In June, my sister Jan and I visited our Longenecker kin in Elizabethtown and the village of Rheems close by. One morning we took a stroll around the square in E-Town and found that though the town clock was still planted in place, the merchants we knew had disappeared. Dorsheimer’s News, Bishop’s Photography, Moose’s Five & Ten, The David Martin Store, and Zarfoss Hardware had changed into something else entirely: a bakery, a coffee shop, a train specialty store, and further down Market Street, an antique shop about to open.
These signs caught our eyes at the opening-soon antique shop:
Next we visited The Shoppes on Market, brim full of signs and mottoes for sale:
Then we admired the always festive store front of Flowers in the Kitchen Cafe all gussied up for the Fourth of July celebration:
Greek Gus @ Gus’ Keystone Restaurant tweaks his menu to suit Pennsylvania Dutch palates. Dried beef gravy on mashed potatoes, Wenger’s ham loaf, pork and sauerkraut any day, and pig stomach just on Wednesdays. As I snap this photo, one obliging soul obligingly rubs the belly of the greeter.
Less than a mile from Bossler’s Mennonite Church, the truck on the Kevin Charles farm delivers fresh bounty from the field. We buy 2 boxes of strawberries, a pint box of sugar peas, and 5-6 stalks of rhubarb.(See recipe for rhubarb sauce below.)
Miniature tractors for sale at Darrenkamp’s Grocery Market near Mt. Joy, PA
* Mom’s Rhubarb Sauce Recipe
Soak 5-6 stalks of fresh rhubarb
in water to “cut the bitterness,” Mom says.
Drain off the water.
Add fresh water.
Cut up stalks into 1/2 inch chunks and bring to a boil.
Add sugar to taste “. . . until it’s sweet enough”
and 2 tablespoons of tapioca “. . . just what you think,” Mom says.
Mixture will thicken as it cools.
* * *
Have you returned to your home town recently and found it changed?
How have these changes affected your memory, your emotions?
♥ Coming next: Happy Birthday to my One and Onlies
My father wore many hats. Work hats mostly, but also a goofy blue derby hat I faintly remember stashed high up on a closet shelf, and a fedora reserved for Sundays or other special occasions. Through his long history at the shop, Daddy sold a wide array of tractor brands which supplied him with hats embroidered with their company logo: Massey-Harris, Minneapolis Moline, New Idea, Fox, and Deutz.
His hats changed with his loyalty to the brand of farm equipment he was promoting. None made him happier, however, than the hat he wore with one of his first purchases after his father, Henry R. Longenecker, passed the business on to him. With the tag still attached to the grill, Daddy proudly drove the new Massey-Harris tractor back and forth in the alley next to the shop in Rheems, his sister Aunt Ruthie recording the spectacle with her new 16 mm movie camera.
The Welding Helmet Invented by the German Hans Goldschmidt in 1903, welding was one of my Dad’s specialties, a boon to farmers with harvester units or even plow shares needing repair. A free-standing acetylene cylinder and oxygen tank for welding stood near one of the double wooden doors. This allowed easy access for welding repairs as a tractor or harvesting equipment was pulled through the giant, wheeled doors that ran back and forth on a metal channel.
I watched Daddy slap a Darth Vader-like helmet on his head, don long, flared-sleeve gloves, and use long, skinny welding rods to fuse broken parts together. Sparks flew everywhere in this Fourth of July fireworks show extending into August, the height of the harvesting season.
Along the back of the dark recesses of the shop was a large grinding machine that could sharpen a 6 to 8-foot section of blade used for scissoring hay, wheat or barley.
Daddy did most of his work in his shop but occasionally he was called to the field. A doctor of motors, he made “house” calls to the fields of anxious farmers, work stalled with broken-down equipment.
My father was first of all a farm implement dealer and mechanic, but he also farmed ten acres of land in Bainbridge, Pennsylvania combining corn and tobacco crops and then later corn with tomatoes. Farming is serious business in the searing sun requiring a cap with a long bill. The result: a white “farmer” forehead and red-brown cheeks and arms. My mother and Aunt Ruthie often wore sun bonnets, in the field but as you can see, we were bare-headed and probably bare-footed too.
A beekeeper too, my dad wore a bulky hat complete with a mesh veil to smoke out the bees.
Church, weddings, funerals – all were occasions for a fancy fedora. But one occasion in particular required dressing up: posing on the steps of the U. S. Capitol building ready to meet with congressmen regarding the threat of a proposed air base to some of the rich farmland of northern Lancaster County. A sizable delegation of plain people (many of them Mennonites) including my dad in his fedora and Grandma drove to Washington D.C. to make their case with government officials. When a follow-up investigation was conducted, sink-holes had reportedly been found in the farm-land around Bossler’s Mennonite Church. The case was subsequently closed.
Tell us about your dad’s hats – what he wore, or any other “Dad” memory you want to share now.
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.
“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.
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:
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?
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!
Well, there was none. Not one. Not ever. Despite the fact that the Christmas song, “O Tannenbaum” is of German origin, most Pennsylvania Dutch Mennonite homes of the 1950s and 60s did not light Christmas trees. Decorated trees were lumped together with other worldly pleasures like jewelry, makeup, and movies and therefore not permitted. At least the Ray Longenecker family did not have one. We were plain and I longed for some fancy.
