7 Things I Do that Remind Me of Home

Over forty years ago I left Lancaster county and my Mennonite life. Though I have visited dozens of times since then, Jacksonville, Florida, has been my home. Nonetheless, every single day I notice myself repeating rituals that reveal the imprint of my early training.

1. Eat pickled eggs – Usually reserved for Sunday dinners and picnics, I eat them for breakfast almost daily now.

Hard-boiled eggs pickled in beet juice
Hard-boiled eggs pickled in beet juice

2.“Outen the light” – I don’t use that Pennsylvania Dutch expression any more, but when no one is in a room, I make sure the light switch is turned off. “Don’t burn a hole in the daylight” is a saying that has burned into my psyche.

3. Wash dishes – Mother never had a dishwasher, except her own hands. Though I’ve had a dishwasher most of my married life, I often wash dishes by hand: fine china, big kettles, forks. Sometimes warm, soapy water is soothing.

Daddy drying dishes - Only on Sundays after church!
Daddy drying dishes – Only on Sundays after church!

4. Re-use aluminum foil –  I never use Reynolds Wrap only once. It is cleaned off, folded and stored for multiple uses. (But I don’t scrape the residue from the wrapper of a stick of butter anymore unless it’s a big hunk. )

5. Tidy up – After retiring from full-time teaching, I dismissed my cleaning lady, so cleaning the house is in my domain once again. Dusting is the bane of my life, but I can’t abide dirty floors. Mother’s house was cleaned stem to stern once a week on a Friday with deep cleaning heralding the spring and fall seasons.

6. Water the maiden-hair fern – Grandma Longenecker loved ferns. She loved the misty, floaty, lacy aesthetic of ferns. My sister Janice has kept alive some off-shoots of Grandma’s. Here’s my maiden-hair fern:

fern

7. Go up and down stairs – The Longenecker home place has 2 floors and an attic. The staircase between them has 18 steps. When it was time for bed, Mother would say, “It’s time to go up the wooden hill!” Now at almost 96, she still uses her stairs, once in the morning and once at bed-time. Bowed with age into an L-shape she ascends, fiercely defending her independence.

Our tri-level has a pair of stairs, 7 steps each. Good for keeping those calf muscles in shape.

If you don’t know what to do, just take the first step. “To take the first step in faith, you don’t have to see the whole staircase.”    Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

StaircaseBeaman

Are any of these points similar to those in your life?

What can you add to the list from your own experience?

 

Advertisements

Fighting Spirit: Rhetoric, Rotten Rulers, and a Sex Strike

Is a family graduation on your calendar this year?

As a faculty member at Florida State College at Jacksonville (then Florida Community College), I attended graduation every year in full regalia with hundreds of ecstatic grads, joyful families, and proud faculty and administration.

The Tawdry Tale

One year stands out though: 2001. State Representative X rose to the podium to deliver the commencement address and announced that his remarks would be short and to the point. Relieved, the audience sat back to enjoy a brief speech entitled A Short Guide to a Happy Life.  Hmm . . . the title sounded familiar, I thought. Then he went on to tick off the main points: 1. Don’t confuse life with work. 2. Life is what happens when you are making other plans. 3. If you win the rat race, you are still a rat. . . . Then it dawned on me. I have heard this all before. In fact I’ve read it. Recently. In a book. In a book by Anna Quindlen with the same title. This man with an honorable title in high office is plagiarizing his speech, giving no credit to Quindlen or reference to her book. His whole speech. Boldly. Baldly. With no bones about honesty!

QuindlenShortGuide

My sense of justice on high alert, I set out to right the wrong. No, to expose the guilty. I contact the campus president in charge of graduation. Yes, she will check up on my suspicion and she does follow through. There are more emails and phone calls, which in the end boil down to the critical question: Where is the audio recording of that address? Alas, it is never un-earthed. We are told the recording mechanism failed (?) and thus no incriminating evidence is available. Sadly, just my words remain which have now fallen. Flat. On deaf ears.

