Mennonites at the Beach 1950s style

Atlantic City, New Jersey was the beach mecca for vacationers on the East Coast in the early 1900s. Still dressed in fancy Victorian formality, vacationers caught the salt air as they strolled along the famous board-walk at the Steer Pier, a combination theatre and amusement park: “Rain or Shine … There’s Always a Good Show on Steel Pier” the saying goes. But for most Mennonites, the Steel Pier was an elegant building to ogle only. The theatre was worldly and therefore strictly forbidden by church rules.


But Mennonite families liked the ocean, including my own. Many summers Daddy took Mother and the family to Atlantic City or Ocean City, New Jersey for a day. Mother just loved the water. From the time she pulled on her white latex bathing cap over her bun and donned her black, satin bathing suit with a fluffy skirt, she was bobbing up and down in tune with the waves.

Daddy in his maroon, scratchy-wool, full-body suit was usually at the shore line yelling to her, “Waaatch ooouut for the un-der-tow!” By the end of the day, he was sun-burned and out of sorts, insisting on taking his thirsty, sandy-toed family straight home, a 3-hour drive. In spite of our protests, there was no stopping for a meal let alone an over-night stay in a motel. Daddy was much too frugal for that. Yet he’d dutifully come back for more next year.

Daddy tames the undertow and gets into the water--finally!
Daddy tames the undertow and finally gets into the water!

Uncle Leroy and Aunt Clara liked visits to Atlantic City too. I don’t remember them in bathing suits, but they liked riding the bicycle built for two on the boardwalk.


LeRoy Metzler_on Boardwalk

And so did my parents!

Ray and Ruth L_Bicycle built for two

On a Bicycle Built for Two . . .

When Grandma Longenecker came to Florida the year our daughter Crista was born, she strolled Jacksonville Beach with plenty of sun-protection: black bandanna on top of her covering, caped dress, black stockings and black-heeled shoes, apparently enjoying herself.

Fannie Longenecker at beach

What family vacations stand out as memorable, past or recent? The beach, the mountains, or some place else?

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Coming next: Marriage to a Difficult Man: Parts I and II


Mennonites, Ventriloquists, and Memoir

The wild, permissive Rentzels with a red porch light live next door to our family, the Mennonite Longeneckers, one of several plain families that live on Anchor Road.

Image: Wikipedia
Image: Wikipedia

In their parlor, the Rentzel’s old Emerson black & white TV has introduced me to the wonders of The Howdy Doody Show with Buffalo Bob. As often as I can, I escape at 4 o’clock every day, running next door to ask Mammy Rentzel whether I may watch the show. Of course, she says Yes. I become part of the Peanut Gallery, mesmerized by Howdry Doody himself, a freckle-faced boy marionette with 48 freckles, one for each state of the Union in the 1950s.


My favorite parts are seeing Quaker Oats shot from guns, cannon-style and laughing along with the speechless Clarabell the Clown, who talks with a honking horn or squirts seltzer water. The shades are always pulled in the Rentzel’s tiny living room that smells like pipe smoke and mothballs, adding to the secretiveness of my television viewing. We’re not allowed to have a TV at home. Our church forbids it, but there is no rule to keep me from watching shows on somebody else’s TV! (Statement of Christian Doctrine and Rules and Discipline of the Lancaster Conference of the Mennonite Church,1968, Article V, Section 7):

Television programs are often destructive to the spiritual life and undermine the principles of separation from the world, the precepts of Christian morality, the proper respect for human life, and the sanctity of marriage and the Christian home.

Yet, Phineas T. Bluster, Clarabell the Clown, and Howdy Doody himself, continue to cast their spell upon me. Before I knew the word, I observed that Buffalo Bob Smith was a ventriloquist, himself voicing words that appear to come from the mouth of Howdy Doody.

The word ventriloquist derives from two Latin words: “venter” referring to the belly and “loqui,” to speak. Isn’t that what writers do? Speak on paper or computer screen from a place deep inside themselves where language mixes with thought and feeling.

Critic Brian Boyd says of writer Vladimir Nabokov, “In his novels Nabokov can not only ventriloquize his voice into the jitter and twitch of [his characters], but he can also” invent incidents . . . names, relationships.” Like a ventriloquist, Nabokov in his autobiography entitled Speak, Memory translates his life experiences into words.