One year I found a limb from our maple tree out front with little branches that looked as forlorn as Charlie Brown’s tree. I brought it into the living room and tried to find trinkets and a red ribbon or two for decoration.
It was a sad little tree. It looked something like this, only wedged into our living room radiator and anchored by balled-up newspaper no doubt.
Good grief! I know how Charlie Brown must have felt. But at least his had “a wooden trunk and soft green needles” with a red ball on the end of a branch instead of a timid little ribbon.
Charlie Brown’s luck seems to change when Lucy appoints him as director of the Christmas play in which Linus reads Luke 2 from scripture. After the play, the performers migrate outdoors toward Charlie’s sagging tree. Charlie Brown eventually gets his wish for a fine Christmas tree as the gang “donate” the festive string of lights from Snoopy’s doghouse to the dress up the little tree. Charity in action.
No, there was no Christmas tree in our home or in the sanctuary of my family’s home church, Bossler’s Mennonite Church. But like Linus and friends, we heard the Christmas story from Luke 2 faithfully recited and at the end of the service, we received hand-outs of navel oranges every year, the orange orbs passed hand to hand down the rows.
Nowadays in the Longenecker-Beaman home there is a happy fir tree, bedecked with ornaments from several generations. And we all rehearse the precious old story of the nativity in the Bible passage Luke 2 on Christmas morning.
A wondrous story, plain and simple, read beside a fanciful tree.
Linda Garber and Dr. Ty Graden will probably never be featured on the Making a Difference segment of the NBC evening news with Brian Williams, but they do just that every single day.
Yesterday morning before Mother’s eye doctor appointment, her pastor’s wife Linda calls. I hear one side of the phone conversation:
“Yes, we’ll be home around noon.”
“Well, you don’t have to do that, but it would be a bright spot in the day. Thank you!’
“How many? It will just be Marian and I.”
“See you around 12:00.”
In pouring down rain, Linda arrives with a hamper full of home-made goodies, and we share a scrumptious lunch, all fresh from her home: potato-zucchini soup, deviled eggs, bread with strawberry jam, cabbage salad, and apple sauce with a jar of M & M’s on the side.
After the meal and pleasant conversation, Linda promptly gets up, helps me carry the dishes to the kitchen and fills the sink with Dawn and hot water to wash the dishes. It’s part of the “gift,” I assume. The Mennonite way.
Earlier I helped Mother wheel her way into Dr. Graden’s office in Elizabethtown, PA for her annual eye exam. She’ll have 20/20 vision with the new prescription, the doctor reasssures her. I remark that I need to get my eyes checked when I get back to Jacksonville. He says, “Well, I’ll can just check your eyes now before you leave.”
I have never met this man before and obviously don’t have an appointment, but I sit on the chair, and Dr. Graden clicks to a different set of letters “in case you memorized the ones I used for your mother,” he chuckles.
The doc is reassuring: “Well, you did pretty well—no cataracts to be concerned with, and you still have 20/20 vision with your glasses.” We leave the office, Mother’s visit filed with insurance and no charge for me.
On the ground floor again, we breathe a sigh of relief as we spot the bus two blocks away ready to pick us up to go back to the mission. On the way to our mobile haven, we pass pawn shops armed like fortresses, lurid adult bookstores with XXX ratings, filthy-looking lounges, a stark store-front church.
Then we spot a gargantuan black woman with a red satin turban and purple robe–a bathrobe? a graduation gown? She’s “preaching” about Jehovah God in the middle of the sidewalk. I think she’s preaching until I see she is holding an upside-down Sears and Roebuck catalog as her bible and then inhale alcoholic fumes emanating from her body. We try to go around her, but this frightful creature grabs me by the shoulder in a death grip, and I am spun round and round in dizzying circles. There is little I can do to resist the grasp of this drunken prophetess. “Hazel, Hazel, help me,” I call out with a voice that feels somehow disconnected from my body. Hazel is astounded too and stands there immobile. I fall onto the scorching pavement as the woman lets go of me mid-air. By now Brother Paul and Sister Lois have raced up the street to our aid.
Someone deposits me across two empty seats on our bus. I am aware of heads hovering over me as a blurry hand wipes my face with a cool, wet handkerchief. We are going back to Brother Ernie’s mission on Eighth Avenue for lunch. It’s quiet for a few minutes. Then Brother Frank leads everyone in singing “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder, I’ll Be There” as we bounce across the avenues.
But I don’t join in. My head is buzzing with the pain of too many unanswered questions. Did the church elders know about the risks and think that telling us would discourage us from going? Did they come here innocent and ignorant like us and also get a rude awakening? Why didn’t Brother Ernie, now almost a New Yorker himself, give us more pointers?
Back at the mission, I have recuperated enough to eat our meal of home-made egg salad sandwiches and chicken corn soup brought up from home in ice chests, relieved that I have survived the jungle of Harlem.
BLUSH Contest closes tonight, October 2, 2013, at midnight! Here’s the link to the Contest Rules for a chance to win a copy of Shirley’s memoir:
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 byMantovani, 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.
“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.