Her name was Ethel Annie, recorded that way over a hundred years ago in the family Bible. For she was born at home; not in a hospital with birth certificates sent to the state capital in Jackson. That day her older brother penned her name in the family Bible and that was record enough.
She hated the ‘ie’ on the end. She wanted to be Ethel Ann not Annie. She was born in the upward half of seven children and grew up a sharecropper’s daughter. She learned to work at an early age, tending to her younger siblings, managing the household while her momma worked along side her daddy to grow crops and raise animals to feed the family.
At a young age she fell in love and married a gangly young boy from the farm two miles down the road. They were so poor they didn’t even have two plug nickels to rub together. But they loved each other and they knew how to work hard. And they knew they could make it.
His momma had died giving birth to his baby brother when he was only three and he was raised by a step-mother who punished him severely for wetting the bed well after he was old enough to know better.
I do believe they married for love but part of me wonders if it wasn’t to escape their harsh home lives. She told me many times how cruel his daddy’s new wife had treated him.
By nineteen she gave birth to a red skinned baby boy who was demanding from the moment he arrived. Four years it took her to build up enough courage to try again, and it was only fitting that this son was the perfect baby. He never complained even once. And their family was complete.
But six years later the depression was still going strong. There was no work to be found. They lived in an abandoned boxcar. Although not planned, along came the cutest little toe-headed baby boy she’d ever seen. He was definitely the baby of the family, loved by everyone and full of joy and mischief.
Times were hard but they had love and they had each other.
Leaving her with sixteen, twelve, and six-year-old boys, the love of her life was killed in a hunting accident, making her a widow at thirty-three.
Now all by herself, with three growing boys to feed, during the hardest time in our nation’s history, Ethel had no choice but to raise her boys by herself during The Great Depression.
This brings us to the story of the widow at Zarephath. She had only a hand full of meal and little oil to make two small cakes for herself and her son and they would eat the cakes and wait to starve. (1 Kings 17:12)
Along came the man of God with the audacity to ask her to give him food. She explained the gravity of her situation and he held fast that she feed him first. (1 Kings 17:13 & 14)
What was she to do?
Feed him and allow herself and her son to starve or trust him as a true prophet of Yahweh?
After all, he had said if she fed him first she would have enough meal and oil to make it through the depression… I mean the drought.
Ethel Ann ached for the long-gone days that her beau was by her side, making decisions and keeping them going. What was she to do?
Give The Lord her firsts, not knowing where their next meal would come from? Or work into the wee hours of the morning sewing by lantern light to make clothes for the public, earning pennies to feed her boys?
God asks for ten percent…the first ten percent..straight off the top.
And just like the widow at Zarephath, she had none other to put her trust in. Without Yahweh, she and her boys might as well starve.
So she gave her firsts.
And God blessed the rest.
I am the oldest daughter of that tow-headed baby boy’s three girls. I come from a rich lineage of a hard-working, barely-making-it-at-times-but-always-acknowledging-where-her-help-came-from widow.
Ethel Ann(ie) Hart Barlow
1903 – 1988
Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. Malachi 3:10
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Cindy Willingham is a landscape designer, small group leader, avid encourager, and sinner saved by grace who is eight years new to Birmingham, Alabama. Her sweet husband of 37 years, two married children and four grand-kiddos fill her life with unbelievable fun and sweet snuggles. She thinks God is awesome and that the best adventure starts with saying yes to that still, small voice. ~ To read Cindy’s BoP Bio click here.