*  *  *

My own college graduation is a distant memory. When I graduated from Eastern Mennonite College with a degree in English, I was still a plain girl, but with a B. A. degree in English education. I don’t remember at all who spoke at the commencement address or what the topic was, but I am sure there was an emphasis on service to others, demonstrating peace while upholding justice, still strong tenets of my alma mater, now Eastern Mennonite University.

Senior Photo: Eastern Mennonite College
Senior Photo: Eastern Mennonite College

 

The Nobel Laureate

Tomorrow another graduation occurs. On Sunday, April 27, 2014 an honorable woman, Leymah Gbowee, co-winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize and a 2007 EMU alumna, will give the 96th annual commencement address at Eastern Mennonite University. Gbowee was the focus of a documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” which demonstrates how women, both Christian and Muslim confronted then-Liberian President Charles Taylor “with a demand for peace and end a bloody 14-year-old civil war.” Her genius: Gbowee rallied women, all dressed in white from various ethnic groups to lock arms, protest, and over time literally pray the ruthless rebels, including the President, into retreat. They even staged a sex strike which her book describes in more detail. In 2007 Leymah Gbowee received a Master of Arts in Conflict Transformation from the Center for Justice and Peace-building at EMU, also her alma mater. No doubt in her graduation speech she will make reference to her book: Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War.

BookLaymahGbowee

But I can assure you—she has plagiarized neither her book nor her speech!

*  *  *

When have you become outspoken against an injustice?  What were the results?

Have you heard of Leymah Gbowee? Anyone else you know with her qualities?

Happy Birthday, Will!

News Flash!

ShakesBirthdayCrown

To mark Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, “the Royal Shakespeare Company is spearheading a three year Jubilee, between 2014 and 2016, that will involve theatre performances, events and live streaming cinema around the world.”

*  *  *  *  *

Florida State College students: Of course they're discussing Shakespeare!
Florida State College students: Of course they’re discussing Shakespeare!

It’s April 23 in my college class of English Lit students. Each has brought in a can of Coke, Dr. Pepper or bottled water. I bring cupcakes—chocolate and vanilla for the party.

Reputedly, April 23, 1564 is the birthday of William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon. It is also the date of his death in 1616, but we are celebrating his life, especially the writing of his gushy love sonnets (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”) and his play, King Lear, which we have just read with all that fussing about a father’s will, sister sniping, revenge and murder. The body count is always high in Shakespeare’s tragedies.

A fixture at every birthday party, Shakespeare wore a bow today.
A fixture at every birthday party, Shakespeare wears a bow today.

Until I was out of high school, I did not realize that my Mennonite Mom was referring to Shakespeare’s line “God has given you one face, and you make yourself another” (Hamlet) when she chided me for wearing makeup. “I’m happy with the face God gave me,” she would retort.

And Grandma Longenecker probably wasn’t aware she was quoting from Midsummer NIght’s Dream either when she tried to comfort me with the words of Lysander: “The course of true love never did run smooth” over my break-up with David, a boyfriend in college. And of various presidents, Truman, Eisenhower, or Kennedy, she would quote from Shakespeare’s Henry IV: “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” I can still hear her cracking the “C” in crown.

Other quotes you may know: 

  • Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.
  • If music be the food of love, play on.
  • Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind.
  • No legacy is so rich as honesty.
  • What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
  • O, had I but followed the arts!
  • ‘Tis better to bear the ills we have than fly to others that we know not of.
  • With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.
  • This above all; to thine own self be true.

What special sayings do you remember from your childhood?

 

What quotes by Shakespeare can you add to the list?

I love it when you comment!

Please check it out: My writer friend, Traci Carver, teacher at Valwood School, a college prep high school in Valdosta, GA, posted on her blog a creative classroom scene from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet featuring foam pool noodles and Twitter hashtags. Creative and memorable!

 

 

Mennonite Flashback III: Rabbits and Rings

This is a sequel to a previous blog post: Flying the Coop: Leaving Mennonite Land with a link to my original story on Mary Gottschalk’s website.

