Hell On Earth
In his book Mighty Mary, Virgil Robinson narrates the adventures of a Scottish girl who wanted to be a missionary like David Livingstone. Her name was Mary Slessor. She spent the later part of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century in Calabar, now known as Nigeria, West Africa. As a dedicated missionary, she used to walk barefoot through the forests at night. She was not afraid of hippos, sorcerers, bullies, or wars. She pacified warlike tribes and opposed barbarous tribal customs, such as the killing of twin babies. She also defied the practice of killing the wives and slaves of a chief at his death.
While the feats of Mary Slessor among the salvages of Calabar include some breathtaking episodes, her life in the home where she had been brought up, in Scotland, was characterized by pathetic hardships do to the fact that her father was a drunkard.
“I should never have married him,” Mrs. Slessor confided more than once to her best friend. “He was not an alcoholic when I first met him,” she explained. “And he was a good man, but he was not a Christian. I thought he would join the church, but he never did.”
Mary was so disgusted with the drinking habit of her father, that one day she ventured to ask:
When did dad begin to drink?”
“All the men in the factory where he was working use to drink, so he thought he should go along with them.” That was mother’s answer.
Every Saturday evening, when Mr. Slessor received his weekly pay, one of his companions tapped him on the shoulder saying:
“Come, Bob, let us spend some time together at the Red Lion.”
With his pocket full of silver coins, Mr. Slessor often walked into the tavern only to get so intoxicated that he could hardly find his way home.
One Saturday night, while his wife and children were anxiously waiting for him, the light of the lamp was projecting long shadows on the wall. They were all looking at each other without saying a word.
“Why are you looking at me like that?” he murmured in a rude tone. Can’t a man have a drink with his friends without having to meet long faces when he gets home?”
Ignoring the grossness of her husband, Mrs. Slessor said:
“The money, Bob! Did you bring any money?”
“Money! Money! That’s all you think about!”
Going through his pockets, he pulled out three coins and threw them on the table. Just three cents. Mrs. Slessor was sorely disappointed, but uttered no word of complaint. Instead, she put some food on the table.
“Sit down and have your supper.”
“Supper? I don’t want any supper,” he roared, flinging the plate of food toward the other end of the room. Then he reeled into the bedroom, dropped onto his bed, and began to snore.
“Now you go to bed,” Mrs. Slessor said to the children. “And in your prayers don’t forget to ask God to forgive and help your poor dad.”
Such scenes became more and more common on Saturday nights. At the same time, he was getting more and more violent. Sometimes he would beat up his wife or spank the children for no good reason. More than once Mrs. Slessor was unable to go to church, fearing the silent questions that her black eye would raise among her friends and neighbors.
Mary could often be seen walking all by herself along the streets of Aberdeen at night. Sometimes she walked past the infamous tavern where her father was burying his hard earned money, his health, his discernment, and his self-respect. She was shocked and filled with disgust at the burst of laughter, the profanities, and the bad language that could be heard by the passers-by. Her compassionate eyes rested upon those staggering victims who were leaving without knowing which direction to take. Some of them dropped and fell asleep on the sidewalk. Returning home, many times she had to wait until she saw a light on the window of her room. That was a sign from her mother indicating that it was safe now for her to enter the house. Those atrocious experiences developed in her mind a deep hatred against the liquor habit and everything that was connected with it.
The family did not have enough heating in the house in wintertime. Nor did they have enough clothing. And their food was scarce. As a consequence, they did not enjoy good health. Robert, Mary’s sixteen-year-old brother, was coughing. When he completed eighteen he died of TB. And his dream of going to Africa as a missionary was buried with him.
“Don’t worry, mom; I will go in his place.” Mary tried to comfort her mother.
“Forget about going to Africa. No missionary committee would accept you. That is a man’s job. Let John go in place of Robert.”
John was Mary’s younger brother. He too was coughing, and in a short time he followed his brother into the grave.
While Mrs. Slessor was forced to work hard in a factory, earning very little, Mary had to look after her three little sisters. Sometimes, before the end of the week, there was not a cent left to buy food.
One day Mrs. Slessor was alarmed. She thought her husband had gotten hurt at work when she saw him come home at noon. But that was not the case. His worried look, however, showed that something serious had happened. Without uttering a word, he sat down and looked out the window for a long while, as if he were gazing at something. Suddenly he opened his mouth:
“What shall we do now?”
“What do you mean, Robert? I can’t understand you. What is the problem?”
“I was fired.”
“Why were you dismissed? Is business going down?”
“Not at all. But the director is not satisfied with my production, because with my shaky hands, he says, I’m botching up the leather when I cut it.”
“You will certainly be able to find another job.”
“No. I spent the whole morning going from factory to factory, and no one was willing to take me on.”
“Robert, you know what is behind all this, don’t you?”
“Let us move away from Aberdeen,” he said. “I will not drink anymore. I will start a new life. Let us go to Dundee. I heard that several new factories were opened there.”
“Yes, let’s get out of this town. If you only fulfill your promise to stop boozing, I will go with you to anyplace. But where do you think you will get the money for the removal?”
We will sell the furniture.”
In Dundee, Mr. Slessor kept his promise for a short time. His companions in the factory laughed at him when they saw him drink water at mealtime. So, after about three months, he began to drink again. And before long, he was frequenting the pub on Saturday evenings, exactly the way he had done in Aberdeen. And Mary soon had to learn the shortest way to the pawnshop. The Slessors were, again, suffering hell on earth.
Drinking more and more, Mr. Slessor was getting worse and worse. Finally he was unable to work. When he was very sick, Mrs. Slessor asked him if he was ready to give his heart to God and ask Him to give him strength to overcome the habit. But he simply turned his face against the wall and refused to speak. Two years later he died without God and without salvation.
Mary’s hatred for alcoholism was understandable; it had killed her father.