Quiet Lives Matter: My Brother Mark

My brother Mark was my first baby. He was born when I was 12, and I soon became a mother to him. I even have a picture to prove it, a blurry movie still from one of Aunt Ruthie’s 16 millimeter camera shoots.

Holding brother Mark as my sister (age 7) Jean zooms on by
Holding brother Mark as my youngest sister Jean (age 7) happily zooms on by

I most certainly bottle fed him and changed his diapers. When he was a few months old, my sisters and I made up a little ditty often chanted repeatedly when we played with him:

De honey and de sweetie and de hon-ey boy

De hon, de hon, de hon-ey boy . . .

Practicing our Latin, we would refer to him as “Marcus -a -um” when he got a little older. Looking back, I wonder now how much the age difference and his being our longed-for brother played a role in such playfulness.

Mark passed through the usual boyhood stages, going to school at Rheems Elementary (here pictured at age 8) and learning to ride a bike.

Mark8yearsOld

MarkBikeFence

Like most boys this age, he climbed trees and played with his beloved dog, Skippy, butterscotch colored and 3-legged.

Mark handing walnuts to his sister Janice, 1964
Mark handing walnuts to his sister Janice, 1964

MarkDogMailbox

In the doggy photo, Mark is already wearing shop overalls and shop shoes ready for work at Longenecker Farm Supply, our family business in Rheems, Pennsylvania.

Eventually, his work at the shop translated into industrial arts credit at Elizabethtown High School, where he earned a certificate of attendance.

Here painted and sealed in polyurethane is a cartoon of Mark on a Deutz tractor which certified his skill at the wheel and gave a nod to his service with the Rheems Fire Department.

Stool art courtesy of Cliff-Toon Stools by Cliff Beaman, 1985
Stool art courtesy of Cliff-Toon Stools by Artist Cliff Beaman, 1985

Later, he worked at our dad’s shop full time, from where he was often sent out to fix machinery when farmers were stuck needing repairs in the field.

Mark in front of shop beside soybean extruder, 1984
Mark in front of shop beside soybean extruder, 1984

As family members aged, he kept the home-fires burning at the two houses on Anchor Road, first ministering to our Aunt Ruthie’s increasing needs as her memory loss progressed. Because of Mark’s care, Ruthie was able to stay in her own home at the bottom of the hill for four years longer than would have been feasible otherwise. He occasionally took her dog Fritzie IV for walks, a dog variously dubbed vicious, feisty or protective depending on whom you asked. Out of respect for Ruthie and her devotion to her Schnauzer, he took care of a dog he didn’t particularly like and certainly didn’t love.

MarkFritzieWoods

Simultaneously, he helped take our Mother Ruth to doctor and dentist appointments and often shopped for groceries, enabling our mother to stay in her own home at the top of the hill until she died last year at age 96.

When we realized we would be selling Mother’s house, Mark’s contacts from the shop along with his extended group of friends in the area enabled us to sell the property without a realtor’s assistance and accompanying fees.

Every Sunday now he takes Pearl Longenecker in her nineties to church at Bossler Mennonite Church.

Mark continues to live in Aunt Ruthie’s house with his daughter Shakeeta (Kiki) who moved in recently, caretakers of the Longenecker homestead we hold dear.

MarkKiKi

* * *

From my point of view, Mark does not suffer from the effects of striving, the bane of modern existence. It’s safe to say he has never slavishly checked off items on a to-do list or reached for the benchmarks of fame and fortune as many do. In other words, he hasn’t made a big splash in this world. But my brother Mark is a helper, living a quiet life that matters.

Stephen Post, Hidden Gifts of Helping

We eat because it keeps us alive, and we help others because it keeps us human.  (29)

And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water . . . , verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.     Matthew 10:42   King James Version


Are there unsung heroes in your family or among your group of friends and acquaintances? Thank you for spicing up our conversation here with your story!

Coming next: Help! A Vintage Photo in Need of a Caption

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55 thoughts on “Quiet Lives Matter: My Brother Mark

  1. What a beautiful tribute to your brother. It made me a bit teary-eyed.
    It sounds like your family is very fortunate to have your helper of a brother. If you think about a big splash in a fountain, there is a motor and mechanism that allows that to happen–that would be your brother. It is unseen, but without it the “big splashes” could not happen.

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  2. I hope Mark gets to read this wonderful tribute to himself! You honored him so wonderfully! The pictures of Mark all along his lifetime helped me to really picture him and his relationship to you. Thanks for sharing this delightful story of real life. 🙂

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    1. Mark doesn’t have a computer, but his daughter Kiki does. (She is taking courses at a community college in Harrisburg with a career in nursing in mind.) Regardless, I am sending him a printed copy in the mail. Thank you for replying here, Anita. Later, I will send comments to him.

