Standing Tall

I grew up around people who are larger than life to me. people who really believed he Word of God was for them personally and whose lives displayed it. One by one we have been watching them slip off into heaven. The latest, Jean Belz, lived until she was 91 and she was stringing it out so long we had a sneaky feeling Jesus would return before we had to say good-bye to her. Alas, it is not the case as today people are gathering to honor her memory. There is nothing more to be done or said, but plenty has been done and said! So I will say some more here in my own little corner of the world that I may use to over say or over talk or over write or over blubber!!!

I first knew her when I was seven and my family moved from Michigan to Iowa so that we could attend a Christian school as my parents were intent on their children learning at school in conjunction with learning at home. Because someone else had walked a path of sacrifice before us, we were able to do that. It changed our whole way of life. Mom and Dad discovered the Trinity Hymnal, probably a dream come true for Dad and we all learned songs , I mean we even memorized them from it.

But really my relationship with Mrs. Belz started when I was about in 6th grade, when she became my piano teacher and English teacher. I still thought she was pretty scary. She would write “Cut your fingernails!!!!” across the top of my assignment sheet and make me promise never to play that song too fast again…. ever. In 7th grade she introduced the ‘Something Pretty ‘ paper to us. She would send us outside on a nice day and we had to write about something pretty. I don’t think I have ever enjoyed an assignment more. I still remember looking up through the trees and seeing the sunlight stream through. We also had to memorize a poem that year and had a number of practices till all of us had them down pat. We listened to each other and we can remember who said what to this day! I had ‘The Daffodils’ and every spring I am so glad I got to do that poem. I would like to say I know a whole lot of poems, but I don’t. But every year when she would introduce the next 7th grade class to poetry I would come and recite  my poem again for them, so it has stayed with me. In 9th grade I had her for Latin, lovely Latin. 9th graders like to gripe but 10th graders get down to real business and I think I had an exceptional class. We begged for a 3rd year but didn’t get it. Then I had her for 11th and 12th grade literature where we learned to assess authors and what the historical circumstances they were writing in. We never talked about books without knowing who the author was.

When I got married she played for my wedding and she and her daughter , Sara, made a breakfast for my friends and bridesmaids. We sang. It sounded like angels, or what I think angels sound like!

The Belzes lived in what we called ‘the Manse’ and one door went out into the school’s dining room/ class room (Hearth Room) and another door opened into the chapel/classroom, and another went outside. We came in from the first two entrances most anytime without knocking. Later I asked her how she survived that and she said it was a whole lot  easier than getting up and answering the door every time! Cono was a boarding school as well as having day students like me,  so something was always going on. every summer my mother would send us girls over to help Mrs. B. get ready for the next school year. One summer she asked me to wash windows in this trailer and it had louvered windows. It had been lived in by a bachelor who was not mean on clean.  I thought the job was disgusting and deliberately didn’t do a very good job (maybe any job was a marked improvement!) and the next day she says, “Melinda how about you clean windows? You’re good at that.” I knew her too well to think that she had thought I had done a good job. I went back and DID the job so she wouldn’t ask me to do it the next day! Another time she sent me with a newly arrived teacher to airport to pick up some arriving students. She thought I would know the way!!!!! Well, I was company anyway and my future husband arrived on that plane! One time when I was caught for talking too much or something absurd like that and thought my punishments were too complicated to carry out, I just did what I wanted. She caught me (up short) and said , “Melinda, what does it mean for Christ to be King of your life??!!” I knew in a moment it did not mean picking and choosing what I wanted to do no matter how good it appeared.

She thought the world of Joel. He came to Cono in rough shape but I think all the adults thought of him as ‘their’ boy. One time when we were visiting home and having dinner with the Belzes she said , “Joel, see that pile of rocks over there? Can you build a wall? I want to plant irises next to it.” Joel rolled up his  shirt sleeves and stacked up those rocks and they stayed there for several years, only being moved for building expansion.

In 1989 we moved to Cono with our 5 children and it was a ‘storybook day’ as she described it. I think she was talking about the weather but I was glad to be included. Later that summer she said about someone who sometimes seemed difficult to get along with,” ______ just wants to be loved, just like anybody else”. I wondered what she meant by that when she said it, but I figured it out and have often used it to get me over a rough spot with others.

Those were happy years of sharing. One day I sent the kids to do a mundane job in the greenhouse while I was in the house with my two little ones and they kept fighting and coming in the house with a complaint. So I called her and told her my predicament and she watched the younger ones saying, “Sometimes the teenagers need as much attention as the toddlers.” How well she knew! I’d slip her an extra serving of soup from my large pot and she’d return the jar with new dishcloths. She was one of Joel’s greatest fans and almost as great a trumpeter for the ‘Perennial of the Year ‘ as she was the ‘Speaker of the General Assembly’. She always knew he was up for a good cup of coffee, too.

At one point, I asked the headmaster and her if they could picture me taking over the Latin when she was ready to retire (being in her 70’s by this time) and they were both very affirmative! I took Latin again, but then moved away from Cono and thought it was pretty much up in smoke. It wasn’t. Within about 4 yeas I was teaching Latin, first to homeschoolers and then at the Christian school my kids went to and had a total of 10 years teaching…. and learning.

One time I went to the doctor with her and we had to wait for results. We sat in the waiting room chatting and in a lull another woman who was sitting there piped up and said how refreshing it was to hear ‘educated’ women talk. We let her go on a bit and then we popped her bubble by telling her we had both married when we were 18 and had several children. I had a semester of college and she had a year.

“Room to Grow’ is something that one can give to another that  I find an incomparable trait. When I read all the comments on the ‘Caring Bridge’ site, that is what I hear. Not only did Mr. and Mrs. Belz encourage us (and our parents) at every turn, they gave us room to grow. I hope someone says that about me someday. There are no words for how I will miss this lady.

“Could we but climb where Moses stood and view the landscape o’er,

Not Jordan’s stream nor death’s cold flood could fright us from the shore.”


2 thoughts on “Standing Tall

  1. What enjoyable memories of Mrs. Belz, Melinda! I enjoyed reading it very much. I have such a terrible memory that i rarely recall exact conversations. But your descriptions are SO true to life! I can just PICTURE her saying that it was easier to let people stroll into her house than to rise and get the door each time. She had such hospitality, and displayed it, but it’s just “classic Jean” that at least a nubbin of it would come from sheer practicality.

    I didn’t know her as long as you — only 6 years on campus, but 4 as her next door neighbor. We sat outside together, shelled peas together. Once she drove me to the home of the man who made the woven rugs we all loved so much. I enjoyed that very much.

    Thanks again.

  2. Oh, Melinda, I just found this! How wonderfully you write about her! I want to publish this. You are so good at remembering conversations and it makes it all the more personal. We have such wonderful memories! We have become the women we are because of her (and our mom, of course, who is like her in many ways!)

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