Mark Twain once wrote: There was never yet an uninteresting life. Such a thing is an impossibility. Inside of the dullest exterior there is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy. –“The Refuge of the Derelicts” – 1905
With this quote, the life of one humble woman comes to mind as I feel compelled to pull a Watson, so to speak, and write about her. However, unlike the fictional Watson who wrote about the adventures of his equally fictional yet infamous flatmate, I am writing about someone whom I have never actually met — a woman named Marjorie Jean, or simply, Jean.
Jean was born and raised in England. As life goes, when she was just 11 her parents took her out of London to live in the countryside of Gloucestershire for life on the farm. After that, she lived most of her long difficult life in Washington State and North Carolina, USA, then finished her years comfortably and happily right here in Ecuador, South America.
Before Jean came to live in the United States as an immigrant from England, she lived through World War II. For Jean, however, that war did not simply mean scrambling into a shelter or ducking under a desk when the sirens sounded out a warning. When she rode her strong horse named Golden to work in Gloucestershire England, German planes literally chased them, either forcing this young woman to take cover in nearby bushes, or forcing them to give it all they had to outrun the enemy approaching from above. Evidently, and fortunately, they succeeded each time! Neither horse nor rider were hit with any weapon of death from those dangerous skies.
Bombs were a constant threat to this family and the home they resided in. You see, an airfield where the Spitfire planes would take off, making that location a target, also resided nearby. Definitely, a tad too close for comfort, I say!
Yes, those were some rough times, to say the least. But as I reflect on the stories of Jean’s life as related to me by her daughter living here in Ecuador, I do believe that the hardest times of Jean’s life were actually yet to come.
But first, let me go back a spell to a more peaceful time. And what I’m about to tell, almost doesn’t seem real.
Jean’s family were animal lovers and they would often visit a London zoo. Two animals there were Jean’s favorite — the elephants and the cats. However, this young family had an especially unusual privilege during their visits. They were actually permitted to be with, touch and interact with the permanent residents at this zoo. They were allowed into the cages and the animal habitats of their choice!
For mom, her choice were the wolves. The zoo keepers would literally have Jean’s mother call the wolves in. She had a rapport with them. They responded to her. As for Jean’s brother, he preferred the snakes.
For young Jean? Well, not only did the elephants and cats receive her attention, this young girl literally rode every animal that was able to be ridden at this zoo — except the giraffes, as she could not figure out how to climb onto their backs. Yes, as this unique story goes, she even rode each and every zebra within their enclosure. Impossible? That’s what I thought. It’s just not possible for one to ride a zebra! Keep in mind, though, this is no imaginary tale. Now, I’m going to stagger the mind a bit more.
One day, a little Jean fell asleep in the tiger cage. She slept soundly and peacefully among the tiger cubs. When the zookeepers tried to retrieve the sleepy girl, the mother tiger would not allow them inside. The Mum, well, she must have figured that her young cubs would simply be too disturbed if the tiny unconscious human was removed! It doesn’t stop there.
The year was 1946. Jean was leaving England for good. Before she left though, she felt compelled to say farewell to her long-time animal friends at the zoo. By this time, however, she was no longer permitted to venture into the animal habitats as she was formerly. To say goodbye to her beloved elephants, Jean was only allowed to put her hands to the glass. Then, something truly remarkable happened.
Once this 22 year old Brit left, the elephants at the zoo performed the Royal Salute — a salute that was to be given only to the Queen. And, they refused to cease. The elephants not only gave the Royal Salute, those elephants kept on giving it — sounding off their trumpets continuously. In fact, the zookeepers anxiously tried to stop the huge animals from making such a fuss. They, as well as onlookers, simply could not believe what was happening. So obviously, not only did Jean have affection for those creatures, the elephants evidently sensed her sentiments. Animals so often do, you know, and, as the saying goes, apparently elephants really never do forget!
And guess what. That untimely, out of character salute — that single Royal Salute — made the paper. What those animals sensed, remembered, or felt was anybody’s guess, really. But evidently, what took place at that moment in time was so out of the ordinary, that a London newspaper felt inclined to report that unusual occurrence.* (see footnote) The story just had to be told then, as well as, now.
