Christmas with the Animals: Treasures from Aunt Ruthie & Fanny and Mary Martin

When I was a little girl, my Aunt Ruthie painted this wooden dish with a lamb and the Bethlehem star. She made one for each of my sisters too. I’m sorry there is no date though I imagine we were in elementary or middle school in the early 1950s.

RuthieWoodPlateChristmas

 

Christmas scenes always include animals. A donkey, lamb, and sheep usually surround the manger scene with the Christ-child as the focus. Sometimes camels too, though missing from this nativity scene . . .

We were fearful that this nativity set was somehow lost in our move this year, but was discovered in a crowded corner of the garage at the last minute.
We were fearful that this nativity set was somehow lost in our move this year, but was discovered in a crowded corner of the garage at the last minute.

A Dog

Victorian postcards also pictured animals. Some in my stash include an adorable chocolate-colored puppy embossed by a floral-frame already imprinted with 2-cent postage.

postcardjoyfulpuppynodate

postcardpuppyimprint1900s

A Flock of Birds

I was surprised to find a card addressed to Mrs. Samuel Martin, my Great-Grandmother. Mary Horst Martin, a robust, warm-hearted woman whose mother died in childbirth, and orphaned after her father died in a logjam on the Susquehanna River near Middletown, Pennsylvania.

SamMaryMartin

My sisters and I wish we could have known Great-Grandma Mary, who never met a stranger. “Just put an extra board in the table,” was her motto when unexpected guests came to her door. She also had a practical streak and opened wide the “door” of her bodice if she got too hot in the kitchen. In the photo here I see some mischief playing in her eyes, her hands folded “just so” probably at the photographer’s prompt. And although she wore a covering, her white ribbon slightly askew, it probably did not put a lid on her free spirit.

The card she received featured large-breasted birdies in the snow.

postcardhappybirdsmrs-samm1913

Mary was a farmer’s wife with a rural delivery address (R. D.), and her friend Stella, probably from Middletown, gives instructions to “come up to the house” when she is in town.

Excited to think that some of my great grandmother's DNA may remain on this postcard from 1913.
Touching the card, I am excited to think that a trace of my great grandmother’s DNA may remain on this postcard from December 23, 1913.

 

A Designing Woman with Gifts

postcardladydrawing1911

When she was in her twenties, my Grandma Fanny received this card from Barbara, who would be considered now a millennial, communicating through iMessage, Instagram, or Snapchat.

postcardladydrawing1911tofanny

Her unedited message on the reverse side of the card (punctuation missing) appears in neat penmanship:

Hello Fannie times look very suspicious down here, from away up yonder you know. Ha! Ha! If I could only tell you the rest. You can imagine. How do they look up there? And sure enough you expect to entertain me on Xmas ha! A Merry Xmas and A Happy New Year to all.

And then on the face of the card above: “Yours you bet, Barbara!”

The untethered gifts that exceed the grasp of the young, demure woman on the card may suggest that the “treasures of dear remembrance” mean more than a gift wrapped up with a bow. But maybe not . . .

What do you imagine she is thinking?

Can you identify the breed of bird in the postcard?

What else stands out for you in Christmas correspondence?

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS, HAPPY HANUKKAH, AND HAPPY KWANZAA!

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Drawing on Love: Stored Secrets Come to Light

When we met, Cliff’s very first words to me were “Nice to see you again.”

My quick quip, “Nice to see you again too.”

But I’m getting ahead of my story. Way ahead . . .

* * *

During the months of June and July, I published a series of posts about moving from our large family home to a smaller abode. An earlier post discussed this move from my husband’s point of view: His Turn, an Artist Discards, Donates, and Discovers. I mentioned then that I may reveal later some of Cliff’s discoveries, unearthed drawings from an armoire that have not seen the light of day for literally decades.

I’m showing the first one on this post.

But first, some background . . .

Through the ingenuity of my Pennsylvania neighbor next door, Paul Mumma, I met Cliff, his college roommate, as a blind date on December 18, 1965, a fact I recorded in an entry with many embellishments in my journal. My iPhone says the day of the week that year was a Saturday.

