Being do-it-yourselfers (is that a word?), we enjoy our projects not only for their function, but because of the "sweat equity" we've invested. Bob and I spent the last two months constructing this fire pit (you can see the project step-by-step here) and while we already have memories from its construction - such as the stump that took three weeks to remove! - it's also special because of the story behind the blocks used in its construction.
Bob and I live on property that has been in his family for nearly a hundred years. While heavily wooded today, it actually was farmland for a time and had been used as a gravel pit as well. Bob's great-grandmother Carrie, an amazing woman of faith, came to live here after her husband died. Nick was a soldier who fought in the Philippines during the Spanish American War in 1900 and then afterwards was shipped to China to fight in the Boxer Rebellion.
Nick became ill in the Philippines and after a few years back in Iowa he moved his family to Montana in hopes that his condition would improve. It did, but he was still a very ill man, having been diagnosed with tuberculosis (TB). This disease proved to be devastating for Carrie's family. Nine month old Marie died in April 1916. A year and a half later, in October 1917, 5 1/2 year old son Cornelius passed away. Seven months after that, son Leonard died in May 1918. This was just two days after his first birthday and three days before Nick succumbed to the disease. Can you imagine losing four immediate family members in less than two years?
Since their deaths were so close together, Nick and Leonard were buried in the same coffin to help save money. Funeral expenses came to $62 and it took Carrie nearly a year to pay for it. The funeral service was delayed pending the arrival of relatives from the East. Carrie's father Gerard and brothers Peter and Leonard Sinke may have been among these, for they extended an invitation to Carrie to come to Michigan and live near them. Just a month after Nick's death, Carrie boarded the train with her four surviving children, ages 13, 12, 10, and 8, and headed to Michigan to join her father and brothers, as well as her brother-in-law Neal Koster who had married her sister Pearl.
Before leaving Montana, Carrie dutifully notified the Pension Bureau of Nick's death. She quickly learned the government terminated a pension far more quickly than it initiated one. Only two weeks after the notification, Nick was dropped from the rolls and his $8 a month pension check stopped coming. Destitute, Carrie immediately filed her application for a widow's pension and was promptly rejected. It would be a year and a half of submitting affidavits and jumping through hoops before she would finally be approved.
One of these affidavits testified that Carrie's means of support since Nick's death had been from 3 cows which she bought on time, and some poultry. She and her children had planted and cultivated a few crops that summer but they had been a total failure. She had sold her house and lot in Montana for $500, but all the proceeds were used to pay doctor bills, funeral expenses and other debts incurred there.
Finally, in January 1920 she began receiving her widow's pension of $12 per month plus $2 per month for each child under age 16. Her income that year was $240.00. In sharp contrast, the average family income was just over $1500.00. Even at the time of her death in 1953, Carrie's annual income was only $620.00. Yet she was a woman of strong faith, which was made evident in this moving letter to her son Clarence in 1942. He was in the U.S. Army and was soon to be sent to fight the war in Europe. Following is an excerpt from that letter, which Clarence kept for the rest of his life:
"Do you see and realize that the times are very dark indeed and that we need One who goes with us as we go on through the vale of tears and sorrow. O Clarence, please remember it does not matter how things go if we only know we have Christ as our Saviour and Lord. Dear son, do open your heart's door to Him if you have not done so yet. He is waiting to receive you. Do try to find a little time to read your Bible. You know, dear Clarence that in the hour of death the Lord will be more precious to us than anything else. Learn to trust Him more and more if you should have to go into the battle. Before long dear Clarence you will need Him more than ever. You read Psalm 62. That is such a nice Psalm where it says the Lord is my refuge and my salvation. O how I pray that you may know Him, that you may know you have been bought with a price - the blood of Jesus. And that He will never forsake us if we are to call on Him. I want to tell you dear son, if I did not have a God to go to and tell everything to I could never stand it, but I trust and know whatever comes or happens I am His and He is mine."
1 Truly my soul finds rest in God;
my salvation comes from him.
2 Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.
3 How long will you assault me?
Would all of you throw me down—
this leaning wall, this tottering fence?
4 Surely they intend to topple me
from my lofty place;
they take delight in lies.
With their mouths they bless,
but in their hearts they curse.[b]
5 Yes, my soul, find rest in God;
my hope comes from him.
6 Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
7 My salvation and my honor depend on God[c];
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
8 Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.
9 Surely the lowborn are but a breath,
the highborn are but a lie.
If weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
together they are only a breath.
10 Do not trust in extortion
or put vain hope in stolen goods;
though your riches increase,
do not set your heart on them.
11 One thing God has spoken,
two things I have heard:
“Power belongs to you, God,
12 and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”;
and, “You reward everyone
according to what they have done.”
What a tremendous testimony from a woman who suffered so much loss and struggle in her life! But what does this have to do with the silo blocks? Carrie's brothers ran a business called Sinke Tile in this small Michigan town, using cement to make drain tiles, silo blocks and the like. They set their sister Carrie up on the land which we now live, and since she was unsuccessful in farming, they began using the gravel found here for their cement business. People remember Carrie directing dump trucks as they came to pick up loads of gravel.
Nick's brother Neal, who married Carrie's sister Pearl, went on to have a family and one of their daughters, aged 90, is still living in the nearby farmhouse she moved to when she married. This farm had a silo, which had been torn down years ago. Given the fact that her relatives produced silo blocks, and that they were the only company in town to do so, it only stands to reason that her silo was built with blocks from Sinke Tile, who made their cement with gravel that came from our property.
This is the farm house where Carrie's niece still lives.
I had a hard time understanding how she could have over a thousand silo blocks and not know where they were located.
After a considerable amount of time searching for them, I now understand. We parked as close as we could, but still had to walk through the tall grasses, along the neighbor's field and down to the trees to find them. Then we had to carry them back to the truck. If you look closely between the trees on the right side of the photo above, you can get a glimpse of my husband, who looks like little more than a speck.
Again, Bob is the speck to the left of the tree in the foreground. This gives you an idea of how far we had to carry these blocks just to reach the truck. Note I use "we" in the collective sense. Bob handed me a block and I quickly informed him that the block and I wouldn't be going anywhere, since it was so heavy I couldn't move!
We made three trips to pick up blocks since our truck can only carry 2000 pounds. Lucky for us, our son Steve was over in time for the last trip. He said the blocks probably weighed 40 pounds each, and while Bob was carrying them one at a time, Steve was able to carry two. (Where was he the first two trips?)
My job was to arrange them in the truck bed so they'd all fit without breaking. That, plus being the "official photographer" was all I could handle. Oh, and did I mention that the temperature was averaging 94 degrees while we were doing this?
Here's the finished product. Now, whenever we look at those tiles we remember Carrie's story and amazing faith.
Father, I thank you for this wonderful example of faith lived out despite a difficult life. I praise you that I too can say, "I trust and know that whatever comes or happens, I am His and He is mine." May I be the example for the generation following me that Carrie was for hers.
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