Word Worth®
                      World Magazine of Ideas and the Arts™ — ©Spring 2020 Volume XX,  Issue 2

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The Seymours

George and Maude Seymour lived out their lives in the Western Reserve part of Ohio. They were the epitome of what Americans were supposed to be in the late 1800’s and the first half of the 1900’s. They lived the simple values that their country held supreme. A childhood picture of Maude revealed that she was exquisitely beautiful. Her father, Herbert T. Sheldon, was a respected sheriff and was charged with going after a dangerous criminal who had escaped most law enforcement officers. Sheriff Sheldon caught the man, but it was law at that time and place that the sheriff had to witness the execution. Risking his life to go after the criminal was one thing, but watching the execution was quite another for Sheldon, and he quit law enforcement after that.

Maude married William Reed. Whether Reed received the respect of the community by his own achievements or from the esteem in which the Sheldons were held by the town is unknown. However, the townsmen had some trading they wanted to do in New York City and trusted the young man, Reed, with their money to conduct the business. Then, as now, NYC was a perilously sophisticated place with con men and thieves who could spin an innocent mid-westerner like a top. William returned with no money, no trade, and with a venereal disease which he gave to Maude.

The townspeople were irate that a gem so fine as Maude was damaged, and she was granted a quick divorce at a time when divorce was rarely allowed.

As a young woman, she was also very talented, creating watercolors, pastels, and oils. These were signed Maude Reed, so it appears that she no longer painted after her first marriage ended.

After her divorce, Maude married a local man, George Seymour. They married on the first of May 1896 when George was 21 and Maude was 30. However strange that appears, the two were totally devoted to each other for the rest of their lives. The marriage was childless, possibly on account of the disease Maude contracted in her first marriage.

George Seymour owned a general store and knew everyone in the area and was respected by all. One day, a customer came into the story with some butter which she had churned and asked Seymour to exchange her butter for some of the store butter. She said that her cat had fallen into her butter, and it wouldn’t make any difference to someone who didn’t know that. Seymour said, “Sure,” and took the butter into the back room, turned the churner a few times, rewrapped the same butter and gave it back to the woman who was very happy with the butter not knowing that it was what her cat had fallen into.

In the early 1900’s George and Maude Seymour took in needy girls to live with them, usually one at a time, giving them room and board in exchange for light housework. One of those girls was Elsie Sanburn, who was described to be from a poor family but was actually a bastard—something not carrying a stigma now, but was a life sentence at that time.

Maude had status in the community, and someone she accepted as her charge was safe from gossip and bullying. A child taken under Maude’s wing would not be denigrated.

Maude kept a diary in which she wrote every day. The entries were short and were written with the dispassion of a master journalist. One of those entries recorded Elsie coming into where Maude was visiting with a neighbor and saying that she had taken something—exactly what is lost with the diaries, but it was clear that it was either for a fatal disease or for the purpose of suicide. Elsie died. Maude’s unvarnished factual recording of the event is shocking because it is clear that the Seymours loved Elsie deeply.

At that time, the deceased were taken care of by family, and Maude wrote about combing Elsie’s hair and dressing her for visiting hours in their home for the funeral. George and Maude bought the plot and stone for Elsie beside George Seymour’s family gravesite where, decades later, they, themselves would rest. They loved Elsie with a depth unsurpassed in human connection, yet the diary entries contain only bare fact.

George Seymour was the executor of the will of Chauncey Porter, a local man who died leaving three children. Among them was Adah Porter whose mother had died of childbed fever when she was born, whose maternal grandmother died when she was seven, and whose father died when she was nine.

Life for orphans was precarious because they were often taken in for the purpose of performing slave labor. There was an orphan girl at the time who had been slapped on the side of the head because the woman was displeased with the quality of the child’s work. The girl was deaf in that ear forever after.

George Seymour was dedicated and determined to do what was best for the orphans, Adah and her older brothers, whatever the cost. The boys had families willing to take them in because they could help with farm work, but Adah was sitting on the back stairs of the farmhouse, her home that would never again be hers, after everything was auctioned, so George Seymour told her to come along with him. Elsie, however, did not feel that she could live with another girl in the home. In deference to Elsie’s jealousy, Adah was sent to live elsewhere but returned to the Seymours after Elsie died.

The girls living with the Seymours were to make Maude’s breakfast every morning and scrub the kitchen floor every Saturday. That may seem unfair to some in the 21st century, but it gave the children confidence in their position in the home and was more than reasonable in exchange for the security and stability they received. At the Seymours, Adah flourished. She excelled in high school, got a Bachelor’s degree from Ohio State, and then a Master’s degree when few women went that far in their education. She had a job as a high school teacher during the Great Depression when many people were jobless. She was devoted to the Seymours for the rest of their lives.

Amy Anderson had been the best friend of the Porter children’s mother and had been engaged to their uncle before his untimely death. Adah’s mother had been a talented small-town businesswoman who’d left money in Amy’s keeping for the safety of her mother and children. George Seymour and Amy Anderson were the guardians of the Porter children’s inheritance.

Anderson was an extremely demanding woman, and she and Seymour were careful stewards of the funds, desperate to ensure that they handled it as well as possible for the orphans. Adah recounted a conversation she’d heard while sitting on the porch while Seymour and an investor were talking. Seymour was trying to get the children’s funds professionally managed. The investor demanded, “I want a commission! I want a commission!”

The guardians did not go with that investor, and when Adah recounted the incident at the end of her life, she said, “I never told anyone.”

We rise from the ground, walk on the earth for a space, and sink back into the ground. But those who have lived lives extraordinary in their common nobility, lives that are set firmly on a base of honor, integrity, and decency toward their fellow humankind, should be saluted and remembered. So here it is that we salute George and Maude Seymour.

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