Aunt Ruthie Longenecker: Her Life in Pictures

Yesterday, Tuesday, October 4, my Aunt Ruthie celebrated her 98th birthday. Born in 1918, she is a towering figure in my life and, and along with Mother and Grandma Longenecker, my strongest mentor. And she has been mother/teacher to many.

* * *

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See the determination in that little girl’s face!

Her mother, my grandma Fannie Longenecker, replying to my sister Janice’s questions for a sociology-class interview assignment, mentioned that “Ruthie was industrious, a busy-body, a tomboy who would take risks.”


Education

The blurb in her Elizabethtown High School yearbook photo acknowledged her brilliant mind. (She skipped two elementary grades.) The description below also foretold her teaching career and hinted at the math skills she used in her long career as tax collector for West Donegal (PA) Township. She was so young when she began college at age 16, she required a chaperone.

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Ruthie attended business school near Elizabethtown and earned a bachelor’s degree from Eastern Mennonite College in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She earned a master’s degree in education from Temple University in Philadelphia.

Teaching Career

Country children in rural Lancaster County usually did not attend kindergarten. Aunt Ruthie created kindergarten for me as a 5-year-old at Cherry Hill School, close to Milton Grove, PA. I remember bouncing up and down over hills and dales riding in the back seat of her brown Hudson on the way to Cherry Hill. Two or three days a week I learned the alphabet and numbers sitting along side first graders. In the one-room classroom with eight grades, I loved singing: “Good morning merry sunshine, how did you wake so soon? You scared away the little stars and shined away the moon.”

ruthieschoolphoto1940s-copy

Hundreds of students remember Miss Longenecker at the age pictured below at Rheems Elementary School where she taught sixth grade and served as principal. Earlier in her career there, the school board (probably all male) refused to acknowledge her true function as principal and condescendingly referred to her as “head teacher.”

1975-ruthie-schoolphoto-3a_small-copy

It galls me even now to disclose this awful truth, and so I ask:

What title goes to the person (man or woman) who approves the curriculum, supervises textbook orders and presides over faculty meetings, responding to parental complains. It’s the PRINCIPAL I tell you!

 


Host to Refugees and Immigrants

This 1979 photo below shows Grandma Longenecker, Aunt Ruthie and Phuong Le, a refugee from Vietnam, a young girl they welcomed into their home as a daughter. Phuong was the first among dozens who sought shelter from war-torn countries. She made the most of Aunt Ruthie’s mentoring from 1976-1982, later succeeding in a career as a computer programmer and raising a fine family.

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Lutheran Social Services acknowledged Ruthie’s magnanimous contribution to refugees and immigrants with The Salt of the Earth Award, a plaque which recognized “her exceptional commitment and warmhearted compassion in welcoming the stranger. ‘Ye are the salt of the earth’ Matthew 5:13” (script from plaque)

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Love of Family

“You are always welcome here,” were Aunt Ruthie’s words after my sisters and I married and moved away from home. She labored in the kitchen when her nieces from Florida and Michigan nested in her home during vacations.

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In a small way, we returned the favor and relished her enjoying the citrus we bought from our orange and grapefruit trees in Florida.

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Appreciation for Music

A music lover, Ruthie played the piano vigorously. If the apron is any indication, she is relaxing here after over-seeing meal making, her grand-niece Crista in the background.

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Into her early 90s, she played dinner music for the elderly ( ! ) at Rheems Nursing Home. “They don’t have anybody doing much for them,” she said.

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Playing the dulcimer – wholeheartedly!

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Animal Friends

Through the years, her Schnauzers, Fritzie I, II, III, and IV have been her ever-present companions, protecting her by day and warming her feet at night in bed.

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The last Fritzie, # IV, has found a dog’s paradise, adopted by teen-age Jason and his family.

Love for Learning

Books, magazines, and the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal/New Era have kept her curious mind informed.

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During most of her stay at Landis Homes, she has whizzed through Word Finds puzzle books.

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Hands in the Soil

A life-long gardener, Aunt Ruthie has always had her hands in rich Pennsylvania soil. She was my hoeing companion in the 4 1/2 -acre tomato “patch” in Bainbridge, PA in the 1950s.

Aunt Ruthie with scarf and I hoeing in tomato field
Aunt Ruthie with scarf and I hoeing in tomato field

At home, she kept a large garden, the envy of passersby on old route # 230 that borders her property.

