Mom’s Accessories: Bonnets, Hankies, Pins and More

My Mother Ruth Landis Metzler was a simple girl who grew up on a farm near Lititz, Pennsylvania and attended Erb’s Mennonite Church. As a young woman, she wore plain clothing and never cut her hair. Her adornment was of the biblical kind as the Apostle Paul admonishes:

I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes . . .

I Timothy 2:9 NIV

As we sorted through her personal effects recently, we found two prayer coverings and three bonnets, all miniature versions of those large sizes (jumbo, actually) she wore during her girlhood and all through the years we children lived at home.

BonnetCoveringOn the clipboard in her kitchen, we found the business card to the Sue’s Covering Shop in Lititz where she bought her most recent headgear, the black bonnet now rivaling the size of a Jewish yarmulke and fastened with a shiny black-tipped hat pin.


Size mattered among the various congregations in the Lancaster Mennonite Conference in all the years my mother wore prayer coverings. Handwritten on Sue’s Covering Shop business card was Mother’s latest size: D – 19 1/2. When I called Sue’s, the clerk said that D indicates the pattern number, the higher the number (okay, it’s a letter) the larger the size. And 19 1/2 describes the inches around the circumference of her covering.

Hankies, now replaced by Kleenex, were once a part of every woman’s wardrobe. As a young child, my offering (a penny as a toddler, and later a nickel as I grew older) was tied into one corner of my white handkerchief, so I could untie the knot and put the coin into the tin box my teacher passed around during the Sunday School class. Surprisingly, Mother’s hankies were fancy, some even gaudily so, and one even boasts green tatting.


Mom’s purses have usually been black and serviceable though we found set aside a hand-tooled leather purse and remember a lacquered basket-weave popular in the 1950s and 60s. In the October 2014 issue of Guideposts, Malinda Bertels takes stock of her Grandma’s purse and finds in it tissues for applying rouge, a vial of holy water and a faded inscription on a small wooden cross which provides insight and courage to move forward. Mom’s purse contained none of those things, only the bare essentials.


The very last purse she ever carried had a zippered compartment on the outside and all the pockets she liked on the inside for her cards and such. Most important was the pouch on one side, probably designed for a cellphone, but which held her house and car keys. The house key remains, but the car keys have been passed on to a friend from church.

Mother never wore any jewelry except a wrist-watch, but friends bought cute little pins for her anyway. They were never all in one spot, but when we gathered them together, they numbered nine. The only one I ever remember her wearing was the round silver-faceted one, probably to her grandson Austin’s wedding.


Plain and fancy, her wardrobe included the gamut. A plain woman with fancy edges, that was Mom!

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A souvenir of their honeymoon, this pillow was found among Mother’s treasures, obviously a gift from Dad, revealing his softer side.

Was/Is your mom plain or fancy?  Are you similar or different in fashion sense? 


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?