Paul!

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(Remembering Mary Ellen Townsend Harris, 1911-2016)

Some time before Mary and Hugh celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary, Paul accomplished something most people would have said was impossible.   It began one evening years earlier when Mary paused to talk with him before saying goodnight.  She noticed he seemed restless, and wondered why.

“Paul, you seem a little uptight tonight.  Is something bothering you?”

His eyes widened as he responded,  “Mother…I have…something…to say,.”

She pulled a chair beside the bed, sat down, then leaned forward.  “Okay, I’m all ears.  What’s on your mind?”

Paul spoke laboriously, almost taking a breath between each word.  “I have…something…to do…and….”  His breath gave out, and he turned his head to the side.

Mary put her hand on his.  “Take your time.  I’m listening.”

“No…not now.”

Mary was puzzled.  Because his speech took so much effort, Paul often made succinct remarks that signaled deeper, unspoken thoughts.  She…

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Paul!

EPSON MFP image

(Remembering Mary Ellen Townsend Harris, 1911-2016)

Some time before Mary and Hugh celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary, Paul accomplished something most people would have said was impossible.   It began one evening years earlier when Mary paused to talk with him before saying goodnight.  She noticed he seemed restless, and wondered why.

“Paul, you seem a little uptight tonight.  Is something bothering you?”

His eyes widened as he responded,  “Mother…I have…something…to say,.”

She pulled a chair beside the bed, sat down, then leaned forward.  “Okay, I’m all ears.  What’s on your mind?”

Paul spoke laboriously, almost taking a breath between each word.  “I have…something…to do…and….”  His breath gave out, and he turned his head to the side.

Mary stroked his arm.  “Take your time.  I’m listening.”

“No…not now.”

Mary was puzzled.  Because his speech took so much effort, Paul often made succinct remarks that signaled deeper, unspoken thoughts.  She encouraged him to take her to that deeper level.  “Is this something you want to do tomorrow?”

“Maybe…I need your…help.”

Mary leaned closer and spoke warmly.  “What is it, Paul?  What do you need me to do?”

He took a deep breath.  “I…want to…write a”…he exhaled…”book.”

Usually Mary had a pretty good idea what was going on in Paul’s mind, but this caught her off guard.  “That’s a big order.  Are you sure?”

“Yes!  God…told me to…write a book…to…inspire people.”

“So, you feel God is giving you a message, and you need me to write down the words for you…is that right?”

Paul turned his head toward her as his body arched to the extent his restraints would allow.  He squealed with delight.  “Y…yes!”  He expelled tension as he smiled.  “Can you…do that?”

“Of course!  What is the book about?”

“God…and…faith.”

She leaned over and kissed his forehead.  “That sounds good.  I know you have a lot to say.  Let’s talk more about this tomorrow.”

Paul relaxed, and she saw how exhausted he was.  “Good night,” she whispered as she moved the chair back to its proper place, and turned out the lights.  She thought back to the out-of-body experience Paul had shared with her after he nearly died from post-neurosurgical pneumonia seventeen years earlier.  That’s when he told her, “I saw Jesus! He said my parents need me here, and i still have things to do.”

When she raised her children, Mary had shared her faith with them.  She encouraged each one to listen for God’s call that would show them their own unique purpose in life.  Her two sons became ordained pastors and her daughter a nurse.  Now she sensed Paul was discovering a unique purpose that would authenticate his life.  Lord, she prayed silently, I know you have a special purpose for Paul.  Help us see clearly what it is.  She went to sleep wrapped in a sense of assurance.

The next day she and Paul established the ground rules.  Knowing how much energy this would take for him, they decided to dedicate an hour at a time to the project, whenever he felt up to it.  Formulating his thoughts and emotions into words, then waiting while they were transcribed, would take an immense effort from him.  She wasn’t sure he had the stamina to actually do this…it would be a long, drawn-out process.  He was determined, and a teacher at COHOPE offered to work with them, so they launched the project.