Yes, memoir writers do just that: Give life to their memories by putting them into words. If your life is recorded as jottings in a journal or collected as photos in albums, you are “writing” memoir, perhaps starting out as amusement for yourself, but just so bequeathing a legacy to the next generation.

I’ll bet you may already have recorded your history, ventriloquizing your voice into something tangible: letters to family members in college, love letters, scrapbooks, family photo albums (physical or online) even recipes.

Question Mark w border1_1x1_300

How are you ventriloquizing your experience: art, journals, recipes, a memoir?

Inquiring minds want to know. The conversation starts (or continues) with you. As you know, I will always reply.

Great Grandpa Sam: A Hoot and a Holler

Samuel Brinser Martin 1863 -1957    Victorians didn't smile for photos!
Samuel Brinser Martin 1863 -1957                Victorians didn’t smile for photos!

Wiry Grandpa Martin, was a jolly little man. He had an Old MacDonald-type farm with chickens, a couple of cows, two horses, and maybe a pig though I never heard an oink-oink-oink either here or there.

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
Samuel and Mary Martin
Samuel and Mary Martin

Theirs was a Jack Sprat-type union, with his wife Mary as generous as she was ample. Great Grandma Mary died before I was born, so I never met the big-hearted woman who often invited strangers to the family table.

My Grandma Longenecker’s dad, Great-Grandpa Samuel Brinser Martin, came to live with his daughter Fannie and grand-daughter, my Aunt Ruthie, in his later years. My sisters and I found him curious and amusing.

Great-Grandpa Sam has no teeth to speak of. What he had were rotted and drew his mouth into an O like an old mountaineer’s. After meals, he shook some salt into his hand, threw his head way back, opened up and sucked in the salt. It made a loud POP, his mouth an echo chamber.

He came to Grandma’s house toothless, blind, and deaf but not dumb. He was smart enough to know that we stole candy from his stash below his Emerson radio turned to high volume with static near the kitchen window. When he offered us pink Pepto Bismol-like lozenges, we snuck back and snitched the chocolate covered mints. Both his eyes were blind, but one eye was glass and sometimes rolled out of its socket and onto the green, beige, and brown blocked linoleum floor where it picked it up speed.

There were other sneaky things, too, some not involving us. His minister from Geyers Church near Middletown, Pennsylvania would visit, coming in the door with a Bible under one arm and a long, flat, telltale something or other in a brown bag under the other. As the minutes went by the laughing and talking in the upstairs bedroom got louder and louder, revealing the effects of the liberal libation of liquor the two were imbibing, for medicinal reasons of course. We observed the literal interpretation of the biblical teaching that  “A merry heart doeth good like medicine.”  Obviously, his preacher friend was not a strict Mennonite like us nor in favor of prohibition or abstinence.

Grandpa would tell us often: “There’s no feller quite so yeller like my liver.” Then a guffaw! He could pack a punch too. Asking me to make a fist to show my muscle, he’d pound the little mount of bicep flesh hard enough to make a dent.

When he died, there was a quiet spot near the bay window in Grandma’s kitchen – no candy – no tricks – no loud music. We missed Grandpa Martin.

We all have relatives, past or present, who are curious and interesting. We’d like to hear about yours!

Your comments welcome. I will always reply.

Babes in an Urban Woods: Part I

Age 14 1/2
Age 14 1/2

During our teens, my church friends–Miriam, Gladys, Hazel, and I congregate at each other’s houses after church on Sunday night for ice cream, chips, and stereo music: Songs from the West, anything by Mantovani, and The Singing Nun. We would rather have dates like Janie and Thelma, but since we don’t, we pretend that this weekly ritual is fun.