All summer long until Aunt Ruthie was almost 90, she mowed nearly an acre of grass on her land near Rheems, preferring outdoor work to household duties.

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For decades, she kept a strawberry patch and a vegetable garden, bordered by flowers. Now the flowers come to her.

Niece Jean brings knockout roses for Aunt Ruthie now living at Landis Homes.
Niece Jean brings knockout roses for Aunt Ruthie now living at Landis Homes.

 


She has had a goodly heritage

The Martin-Horst-Longenecker Freindschaft, circa 1938 Both in back row: My dad Ray Longenecker with zippered sweater and Aunt Ruthie on right with cape dress and white covering strings
The Martin-Horst-Longenecker Freindschaft, circa 1938
Both in back row: My dad Ray Longenecker with zippered sweater and Aunt Ruthie on right with V-necked cape dress and white covering strings

 

Gutes Leben, her high school yearbook blurb concluded.

Yes, Aunt Ruthie, has enjoyed a good life.

 

Happy Birthday, Aunt Ruthie!

Ruthie after enjoying a birthday lunch at Oregon Dairy near Lititz, PA a few years ago
Ruthie after enjoying a birthday lunch at Oregon Dairy near Lititz, PA a few years ago

 

 

Coming next: Heart on Fire, Guess Who’s Voted for President!

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Halloween Advice from my Good Witch of the North

MY STORY

Dorothy had the Good Witch of the North to give her “magical protection from fatal harm” on her journey to the land of Oz and back. Yet she followed an uneven path, using her brain, sometimes thinking with her heart, and slowly but surely developing courage.

I had my own Good Witch, Aunt Ruthie Longenecker from Pennsylvania, not Kansas. As a plain Mennonite, she never gave me glittering red shoes. I had to buy them on my own after I turned from plain to fancy. But she gave me plenty of golden advice, none more emotionally charged than the time she perceived I was veering off course at college and falling for a young man she imagined would be my downfall.

The advice arrived in a 4-cent envelope written in her flowing, left-handed cursive:

Envelope_note-to-Marian_layers

The Gibson greeting card is a cute pop-up.

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Enclosed with the card was a terse note written on the back of a deposit slip from the First National Bank of Marietta, a curious choice of stationery. (You can read this note or the text below it in print.)

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Here is her message in print form, directing me to forsake that boyfriend (aka “opera singer”) at the top of the hill:

Tell that opera singer on the top of the hill he has already sung his “swan song” and that you have decided to contribute more to this world than dishpan hands and another case for the marital appeasement courts. Think for yourself and your own future and let him produce positive evidence of his greatness. Call his bluff. – Don’t be licked. If he doesn’t understand English there’s always the possibility of a second semester transfer to Millersville, E-town or Goshen – Halloween is a good time to get rid of all ghosts and apparitions, so good luck to the Little Witch in Peachey House.

 

Added to this note was a “Hazel” cartoon clipping to reinforce her words:

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The ink jotting has become almost indecipherable over the years, but she notes:

Hazel never went to High School, but she sure is a graduate student of human nature – by the length of the unwritten line the word must be “nuts” – or maybe it’s “yellow.”

At the time (my sophomore year at Eastern Mennonite College), I was trying to keep my life on track academically despite romantic upsets and did not then realize the full force of Aunt Ruthie’s words or the depth of feeling behind then. Squinting back through the telescope of years as a much older adult, I do now.

MY REFLECTION:

In Aunt Ruthie’s day, women usually chose either the single life and a career or motherhood and maintaining a household. Hardly ever both.

I was beginning to see from the models emerging in the 1960s that one could answer the call of both vocations, professional and domestic. Choices did not have to be an either-or proposition, and they didn’t have to happen simultaneously either.


How about you?

Did you ever benefit from unsolicited advice?

What models of vocational choice made an impression on you growing up? How did these influence you?

Kids, Oaks, and Quotes: Purple Passages for August 2015

A Short Story

Once upon a time seven children from three different states came to visit their family in Pennsylvania. Some came from far away in a car, plane or train so they could see each other and get to know their grandparents and great-grandparents, who lived in the lush farmlands and wooded meadows of western Lancaster County.