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  3. Little brothers are so special. My youngest brother is 16 years younger than me and we are very close. He does a lot for our mom even though he has health issues himself and doesn´t live in the same city. He is brilliant with finances and computers. In fact he designed my website.
    My son is another unsung hero in our family. Looking after two ageing grandmothers, 4 children and 2 great grandchildren, he still has time for friends, neighbours and elderly aunts in need. I am so proud of the man he has become.

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    1. I hope your brother and son see your comments sometime. Unfortunately, the world lauds the loud. Even screamers that don’t deserve it get notice simply because of their volume. Thank you for your tribute here.

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  4. Thank you Marion for this beautiful recognition of Mark. I feel as if Shanti and I grew up with Mark. He has always been a wonderful person and fun to be with. He and Betty once took us to us to the fair. He was very attentive to take care of us and made sure that we were safe and had fun. I Love Mark so much. I was hoping he’d take up my invitation to come visit me here in Chicago. So happy Kiki is living with him. I love going to. Pennsylvania and accompany him to Gus’s. He beams with a great smile that everyone knows him by name. We are alike in that sense. I love entering my bank and that they know me by name and stores. I hope to make it to Pennsylvania this spring would be nice if we can all be there at the same time.
    Gloria

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    1. Yes, I can almost hear the melody of the Cheers theme song when we go with Mark to Gus’s. He has many friends from the shop who meet with him daily around the counter. Don’t be offended, Mark doesn’t travel much unless he has companionship. He hasn’t made it back to Florida in over ten years.

      And yes, it would be nice meet up in PA. We need to see Aunt Ruthie again, I hope early next year. I’m glad we have a similar history and can meet up and share parts of it here. Thanks, Gloria!

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  5. How wonderful, Marian! Those of us from close-knit families are so very fortunate. I cherish my three sisters and my lone brother, who showed up smack in the middle of the clan with two sisters on each side. Your writing about your family is lovely.

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    1. Welcome, Hope, how nice to see you here. We all have stories to tell. Some of us write, and some of us (like you) can sing our stories. You may want to do both eventually. Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment.

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  6. Marian — I so hope that Mark will have the opportunity to read this beautiful post — a tribute, really. Server traits are: accommodating, caring, modest, dedicated, and unassuming. Somewhat like Mother Teresa and the Dalai Lama, they focus on serving the common good. Your brother, Mark, is in good company.

    What a legacy! “My brother Mark is a helper, living a quiet life that matters.”

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    1. I have printed out the post and will mail it off tomorrow as today is Veterans’ Day. Later on, I also want him to see the comments, also a heart-warming addition. Fortunately his daughter Kiki can keep him updated on her computer.

      We live in an age of celebrity noise. “Unassuming” stands out because it is rarely noted. Thank you, siSTAR Laurie.

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  7. Such a heartwarming story, Marian. And I feel as if I have met Mark. What a gentle and giving man. No doubt he is paying forward all that sisterly love and attention he received.

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    1. If you feel as though you have met Mark, I feel gratified indeed. He had many challenges in life because of certain limitations, but he has always had such a kind heart. That’s what I wanted to show here.

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  8. Good to be back here again and to say “yea and amen” to all the comments above, Marian. Mark has made a splash in my heart because of his sister’s skill in painting with words, in organizing family photos, and in conveying her faith via her family.

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    1. Faith and family is embedded in your heritage as well. Thank you for recognizing my motivation here as you always do. I would be remiss not to mention Cliff’s efforts in transforming slides from film to digital format. Couldn’t do this without him. Fortunately, these slides weren’t moldy, but they still needed touch-up. 🙂

      Good to have you back again, Shirley. I look forwarding to checking out your post today, probably a reflection on your Cuban experience.

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  9. Well, that’s something we have in common. My eldest sister had her second son when I was 11 years old and I immediately fell in love with him and, like you, took care of him, bathing him, changing nappies, etc. He was like a living doll and a great experience for me for when I had my own son 20 years later. My nephew, Ernesto, then came over to England from Spain to help me look after my son when I had to go back to work! How wonderful is that?

    But the real hero in my family is Ernesto’s elder sister, Susana. She is the one who looked after both my parents as they aged, when the rest of us were busy at work or, in my case, away from home. We are a close family and, as I always say, they are my treasure.

    You are lucky to have such a wonderful brother too. 🙂

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    1. It’s wonderful when all the generations can help each other as your interlocking stories illustrate. When I wrote this post I imagined others had had a similar experience growing up with their siblings. You were very blessed! I guess we can all say, “Blest Be the Tie that Binds”!

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  10. You have a wonderful brother , I hope he reads this because sometimes we don’t truly know how our siblings feel about us …so good .
    You have heard me speak about my sister Jan who is ten years six months older than me ( the six months are important 😊) She has always been a super hero to me . She was mum when I was little , when our mum was too ill , she was my best friend when I was a teenager getting me out of scrapes . If fact she is good all rounder . She can’t see me without giving me something or making something for me . She is still there for me now as I am for her . We are so lucky aren’t we .
    Cherryx

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    1. Yes, we are, Cherry – lucky that is. I’m sending a printed copy of this post to Mark in the mail today, so he can read it at leisure. Probably his daughter who has a computer has shown the post to him already.