His Story:

I proposed to Marian my Mennonite girl friend one snowy evening, my car stuck in a snow-bank. When she accepted my proposal, I also asked her, “Would you be willing to wear a ring?” This is the plain girl I have fallen in love with: no make-up, no jewelry, especially no ring on her finger, ever.

Now it’s close to Easter and Marian is flying down from Charlotte to spend the weekend with me in Jacksonville. Technically, she’ll be with me most of the time though she will spend the night at Mom and Pop Rea’s house, members of Fellowship Bible Church where I am youth pastor. No sleeping together before marriage.

I’ve been wracking my brain to find a way to make the ring presentation unforgettable—and a surprise too. So this is what I’ll do. I’ll make a ham dinner for her finishing it off with dessert, a cake with her engagement ring baked inside. No, wait! A cake is too big; the ring may get lost in it. I’d better make cupcakes or muffins. That’s it. A blueberry muffin. She’ll find that ring for sure if I wrap it four or five times with tin foil.

And I’ll make some rabbit cutouts with toothpicks, blue for me and red for her, so I know which muffin the ring has been baked in.

Scanned from the original bunny sticks, 1967
Scanned from the original bunny sticks, 1967

Her Story:

Charlotte is my home this year, but with every stitch of my wedding gown, I dream of my life with soon-to-be-husband Cliff in Florida. Easter weekend I take an Eastern Airlines flight to Jacksonville. The carefree, goofy guy I have fallen in love with has hit real life, teaching sixth-graders in an inner city school. He has also exchanged a college dorm for a $ 50.00 per month, second-story garage apartment with a turquoise-teal kitchen, where I will live after our honeymoon. But his humble abode has not killed romance and his wish to entertain.

We sit down to a home-made ham dinner.

The Discovery:

Dessert is served. Oh, little bunny muffins, I think. How cute even if they’re from a mix. I take 2-3 bites and my teeth strike something hard and metallic. Uh-oh. I don’t want to embarrass Cliff by exposing his lack of baking expertise, so I try to hide the wad of foil under my plate. Eying what I think is a faux pas, he urges, “Why don’t you see what’s inside?” Cautious but obliging, I unwrap the layers and layers of foil, and my eyes pop with pleasure – a glittering diamond solitaire, my first ring ever.

Postscript: Years later when I am a young mother, I remove the ring to apply lotion to my hands, placing it on a top of the bedroom dresser. What happens later occurs out of sight and only in our reconstructed memory: Three-year-old daughter Crista finds the ring and puts it on. Wearing it to go potty, she flushes my diamond down drain. Screams ensue. Cliff digs frantically into the lawn hoping the ring has gotten lodged somehow in the trap of the drain pipe before flowing into the Neverland of the city sewer .  .  .  to no avail.

Stand-in for the Original
Stand-in for the Original

What story can you share about receiving a special piece of jewelry?

 

Have you ever lost something precious? A family heirloom?

 

We always learn something from your comments. Thank you!

Purple Passages: A Dragon with a Gift, April 2014

LILACS

LILACS

April is the cruellest month, breeding

Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring

Dull roots and spring rain.

T. S. Eliot The Waste-Land

 

When Lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d

And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,

I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with every-returning spring.

Ever-returning spring, trinity sure to me you bring,

Lilac blooming perennial and drooping star in the west,

And thought of him I love.

 

Walt Whitman, elegy commemorating the death of Lincoln, 1865

 

EASTER

Easter is very important to me, it’s a second chance.  ―  Reba McEntire

Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.    ― Pope John Paul II

 

LAUGHTER

Laughter is the shock absorber that eases the blows of life.    (Unknown)

Laughter is a tranquilizer with no side effects.  ―  Arnold H. Glasgow

 

WORK

Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else. ―  J. M. Barrie

When you can’t figure out what to do, it’s time for a nap.    ― Mason Cooley

 

CHALLENGE

Challenge is a dragon with a gift in its mouth. Dragon and Gift_final_shade+color_crop_5x5_300

Tame the dragon and the gift is yours.