One of our other faux definitions for fun includes cultivating an acre of tomatoes. The youth group from church farm tomatoes on a fertile plot of land near Bossler’s Mennonite Church called The Lord’s Acre. We plant, water, weed, and harvest the tomatoes, giving the profit to missions. Another mission outreach is in New York City, where Ernest Kraybill, one of our deacon’s sons, drives taxi during the day and pastors a small mission church in Harlem. Some of us, along with young marrieds, are getting ready to board a bus and distribute gospel tracts in the Big City. A year ago, the freshmen from E-town High took a field trip to New York. Radio City Music Hall with its sunburst fan of a stage is my favorite memory: seeing the Rockettes was a dream come true for a sheltered girl from Rheems. After the show, we saw a movie–yes, an actual MOOOOOVEEE in dynamic sound and Technicolor, featuring Barbara Stanwyck, the very first movie star I had ever seen performing on the silver screen. Her flawless skin and hair, impeccable makeup, and a cream, cool voice mesmerized me.

On what turns out to be the hottest Saturday in August most of the teens and young adults from Bossler’s plan to spend all day Saturday bringing the gospel to poor, needy heathens in the inner city. It’s summer-time, and I wear my sheer voile lavender frock, so I won’t feel overheated with a modest cape over the dress. We are leaving in the early morning about 4:30 am, so we can spend the day giving out tracts in apartment buildings all over Harlem, With Hazel, my seat-partner, I board the bus for the 3 1/2 hour trip to New York City. Garbed in the plainest of clothing and christened with our white Mennonite caps, we are out to convert the world.

On the bus, we talk and doze, and doze and talk our way to the exotic lights, thrumming noises, and foreign smells of Harlem in north Manhattan, a neighborhood of about 1/4 million people. After we arrive, we proceed by twos among the tenement building in the concrete jungle of the 18th block of Harlem, armed with nothing but gospel tracts and innocence. Like the others, Hazel and I are assigned one tenement building with floors upon floors of apartments. Our strategy is to walk all the way to the top and do our distributing on the way down.

tenement building - courtesy: Google Images
tenement building – courtesy: Google Images

“Whew, it sure does stink in here!” The odors of stale air, dried blood, urine, and burnt cooking assault our country noses on the way up. There are beer bottles, Schlitz and Black Label–some broken, I notice, strewn on the landings between floors.

“Did you hear that?” I ask Hazel as we both witness a full-scale brawl going on inside one of the apartments. The sweaty-looking door-opener snatches a tract from our hands.

“I can’t believe these words,” Hazel comments as we gape at the graffiti on the pock-marked concrete walls: Call_____ for a good time . . . Go to #x!*X you dirty niggers . . . .  Undaunted, we manage to bless all the other apartment dwellers with our fliers as we descend. More screaming and yelling. Things are really getting violent on the other side of the wall.

“Are we going to make it out alive?” I wonder. But things are about to get even worse.

What happens next? Part II

                                                              *   *   *   *   *

GOOD NEWS! There is still time to enter the contest on my review of Shirley Showalter’s new memoir BLUSH, hot off the press. Just POST a COMMENT on the review! Read and Comment @ Shirley Showalter’s BLUSH – A Review and Book Giveaway


You can enter to win a copy of this book now!

Here are the details:

WHAT:  Read my review of Shirley Hershey Showalter’s memoir: Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World.

PRIZE:   One lucky commenter will win a copy of BLUSH, after only one week now in its second printing!

WHEN:  Review posted Wednesday, September 25, 2013

WHERE:  Right here on Plain and Fancy Girl

And all you have to do is show up, read my review and leave a comment. Only comments posted on my blog will be counted as an entry.

The giveaway will close one week later on Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at 12:00 midnight. I will announce the winner here and by email.

I invite you to come by and enter the contest by commenting on the review. Feel free to invite your reading friends!

Again, here’s the link to the review: Shirley Showalter’s BLUSH: A Review and Book Giveaway and a chance to win a copy of Shirley’s book!


School Daze: Games We Played

My class at Elizabethtown Library
My class at Elizabethtown Library

Here we are all bunched up together for a photo documenting our excursion from Rheems Elementary School to the library in town about 3 miles away. But we’ll soon board buses, and go back to our two-room school-house in Rheems where we’ll probably have lunch or recess. And we’ll lose our serious faces, eyes agape.

Recess, yes! After Miss Longenecker, grades 1- 4, or Mrs. Kilhefner, grades 5 – 8, excuses us, we all scram out to the playground equipped with a slide, see-saw, and jungle gym with bars for climbing and twirling our bodies around. Before we go back to class, most of us will pay a visit to the typical wooden outhouses, one for girls and one for boys, right next to each other and both regularly anointed with lime to quell the smell.