The joy of reading: Great Grandma Longenecker and Crista, age 3
The joy of reading: Great Grandma Longenecker and Crista, age 3

 

The joy of reading: Great Grandma Longenecker and Crista, age 4
Hearing bird sounds and reading stories: Great Grandma Longenecker with Crista, age 4

They liked too when Great Grandma would bring them warm strawberries from her patch in the spring time, and in the summer some ripe, pink-cheeked Bartlett pears from the tree planted near a gently flowing brook. Grandma loved trees and sometimes sat in the shade of a Japanese cherry tree as she rocked on the porch. She smelled the wisteria that twisted around a trellis close by and enjoyed the morning-glories climbing upon harp-like strings by the kitchen door.

One sad June day in 1980, their great grand-mother died, so all seven young children ages 1 1/2 – 11 gathered near the small village of Rheems to say “goodbye” to their Great Grandmother Fannie Longenecker, who was 89 years old. Some of the children called her Grandmother-of-the-Birds because she loved hearing birds chirp and gave them seeds to eat in the winter-time.

Great Grandma’s daughter, their Great Aunt Ruthie, loved trees too and when her mother died, she decided to plant an oak tree as a remembrance. All the children helped to plant the tree. Even the littlest one put some soil around the tree so the roots would be covered up tightly.

OakTreeGrandchildren

A Tall Tale

The tree grew and grew for thirty-five years. Now it is very, very tall. Cardinals, robins, and nuthatches hop around in its branches at various seasons of the year. In the summer squirrels enjoy the shade it sheds over the lawn.

Thirty-five-year-old oak tree in Grandma Longenecker's back yard 1980 - 2015
Thirty-five-year-old oak tree planted in 1980 in Grandma Longenecker’s back yard   2015 photo

The children visit Great Grandma’s house still, but they don’t often come at the same time now because they have grown up and have families of their own. When they do come, though, they can see how tall the tree has grown and imagine how deep the roots have spread out since they planted that tiny tree so many, many years ago.

Like birds, they have flown away on strong wings . . .

Like trees, they have memories deeply rooted in the Pennsylvania soil

 * * *

Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.     ~  Warren Buffett

A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.      ~  Marcus Garvey

Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.     ~ Martin Luther

Friendship is a sheltering tree.    ~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge

I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do.    ~ Willa Cather, 1913

Trees are your best antiques.   ~ Alexander McCall Smith

I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.
Perhaps, unless the billboards fall,
I’ll never see a tree at all.
~ Ogden Nash, “Song of the Open Road,” 1933   (parody of a Joyce Kilmer poem)

* * *

And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

Psalm 1:3  KJV


Is there a tree of significance to your family? Where is it planted? What other images did you recall as you read this post?

Aunt Ruthie: Art through the Ages

My Mennonite Aunt Ruthie Longenecker is elderly now. She has always loved art and is still producing beautiful things nearing age 97. Like Mary Delany, known for her exquisite scissors art, age is no hindrance to creativity.

Note the red and teal crayons in Ruthie’s hand here.

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My Artist/Aunt/Teacher Ruthie now lives in a retirement community, where she took an art course several months ago. I have no way of knowing whether the instructor suggested the topic or not, but one thing is certain, her images reflect her deep love of plant and animal life.

ForsythiaRuthie

Bunnies with trees - neon image a reflection of wall date/time reminder
Bunnies with trees – neon image a reflection of Ruthie’s wall date/time reminder
Droopy daisy petals contrast to erect bunny ears
Droopy daisy petals contrast with erect bunny ears

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Aunt Ruthie, also my teacher in Grades 1-4 at Rheems Elementary School, splashed art all over our curriculum in addition to construction paper creations most every school child makes:

  • Clay moldings fired in a tiny kiln
  • Finger paints – My favorite, blending red and blue to make purple!
  • Jig-saw cut-outs made into wall hangings
  • Plaster of Paris figures

True, she taught the 3 R’s – reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. I excelled in reading and was often chosen to read aloud “with expression” when the school superintendent appeared in the classroom. However, arithmetic was a different matter. I can still conjure up an image of her brown, beveled ruler dancing ominously above my hand, white-knuckled while struggling to line up 4-digit numbers vertically so the sums would add up correctly.

One happy pause in the school day came after lunch though: Picking colors from the stadium of crayons standing at attention in my green & gold box of 48 Crayolas. My classmates and I filled in the *purple curves and lines of figures from fairy tales and fables while she read from Uncle Remus or the tale of Rumpelstiltskin.

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She took a course in oil painting, probably in her 40s or 50s, her love of nature evident in the works shown here.

