Margaret Jean Burkhart Jordan
An Amazing Woman in an Ordinary Way
Memoir by Michael Usey
April 21, 2009
As you probably know The Book of Proverbs is a collection of sayings and wisdom poems that found its present form after the return of the exiles from Babylon. However, many verses surely came from the period of the monarchy in Judea before its fall.
The poem of an ideal wife (31:10-31) comprises the last major section of Proverbs. The poem described the perfect wife as prudent, industrious, and wise. Such a woman would make a prosperous businessperson by today’s standards. But, unlike today, the ideal wife in Proverbs did all this in the shadow of her husband. According to the custom and culture, the wife was part of the husband’s family, so her loyalty belonged to her spouse. Even in acts of charity [31:20] she was to advance his reputation [31:23]. Above all, two qualities stand out, stability [31:25] and fidelity to the God of Israel [31:30 b]. If we strip away the notion of the wife, the remaining qualities would describe a faithful Christian believer. Prudent and wise. Generous and industrious. Stable and faithful.
All of you here know Jean Jordan better than I. You know her as sister, mother, wife, grandmother, great-grandmother, and friend. But I want to remind you of some of the highlights of her remarkable life, a life that had much in common with the virtuous woman described in Prov 31. In the well-chosen words of her son Vernon, Jean was “an amazing woman in an ordinary way.” There is much about Jean’s life that needs to be said, deep and intimate things that you all know, and I trust that you will say them to each other, either today or sometimes very soon.
Born right in the middle of the Great Depression, July 11, 1934 in Mary Alice, Kentucky, Jean was the second of ten children. She was soon pressed into service of helping raise her brothers and sisters. Her mother, whom people called Reese, was half-Cherokee, and although she could not read or write, she was too was an incredible woman, hard working. Much later, Jean taught her mother how to sign her name. Her father, Cecil, worked a lot of odd jobs. Like many families in rural Kentucky during the depression. They never had much and they moved around quite a bit. She grew up around Christians of all different stripes, including the snake-handlers of the Kentucky hills. Jean remembered that, as a child, a man in a religious trance, hugged a red-hot potbelly stove, and was not burned.
By the time Jean was 15, she was absolutely gorgeous, and had an incredible voice. Jean was a natural and gifted musician, self-taught in most of them, but could play well the piano, guitar, mandolin, and many more. She even sang on the radio. Had her father had a mind to do so, Jean might have been a professional musician, maybe in the likes of Loretta Lynn, but Cecil wasn’t interested in that for his daughter.
She met Jr., the man who would be her husband for 59 years, during this time. He had a car, a job, and money, and was popular and considered a hunk. After they got married, Jr. worked in a gas station, went into the Army and served in Korea, and eventually ended up working for US Steel in Lynch, Kentucky (where Vernon was born) where he would on their machinery. Jean and Jr. had 5 children together: Linda Gay, Aleata, Sandy, Vernon, and Skyler. In 1962, the family moved from Kentucky to North Carolina.
Jean was indeed an amazing woman in ordinary ways. She could draw, paint, sew, work on cars, you name it. She was excellent in any number of household talents, jobs, and crafts. She was an accomplished seamstress: Jean could sew without any pattern, making beautiful clothes. It wasn’t uncommon for one of her daughters to buy a dress or a shirt, then to come home and have Jean take it apart and make alterations to make it fit or look better. Jean did home repairs, all the painting in the house, patching the ceiling and matching the painting patterns. Jean spent long hours in front of the sewing machine. Vernon remembers a western shirt that she made him, with a yoke and snaps, that he wore out wearing so much. She was a good woman who knew how to work very hard.
She was extremely patient, as many of her generation were not easily frustrated. Kind and gentle, Jean was also modest, and she knew how to be happy. She was probably happiest with her children (and later her grandchildren) or when she was making music, both of which she deeply loved. She loved being at the beach, on the coast, where she could see the ocean. One of the highlights of her life was the surprise vacation to Las Vegas that Aleata arranged for her. Aleata got as many of her sisters as she could and managed to keep it a surprise too as well. Jean said it was the most fun trip she’d ever had.
She treated her daughters-in-law like her own daughters. Jenny loved her like a second mother; Jean took care of her when Jenny was pregnant. Once when there was a traveling carnival in front of the old Kings Department Store, Jenny and Jean went—Jean was a go-getter, and got Jenny to ride some of the wild rides.
Which is how Jean approached life: full on. She was very much like the woman in Proverbs 31—smart, caring, musical, and knew that the beauty of life lay in loving God and loving people. She wasn’t perfect: none of us are, but she lived life with love for those around her, and with gusto and integrity and hard work. Jean, this amazing woman in an ordinary way, she’ll be missed greatly by all who knew her and loved her.