Writing the book stretched out for several years.  Finally, in 1979, the manuscript was complete.  It consisted of poetry and prose, all hand-lettered.  There was a photograph of Paul in the opening pages.  To save on cost, they formatted it for letter-sized paper, folded in half.  He dedicated it to his mother, and she wrote an introduction.  Once they had the copyright, a local printing company in Harrisonburg produced the book.

“One Day at a Time,”  was the title Paul gave his book.  It was about his journey, learning how to get through life in spite of severe disabilities.  He observed the activities, attitudes, and reactivity of able-bodied people around him, then plugged in his own perspective.  He had a formula:  take things in stride, one at a time, don’t get in a hurry, never stop trying, and trust God in everything.  At first reading his words might seem simplistic, but reading through again, with an ear tuned to his spirit, could unlock the hidden depth of his insights.

Paul came to experience a consciousness of God’s presence in everything.  He expressed it as “seeing” God and wrote a poem around this theme.  “I saw God when I woke up,” he wrote, and called the role of all the experiences where he felt Go’s presence.  He saw God in the sunrise, sunset, trees, water, birds, wind, terrain, weather…everywhere.  When he saw God, he discovered love at the root of everything.

Constant tension marked Paul’s world.  Opposing forces pulled against the center of his life, yet that’s where he found God’s healing touch.  When one part of his brain wouldn’t let him express feelings in a coherent flow of words, God’s Spirit would overcome the tension, communicating spiritually beneath the words.  The same was true when he wanted to raise his arm and his brain produced a contrary motions instead.  God put people in his midst who understood this and helped him resolve the conflicts his movements produced.

Some severely handicapped people faced these tensions by withdrawal.  Paul faced them with engagement.  His mother gave him that flexibility.  Someone would walk up to Mary in a public setting and say, “You should be ashamed of yourself, strapping that poor, helpless young man into that chair!”  She would reply, “If you knew him, you’d understand those straps are merciful.  They keep him from harming hisef, or others.”  Paul would say to her about such people, “If they only… understood…themselves, they…would understand me.”  He had great insight.

 Paul wrote about his faith in a piece titled, “My Testimony.”  He wrote, “The Lord touched me.  He filled me with the Holy Spirit.  He told me, ‘You are ready to do my work every day.  I will tell you what to do.  You tell others that I have filled you.'”

He told what happened to him at a Full Gospel Meeting.  “People were around me, and then the Lord was with me right in that room.  He held out His hand and talked to me.  Then He touched me, filling me with His love and the Holy Spirit.  And I thought I was drinking water.  After that, I felt like the Lord lifted me all the way out of my chair!  After He did all that, He took away my fear.  Then He took away His hand.”

Mary had mixed feelings when Paul left the Keezletown church to join an evangelical congregation in Harrisonburg, but she had raised her children to be independent.  She was thrilled as his faith and excitement grew through that fellowship.  Sometimes if felt to her as though he was simply on loan to her and COHOPE–that God would call him home, and the time would have gone by too swiftly.  Then she would pick up his book and let the title sink in, “One Day at a Time.”  She gave thanks, and treasured each day God gave her with this very special son.

Among Paul’s poems was one titled, “Autumn.”  He wrote, “I always love the Autumn wind in October.  It reminds me of when I was little.”  As the poem unfolds, he says:

“Autumn is here,

And I feel like singing a new song!

The wind is blowing the leaves

Off the trees.

And how lovely it is outside!

What is Autumn?

Autumn is many colors!

How does He do it?

By His love.

And the Lord turns the leaves gently

From glory

To glory,

Like us!”

It was on an autumn day, October 25, 1988, when Paul made a sudden announcement during lunch at COHOPE.  “I’m going…on a trip…alone,” he told his mother.  “You can’t…go with me…this time.”

Mary saw a glint of excitement in his eye.  Hmmm!  Something’s up.  Maybe he’s hatching a scheme to get someone to take him somewhere–maybe a pretty girl.

“So, where are you going?”

Paul didn’t respond.  Seeing a far-away look in his eyes, she decided to let it go–he’d tell her more when he was ready.  They finished lunch, and the day wet on with no more mention of a trip.  In fact, Paul didn’t speak of it again until five months later.

Early in 1989, Hugh T called Mary with a question.  “Mom, how long has it been since you were in Cincinnati?”