Noela Evans, on persevering through problems, endurance

Shakespeare says it another way, but with a toad:  Sweet are the uses of adversity which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, wears yet a precious jewel in his head. 

READING

Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are. ― Mason Cooley

One rainy Sunday when I was in the third grade, I picked up a book to look at the pictures and discovered that even though I did not want to, I was reading. I have been a reader ever since.   ― Beverly Cleary

Marian Reading_14mos._2x4_300 THE  FUTURE

The best thing about the future is it comes one day at a time.  ― Abraham Lincoln

 *   *   *

Do you believe a challenge is a dragon with a gift in its mouth? A story about this that comes to mind . . . ?

What category can you add a quote to? 

What other topics would you like to see in this monthly feature, Purple Passages?

Coming next: Mennonite Flashback III: Rabbits and Rings

Disappearing Images: 7 Items Missing in Mom’s Bedroom

Mother Longenecker still lives in the same house she and Daddy bought soon after they got married in 1940. Their bedroom looked the same for decades, but it’s changed over the years. Here’s what is missing . . . and what I remember from so long ago.

1. The Art Deco inlaid-wood vanity where Mother sits on a bench to comb her long, glossy black hair before twisting it into a bun topped with a Mennonite covering.

Courtesy Google Images
Courtesy Google Images

2. A matching wardrobe smelling of moth balls and a copy of Sane Sex Life, with a dust cover of scarlet red and white. Black and white pen illustrations included. Eyes wide in wonder.

3. The chenille bedspread. I love the fluffy texture and the furry feeling under the pillows when I smooth the spread as I make my parents’ bed.

ChenilleBedspread 4. A skinny box with a silky slip inside wrapped in white tissue, brought home from a shopping trip to Hagar’s, Garvins, or Watt & Shand in Lancaster. We sometimes call them petticoats.

5. Evening in Paris cologne. Did Mom buy it for herself or was it a birthday gift from Daddy?

 EveningInParisCologne

6. A jar of Noxzema. Sticking a finger deep in and gouging out a spoon of cleansing cream that feels cold on my skin even in the summertime. Can you smell the camphor and menthol just now? Maybe a touch of eucalyptus?

7. Daddy. He died in 1985.

 

Postcript: What is still there? Hanging on the wall above a highboy, a framed pastel-tinted print by Wallace Nutting. The title on the left reads “Wig Wag Churning” (girl seated churning butter). A phrase on the right: “Wallace Nutting.” As a youngster, I kept looking for a boy named Wallace cracking nuts. Much later I figure out Mr. Nutting must be the artist.

WIgWagChurning

What images or scents do you associate with your mother?

Another loved one?

Flying the Coop: Leaving Mennonite Land (guest post)

In the movie based on Beverly Lewis’ best-selling romance novel The Shunning, pretty Katie Lapp senses something is missing in her simple Amish life. Then a fancy woman comes to Lancaster County looking for the baby girl she gave up for adoption nearly 20 years earlier. When Katie makes the connection between this woman and her own existence, she takes a bus to explore life beyond the boundaries of her Amish upbringing.

Cover image via Amazon
Cover image via Amazon

I’m not a character in a best-selling novel, but I did venture beyond the limits of my own Mennonite life to explore a different style of life. Unlike Katie, I wasn’t shunned. But, like her, I did take a bus, a Greyhound bus, to move on.

Today my story is featured on the blog of Mary Gottschalk, who got out of her own comfort zone by sailing the open seas with her husband in a 13,000 mile adventure she recounts in her memoir Sailing down the Moonbeam. Click here to meet this fascinating author and also read my post on stepping into a new world.

2 Easter Vignettes: Sacred and Sentimental

* Poem for Easter – British poet George Herbert loved to explore the soul’s inner architecture. He often wrote poems with shapes representing a theme, the resurrection in this case. The poetic lines, “increasing and decreasing to imitate flight,” also mimic the spiritual experience of rising and falling.