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(White birch?) Sycamore tree and bridge along lane leading up to the Martin farm Oil painting by Ruth Martin Longenecker
White birch tree and bridge along lane leading up to the Martin farm
Oil painting by Ruth Martin Longenecker

IrisDaffodils

Aunt Ruthie/Miss Longenecker would likely smile in a self-deprecating way at the notion of linking her artistic flair with the idea of “art as sacred expression” which Melissa Pritchard asserts in an article suggesting that “Art [is] a form of active prayer.” Yet, in retrospect, I recognize that art for Aunt Ruthie was a full expression of her humanity, her creativity, and her spirituality.

On July 16, 2015, the U. S. Senate passed ­­­­by a vote of 81/17 a bi-partisan Elementary and Secondary Education Act to ensure that “all students—regardless of their socioeconomic status—experience the demonstrable positive impact that [art] and music education has on learning and life.” In other words, the Senate is trying to catch up with what the research has been saying for years, the arts improve and reinforce learning in the full range of academic subjects.

Ruthie would be pleased with that move. In her mind, now addled by memory loss, art never ever left the curriculum. For her, art is ageless.

A thing of beauty is a joy forever.  Its loveliness increases/ It will never / Pass into nothingness.                  – John Keats    “Endymion”

* * *

Do you have a family member who excels in art? How do you express your own artistic flair? (Don’t discount the home arts like sewing, baking, making creative tablescapes.)

BIrdVaseFlowersRuthie’s flower arrangement in bird vase

Oh, Beautiful – Amber Grain & Grainy Amber

LyricsAmericaBeautiful

Did you grow up country? Can you picture a Dad, brother, or uncle toiling under the torrid July sun in the wheat field?

If so, you know that farmers always wore hats with brims. The ruddy-faced farmers I knew in the fifties probably didn’t use Coppertone or any other sunscreen, but they always wore hats with bills, revealing a totally white forehead when the caps came off.

The medieval French farmers in the drawing below in what looks like undies and sandals shield their anonymous faces from the sun with straw hats.

Grain field in Medieval Times: Metropolitan Museum of Art
Grain field in Medieval Times: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

(You may be stifling a giggle at their odd attire right now!)

My dad farmed land in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, so he was a farmer too, but he was known first as a farm implement dealer. As the owner of Longenecker Farm Supply, he sold farmers tractors, bailers, or combines for grain harvesting, and they called him often in a panic when their equipment broke down: In the middle of the field. At the worst possible time. When storm clouds loomed.

Howard Longenencker, one of Dad’s cousins, and Best Man at Mom and Dad’s wedding, is pictured here in a movie clip taking his new Minneapolis Moline harvesting machinery for a whirl around the field, enjoying every minute. Watch for his jubilant wave! I’ll call the clip “Grainy Amber” because it was filmed in the 1950s with much less sophisticated technology than available now.

Another relative, Esther Mae Longenecker Hiestand, has captured images of her family’s grain harvest in her 489-page book, all about the Longeneckers descended from the line of Ulrich Longenecker, who emigrated from Switzerland to America. She and her family collected over a dozen images of hay and wheat harvesting in her portrait of a Lancaster County family entitled Pitchforks and Pitchpipes (454 – 457).

* * *

So great a blessing was an abundant harvest that the warmth and productivity of the season was interpreted as an allegory of spiritual plenty. The ninth-century theologian Hrabanus Maurus writes that summer sun expresses the heat of God’s love, and that the season signifies the blessedness to come in Heaven (Medieval Book of Seasons, 1992.)

School children of all races and creeds sing lustily about the bounty of harvest in a patriotic song we hear often during the month of July:

Did you grow up country? Share your experience with summer harvesting of all kinds. Or add an impression, a quote. Whatever!

Up next: Purple Passages with Rainbow Colors

7 Things I’m Thankful For

My secret joys (and struggles) show up in my gratitude books. You can see some of them here. But my list this week has sprung from my 9-day trip to Pennsylvania to visit family and take care of Mother’s house in mid-November 2014.

In her devotional book One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp begins with a chapter entitled Surprising Grace in which she discusses how she and her Farmer Husband “give thanks even when things look like a failure.” Or when one experiences loss.

This year Mother died, we’ve had to sell her beloved house and its contents, I’ve struggled with a motley crew of personal challenges, and still I give thanks:

  • Health – I have an odd muscular neck pain (yes, pain in my neck!) yet I went up and down 3 flights of stairs from attic to cellar dozens of times, no problem.
  • My sisters and brother – We sorted, boxed, laughed, cried, disagreed, but ultimately met the challenge on time.   MarianJeanMark
  • My Aunt Cecilia – She’ll be 100 years old in March, still going strong. We found Aunt Ceci cheerfully playing the Tumbling Blocks game on the computer beside her. “It keeps my mind sharp!” she laughs. A Mennonite preacher’s wife, Aunt Cecilia Metzler raised a family of five children on a Lancaster County farm.AuntCecilia
  • My Aunt Ruthie – The photo is fuzzy here, just like her memory. But after she viewed some of the movies she filmed in her 20s and 30s that appear on other blog posts (here and here) she smiles, “ These pictures really make my mind come alive.” RuthieLookingVideo
  • An heritage with spiritual depth – When my ancestors arrived in The New World, they brought with them the Holy Scriptures. This one, the Nuremberg Bible, is dated 1765.

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  • The memory of my Mother – When Mother died, she still had a current driver’s license, paid all of her bills by check, and kept appointments on her calendar. She sent birthday cards to all her children, grand-children, and great grand-children, represented by names penned into the blocks. She died on the 28th of July, a date we marked with a red asterisk.

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  • My family – This photo is six years old, taken when baby Ian no longer needed a breathing apparatus. Just so you know: our daughter Crista is blonde, Joel, dark-haired. With the older boys now 11 years old, we are due for an update!

Beaman_Dalton_Christmas Card_2008

Ann Voskamp continues by quoting the first reference in Scripture containing the word thanksgiving, mingling peace and gratitude:

And this is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings that one may offer to the LORD. If he offers it for a thanksgiving, then he shall offer with the thanksgiving sacrifice unleavened loaves mixed with oil, unleavened wafers smeared with oil, and loaves of fine flour well mixed with oil. With the sacrifice of his peace offerings for thanksgiving he shall bring his offering with loaves of leavened bread. 

Leviticus 7:11 – 13   ESV

My conclusion: Gratitude brings peace and ultimately joy.

Writer Voskamp concludes: ” . . . standing straight into wind is how to fly on His wings of grace.”


Finally, a song I remember from childhood from that seems appropriate for the season:

What are you grateful for? Join me in naming your blessings.

Mennonites and Race: A Longenecker Lens

This week we celebrate Martin Luther King Day, a tribute to the man with a vision for racial equality in the twentieth century and beyond. Just so, this post pays tribute to his dream and his legacy through a Mennonite lens.

Dr. Martin Luther King

“Jesus Loves the Little Children, All the Children of the World, Red, Brown, Yellow, Black and White,They are Precious in His Sight, Jesus Loves the Little Children of the World.”

As a tiny tot I was taught this song in Sunday School at Bossler’s Mennonite Church in the 1950s though the entire congregation was white. I saw children with slanted eyes and yellowish skin in picture books and a few black people in Lancaster and Harrisburg or maybe on the PRR train on our way to Philadelphia. But there were no children of a different skin color at Rheems Elementary School.  Or even at Elizabethtown High School. Not a one!

It was ancestry, not skin color, that made a difference in my family. Grandma Longenecker, benign soul though she was, did make disparaging remarks about other ethnic groups. She called a woman she was slightly acquainted with in Bainbridge “The Hunky Lady.” From her tone, I think Grandma Fannie was referring to the woman’s origins in Hungary, and therefore different from us, the Pennsylvania Dutch. And she made no bones about her view of Irish housekeeping. If we made a mess playing in her big kitchen, she’d remark, “It looks Irish in here,” and we’d be tidying up behind her broom. Fast!

In a recent visit to the attic, I came upon a pair of bookends featuring two pop-eyed black faces, a boy and a girl, painted in grade school.  Were such children curiosities to us? Novelties? Why would my teacher approve of  such an art project? Along with stories like Little Black Sambo, they were obviously part of the folklore of another era, not at all politically correct by today’s standards.

blackBookends

My first encounter with a black person, up close and personal, was with little Chico Duncan, a black boy from New York City, who came to our home for a week in the “Fresh Air” program in which volunteer families would give city children summer vacations in the country. (Shirley Showalter’s book Blush devotes an entire chapter to her friendship with their family’s Fresh Air girl.) The most fascinating thing about Chico was his hair, kinky black and glistening. Was his hair naturally oily or did he put on something from a bottle? I longed to touch it and feel the texture, but fear or embarrassment or both restrained me from even asking. Besides, he was a BOY, and I had hoped for a girl to play with!