Group Outdoor Games:

1. Softball  (Need an extra inning? Teachers, not so pressured by students’ test scores, may extend our play.)

2. Red Rover “Red Rover, Red Rover,” let ________ come over!) involving mad dashes around school building.

3. Crack the Whip  Classmates in a line, running, then strong body at one end stops short, so others flip around. Cheap thrill!

4. Tag   When someone chases you down on the playground and touches you, you are IT!

5. Hide and Go Seek   HideGoSeek

Games with Just a Few:

1. Simon says

2. Hop-scotch

3. Four square

4. Jump rope

5. Double jump rope  Each child has a handle on two different jump ropes and flicks them one at a time in opposite directions.  “I dare you not to trip up!”

Rainy Day Games:

1. Jacks  Jacks game

2. Pick Up Sticks

Courtesy: Google Images
Courtesy: Google Images

3. Tiddly-Winks  (Players try to snap small plastic disks into a cup by pressing them on the edge with a large disk.)

Treat for Teacher:

Someone, probably Ralph, announces in the middle of class “Fruit Roll!” and kids behind every desk in class jump up with an apple, orange, or grapefruit to roll along the oiled, wooden schoolhouse floor toward the teacher’s desk, an unexpected treat!  [In an era when teachers fear spit balls or worse–guns! even, such a gesture is most endearing.]


I wish I could show a photo of the school and outhouses, but one cold evening during Christmas vacation, the school burned down, suspiciously, and was replaced by a standard- issue concrete structure, not nearly as nostalgic as the steepled one with a bell that I remember.

I was already in junior high in the big school uptown when the fire occurred, but my sister Janice remembers being shifted to Washington School, the building adjacent to Bossler’s Mennonite Church, where our Daddy and Aunt Ruthie attended. This old school had a large furnace in the basement with a sizable flat top, and students would bring potatoes wrapped in foil to bake on top of the furnace for a nice hot lunch on cold, cold days.

Like Mildred Armstrong Kalish in her memoir, Little Heathens, depicting Iowa farm and school life during the Depression, I have fond, fond memories of Rheems Elementary School in the 1950s.

Fun time resource for parents, grandparents:

 *   *   *   *   *

Add some memorable games to the list!

Mennonite Flashback I: Rings and Gloves


CareBear Cliff has given me a diamond ring for Easter, baked in a blueberry muffin with a plastic bunny-rabbit stick on top. It is my first piece of jewelry ever and I’m 25 years old. Imagining everyone is as thrilled as I am, I flash the sparkling stone in front of Grandma Longenecker.

“Look, Grandma!” I say ecstatically, offering my hand for her to inspect the glittering diamond solitaire in a silver setting.

She turns ashen-faced, at the sight. At the moment, she says nothing but her eyes communicate betrayal. I’ve betrayed my heritage and my family values, I quickly gather.

Though she knows I am straddling the fence between Mennonite life and something else, she still sees me as a plain girl, who once adhered to the strict teachings of the Lancaster Mennonite Conference rules of 1968, especially Article III, Section 6 on Attire:  “ . . . brethren and sisters shall not use not wear jewelry or other ornaments.”

My joy bubble has popped and I slowly withdraw my hand, which has figuratively been slapped.

Imagine my surprise and bafflement when years later, she sits my sisters and I down around the kitchen table and produces 3 ring boxes. “Now where did they come from?” I wonder. Apparently hiding in her dresser drawer for decades.

Grandma's ring in her fancy years
Grandma’s ring in her fancy years

Before her marriage to Grandpa Henry, she was fancy, and wore all the regalia of  a fashionable Victorian woman: hats with plumes, dresses with bustle and beadwork—and even a bracelet and RINGS!  Now Janice gets Grandma’s opal engagement ring, Jean gets her larger amethyst ring, and I am bequeathed a lovely one with a smaller amethyst and four seed pearls. Well, I declare.

Grandma before her marriage to Mennonite Henry Longenecker
Grandma before her marriage to Mennonite Henry Longenecker
Oil Paintings of Grandma Longenecker and Great Grandma Martin
Oil Paintings of Grandma Longenecker and Great Grandma Martin

And Gloves

Nowadays casual Fridays last all week long, Presidential candidates have ditched the white shirt and tie to look cool, and ladies don’t wear gloves anymore except for warmth in the wintertime. No longer a fashion statement, women’s gloves appear as curiosities in the dressy section of antique shops or museums.

