“Mary Rommely […] was a saint. She had no education; she could not read or write her own name, but she had in her own memory over a thousands stories and legends. Some she had invented to entertain the children; others were old folk tales told to her by her own mother and her grandmother. She knew many country songs and understood all the wise sayings.
She was intensely religious and knew the life story of every Catholic saint. She believed in ghosts and fairies and all supernatural folk. She knew all about herbs and could brew you either a medicine or a charm – provided you intended no evil with the charm. Back in the old country she had been honored for her wisdom and much sought out for her advice. She was a blameless sinless woman, yet she understood how it was with people who sinned. Inflexibly rigid in her own moral conduct, she condoned weakness in others. She revered God and loved Jesus but she understood why people often turned away from these Two.
She had been a virgin when she married and had humbly submitted to her husband’s brutal love. His brutality early killed all her latent desires. Yet she could understand the fierce love hunger that made girls-as people put it-go wrong. She understood how a boy who had been driven from the neighborhood for rape could still be a good boy at heart. She understood why people had to lie and steal and harm one another. She knew of all pitiful human weaknesses and of many cruel strengths.
Yet she could not read or write.”
From A tree grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith