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.


Shirley Showalter’s Memoir “Blush” – a Review & Book Giveaway

My Review

Shirley Hershey Showalter’s Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World sings the song of her early life as a Mennonite girl in 250 pitch-perfect pages. Born into a family of Lancaster County Swiss Mennonite parents, the author recounts the story of the first 18 years of her girlhood on an 100-acre dairy farm in the 1950s and early ‘60s. The book delivers in its promise to play out her memories of  school, church, and home, “the three legs of my childhood stool,” as she puts it. “Each carried both sweet and sour memories” of ways this plain girl fit in and ways she stood out as different.

Her melody line bravely hits the sharps and flats of her experiences. She grabs her reader by the hand to walk into their farm meadow as she and her brother Henry play amid the Holstein cows and fragrant bluebells by the creek on a cloudless, spring day. We learn secrets of good Pennsylvania Dutch cookery in her mother’s kitchen and are privy to recipes of delicious dishes in an appendix to the book. She lets us hear the congregation joyously singing hymns of the faith a cappella in 4-part harmony though in a sex-segregated sanctuary. But her song turns to a minor key as she vividly describes the sudden death of her infant sister, her by turns affectionate and adversarial relationship with her conflicted father, and later in a brush with a rigid Mennonite bishop.

This memoir abounds in artful motifs. In the preface the author is sitting on the sandstone steps on the way down to the arch cellar of The Home Place, now known as Forgotten Seasons Bed & Breakfast. She describes the arch in this cellar as the entrance to a storehouse of provision for her parents and grandparents against the want of the Great Depression and a bunker of bounty during the Cold War. Indeed, the book succeeds as documentation of major political currents and cultural icons of the era: Eisenhower and later Kennedy, the Studebaker Lark, the Phillies, Elvis. Other visuals include a map of the Lititz environs, her family tree, along with beloved family portraits and snapshots.

For me as a reader, the most endearing arch in her story is the rainbow in her mother’s invented story of “The Magic Elevator,” which she, a diarist and aspiring writer herself, wrote at age fifteen and has adapted for her children and grand-children through the years. Her mother, Shirley’s first mentor, challenged the norm in a story she recounts early in the book: Although the Rules and Discipline of the Lancaster County Mennonite Conference condemned worldly weddings, including carrying a bridal bouquet, Shirley’s mother Barbara Ann craftily transformed the family’s plain living room into a fancy bower of flowers and palms for the ceremony. After all, at church we sing fervently of beauty in “This is My Father’s World,” she must have reasoned. Evidently, Shirley was not the first Mennonite in her family with moxie.

Shirley’s story sings because it rings true. And, yes, Shirley, you did go home again. The Oh! at the center of her story leads readers to a fresh discovery of home, where one’s heart is nourished and where, as T. S. Eliot puts it, we can all “arrive where we started / And know the place for the very first time.”

“There are many ways to arrive at a place, many of them unimaginable at the beginning of the journey.”    BLUSH

Meet the Author:

Her Memoir – Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World

About Shirley

Shirley Hershey Showalter grew up on a family dairy farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. She went on to become a Goshen College (IN) professor, then president, and then a foundation executive at the Fetzer Institute (MI).

Her childhood memoir, Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World, has been published by Herald Press on September 19, 2013. Follow the journey of the book on her Facebook page and on her blog.


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

Here are the details:

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

PRIZE:   One lucky commenter will win a copy of BLUSH

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.

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. Only comments posted on this blog will count as an entry.

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