Sunday, June 26, 2011

Elsie G. Roe

Did you ever feel a connection with a stranger—someone you will never meet, someone long dead? I feel connected to Elsie G. Roe.

A few days ago I received a book I had ordered from one of those Amazon book resellers. The book is rather yellow and worn but I think it only cost me one cent over the shipping cost. It was written in 1969 by Clarence Jordan, a preacher, biblical scholar, and proponent of social and economic justice. This charming book (The Cotton Patch Version of Luke and Acts) is one of a series of Clarence Jordan’s versions of books of the New Testament, translated into a rural Southern vernacular.

Inside the front cover of the book is a bookplate—an etched drawing of an owl—and underneath is written, “from the books of Elsie G. Roe.” And tucked between the pages of the book I found two aging color photographs. One is a photo of three women standing in front of a large barn/garage structure. The second photo is of two women, a teenaged girl, and baby. One of the women is in both photos—I figure it must be Elsie Roe.

She is a stout woman with an ample bosom, a sweet smile, and over-sized glasses. In one of the photos she is wearing an unfortunate print turtleneck, a navy blue vest, and navy blue pants. The vest has five wooden buttons but Elsie has only buttoned a single button in the center and she has some papers stuffed in the front pocket. It was probably the 70s and I don’t think Elsie cared much about fashion. But there’s something about Elsie, something that compelled me to find out more about her.

Elsie Gertrude Roe died in 2003 at age 83 in Traverse City, Michigan. She was a graduate of a Bible college, a retired practical nurse, the widow of a Methodist minister, a mother, and grandmother. Her obituary says that “. . . she gave her heart to the Lord at a very early age and continued to live a Christian life.”

But here’s why I feel connected to Elsie Roe—this old used book of hers has phrases and passages underlined in red or highlighted in yellow. Reading the pages she read, knowing something about her, and seeing what she thought was important intrigues me. For example, from Acts 7:44:

“Now David got the idea of putting up a more plush sanctuary for the God of Jacob, but Solomon actually built it. But—THE ALMIGHTY DOES NOT LIVE IN MAN-MADE BUILDINGS.”

Or from Acts 10:23:

“All right, but as for me, God has made it plain as day to me that I’m never to think of any man as inferior or no good.”

I’m guessing Elsie Roe was a good woman.

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