      I enjoyed reading all the ways your sister Jan was “mum.” One more thing: I think it’s a British tradition to use the term “mum” at tea time. I notice that Queen Elizabeth has said, “I’ll be ‘mum,'” when she holds the teapot to pour tea. Anything else you can add about that tradition? It’s very sweet, I think.

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      1. Mmm you re right my husband often says it . He also says ‘more tea vicar ‘ not sure where that comes from … Could be a catch phrase …will find out let you know 🤔
        Cherryx

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        1. Yes, let me know about the “more tea vicar” expression. Here in the States we have a show called “The Vicar of Dibley.” Maybe you have heard of it too as it is British drama. Kind of outrageous and slap-stick all of which I like – ha!

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          1. Well I never it seems to be a little rude 🙃 As the story goes if anyone ahhhmm passes wind whilest at the table someone would utter the words ‘more tea vicar’ . Maybe to cover up the incident I really don’t know . I thought it was a catch phrase amazing what you can discover . Yes I do know ‘The Vicar Of Dibley ‘ but I actually never got into it . I often find I watch a series when they have finished . I’m way behind time . I do love ‘Downtown ‘ but sadly last one goes out at Christmas . All good things come to an end .
            Cherryx

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  11. Thank you for this wonderful story Marian. And to Cliff for the photos. It’s so often that the people who are the salt of the earth do the most good in their own quiet and inimitable way. It’s just second nature – actually primary nature – to extend a helping hand, sometimes doing things like walking the dog even when not really wanting to. Brother Mark, all who know you are blessed indeed.

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    1. Yes, I agree. The test of true character is revealed when we take on tasks that are really not “our thing” and keep on doing them for the greater good in spite of our feelings otherwise.

      I’ll pass the compliment on to Cliff. Thank you, Susan.

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    1. Yes, indeed! We all have our little “bit” to contribute. It’s what makes the world go ’round, I think. Every day you use your sharp eye and clever thoughts to inspire others. Thank you for all of it, Fiona.

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    1. Just today I learned of the unexpected death of a friend at church and realize once again how fragile life is. It’s never too early to pay tribute to ordinary folks, especially family members who make a difference. Thanks for noticing and for commenting here, Marylin.

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  12. Marian … This is another thing we have in common. My brother, Hank (Joseph Henry Fiet IV), was ten younger than me. So he also had two mothers. I even gave him an allowance – only 25 cents – from my first job in a bank.

    Mark has made a huge difference in the lives of those he loves. Not many can say the same. Hats off to your ‘little’ bro. 😉

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  13. Dear Sweet Mark. I’m so grateful he has been able to help the elderly in your family and now lives in Aunt Ruthie’s home with his daughter. I can feel the family and community support dripping from this post, Marian. One person has struggled with mental illness and takes wonderful care of her ailing parent. She has a huge heart and understands the need for help. Thanks for reminding me.

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    1. As with every post, there is also a back story. While Mark was caring for his Aunt Ruthie he was also being provided with a home, a place to live. We invited Kiki to come live at Ruthie’s house just recently. That’s what extended families do. From where I sit, such accommodation happens in your family too, caring for Vic’s mother as you have.

      For a span of at least twenty years when Ruthie was hale and hearty, her home was a haven for immigrants and refugees. Now it’s back to family. We begin and end with family.

      Thanks you for taking the time to read this post, the comments, and leaving your inimitable footprint here too. 😉

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      1. I assumed the general back story, but not the details. You did a subtle job of not labeling Mark but letting us know. The certificate of attendance said it. I’m glad Kiki can move in.

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        1. God cares for his own, but it has to happen through people.

          About the subtle reference: Mark has endured much taunting through the years, but somehow he has soldiered on. He and I have had conversations about this, and he gives me the impression he regards it as “water off a duck’s back.” Still, I wonder. Another example of God’s grace? I could speculate, but he’s in a good place right now.

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  14. Your post beautifully celebrates the quiet ones among us, Marian, those who are content to call no attention to themselves. I’m glad you referenced the bullying your brother endured. How common it is for some to taunt and belittle the different. Is it simple fear of those who are different? As though being the same is validation one is ok? We are certainly seeing this on our own time, writ large. Shocking.

    I have a sneaky feeling too that you, as that 12 year old surrogate mom, gave your brother an extra strong foundation of love and acceptance that has served him well over time.

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    1. Not long ago I had the mistaken idea that bullying would somehow disappear (or become less rampant) just as I imagined that having a black President would result in better race relations. How naive! As you imply, we have to be on the alert, always, and speak out when there is injustice.

      Thank you for the compliment. Mark seemed like my “pretend” baby, so I never thought of our gushing over him as providing a solid foundation of love and acceptance – but I think you’re right.

      I can always count on you for a level-headed “take” on a topic. Thank you, Janet!

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