Balm in Gilead

My mother’s father was a member of the Sommerfelder Mennonite Church, one of those groups that seeks to protect its members from the evils of the surrounding world by maintaining a different language. Grandpa was already hemmed in by his visual impairment, perhaps that led him to take more interest in the people he met.

Before he married he worked in or near Letellier, Manitoba. Here he became fluent in English, but in later years often expressed regrets that he had not also learned French when he had the opportunity. One of his coworkers was a black man from the U.S. south who loved to sing the old spirituals. Grandpa learned them and passed them on to his children.

After Grandpa was married and the father of numerous progeny, he encouraged his children to learn good English. He gave my mother a large dictionary and she used it until it fell apart. Mom told me that while they lived in Manitoba indigenous people often passed by their home and would stop for a rest and a cup of cold water.

I never knew my grandfather, but I think I learned a lot from him, as transmitted through my mother. Mom would often sing hymns as we travelled and not all of them were found in hymn books. The one I remember best was Balm in Gilead.

There is a balm in Gilead
To heal the sin-sick soul;
There is a balm in Gilead
To make the wounded whole.

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