Mary thought back.  “Gosh, I’m not sure…I guess the last time, Hugh and I went together for some shindig when he was working for Samuels.  Why?”

“Well, I’ve been telling Sharon about my growing up there, and it occurs to me I haven’t been back in decades.  We’ve decided to take a few days the last week in February and drive out.  Now, hold your hat…we’d like for you to go along.  Interested?”

 It was something “out of the blue,” as the saying goes, for Mary.  “Well, that would be wonderful, but I have responsibilities here, and your dad can’t drive distances like that any more.”

“Oh, we’ll do the driving.  Just thought it would be a fun trip and give you a chance to go back again.  We’re leaving Monday, February 20th, and will be back by Saturday so I won’t have to get a substitute for Sunday.  How does that sound?”

“It sounds great!   Let me think about it and talk it over with Hugh.”

When she told Hugh about it, he said it was a good idea, and he’d be fine staying there to keep an eye on things,  She called Hugh T back and agreed to go.

In Cincinnati, they visited the old dairy farm property in Covedale, which was now a residential subdivision.  The Big House was still there, although altered somewhat in appearance.  So was the house Elmer and Merle had built, but the house where Mary was born was gone.

They visited Price Hill, Norwood, Blue Ash, Sharonville, and Clifton.  Many neighborhoods had changed, but they found most of the houses where she and Hugh had lived.  After a visit with her brother and his wife, they drove out to Springfield to visit her parents’ graves, and Highland County to the burial sites for Hubert’s parents.  As planned, they returned to Keezletown on Saturday.

Mary hadn’t realized how much she would miss Paul and the COHOPE family.  He was delighted to have her back.   Then he made an announcement with a familiar ring.  “I’m going…on a trip…soon.”

At first, she thought he was just being playful because she’d been away, and he wanted her attention.  Then she remembered five months earlier…back in October.  Somewhere in her spirit she heard an alert sounding.  Lord, what’s going on here?

A settled feeling came over her.  “That’s nice,” she said to Paul.  “You can tell me about it later.”

When Hugh T was getting ready to return to Richmond, Paul said to him, “I’ve got…a…secret.”

“A secret?  Can you give me any hints?”

“I’m going on…a…trip.”

“Where?”

“That’s the…secret.  You will…know…soon.”

After Hugh T and Sharon returned  to Richmond, Mary settled back into her routines.  Then on Sunday, Paul became ill.  He was worse by Monday, and they called the doctor.  He had viral pneumonia.  When it continued to worsen, Paul was put in the hospital.  Things did not look good.  By Thursday, he was place in the hospice unit.

“I’m very sorry,” the doctor told Mary.  “Paul just doesn’t have the strength to pull through this,  We are making him as comfortable as possible.  If there are family members who want to see him, they need to come soon.”

Mary sat with Paul Friday night.  They had elected to do no “heroic measures,’ and his tubes had been removed.  He was sleeping more peacefully than she had ever seen–no twitching nerves, unruly hands, or hard breathing.

Mary leaned back, closed her eyes, and released her emotions.  She sobbed a flood of tears.  Letting go of her son was so hard.  He’d been so much a part of her life for so long. Her comfort was that she knew he was ready, and God would now receive him through that tunnel of light where he had met Paul years earlier, then sent hi back to finish his task on earth.

During the day on Saturday, Paul was alert, relaxed, and speaking more clearly than he ever had before.  His siblings and many friends came and went.  Hugh relieved Mary for several hours, then she returned.  During the night Paul awoke briefly and talked to her.

“I love you, Mother.  Thanks for taking care of me.  Tell all my friends I love them.”

Then he was ready to sleep again.  He smiled.  She leaned over and kissed him.  “I love you, Paul.  God has many wonderful blessings waiting for you.”

He opened his eyes a few moments later.  “You will be all right, Mom,” he said, then closed them.

Sometime in the early hours of Sunday morning, he died.

And Mary was all right.

