I can hardly wait to go to the Metzler reunion in Lititz today. At Lititz Springs Park on the 2nd Sunday in July, I get to play with my cousins from my mother’s side of the family. My mother’s father, Abram, and her two uncles, Monroe and Herman, form the three branches of our Metzler family tree.
Grandpa Abram and Grandma Sadie who died when Mother was 9
On the way to Bossler’s Mennonite Church this morning, Mom told my Daddy that he can’t talk long with the men after the service because we have to get home to load up the food in the car before we can go to the reunion. Yesterday I helped my mom make Aunt Verna’s potato salad with lots of celery. After I went to bed last night I smelled the sweet, rich aroma of angel food cake baking in the oven for the special surprise for Grandma Metzler.
The whole family is packed into the 1949 blue Studebaker again: Daddy behind the wheel, Mommy up front, and Janice, Jean, and me in the back. We all keep our church clothes on, so we can show how plain we still are. Daddy wears a white shirt and dark pants, and Mom and Janice and I have dresses with capes and sleeves to the elbow—Jean hasn’t gotten saved * yet, so she’s still a cute, curly-headed girl with regular clothes. All the Metzlers are Mennonite and notice the details of our dress, I imagine.
About a mile or two from Lititz, I stick my head out of the left rear car window and sniff, “I bet I can smell the Wilbur Chocolate Factory.” Now Janice and Jean lean out of the right window and say they can smell Lititiz Springs pretzels, but I catch a whiff of the rich Swiss chocolate aroma just before we reach the town limits.
Soon we’re on Broad Street, and we cruise past neat, two and three-story brick and stone townhouses. Like us, people here don’t lock their doors either, unless maybe when they go off on vacation to Atlantic City.
Lititz Springs Park is our playground. As our car rolls to a stop, we all fall out and head for our cousins. Mom calls us back to help carry stuff, of course. From a distance I notice Aunt Clara uncovering her Bavarian Cream dessert, and Uncle Leroy with his bags of peanuts for the peanut scramble about three o’clock. All my aunts look like pears, and my uncles like apples except for Clyde. And, believe me, my uncles have mirth to match their girth. Each of my mother’s brothers can do something funny or strange. Uncle Landis can click his false teeth up and down on his gums clickety-clack, Uncle Leroy can wiggle his ears, both at the same time, Uncle Clyde’s hand-shake includes a tickle with his index finger on the palm of my hand, and Uncle Abe can play his harmonica with no hands.
After my sisters and I make the rounds of our crazy uncles, we match up with cousins our own age. I play with my favorite cousin, freckle-faced Janet who has glossy, bright red hair. Janice and Jean play with spunky, brown-haired Ruth Ann, Anna Mae, Gerry and Dorcas. Rachel too.
Soon, Uncle Monroe rings the dinner bell and all the young ‘uns come running. He’ll say grace in his high-pitched voice, and we’ll stuff down our food so we get to play again. Under the roof of the pavilion are three sets of long, wooden picnic tables, arranged parallel to each other. The Uncle Herman family branch sits along the first row of tables: the women and girls mostly wear pale-colored dresses with capes that have such tight necklines and wristbands they seem to cut off their circulation. I would just die if I had to wear thick, black stockings and shoes like they do, but I never hear them complain. And as hot as it is, some of the men are still wearing their buttoned-to-the-neck shirts from church.
The next bunch of relatives, the “Monroe” branch of the family are a little looser. They let their young girls wear skirts and blouses, and everybody else pushes their sleeves as high as they will go. When Mary, Monroe’s daughter got married, tongues wagged because her bridesmaids wore pastel satin fabrics on head bonnets to match their dress color. Later I realize she got that out of her system then;. Her plain dress complies with tradition now.
My Mom’s side of the family, the “Abram” side, is the least conservative, except for Clyde’s family because he is a preacher, and Abe’s family because they take pride in sticking to tradition.
In a few minutes all the cousins tumble off the benches for the peanut scramble. I make a basket out of the skirt of my dress and scoot around madly trying to fill it with roasted nuts. Soon we sit on the ground and stuff ourselves with peanuts, all except Clair who is kneeling by the springs floating his plastic boat, first prize in the contest.
Now I see Mom, Aunt Verna, and Aunt Cecilia arranging another table for the birthday surprise. Out come the cakes and the punch-bowl which is soon filled with white grape juice and ginger ale, all gold and bubbly. In a few minutes, Uncle Herman rings the bell again. “It’s time for our surprise. Annie is 75 today, so you’s all come on and have some cake and punch.”
Our family is not bashful, and so we rush to the head of the line, after Grandma Metzler of course. The table looks so pretty. Someone has brought a garden bouquet of daisies and roses with a lace tablecloth. Cousin Janet notices that the relatives at the other tables are not budging. “Why aren’t the others coming over?” She wonders out loud to me.
I don’t know. Maybe they’ve just eaten too much to move, I surmise, but I do see the older folks whispering among themselves and wonder what they’re saying. What happens next? Part II
* ARTICLE VI, Of Salvation: We believe that man is saved alone by grace through faith . . . in Christ; that through the new birth he becomes a child of God, partaker of eternal life. Statement of Christian Doctrine and Rules and Discipline of the Lancaster Conference of the Mennonite Church