—”It is just like man’s vanity and impertinence to call an animal dumb because it is dumb to his dull perceptions”. Mark Twain
Interestingly enough, Jean was actually related to the Royal Family. She was even entitled to be “Presented at Court” with all the prestige that came with it. (See footnote) However, aside from not having the wardrobe or the funds, Jean was never interested in pursuing such a thing. The privileges that went with it all simply did not mean much to this humble young woman.
When Jean left England at the age of 22, she left as a war bride. She married a US military man whose mother and family were from England. Jean’s family and her husband’s family knew each other. In 1946 Jean sailed the Atlantic on a military war ship bound for the United States. Two lives joined as one to start anew. The rest of the story though, was certainly no fairytale.
Her husband became very abusive. He even attempted to kill Jean by cutting their car’s brake line. Well, it worked. Except that, tragically, their 18 year old daughter was the first to drive the vehicle. He was never charged with the crime. They had three surviving children.
Unfortunately, to escape the attacks of that first husband, Jean married another man. He too was abusive, only not in a physical way, his blows were emotional. Then, life resembled a double nightmare. During her second marriage, her first husband had the audacity to come after her still some more.
Many years later Jean was finally free of those two men. She finally found some peace — quite poor, yet free from all of that abuse. Eventually she lived with one of her daughters and a son-in-law whom she adored, for many years. They traveled to Ecuador as a family three separate times, twice to live. And one other time, Jean traveled to Ecuador on her own!
When Jean was 40, she took up painting. Before that time Jean had never painted in her life. Soon it became quite clear that she was genuinely very talented. She painted hundreds of paintings. She sold hundreds, as well. Her work was even featured for sale at art shows in shopping malls. I though, have only had the privilege of seeing photographs of some of her artwork. I was impressed.
Ecuador, because of being a country of small family farms, actually reminded Jean of England. She was laid to rest, old, frail, content, 5,736 miles (9,232 km) south from where life began for her, here in the land of the equator.
—”Oh Death where is thy sting! It has none. But life has”. Mark Twain
Clearly, Mark Twain was right. However….
He was evidently quoting from 1 Corinthians 15:55, which says: “Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?”
Yes, life can sting us, but so does death. On a positive note though, the sting of death will not last indefinitely. The bible promises that death will have no lasting victory. “And I have hope toward God, which hope these men also look forward to, that there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous”. Acts 24:15
And, as can be seen from Jean’s story, life can sting us bad at times, and for some, many times. However, that sting will not last either, because: “And just a little while longer, and the wicked one will be no more. And you will certainly give attention to his place, and he will not be. But the meek ones themselves will possess the earth, And they will indeed find their exquisite delight in the abundance of peace”. Psalm 37: 10 & 11
Jean eventually became one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. She had full knowledge and strong faith in those promises written many times over in God’s Word. I do as well. So along with her family and dearest friends, I too look forward to welcoming her back to life, right here on earth. I look forward to finally meeting and knowing this humble woman — a woman, whom just about everyone who knew her well, called mom — Marjorie Jean, a woman who originally hailed from England.
*If one’s family had contacts or was related in some way to the Royal Family, “Presentation at Court” was a prerequisite for “coming out” or to appear in Society. This group included the wives and daughters of the members of the aristocracy, the country and town gentry, the wives and daughters of merchants, banks, and members of the Stock Exchange, those who knew that birth, wealth, association and position earned them the privilege. Excluded from this group, however, were divorcees and married women who have lived with their husband or someone prior to their marriage. Once presented she could then participate in all the activities and festivities of the London Season. (Abolished in 1958 by Queen Elizabeth) Link for source: Presentation at Court
*Jean’s name was never mentioned in the article per say, as no one at the zoo could figure out the reason for the elephants sounding off as they did. When Jean’s dad saw the article and the day the event happened, he knew! The article, of course, was then sent straight away to Jean. Unfortunately her copy either got thrown away somehow, or was destroyed in a house fire. The exact day and the newspaper that published the article is unknown to Jean’s daughter.
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