(Excerpt from “Dairyman’s Daughter,” by Hugh Townsend Harris, based on “Remembering!” by Mary Ellen Townsend Harris)

 

The Big Five-0

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(Remembering Mary Ellen Townsend Harris, 1911-2016)

Mary sat on a couch in front of the fireplace in the COHOPE dayroom, a quilt wrapped around her shoulders.  Hymns emanating from a local radio station anchored the atmosphere with a calm sense of security.   It was Monday, Januay 21, 1985.

Outside the weather was bitter.  The coldest air mass in 86 years had the entire eastern third of the country in its grip.  Heeding weather forecasts, Hugh had spent the weekend making sure the water pipes under the building were protected, and the heating system working properly.  He had brought in extra firewood.  Mary and the cooks had made sure the pantry was stocked.  There was no storm associated with this air mass, just bitter, cold temperatures.

They had not picked up the day students because of the weather.  To conserve heat, they closed off the classrooms and everyone gathered in…

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The Big Five-0

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(Remembering Mary Ellen Townsend Harris, 1911-2016)

Mary sat on a couch in front of the fireplace in the COHOPE dayroom, a quilt wrapped around her shoulders.  Hymns emanating from a local radio station anchored the atmosphere with a calm sense of security.   It was Monday, Januay 21, 1985.

Outside the weather was bitter.  The coldest air mass in 86 years had the entire eastern third of the country in its grip.  Heeding weather forecasts, Hugh had spent the weekend making sure the water pipes under the building were protected, and the heating system working properly.  He had brought in extra firewood.  Mary and the cooks had made sure the pantry was stocked.  There was no storm associated with this air mass, just bitter, cold temperatures.

They had not picked up the day students because of the weather.  To conserve heat, they closed off the classrooms and everyone gathered in the dayroom.  The morning became a cozy time games, songs, stories, and “family” bonding.  After lunch, the students returned to their rooms for a rest period.  Some staff members left early.  Mary found it an ideal time for reminiscing.

Putting dfor own her Bible and journaling notebook, she leaned back and closed her eyes.  On days like this it seems like spring will never come.  She thought back to her childhood days on the dairy farm, and the warmth of the wood-burning stove in the kitchen of the old house, whose soul was rooted in the log cabin that had spawned it.

Mary’s thoughts turned to hers and Hugh’s fiftieth wedding anniversary coming up in May.  She remembered the vows they had wrapped around their lives standing before an elderly minister in her parents’ living room.  “I, Hugh, take you, Mary…I, Mary, take you, Hugh…for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health…until death….”

She wished she could whip out an album of wedding photos to remember everything, but there was none.  Why didn’t we think to have someone take pictures of the wedding? Dad Harris had a 16mm camera he loved to use…it doesn’t make sense.  I guess we were just in a hurry to get our lives going!

She thought about the journey she and Hugh had shared across these years.  We’ve had our share of both the better and the worse, she thought.  In the beginning, their resources were scarce, yet they felt like they owned the world.  Now we have so much to be thankful for…this place and the mission God has called us to fulfill.  Paying the bills had become stressful at times as they awaited influx of support.  It was humbling.  Thank you, Lord, for keeping us going!

Mary opened her eyes, got up and added a log to the fire, then fell back into her thoughts.  She felt especially thankful for the good health she and Hugh had experienced for five decades.  There had been a few glitches, to be sure.  She recalled the time Hugh had left early for a sales trip to North Carolina.  Suddenly he felt a pain so severe he had to stop the car.  It wouldn’t let up, so he turned around and drove back to Harrisonburg where he went directly to the emergency room at Rockingham Memorial Hospital.

She remembered the phone awakening her.  Picking up the receiver, she struggled to say something coherent.  The caller sounded urgent.

“Mary, this is Dr. Hearn.  I called to tell you Hubert is sick.  He has a kidney stone.”

She was awake now.  “Oh!  Well, does he know it?”

“Of course.  He’s lying here in a lot of pain.  Hurry up and get in here.”

Dr. Hearn,a friend as well as their doctor, was a supporter of COHOPE.  He performed surgery, and Hugh spent a couple of days in the hospital recuperating.  In recent years he’d developed some back trouble and had begun sleeping in a recliner chair instead of a bed.  There was no recliner in the room, and none available in the hospital.  True to form, he solved the problem…by having his own recliner brought in from home.

