Anna Mae's Honor
Can it really be thirty years since I received the last of the payments from Annie Mae? I find myself thinking about them more often as I approach my sixtieth birthday. Something about closing the chapters on six decades and opening the pages of a new one makes one reflect.
Annie Mae’s life has deeply touched mine. I first met her at the home of my in-laws in 1959. I had moved with my husband and our one-year-old child to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, so my husband could complete his undergraduate work at the University of Alabama. My father-in-law was a professor of finance at the university, and my mother-in-law was active in university and community affairs. I vividly recall entering their driveway and being overwhelmed by the size of their home, the beauty of the furnishings, the manicured grounds and the pecan orchard.
Annie Mae was my in-law’s maid. She prepared and served meals in her quiet, gentle way and then returned to the kitchen to read her Bible while we ate. She was a dedicated and devoted Christian. To me, she reflected the fruit of the Holy Spirit as found in Galatians 5:22-23. I found this increasingly true even though I came to know her more by observation than by conversation.
My husband and I visited his parents frequently, and I became increasingly taken with this gentle, remarkable lady. Often when I saw her eating alone, reading her Bible, I wanted to sit down with her and just talk. However, whites did not do that with African Americans in the South in those days, and I conformed to the local practice -- though it conflicted with my Christian beliefs. I watched my son, Jimmy, play with her daughter, Jennifer Ann, who on occasion came to my in-laws’ place with her mother. The two children laughed and frolicked amid the trees in the pecan orchard. It was so easy for them.
In 1965, my world was suddenly uprooted. I found myself alone with two young sons when my husband wanted a divorce. I was fortunate to receive a full scholarship to the University of Connecticut in the field of special education. I decided to sell the furniture and household items and return to my home state with just our clothes.
Annie Mae asked if she could buy the boys’ beds. When I answered yes, she asked the price. “Thirty-five dollars,” I replied. Then, in her quiet way, she asked if I would sell them to her and trust her to send a little money each month. I admired her and knew her to be a woman of God, trustworthy and honest. The words of Proverbs 11 came to mind: “A good man [person] is guided…and directed by honesty…Be sure you know a person well before you vouch for his [or her] credit.”
Annie Mae was honest, and I knew her well. So I said, “Annie Mae, take them, they are yours.”
I returned to Connecticut with my two sons and found a chicken coop that had been converted into four apartments. My neighbors and I all became family as we struggled to earn our degrees. Faithfully each month, while my boys and I lived there, an envelope arrived from Annie Mae -- two dollars, three dollars, five dollars, always in cash. That became the surprise money for my boys; I used it to get them something special -- an ice cream, cookies, an outing. My sons were thrilled when Annie Mae’s money came, for they knew that a surprise would be coming their way.
A year passed. I earned my master of arts degree in special education and accepted a position as a special education teacher for the state of Connecticut. I had learned my lessons well. However, I was about to learn an even greater lesson, and Annie Mae would be the teacher.
Annie Mae’s last payment arrived about the time I completed my studies. Along with it came the following note:
Dear Mrs. Holladay,
I am sending you my last payment of three dollars to pay for the beds in full. I told my two sons that they could now go to the storage shed and put the beds together and sleep in them, for they are now paid for and rightfully ours. Thank you for your trust.
Love in Jesus,
I could not believe my eyes. I read the note two or three times, my eyes filling with tears. Had I only known earlier, I would have said, “Use them now. Don’t wait until you pay for them.”
Those would have been my thoughts, yet Annie Mae had other thoughts -- thoughts the world could truly use. She sacrificed. She struggled. And finally, when the beds were truly hers, she let her sons, Paul and John, sleep in them. She was a living example of absolute honesty, the honesty that should characterize all who claim to be Christian.
This story has a postscript. After thirty years, I called directory assistance and found that Annie Mae still lived in Tuscaloosa. I called her, and later my second husband and I visited her, and I had that chat I never had thirty years ago. What a joy it was! Annie Mae had become a family and children’s worker for the state of Alabama and retired in May of 1996.
Romans 13:8 says, “Pay all your debts except the debt of love for others, never finish paying that!” How Annie Mae reflects those words! Truly she is a remarkable woman, one whose life has been shaped by Bible principles.