My collection of old gloves
My collection of old gloves

In my collection of old gloves, the plain and fancy mingle. Guess which pair was worn by one of my attendants at our wedding. The choices are at 10:00 o’clock, 12:00 o’clock, and 3:00 o’clock.

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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?

Stinky Joe

“Get out! Get out!” For heaven’s sake, that is my mom’s voice yelling at someone at the door. Why would she scream at a neighbor? But it wasn’t a neighbor. It was Stinky Joe. On a cold winter’s day, he had opened the door to the wash-house and was starting to come into our home to warm up.

There were tramps, there were hobos, and then there was Stinky Joe. One vivid image from my childhood was a man in brownish tatters sitting on our grey porch bench eating from my mother’s table on a china dinner plate: meat, potatoes, a green vegetable and coffee; he always asked for coffee. But he was never allowed into the house no matter what.

Stinky Joe_final_8x8_180

One day my sister Janice was sitting at the dining room table doing homework when Stinky Joe peered into the window scaring her out of her wits. She didn’t know where Mom was and too scared to scream she hatched an escape plan: run upstairs, climb out a window to the porch roof and slide down the maple tree out front. The maple tree is now gone but the memory is fresh.


We named him Stinky Joe for a reason. In the absence of an insulated vest, Stinky stuffed cow manure into his shirt for warmth: you’ll have to do the calculation on how this works, but I’m sure it involves nitrogen and body temperature.

Summer or winter, with or without cow manure, if Stinky came to our house, we put Vicks VaporRub up our nostrils to stanch the odor. Menthol vs. cow paddy—which scent would you choose? Other smells are not as vivid, but for certain Clorox was involved in the clean-up after he left.

Yes, Stinky Joe filled us with fear and disgust. Remember, this was the 1950s. Maybe now such a man would knock on the door of the rescue mission, clean himself up enough to sleep under the roof of the Salvation Army. I am sure he is long since dead and gone, but I see him differently now. Yes, he was a misfit, an outcast but once he must have been his parents’ hope. One of God’s creation.

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Tomato Girl, Part I

Tomato Girl, Part I

Lancaster County, early June 1953 – and I’m in the tomato patch with Mother and Daddy. Actually, it’s not a tomato patch, it’s over 9 acres of farm land not far from Elizabethtown in Bainbridge where we are about to plant a new tomato crop. Years earlier, my parents planted tobacco, but a Mennonite revivalist came through the county, preached powerfully against making a profit from plants that could be turned into deadly cigars and cigarettes, and so like others they switched to tomatoes or corn.


Today Mom and I sit side by side on the metal “tractor” seats at one end of the planter, each with a burlap bag laden with tomato plants in our laps. A trowel-like attachment of the machine attached to the Massey-Harris tractor carves a row and we take turns inserting a plant with dangly roots into the furrow.  As soon as a valve opens with a gush of water, two metal “hands” close over the plant, sealing it into the rich, humus soil. Usually Mom and I are synchronized, but if we can’t keep up with the click-clack of the mechanism, we yell at Daddy at the helm who hits the tractor brake so we can catch up.

TomatoBlossom     Move ahead to hot July now, and Monday starts another tomato-picking week. My time-conscious Mom keeps us all on schedule: “Marrrr-i-an, it’s soon time to go!’ So I schuss around and put the thermos on the porch so Ruthie sees we’re ready.” She will be at our house any minute now with the Longenecker Farm Supply pickup to take herself, my mom and me to our field near the village of Bainbridge. I can see it now: rows of warm, red globes in clusters on the bushes. Timmy Barnhart, ”Barney”—a squat, jolly farmer in bib-overalls will probably meet us there and help with the harvest. I like when he comes; he knows that twelve-year-old tomato pickers like the Reed’s butterscotch candy and red licorice packets he stuffs into his pockets to sweeten the labor.