That’s Hugh!  No obstacle is too great…he always finds a solution.

Her mind drifted to her own hospitalization when Dr. Hearn sent her to the emergency room with dehydration.  It was about eleven o’clock at night, and they assigned her to a room that had been occupied by an unruly, intoxicated man.  He had kicked out the window before they subdued him, and removed him to another section of the hospital. Maintenance replaced the window temporarily with a sheet of cardboard taped to the frame, but it let in cold air.  Mary remembered receiving IV’s while huddled under blankets, trying to keep warm.  She shivered at the thought.  I think that’s the coldest I’ve ever been.

There had been some other hospital stays under much better conditions.  The causes included a hemorrhoidectomy, hysterectomy, and a abdominal tumor they thought was cancerous.  Surgery proved it was benign, but she spend several inpatient weeks while they searched for blood with platelets to match hers.  It was an ordeal!  She signed. Nothing, though, compared to what I’ve seen others experience.  Mary was stirred from her reverie by the sounds of people stirring about.  Rest time was over.

Such was one brief day in the midst of winter that soon morphed into spring.  In the background of that wintry day were preparations her family was making to create a special celebration for their mother and dad.  The anniversary would fall on a Sunday, so they planned a three-part celebration.

Finally May 5th rolled around.  The celebration began at Keezletown United Methodist Church.  All four of their family was there, including grandchildren.  Congregation members overflowed with joyful greetings.  They were in the sanctuary of the new church built some years earlier, after the merger of the two churches Mary had noticed the night she arrived in town.  The service was structured around the theme of marriage.

A retired pastor, and close friend of the Harrises, Reverend Frank Baker, was the guest speaker.   As he concluded his sermon he said, “Mary and Hugh have asked to renew their wedding vows this morning.  If there are other couples who would like to join them, please come to the altar rail.”

Many couples responded.  Mary and Hugh faced each other, joined hands, engaged each other’s eyes, then repeated the vows.  A warm flood of emotion surged through Mary’s body, finally moistening her eyes with tears of joy.  “I love you,” she whispered to Hugh.   Her words were caressed by the same from him.  All of the challenges, hardships, joys, and fulfillment they had known together were baptized afresh with God’s grace.

After the service, Mary and Hugh, along with their families and a few friends, drove into Harrisonburg where a special meal had been arranged at the Sheraton Hotel.  Following dinner, their four children presented them with a check for $10,588 they had raised to honor their parents.  It was made out to Community of Hope, Inc. to support the project in which their parents had invested so much of themselves.

Later that afternoon, a third piece of the celebration took place with a reception back at the church.  Friends joined family once again to express joy, appreciation, and encouragement.

At the close of the day, Mary and Hugh gave thanks to God for the sensitivity of their family and friends.  They dedicated the check to daily operating needs at COHOPE.  It was a time when financial needs pressed them every day.  Many factors contributed to this.

For one, they had been in operation for fifteen years, during which time laws had been passed to mainstream care for the handicapped in schools, and public accommodations.  Community awareness had progressed to the points where handicapped persons were no longer looked upon as strange, embarrassing, or frightening.  The dairyman’s daughter and her husband had been part of making that happen.

New terminology had emerged.  Their clients were no longer “handicapped, but “developmentally disabled.”–a more inclusive category.  The term effectively communicated who they were.  It also spawned changes in how the community perceived their purpose.  COHOPE was still held in high regard, perhaps higher than ever, but now they had more competition for financial support as new organizations with somewhat similar goals came into being.

To meet the urgent need for support, Hugh made fundraising a daily activity.  Retired now, he frequently drove around the community seeking contributions.  He went to community and church leaders, and often door-to-door.  When his parents died, he received an inheritance which he dedicated solely to Community of Hope.

From this perspective, the “Big Five-0” gift was a high moment for Mary and Hugh–just as renewing their commitment to each other at the altar was a high moment undergirding their life together, and their enduring faith and trust in God.

