Mrs. Foster - A Woman of Valor
by Jenn LeBow
Lovely, dignified Mrs. Foster entered the Fellowship Hall of our church in a karate outfit, kicking one leg almost as high as her head and chopping the air. Her hair remained in its usual neat silver chignon. "HAI-YAH!" she shouted as she kicked and chopped. Eyes widened around the room; no one had seen her wear anything but a well-pressed dress. Jaws dropped; her voice never rose above a gentle conversational tone. "HAAAAAIIII-YAAAAAH!"
She then gave a talk on fitness and the benefits of exercise. She was 82.
Mrs. Foster was born in 1898 and became my best friend in 1972. She was 75 and I was 3. The best thing about having a best friend who is 72 years older than you are is that they sometimes outrank your mother in terms of what you're allowed to do. I always rode in the back seat as a child. When she went with us, though, I sat on Mrs. Foster's lap in the front seat of the car and we yelled "Whoopee!" every time we saw a red car drive by.
At our house, I sat at a small table and dealt the cards for us. I never thought that Mrs. Foster might never have played cards before. My mother took pictures, taken aback by the scene unfolding between her tiny daughter and her aunt's dearest friend. Mrs. Foster, sedate in her coordinated outfit, concentrates fully on the game we're playing.
Someone asked me once about my friendship with Mrs. Foster. Trying to describe it, I said, "She's my fake grandmother." She loved that story and called me her "fake granddaughter" from then on.
I have copies of her handwritten accounts of her early years. She tells of her family taking the wagon down to the river to do the washing. It took all day. I have always lived in a home with appliances that wash and dry the clothes. She wrote about the one-room school she attended, complete with pupils receiving corporal punishment from the teacher. By the time I started school, corporal punishment was a drastic measure, reserved only for the worst repeat offenders, and meted out by the principal only.
As a 26-year-old woman, she married Neil Foster, but she firmly insisted that she would not give up teaching her beloved Sunday School class. She would not switch denominations to attend church with her husband. He didn't press the point. Maybe that doesn't sound like a big deal to me or to you. In 1924, though, only four years after women received the right to vote, and living in small-town Texas, it's thrilling to think of her convictions and his support. She remained in touch with members of that Sunday School class for life.
No one dreamed of calling Mrs. Foster strident, however. Instead, she was the picture of grace and dignity. She was kind. Her move to Fort Worth in my childhood was prompted by her desire to help her daughter, son-in-law, and grandson adjust to life in a new place after the death of her granddaughter from leukemia. Her favorite hymn, "It is Well With My Soul," echoes the unfailing trust in God that I saw her live out. She left her friends, church, and community to comfort her loved ones.
Making a new home for yourself in a new city, at any age, is not easy. I cannot imagine that it is easier in one's seventies, when the pool of active peers is smaller to draw from, but I never heard a negative word pass through Mrs. Foster's lips.
Instead, her interests continued to grow all her life; in the years I knew her, she developed the skill of making intricate, symbolic Chrismon ornaments for the church Christmas tree, many of which are still displayed yearly.
I also saw her stretch and sway in doorways, maintaining her posture and balance. She never jogged or attended an exercise class, to my knowledge, but she was active and fit. The "karate" speech showed off her humorous side, her willingness to be part of a good joke, the side most people rarely saw.
Mrs. Foster was a pioneer by birth, a pioneer in her actions, a pioneer in her spirit. I learned all of those things about her, and respected her more for having learned them. Still, to me, the best thing I learned from Mrs. Foster was this: friends love each other richly, no matter how many years lie between them.
All these years later, I still cry when I sing, "Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say/It is well, it is well with my soul." I was taught that by a Thou and a thou: my God, and my fake grandmother.
Jenn LeBow is a native Texan; lover of Jesus; happy wife of Honey, a Diplomatic Security Special Agent; mom of four (mostly) delightful kids: Cartwheel, 21; Einstein, 10; Blossom, 8; and Ladybug, 4; and a voracious reader, whose appetite for books is reluctantly subjugated to other duties in her life. She blogs at Hang On, Baby, We're Almost... Somewhere, where she encourages a small-town, big-world community. You can also find her on Twitter.
This post is part of our Women of Valor series. Eshet chayil—woman of valor— has long been a blessing of praise in the Jewish community. Husbands often sing the line from Proverbs 31 to their wives at Sabbath meals. Women cheer one another on through accomplishments in homemaking, career, education, parenting, and justice by shouting a hearty “eshet chayil!” after each milestone. Great women of the faith, like Sarah and Ruth and Deborah, are identified as women of valor. One of my goals after completing my year of biblical womanhood was to “take back” Proverbs 31 as a blessing, not a to-do list, by identifying and celebrating women of valor. To help me in this, you submitted nearly 100 essays to our Women of Valor essay contest. There were so many essays that made me laugh, cry, and think I’ve decided that, in addition to the eight winners to be featured this week, I will select several more to feature as guest posts in the weeks and months to come.
Jenn, and the other winners of the Women of Valor contest, will receive a flower necklace that is hand-made by the artisans of Hill Country Hill Tribers, a non-profit helping Burmese refugee women in Austin earn supplemental income and learn marketable skills. The necklaces and other new products in their fall line are available on their website on August 28. I enourage you to read the stories of these women of valor in their Artisan Profiles and find out how you can become a Hill Triber Patron to support the artisans in their work.
I hope you will consider writing a tribute to a woman of valor on your own blog this week. If you do, leave a link in the comment section so we can all enjoy. I'll be sure to tweet/share some of my favorites.