I’m paid ten cents a basket for my pains, but it’s hard to keep track of the number I fill, so I decide to put one green tomato on top of every 5/8 bushel basket, so I can add them all up and compute the dimes I’ll earn. Frugal Mom puts an end to this idea: “Don’t do that; you’re wasting perfectly good tomatoes. Why don’t you put your baskets in the middle of the row separate from the rest.” I know she’s telling me to do it this way, not asking if I really want to.

And so I plod—up and down the endless rows as the sun beats down on us. For awhile the grown-up chatter between my Mother, Aunt Ruthie, and Barney keeps me entertained, but then I stick my hand into a stinky, rotten tomato for the tenth time this morning, and I burst into tears. Dear Barney, now just a blue blur near the end of the row, hears the outburst and suggests a trip with the two of us going to Stauffer’s General Store down the alley and around the corner along a side street in Bainbridge. The store has oiled, wooden floors just like school and smiley Anna Mae Hess behind the counter. Barney, a widower, likes Anna Mae, and they chat for a while, giving me sweet reprieve from the blazing sun. Before we go, he orders two pints of Breyer’s neopolitan ice cream in a square box each cut in half with a butcher knife. Anna Mae puts four flat wooden spoons in a paper bag with the cold treat and we’re back in the field to share a late morning snack with Mom and Aunt Ruthie.

Tomato Girl_crop_9x7_150

Late afternoon brings Daddy in his flat-bed Reo truck to load the baskets in three or four staggered layers. If there is any room left over, Oscar Forrey, a farmer who patronizes my daddy’s shop, can add his picking to our harvest. “There’s no sense in two people driving half-filled trucks to the same place now is there?” Dad says. He’ll drive to the Mt. Joy depot for tomato farmers where the Heinz Company will truck the harvest way over to Hanover. My Dad has brought along a cold watermelon (wasser-ma-loon, he calls it) to save us from dehydration. Bless his heart! Mom must have told Daddy about my melt-down because he promises me a bike for my July 24 birthday. I picture a shiny blue and white Schwinn with a cute, white woven basket in front of the handlebars, maybe with fancy, pink dingle-dangles!

I don’t remember if my teachers ever assigned an essay “What I Did on My Summer Vacation.” But planting and picking tomatoes would have been my topic until I turned 15 and could work for real pay at Baum’s Bologna.  There I wrapped sweet bologna in clear cellophane and pasted on the label, festooned with a smiley Amish face with a beard and wide straw hat. Then I graduated to working in the dementia unit at Masonic Homes. But that’s another story.

Tell us something memorable about your summers as a child or a young teen. If you remember it after all these years, we’d certainly be interested in reading about it.

Mom: 3 Vignettes


MomasChild    Mom as a Child            MomJiving

                 Mom Jiving to iPod Music

My mother never had a bucket list, and if she had one, jiving to “Life is Like a Mountain Railroad” on my iPod would not have been on it. My mother grew up on a dairy farm near Lititz, Pennsylvania, the oldest daughter in a family of six. Her own mother, Grandma Sadie Landis Metzler, died when she was nine, and because she was needed at home, her own education ended with the eighth grade. What intellectual curiosity I have comes from my Dad’s side, but I thank my mother for constant demonstrations of the social graces, including cooking and entertaining. She equates food with love of friends and family around her mahogany Duncan Phyfe table but that’s another story. These stories show below give a glimpse of her personality.

1990s Hands Ruth in kitchen_small-filtered-1  Mom enjoying home-made soup.

Mom’s Other Men

Growing up, I noticed my Mother had a lot of men in her life. None of these men competed with Daddy though, and there was no jealousy between them that I could detect. She didn’t have a driver’s license, but life came to her door in the olden days.  The Milkman aka Hertzler’s Dairy appeared twice a week and deposited 2 quarts of milk in an insulated metal can with a hinged top. The Stroehmann’s Bread Man walked into the house with his baked goods on a flat tray strapped about his neck: bread, doughnuts, cookies, other sweets. Once a week, a step-van swung by with the Green Grocer huckstering produce of every description: lettuce, beans, other fresh vegetables. To keep it all chilled, the Ice Man came and put a block of ice on top of the refrigerator to cool the food stored below like an ice chest. Every so often the Stanley Man, like a Fuller Brush Man, delivers brushes, cleaning fluids, plastic containers, and shoe strings. The Scissors Man came too with tools to sharpen knives and scissors. Two of Mom’s helpers cruised by in their trucks. For example, Groff’s Meat Market truck came by each week and stopped at the Longenecker house, but only if Mom remembered to put the cardboard card spelling out “Groff Meats” in the living room window. Also, the Rag Man announced his arrival with a sing-song “Rags, old bags” litany as he cruised down Anchor Road with his window down. When Mom opened the door, he took her left-overs, stuffing cloth remnants from Mom’s sewing projects, along with her old wash rags, into his trunk. She had it good!