But that was years ago. Now at Bossler’s Church, children who sing “Jesus Loves the Little Children” may actually be sitting besides a child with a darker skin tone. The church treasurer, a former missionary, has an Ethiopian husband; one farm family has adopted African-American twin babies. There is a couple of Middle-Eastern descent. The Bishop, Director of African Programming with Eastern Mennonite Missions, has biological grand-children of Kenyan-American ancestry.

And my Grandma Longenecker? For at least two decades through Lutheran Social Services, she and Aunt Ruthie sponsored families from all over the world—particularly Viet Nam, Africa, and eastern Europe. They, along with many other Lancaster County families, welcomed the immigrants and refugees from countries at war for weeks or months at a time until they could get a job, an apartment of their own, even acquire an education.

A few months ago, I re-visited Aunt Ruthie’s bedroom, (now unoccupied because she lives at Landis Homes) and saw on the wall as if for the first time, a framed picture of three women:

CardGame2

Two elegantly dressed Victorian women and a black woman, obviously a maid, playing cards. Is the maid holding the card tray for the other two? Is she teaching the ladies tricks of the trade? Are all three playing the game? Three would make a better game, don’t you think?

Detail: Women Playing Cards
Detail: Women Playing Cards

What experience with race did you encounter as a child? What story or anecdote can you add? I love when the bell chimes with your comment!

Birthday # 95: A Tribute & Party

Aunt Ruthie age 89 mowing an acre of lawn
Aunt Ruthie age 89 mowing an acre of lawn

July 2013 phone conversation between Aunt Ruthie and me:

M:  Well, Ruthie, how are you doing?

AR:  Well, I’m puzzled!

M:  Puzzled? What about?

AR: I’m doing puzzles, doing “word find”!  Ha ha ha!  (Still witty at 95)

Teaching: Adoring teachers surround their retiring principal at Rheems Elementary School

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Living for Others:

1990s Ruth in kitchen 2_small

Receiving Salt of the Earth Award from Lutheran Social Services for ministry to refugees and immigrants
Receiving Salt of the Earth Award from Lutheran Social Services for ministry to refugees and immigrants

Music: 

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Playing the dulcimer 1996
Playing the dulcimer 1996

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Back to the piano at Rheems Nursing Home: Of the residents, many of them younger than she, her response: “They are poor souls. They probably wouldn’t recognize it if I repeated songs.”

Her schnauzer, Fritzie IV:

RuthieDogPiano1998RuthieFritziePorch_small

January 4, 2012 When her care-giver, nephew Mark has surgery, she remarks: “You and I, Fritzie, are orphans now.”

     *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The school-teacher, principal, tax collector,  family and church accountant, “mother” to dozens of refugees and immigrants has now landed on the spot of the calendar that says 95.

In July 2013, after falling at home, she recuperated at a rehab center and is now living at Landis Homes, a residence for seniors, many of whom are Mennonite, near Lititz, Pennsylvania. She has survived a pacemaker procedure and pneumonia in 2008, a hip break in 2010, and another fall this year. Yet she can still get out of bed, dress herself, and go places with her walker.

Hobbled by her falls and the natural progression of age, she’s no spring chicken, but she is still mobile. However, she finds her memory loss harder to deal with. The pilot light in her brilliant mind (she skipped 2 grades and had to have a chaperone at college because of her age) is now flickering during these last few years:

May 15, 2010 “Am I out of it?” she asks, dealing with the confusion that has set in.

May 17, 2010 “Sometimes I feel as though I must guard against a mental relapse.”

May 22, 2010 “I feel like a monkey on a stick.” Or a doll – Sue (then her housekeeper)  comes “in the door, takes me off the shelf, dusts me off, and puts me back up again.”

Feb, 27, 2011  “I took care of my grandfather, my mother, and now, I have to be taken care of. I was hoping this wouldn’t happen to me!”

January 11, 2012  “I don’t trust myself to say the right answer.”

April 13, 2013  Though there is confusion about where she is and the day of the week, she still notices that the hands on her Bulova Caravel watch have stopped. She gets a new piece of jewelry on her wrist today–and a touch quilt!

