next to her eyes and have a lot of light. The strain is frustrating – those of us who are avid readers can certainly understand. Margie has done all sorts of creative things in her life including painting. “I guess the only craft I really enjoyed enough to continue was painting and I’m not able to do much of that anymore because of my eyesight.” She has also written some beautiful poetry, though none has been published. She says, “I do a Christmas letter every year to keep everyone I know up to date with what is going on in life around me and I’ve kept all of them.  I have also been journaling for years. I call it ‘My Story’. I have reams and reams of journals. When I look back over my life, It amazes me how much has taken place since I was born. Did you know that I was born the same year that the Titanic went down? When I was growing up there were no aerosol sprays, city water systems, electric dryers, washing machines, dishwashers, air conditioning, ball  point pens, detergents, frozen foods, radio, airplanes, microphones, plastic, Velcro or even indoor plumbing. The world is a very different place now.” The following is a piece Margie wrote as she approached her 95th birthday. The past grows so fast! The present is soon the past I don’t know how long it will last. When I think about the past, present, and future, I am concerned about my life’s legacy. I don’t want to die feeling that I’ve made no difference…. If I try, I should be able to recall a few plusses. I have always been a loyal friend and good listener, Though I don’t always have an answer. While attending St. Katherine’s, I joined National Philanthropic Society that Sponsored an impoverished school in Kentucky. Besides funding the school, our sorority volunteered at a local orphanage. Years later I became a Literacy Volunteer of America My last client was a high school student who was failing. After a few sessions with me, he achieved the honor roll. My friend Barbara credits me with influencing her decision to attend college; She eventually attained a Harvard degree. As a Library of Congress employee, I was trained to help employees with their tax returns; I prepared tax returns for all blind employees. I volunteered to help employees with personnel problems. A Latvian lady claimed that her ‘superior’ had given her an unfair rating. I took her case and was able to have her record cleared. She was so grateful that she wanted to give me all of her personal possessions, Knowing that she had terminal cancer;;; I could not accept such generosity. However, once, for a special occasion, I borrowed her beautiful fur coat… John and I visited her at the hospital and were at her bedside when she died. She had insisted that I accept a long sterling silver spoon engraved with the date 1780. For many years I volunteered for Easter Seals and Helping Hands Societies And served as a board member for three charitable organizations. This is not a job resume! I am definitely retired. For the last few years I have Been like a sponge, soaking up the love of friends, Wondering if I will have made a slight difference When my life ends…. Margie need not be concerned with leaving a legacy – it’s already in place. It’s in the hearts of hundreds of people she has touched, taught or inspired in a life that has spanned nearly a century. I’ve only just met this lovely lady and I will miss her when she moves on to her final adjustment – heaven.

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