Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Woman of Liveliness and Humor—Mothers in Literature

Everyone knows the movie The Sound of Music, or is at least familiar with some of the songs. But if you haven't read the book that recounts the true story of the Trapp Family, then you are really missing out! Warmly written and not without humor, Maria Augusta Trapp tells The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, and it's quite a story. It may be just another delightful "family story" but it's amazing and inspiring to read of how God cared for them and guided them and used them throughout their eventful lives.

The book starts at the same point the movie does: when Maria leaves the convent to teach the children of Baron von Trapp. But as it continues it is funnier, more charming, and of course truer than the movie. Best of all, it continues beyond the escape from the Nazis. The Trapp family goes on to America and we get to read of their adaptation to a new culture, of their war efforts, of the perfect home they buy (complete with a family of skunks living under the kitchen floor), and of the old army camp they transform into a music camp. They are true entrepreneurs, using any talent, resources, and opportunities they have to create businesses or ministries or both. We know of the Trapp Family Singers and some have heard of the Trapp Family Music Camp, but this enterprising family also headed up the Trapp Family Maple Syrup, the Trapp Family Austria Relief Effort, and many other varied ventures.

What's special about the book, though, is their wholehearted faith in God. Maria writes in the Chapter Before the First, "...it astonished, amazed, almost overwhelmed me to see how much love—genuine, real love—was stored up in one short lifetime: first God's love for us His children, the leading, guiding, protecting love of a Father; and as every real love calls forth love in return, it couldn't be any different here." This may be a book full of anecdotes both touching and amusing, but at its heart it is the story of God's love for a family worked out in their lives.

While the real Maria is not quite the flibbety-gibbet described in the famous song, "How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria," she definitely has some spirit. One of my favorite chapters in the book demonstrates this.

Shortly after her marriage into the Trapp family, Maria had an operation to remove 19 kidney stones along with a bunch of gravel and sand. Not having much talent for being sick or keeping still, she found it extremely difficult to lie motionless during her recovery. For her amusement, her husband brought her a small turtle. Now, the nurse who was caring for Maria was a patient woman with only one fault: in her childlike innocence she believed every word Maria said, however silly her stories might be. An urge was stirred in mischievous Maria to find out to what depths her trustfulness would go.

Sister Agrosia had never seen a turtle before so she asked what it was. Suddenly all of Maria's evil instincts were at work. "A turtle," said Maria, thinking she would finally reach the limits of the good sister's credulity, "is an animal which feeds on the toes of newborn babies." She was wrong.

"Oh, oh!" said the sister in horror. "But we'll have to be very careful and keep the door shut." Maria's room was in the middle of the maternity ward.

Maria continued, looking straight into her eyes, "That won't help any, Sister, because a turtle can make itself flat like a sheet of paper, crawl under a door and blow itself up outside again."

Sadly, Maria was not a bit ashamed of herself at the moment, nor was she next morning when she heard from eyewitnesses that Sister Agrosia had been sitting on a chair outside her door with stick in hand while the little turtle slept peacefully on her chest. Over the next days she tried to break the spell, but at last she realized that she had met boundless gullibility.

I hope I can face my life with the same liveliness and humor that Maria had, though such wit must be balanced with a good measure of wisdom as well.

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