A Scrapbook: Bonnets, Bandannas, and Sex Ed


“Tie your head shut!” – An oft-heard admonition from my mother, my Aunt Ruthie, and Grandma Longenecker. Translation: If you tie your head shut, you won’t get sick with colds, sinus trouble, what not. And so our heads are tied shut with bonnets and bandannas and then adorned with the Mennonite prayer veiling. In other words, there is usually something besides my hair on top of my head or around my ears from babyhood on up.

My photo at 10 months old features a machine-sewn miniature version of a bonnet that I remember my Grandma wearing in the garden.

Marian_Dad_10 mos_150

On billboards we see the little blond girl advertising a fake way to get sun-tanned. “Don’t be a paleface,” she says.  But we don’t need to buy Coppertone lotion to make our skins dark. We get our tans the honest way. Our skin turns brown naturally in the summer playing outside or working in the garden or tomato patch. To tell the truth, we depend on the sun-bonnet or the grace of God to not scorch our tough Swiss skins.

Bundled up in snowsuit
Bundled up in snowsuit
Another hat - on tricycle
Another hat – on tricycle

More Bonnets & Bandannas @ Work

Like Mildred Armstrong Kalish in her must-read memoir Little Heathens depicting rural life in Iowa during the Depression, we in Pennsylvania Dutch land are not offended or shocked by four-letter words that are part of our daily life either: cook, bake, wash, iron, dust, pick tomatoes, sweet corn, beans, or sweet potatoes.

Sisters and I throwing wood for furnace
Sisters and I throwing wood for furnace
Cousin Janet and I say, "Rabbit for dinner!"
Cousin Janet and I say, “Rabbit for dinner!”
Aunt Ruthie with scarf and I hoeing in tomato field
Aunt Ruthie with scarf and I hoeing in tomato field

WIth skirts and scarves we plant, hoe, and pick tomatoes in Bainbridge, PA. For details, see Tomato Girl, parts I and II.

Proudly advertising DeKalb corn, no bonnet or bandanna
Proudly advertising DeKalb corn, no bonnet or bandanna

School and Sex Ed

Surrounded by girls with curls visiting the Elizabethtown Library, I’m the one to the left with a floral bandanna, keeping my head tied shut, just like Mother expected.

My class at Elizabethtown Library
My class at Elizabethtown Library

With all its books, this library is an impressive step up from the small bookcase at Rheems Elementary School. Yes, there is a library at Bossler Mennonite Church too, which is where I begin to get my sex education. In a blue and white book with a glossy, stiff cover, I discover that when a mommy and daddy “got very close” a baby was created. “Now what does “get very close” mean?” I wonder. Later I un-earth a book entitled Sane Sex Life with a red, black and white dust cover in my parents’ bedroom. Hidden in their wardrobe among sweaters, long-johns, and mothballs, this book adds a new dimension to my literary diet of Lippincott textbooks, church catechism, and storybooks. Whenever I think my mother won’t hear the sound of the wardrobe door open, I sneak a look at its realistic drawings (gasp!) and mind-boggling explanations, astonished that such a books exists.

Yes, I keep these strange revelations under my hat, bandanna, prayer veiling–whatever I am wearing on my head.

And Play

Picnicking with plain friends
Picnicking with plain friends

Prayer coverings take no vacations. Because a woman is apt to pray any time or any place, the Church (Lancaster Mennonite Conference) ordains that we stay veiled morning, noon, and night.

What special outfits do you remember from your childhood or teen-age years?

Did they make you feel attractive? Out of place?

20 thoughts on “A Scrapbook: Bonnets, Bandannas, and Sex Ed

  1. I remember not being able to wear pants while my sister could because she did more outdoor field work. I remember feeling second class, different. At least I didn’t have to wear a covering to school. These are some of the bare feelings your post makes me think about. Thanks.


  2. I remember with great clarity my mother saying, “never go outside with your head wet,” you will catch a cold. Then I remember taking my friend’s mother to lunch when she was visiting, and she became very sick. Later I was told she left home before her head was completely dry. I felt so bad! Old wives tales never die. Or is it true?


  3. Also, do I see Jean Whisler, Lois” younger sister, Arlene and ??? Miller?

    Here is your comment on my 8.24.13 post, Mennonite Flashbacks: Circles and Tubs (It came out as an email, not a comment linked to my blog website):

    You have a way of describing the past in a unique manner. Yes, Communion and foot washing the way I remember also. I did not like to have an older woman as my partner either.


  4. I spent several years in SE Asia, and I covered my head on many occasions to show respect to the culture. While covered hair is traumatic enough, it was the loss of peripheral vision that bothered me the most.


    1. You are a well-traveled woman, Traci! Always fodder for blog content. My prayer coverings did not interfere with peripheral vision thankfully, but they certainly influenced my vision of the world as a young girl.


  5. Lovely reminisces thank you! Along with delightful photos! I don’t remember being admonished by my parents to keep my head covered but I do know that we were never to go to bed with our hair wet (a myth I believe).
    Of course when the situation requires it I would cover my head, perhaps with a scarf, as a mark of respect or because that’s the way things are done eg in foreign lands.


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