Thursday, May 24, 2012

Mr. MIller


Memorial Day is coming up, so I offer my annual note about Harlan MIller.  Mr. Miller, as most everyone called him, died in abject poverty, an old man having no immediate family, and only one shirttail cousin.  He was used to it.  He’d been born into poverty and knew very little else his entire life.  Just the same, he was as self educated as a man could get from books of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  It left him stuck in an intellectual time capsule, but with the ability to write his daily journal in Latin.
He got drafted early in WWII.  A little training, and then to the invasion of North Africa.  It didn’t take long.  He was blown up and littered with shrapnel.  He got out of the hospital about the time the war ended.  Back home he wasn’t much use to anyone.  Too many wounds, too few skills; it was easier to become a hermit.  And hermit he was till the day he died.  Yet he found his way to the church, seldom missed a bible study, offered curt one sentence advice to women on how to act like proper nineteenth century ladies, gave irises for the garden, and sometimes a small bag of tea to those he knew had a fondness for it.  A few pennies in the plate was an honest tithe, one of the few.
The rector of the parish was the executor of his ancient will.  I was the rector.  When all was done and his tiny shack sold for the land it was on, two congregations, one in Canada, each received about $10,000, the fortune of a lifetime.  It was, perhaps, the most generous gift either congregation will every receive.
Maybe I’ll put an Iris on his grave this year.  Mr. MIller.  How many Mr. MIllers were there, and are there still?

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

One of the few times Harlan Miller ever spoke to me (he was very shy), he quoted several lines, in Latin, from a famous speech of Cicero's. It would be mild to say that I was surprised--I was shocked! He walked away, and never spoke to me again, or even made eye contact. I had no change to ask him where and when he had learned Latin so well; I assumed he had attended Whitman College, but perhaps he had learned it in Walla Walla High School before the Second World War. He did speak to my wife, Cheryl, once. He told her to tell me to stop smoking my pipe--it would shorten my life. His father, a farmer, had smoked and had died from it, presumably prematurely. He never spoke to her again, either. But he did know that I had taught Latin. (Someone else was asked to translate his diary into English.) Dr Bf

Anonymous said...

I was an observer of those "pennies in the offering plate" and I never saw it without a lump forming in my throat.....as you said, truly a tithe! I did gently force questions or conversation with him occasionally, we did share the same pew in church each Sunday. His answers were always short. Occasionally I actually coaxed a grin/smirk/smile from him......I will never forget Harlan! He would be surprised I think to realize how many of us never will. DW

Allan Bevere said...

A great story.

Thanks for sharing it.

Country Parson said...

Dr. B., Yes, Kenneth Day took on the job of translating his diary. It recorded the daily life of a hermit, and revealed little of his inner thoughts. I believe a copy of Kenneth's work is on file in the church office.
CP