(Excerpt from “Dairyman’s Daughter,” by Hugh Townsend Harris, based on “Remembering!” by Mary Ellen Townsend Harris)

Achievements and Recognitions

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(Chapter 22, “Dairyman’s Daughter,” remembering Mary Ellen Townsend Harris, 1911-2016)

The Cybertype machine was only one contribution that came through the link of Community of Hope with Madison College–which became James Madison University in 1977.  The school’s growing reputation for excellence in health services meant Community of Hope had access to cutting edge advances in speech therapy.  When two professors discovered a grant was available in the use of technology to teach people with speech problems, they thought of COHOPE.

Mary and Hugh were excited, but also curious.  They asked one of the professors, “Aren’t there always a lot of people competing for grants that can only go to a few?  How would we go about doing this…I mean, what makes you think COHOPE would have a chance?”

“Of course it’s a competitive process.  We wouldn’t downplay that, yet look what you’ve already built, basically from scratch–a program effectively serving some…

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Achievements and Recognitions

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(Chapter 22, “Dairyman’s Daughter,” remembering Mary Ellen Townsend Harris, 1911-2016)

The Cybertype machine was only one contribution that came through the link of Community of Hope with Madison College–which became James Madison University in 1977.  The school’s growing reputation for excellence in health services meant Community of Hope had access to cutting edge advances in speech therapy.  When two professors discovered a grant was available in the use of technology to teach people with speech problems, they thought of COHOPE.

Mary and Hugh were excited, but also curious.  They asked one of the professors, “Aren’t there always a lot of people competing for grants that can only go to a few?  How would we go about doing this…I mean, what makes you think COHOPE would have a chance?”

“Of course it’s a competitive process.  We wouldn’t downplay that, yet look what you’ve already built, basically from scratch–a program effectively serving some of the most severely speech impaired people we’ve seen.  We believe, if you focus on that, you can be very competitive.”

Mary pondered his words.  She was drawn to the idea.  “Okay, how would we go about this?  Is there a formula or something we need to follow?”

“Yes. there is a protocol, and we can help you with that.  Most of all, though, grants are awarded on the basis of uniqueness and merit.  Your program already stands out in those areas.”

After further discussion, they decided to give it a try.  Hugh worked hard at learning the “system,” as he called it, for presenting their cause.  They submitted their request and waited.  Finally, the word came–they had, indeed, won a grant.  Mary and Hugh were thrilled.

When the money arrived, they used it to sponsor a Communication Workshop at the Ingleside Resort in nearby Augusta County.  People attended from all around the state.  COHOPE staff members were among them, including two teachers who produced an outstanding project.  They published a book detailing a unique approach to handicapped education that became a resource in the JMU library.

Of special impact was a chapter about an innovation called the “Nine-to-Nine Board.”  This was a chart that could be adapted to the needs, interests, and background of individual students. Through a system of nine different eye movements, handicapped persons could use the chart to communicate.

One COHOPE resident named Melody, was severely handicapped, confined to a wheelchair, and had no speech at all.  Using the technology of the Nine-to-Nine Board, in tandem with a sensitivity fostered by Community of Hope’s faith-based philosophy, the staff tapped into Melody’s bright, active mind that was otherwise masked by her condition.  She learned to communicate her thoughts, needs and wants by casting nine different expressive eye movements.  As a result, she entered a new world of relationships that was thrilling to her…almost like a bird set free from a cage.  

Trough experiences like this, the dairyman’s daughter often realized how far her life had taken her down a path she could never have imagined in her childhood days of cherry tree musings on her grandpa’s farm.  Then there were other times when she learned things through unexpected interactions with her COHOPE family.

Such an experience occurred one day during lunch, which was the primary daily meal where residents, day students, and staff members gathered around the table.  Mary wasn’t always able to be there, but on this particular day she was.  Since Paul needed someone to feed him,   she took that responsibility to free someone else.  On this day she sat next to him, alternating between feeding him, and then herself.