On what turned out to be a double date, Paul, his girlfriend Betty, Cliff and I drove down Anchor Road on the way to the education building of a small church which the four of us intended to decorate for Christmas. On a blackboard in one of the Sunday School rooms Cliff first revealed his artistic talent by drawing a Santa Claus, mostly for my benefit, I surmise. (Sorry, the Santa Claus has been erased.)

A few days later, he had me pose in the living room of my parents’ home for many minutes. He explained that he was drawing my portrait. I sat very still for a long, long time.

Cliff finally flipped the paper to expose the drawing. I was aghast when I saw what the clever artist had been playing with on paper for forty-five minutes: He had morphed my then-slender figure into a porky jungle animal with a cute blue bow.

Elephant drawing_7x7_72(1)

He laughed heartily when he saw my shocked reaction.

After the gasp, all ll I could manage was an incredulous giggle. “You got me,” I thought.


The next week was Christmas. Then I heard him tell me, “I think I am falling in like.”

Really? What’s that like, I wondered.

About a week later,  Cliff drew a proper picture of me.

 

The Drawing

cliffFirstDrawing

He drew a good likeness of the serious me and prophesied my future, I think, by exaggerating my pile of dark hair and miniaturizing my prayer cap.

He signed it, Love, Cliff.

Yes, Reader, I married him.

 

Reader, I married him.  A quiet wedding we had: he and I, the parson and clerk, were alone present.    ~  Jane Eyre, Ch. 38, C. Brontë

 

Our wedding was not quiet. And more than four people were present.


A Card

A few weeks ago when Cliff pulled out piles of papers and other drawings including the one above, a small bag fell out from one of the crevices in the same art armoire. The envelope was dusty but well-preserved after years in hiding. Inside he found an anniversary card he apparently had bought in his travels and had been intending to give me about 10-15 years ago, so he imagines. Time had preserved the lacy layers. But he added a fresh, new message.

AnniversaryCardCover

AnnivCardInside67

Dear Reader, have you ever found lost or long-buried mementoes of sentimental value?

Thank you for adding your discoveries here. 

By the way, our move became a reality yesterday, August 9, in case you are wondering when all this hoopla has culminated. Next week, prepared in advance: Summer on Anchor Road: Sights, Smells, & Sounds

Hoorah, 300th Blog Post with an Oops and an Aah!

Oops!

An apple cake with half the recipe batter left out . . . the baked remainders landing on the floor. Double dumb mistakes.

That’s not the way I envisioned marking my 300th blog post.

The Plan

To mark this milestone, grandson Curtis and I planned to make an apple cake together, perfect for feasting two days before Christmas 2015. He likes to be in the kitchen and remembered our success with a spiced pork recipe a few weeks earlier.

The ingredients were laid out, I placed cups and spoons on the counter, the tube pan at the ready.

Curtis and I both donned aprons (his flowery, mine denim) and got to work. He helped core and dice the apples, careful to curl his fingers away from the knife blade. We both chatted happily over the hum of the mixer, adding apples, nuts, cinnamon, and vanilla to the mix.

CurtisCakeBeaters

 

What Happened Next

When the batter was ready, I poured the mixture into the tube pan and set the timer on my iPhone to a “check-me” time. Then Curtis and I sang Christmas carols around the piano, a first for just the two of us.

I heard the ping, ran to the kitchen, switched on the oven light and gasped. The cake had risen to only half of the height I had expected. Then my eye caught a glimpse of a bag on the counter with half of the mix inside. Sadly, I’d failed to fold it into the batter. That could account for the low rise. Still, the cake looked edible as I pulled it out of the oven, rounded and fragrant, and placed it on a rack to cool.

Just when I tilted the tube pan, the whole thing went SPLAT. Half of the cake flopped into the sink and the other half plopped onto the floor.

CakeMess300

There were moments of silence. 10 . . . 20 . . . 30 seconds?

Then Curtis quietly asks, “Nana, where do you keep your broom and dustpan?”

Here is the space for the cleanup photo:

(Imagine broom and dustpan)

Disappointment

AppleCakeSadFaces

 

After the Dust Settled

We ate a few morsels that fell into the sink. They were actually quite tasty. Then I asked Curtis what he had learned from the experience. Of course, I expected a snarky remark about his addle-brained grandma.