Easter WingsVertical_poem_4x5_300

Then viewed vertically the poem displays images of two butterflies, symbols of new life: Emblem poetry (technopaegnia) printed in a shape that reflects the subject of the poem.

Manuscript from the Bodleian Collection, Oxford University, 1633
Manuscript from the Bodleian Collection, Oxford University, 1633

Since by long centuries of custom the date of Easter is annually determined from the first Sunday after the full moon on or after March 21, the intertwining of physical and spiritual seasons is virtually inevitable.

Wisdom in Waiting: Spring’s Sacred Days by Phyllis Tickle

* Easter parade at Rheems Elementary School

My Mennonite school teacher, Miss Ruth Longenecker, was an artist. Though she dressed plainly with hair in a bun and a standard regulation prayer covering, her life brimmed with color, design, and pageantry. She painted in oils, preserving the old sycamore tree by the bridge at the old Martin home place on canvas:

Sycamore tree and bridge along lane leading up to the Martin farm Oil painting by Ruth Martin Longenecker
Sycamore tree and bridge along lane leading up to the Martin farm       Oil painting by Ruth Martin Longenecker

In her classroom at Christmas time was a tall tree laden with brilliant bulbs and glistening tinsel at school, though Mennonites were discouraged from having worldly Christmas trees at home. For St. Patrick’s Day, my classmates and I wore Derby hats and huge green shamrocks. But Easter was a real blow-out. Students brought hats and silky flowers from home to add to the creative collection (pasted, stapled, sewed). We paraded up and down the village streets near Rheems Elementary School, our teacher preserving the frivolity on her 16 mm movie film. Even the boys wore hats, some even more flower-encrusted than the girls.

Hand-made millinery on display at Rheems Elementary School
Hand-made millinery on display at Rheems Elementary School

Thank you for commenting. You can count on me to reply.

The conversation continues . . . .

Coming Monday: Guest post on Mary Gottschalk’s blog: Flying the Coop: Leaving Mennonite Land

Easter at Grandpa Martin’s Farm: Freshest Eggs Ever

Easter eggs on the farm? Why sure – Fresh eggs from Aunt Sue’s chicken pen, popped into her kettle of water brought to a boil in the kitchen. And then in short order, eggs cooling on the counter soon ready for us to paint. With paint wands made of little wisps of cotton wrapped around tooth-picks, my sisters and I with all the other little cousins make squiggly lines, circles and scallop shapes on the curvy shells, filling them in with rainbow colors.  Sometimes we even add little bunny or flower stickers. But all that artistry happens after devouring the Easter ham.

Easter egg dyeGrandma Longenecker’s sister Aunt Sue Martin, who never married, lived on the farm and took care of Great-Grandpa Sam after his wife Mary died. I’m about six now, and Easter dinner is celebrated around the table at the old home place in Dauphin County close to Middletown, PA. Families of Uncle Joe, Uncle Frank, and Grandma surround the table laden with ham, turkey, home-preserved vegetables, and finally desserts. The clucking of chickens and a few dog barks offer background sound to the talk, usually about politics and family matters. Before or after the meal, Aunt Sue, actually my great aunt, feeds her other hungry brood, here with my sister Janice.

Women learn early that anything that is alive is a potential and probable responsibility.

Phyllis Tickle, The Graces We Remember: Sacred Days of Ordinary Time (61)

After the drowse-inducing pies and puddings, it is picture posing time. Aunt Ruthie with her new-fangled movie camera captures various relatives posing on the porch.

Grandpa Sam, my Dad, Cousin Leonard, Uncle Joe
Grandpa Sam, my Dad, Cousin Leonard, Uncle Joe

And then we play some more. Make up our own fun. Just the collie dog, a wagon, and the wide open meadows down by the creek are all it takes to keep us happy!

GrandpaSamWagonSnapshot000020
Marian and sister Janice with her dolly on Easter

Do your Easter memories include attending a church service? Eating a meal with relatives? Painting eggs? Hunting for Easter eggs?

What do you think of the quote by author Phyllis Tickle?

EggShells