Many years ago, just after my second child was born, my friend Heidi introduced me to a remarkable woman named Margaret Mason. Margaret was the homeschooling mother of six young children. During long conversations, she took what was a vague notion I had for a traditional Catholic family life and a modern home education lifestyle and she gave it substance. She was living that life and she showed me how it could be done.
She told me how her children helped with the household chores, how to make a “visit” to church any time of the day, how to live the liturgical year. A master of home organization, she gave me practical insight to running a large family. It was Margaret who told me about a family tradition which rewarded children with interesting coins for classics read. We talked about educational philosophy and she shared a slim, stapled volume of a new book called Designing Your Own Classical Curriculum by Laura Berquist. The book has since become a classic in its own right.
In the fall of 1992, my husband and I went out to northern Loudoun County to visit the Masons’ new house, still under construction. On some incredibly beautiful acreage, they were building Margaret’s dream house. It was unlike the stereotypical dream house. This house was being built to house a large, homeschooling family. There were two large, dorm-style bedrooms—one for the boys and one for the girls. There was a nursery because the Masons planned to add to their number. Margaret told me all about an amazing dining table that would always have enough room, regardless of the number of family and guest to come for dinner. She talked excitedly about fixtures she had salvaged from old homes with yesteryear charm. It went without saying that in this house there would be bookshelves — many, many bookshelves to house Margaret’s growing collection of beautiful books. And there would be beautiful music as the sound of children playing violins filled the air.
Over the years, Margaret continued to mentor me. I remembered bits and pieces of our conversations as my own family grew. A written recollection and advice piece that Margaret wrote about her six Cesarean sections was the only thing I read to prepare for my own C-section. Once in awhile I would give her a call to seek her wisdom and to hear her reassuring calm.
Margaret and Dave did not have any more babies after that sixth birth. But the nursery was filled to the brim when they took their six children to Poland and brought home four orphans to join the family. Now there are 10 Mason children being raised in the faith.
This year, the week before Easter, Margaret’s home burned to the ground. It is a testimony to her organization and the training of her children that everyone escaped the house. They had a well-planned, well-rehearsed fire escape plan. And, like in the rest of their lives, they had God on their side. They left their country home with nothing but the pajamas they were wearing.
All the physical treasures of the rich and holy lifestyle they led were consumed in the fire. At the scene of utter destruction, while the house still smoldered, thousands and thousands of pages of great books fluttered in the yard. Dominic, Margaret’s son, gathered charred paper and read snatches of stories, exclaiming, “I know this one! I’m going to bring these pages to Mother!” Margaret does not need the charred pages. And her priceless book collection really cannot be replaced. Yet she has written those stories and the stories of her family’s early life in the perfect house upon her heart.
Margaret’s mother died a few days after the fire. At a time when most women would have crumbled, broken and defeated, Margaret gathered a small army of volunteers around her and set about her work. With prayer and determination, she will re-build. She will draw deeply from the reserves of a contemplative, purposeful life that has been a full answer to God’s call and she will continue to offer her fiat. Whatever is asked of her, with His grace, she will do it.
[To join the effort to help the Mason family rebuild their Catholic home, you can make contributions by sending a check to St. Andrew the Apostle Church, 6720 Union Mill Road, Clifton, VA 20124-1115. Note “Mason Family Fire Fund” on the memo line.]
Elizabeth Foss is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia. Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home by Elizabeth Foss can be purchased at www.4reallearning.com.
(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)