My Mother – All Things Even

My Mother says she clipped red, pink, and white peonies and set them out on the porch for Memorial Day pickings. Today she has called a neighbor and invited her to come over and take some to share with the other family in the duplex across the street, so everyone gets a chance to enjoy the beauty.

That’s my Mom, with everything fair and even. Like the story of “ The Three Bears“ —not too big, not too small, but just right. The spouses of two of her four children have left their mates. That’s one too many. Pearl and Mary Jean and Cecilia have only one of their children divorced–but not two, that’s excessive. Even one’s too much. Why can’t they “forgive and forget? I just don’t see it,” she says.

Then there’s the matter of the walkers at Bosslers Church. Becky and Sister-in-law Ruth each have a walker. That makes two in the church, so Mom walks in with a cane. “Why a cane when you usually use a walker when you leave your house?” I ask. “A walker would certainly give you more stability, maybe even keep you from falling. Besides, you are the oldest one of the lot. You’ll be 95 in July. People would certainly understand.”

“Oh, we can’t have three walkers at the church. Three walkers in the aisle at Bosslers Church? Tsk, tsk, that would be too many. I’ll just use my cane.” Is it pride, is it something else? No, she just wants things to be even.

Sometimes when I call my Mother, our conversation ends with my quoting Jude 24: “Now unto Him Who is able to keep you from falling and to present you faultless before his presence with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, to Him be glory, majesty, dominion, and power, both now and evermore. Amen.” Of course, I mean the verse to be applied literally. She gets the point. Last Christmas, though, the meaning of the verse slapped me in the face, yes, actually!

Please Keep Me from Falling

This Friday morning I have Teddy on his leash.  Teddy is a cute, playful Cocker Spaniel that licks, jumps and snuggles all in the same minute. His parents and brothers are on vacation in PA, so I have volunteered to walk-pee-poop him around the block—well, several blocks.

Here we gooooo—whoooooooosh! We shoot out of the gate full throttle and down the first block, inspecting Christmas decorations, licking interesting morsels here and there. Oh, here I see some fern fronds that would look good in the vase on my kitchen window sill to garnish the pink & white camellias. I twist the stem and pluck it: Left hand, dog leash—right hand, fern frond. We turn the corner; the sun is shining brighter, the dog scampering left and right enjoying the brisk morning air.

My foot hits a concrete abutment on the sidewalk. Now I find myself in a weird posture, one I typically use only in Power-Pump on Mondays and Fridays at the gym with a 5-pound weight: I’m at a 45 degree angle propelled by the uneven pavement, and I’m falling—I mean really faaaaaalll-ing. Like stills in a movie, my body moves forward in jerky, slow motion. For a split second I think I can right myself, but NO, I’m going down for the count with both hands extended, unleashing the pet, my glasses, the frond and all my uprightness. Blood spurts from both knees, my hands are scraped too; I’m really banged up!

My uprightness—there’s a thought. Always longing for a balance in mood, sense of spirituality, level of energy, not being upset. How many times have I quoted verse 24 from Jude to my 94-year-old Mom: “Now unto him who is able to keep you from falling . . . .”

Indeed, I lost my balance and my dignity for a moment. But, it could have been so much worse: The dog didn’t run off, I am ambulatory despite scrapes on both knees and hands. Where were the angels? My brush with the sidewalk, I could assume, is to remind me that the law of gravity still works and—I am human and therefore subject to its laws. Yet, this time it was ordained that I recover, pick myself up, avoiding a visit to the emergency room with the need for X-rays, a doctor’s diagnosis, splints, or crutches. Who can discern “ Eternal Providence, / And justifie the wayes of God to men”?


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Something else you thought about as you were reading?