Paul sometimes had difficulty chewing and swallowing, so his food was pureed.  Still, if he was given a second bite too quickly, he could choke.  Over the years Mary fell into a habit of coaching him by saying in a low voice, “Swallow, Paul.  Swallow,  Swallow,”

For some reason Paul suddenly rebelled against her method, as if he couldn’t listen to her coaching any longer  He reared up in his chair, actually standing on his footrests for a few seconds, pulled loose his arm straps and shoulder strap, then turned to his mother and shouted, “Swallow!  Swallow!  Swallow!”  Exhausted, but triumphant, he flopped back into his chair amidst an awkward silence as everyone stopped eating and fastened their gaze on Mary to see how she would react.

She felt equally shocked, but recovered quickly.  Calmly, she refastened all Paul’s straps, then continued eating her own lunch.  She completely ignored Paul for several minutes, then quietly resumed feeding him.  She offered spoonful after spoonful, and he ate as though nothing had happened.  Conversation resumed around the table as everyone got back to their own lunch.  Incident over.

Later that afternoon Mary passed Paul;s room, glanced inside and his eyes met hers.   His facial expression said he wanted her to come in and talk, so she did.

“I…am…ssorry…Mmmo-ther.”  He twisted his head, straining in his chair as he spoke  “I…am…sorry I…BLEW…UP!”  He exhaled deeply as the tension left his body, keeping eye contact.

Mary reached to him, looking into his eyes.  “You had every reason to blow up, Paul, and I’m glad you did.  Thanks for making me put myself in your place and realize what a mistake I’ve been making.”

Paul said nothing more, but his relief was comforting to Mary, as was the beautiful smile that accompanied it.

Life at COHOPE was like that!  It was sometimes full of surprises, always involved learning experiences, was frequently exhausting, and always fulfilling.  Mary would lie down at night, offering thanks to God for everything that was happening in her life.  She would pray for wisdom and strength to continue the journey she had begun the day she married the man of whom her father said, “You’ll never have a dull moment.”

He had been right.  What was also right, she realized, was that without Hugh’s unique talents and temperament, she could never have met the challenges her life had produced.   She gave thanks as she reminisced.

COHOPE truly was a community where hope resided, and became visible in peoples’ lives. Mary and Hugh were often invited to speak before church and civic groups, telling their story. From the beginning, this was natural for Hugh, the salesman who never seemed to meet a stranger.  It was much harder for Mary.  Early on she told him she didn’t think she could do it. His reply was characteristically to the point, couched in a touch of humor.

“Oh,” he said, “just act like you’re talking on the phone.  You never have any trouble with that!”

She smiled to herself remembering this.  His advice had been sound, and she had learned to just relax and be herself in any situation.

Sometimes Mary and Hugh’s efforts brought formal public recognition.  Every year the Exchange Club in Harrisonburg presented a “Golden Deeds” award to someone in the community.  One year Hugh was given that award in recognition of his devotion to the cause of helping where he saw a need.

Because of her work with COHOPE, Mary was invited to join the Pilot Club of Harrisonburg. This was an organization for women comparable to the Rotary Club.  The group took interest in their members for the kind of services they provided through charitable organizations. Mary remembered warmly the honor she felt when the club presented her with the Salvation Army’s “Others” award for her work at COHOPE.  She was the second person in Harrisonburg to be given this award.

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Mary cherished all of these experiences.  Her life became a treasure chest of accomplishments focused on others,  She felt blessed and deeply fulfilled

(Excerpt from “Dairyman’s Daughter,” by Hugh Townsend Harris, based on “Remembering!” by Mary Ellen Townsend Harris.)

One Step at a Time

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( Author’s Note:  This is Chapter 21 in my Dairyman’s Daughter manuscript drafts.  My last posting several weeks ago was titled, “A Bold Undertakomg,” and described Mary and her husband Hubert building a residential school for developmentally disabled adults called Community of Hope, Inc. (COHOPE).  This chapter moves the story  forward as COHOPE goes into daily operation.)

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Bible study at COHOPE

(Remembering Mary Ellen Townsend Harris, 1911-2016)

The only way to take on a bold venture is to handle it one step at a time.  Each day became part of a learning curve for Mary and Hugh as they launched COHOPE into daily operation. Encountering constant challenges tested their resolve, and opened them to new talents they hadn’t realized they possessed.

Once they had things going, the challenge was to make the facility visible.  They reached out to the community by extending invitations for groups to visit, get to know…

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