TODAY  IS  HER  95th PARTY: Time to Celebrate

Sister Jean and Aunt Ruthie at the 95th Party
Sister Jean and Aunt Ruthie at the 95th Party
Aunt Ruthie and Colleen's touch quilt
Aunt Ruthie and Colleen’s touch quilt

Her Wit: She gets the Last Laugh!

At Landis Homes, conversing with her sister-in-law, my mother, who is the same age, has the same name, down to the middle initial:

 Aunt: I want to go home to my house, my dog, my things . . . .

Mother: You have it good here, Ruthie.

 Aunt: All I do is sit here. I could just as well do my sitting at home.

Mother: Here you have nice people to help you, good food, pretty flowers all around. Virginia Hoover, Simon and Mary Jean Kraybill from church, even Cecilia Metzler, my sister-in-law live here. And they all love it!

Aunt: Why don’t we just exchange places then? We have the same name. You could sit here just as well as I. No one would ever notice.

Ha! Ha!

Your comments welcome! I always respond.

Colleen’s Comfort Quilts: Knot Plain, Just Fancy

Since our children were little babes in blankets, Colleen and I have been friends. Our friendship, knitted together by similar values, compatible tastes, and love of beauty, has flexed with her moves from Florida to Maryland to Texas to California and back again.

Collie with Quilt

Like her quilts, experiences in our lives have at times matched the dark, nubby patches, the smooth, satiny ones, all stitched together by the happy binding of love.

Soon I’ll be taking her latest creation as a gift to my dear Aunt Ruthie’s 95th birthday celebration in her new residence at Landis Homes near Lititz, Pennsylvania.  Ever the artist, Aunt Ruthie has  painted in oils, designed her gardens as colorful collages, and sewn her own clothes in quaint combinations. She’ll love the quilt!

Dark, nubby patches mimic doggy fur of Ruthie's beloved Schnauzer Fritzie
Dark, nubby patches mimic doggy fur of Ruthie’s beloved Schnauzer Fritzie

Last weekend I caught up with Colleen and asked her a few questions. Please listen in!

1. What are touch quilts?

A touch quilt has various textures that are intended to provide a calming effect and soothe jangled nerves as they are stroked.  A touch quilt may be used while sitting in a favorite rocker or recliner, wheelchair, at naptime, in a waiting room or hospital bed and are similar in theory to the security blanket used by many small children.  They are loved by elders and children alike and have been found to be especially useful for those who are blind or have dementia.

2. How did you get started making them?

In 2005, my church started a Prayer Quilt ministry where I learned to make lap-size quilts;  I loved the idea and process and have been making them ever since.  In 2010, a women’s group I belonged to asked if anyone knew how to make touch quilts, which were  to be donated to the local Elder Day Stay.  I did a little research and found them to be very similar to the prayer quilts I already knew how to make, except for the fabrics used.  I made about 16 Touch Quilts over the next two years and got wonderful feedback from the excited recipients.

Gold, satin petals attached only at center
Gold, satin petals attached only at center

3. What types of fabrics do you use?

I look for pleasing colors in a variety of soft fabrics such as satin, corduroy, minky, flannel, fleece, fuzzy, furry, and more. I like to have some satin and fuzzy in every quilt and prefer satin bindings on all of them.

Sizes? (Dimensions of quilts)

I have made lap size (42 x 42), which is the most common size for all ages, nap size (42 x 54), and wheelchair size (36 x 36), which is intended to fit comfortably between the wheels without getting snagged.

4. Where do you get your inspiration for the designs and color combinations?

I try to include at least one fabric with a pattern and select complementary colors based on that. I start out designing on the computer and then put the cut fabric on my quilting “wall” to ensure the design fits the fabrics selected.  When I’m using a new design or a fabric with a new pattern, I often spend quite a bit of time rearranging the fabric blocks on the wall before I find a combination that feels and looks right.  It’s a creative process that can take hours and occasionally, days.

5. Who benefits from your quilts? To what organizations have you donated them?

I donate quilts to the Trinity United Methodist Church, Elder Day Stay, and various individuals.

redzebratquilt

Quilts by Colleen: Touchable Chic

Questions or comments about Colleen’s quilts? Reply below please!

Children’s book: The Boy and the Quilt by Mennonite author, Shirley Kurtz: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2729926-the-boy-and-the-quilt-with-four-color-artwork?from_search=true