Instead, he began recalling bits of advice I gave him over the mixing bowl:

  1. Drizzle a little lemon juice over the apples to keep them from turning brown.
  2. Use a toothpick to test for cake “done-ness” even if you use a timer.
  3. Insert a toothpick between pan and its lid on the stove to keep a simmering mixture from boiling over (his Great Grandma Longenecker’s trick).
  4. When you remove a pot from a hot burner, put a teakettle with a small amount of cool water over the burner to absorb the heat, especially during hot weather.

Was he just being kind?

 

What I Learned

  1. “It’s not that bad,” one of Curtis’ own sayings when things go awry.
  2. Even baking disasters can taste good. (The result was a passable apple “cobbler” even if it didn’t have the consistency of cake.)
  3. “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful,” another wise saying making the rounds these days.

Epilogue

Curt and I played Scrabble afterwards. He won, but not by much!

 

The Apple Cake Recipe, donated by my friend Bonnie Evans

1 yellow cake mix  (All of it!)

2 cups chopped/diced apples

1 cup chopped walnuts

I teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon cinnamon

brown sugar for sprinkling on top of cake

Blend oil and eggs into cake mix as directed. Add vanilla & cinnamon. Then add apples & nuts. Pour into tube pan and sprinkle brown sugar on the top. Bake at 350 degrees until done. Pour icing over top of the cake.

Icing

Melt 1cup brown sugar, 1 stick of butter and ½ tsp. vanilla. Stir until dissolved. Pour over top of cake.

 

A Miracle – Ahh!

Out of the blue, the very next day at breakfast my long time friend Wanda Rogers Long presented me with a perfectly baked apple cake – glittering in cellophane and topped with a red bow!

WandaMarianCake

All’s well that ends well . . .

CakeTriumph


Several weeks later I baked the same cake with better results for my husband Cliff’s January birthday . . .

AppleCakeSuccess

Most everyone has a similar story whether it’s a mishap in the kitchen or someplace else. Here’s where you can tell yours.

Was there a happy ending to your story – Yes? No?


Coming next: Comparison Shopper Finds His Valentine

Friends from Faraway and Long Ago: Kitsa and Lydia

Kitsa and Lydia were among the very few women in my graduating class at Eastern Mennonite College who did not wear a prayer veiling atop their heads. Why? Because they were not Mennonite.

Lydia Mattar from Jerusalem, Jordan and Kitsa Adamidou from Salonika, Greece were international students and my good friends when I attended EMC. Their origins both have a biblical stamp: Kitsa’s hometown was originally known as Thessalonika, the name of two New Testaments books (Thessalonians I and II) and Kitsa’s father from Jerusalem was the Keeper of the Garden Tomb, the site of Jesus’ burial and resurrection. (Photos from 1963 Shenandoah yearbook)

KitsaYearbookPortrait

Always on the look-out for fun!
Kitsa, always on the look-out for fun!

And then Lydia . . .

LydiaYearbook Portrait

Lydia in Dr. Daniel Suter's Anatomy class
Lydia in Dr. Daniel Suter’s Anatomy class with lab assistant

I was drawn to Kitsa and Lydia during my freshman year because I have always been curious about other cultures. In fact, one year Lydia was my roommate. It appears this inclination has run deep in my DNA. Now as I hold in my hand one of my Grandma Fannie Longenecker’s letters from college I can sense her keen interest in my “foreign” friends and a deep longing to know them better.

In this letter dated December 1, 1960, she insists that she would like both girls to spend Christmas at her home. Born in 1892, Grandma Fannie Longenecker was 68 when she wrote these words to me:

Dear Marian – Guess you’ll be surprised to hear from me, I sure wanted to write before, just didn’t get at it – (Reason) older and slower . . . . Ruth was looking for a letter from you so be sure and bring Lydia & Kitsa along home over Christmas, and forget all about paint etc, two of you can stay here & we’ll have a good time that’s the thing that really matters, I think I’ll be Kitsa’s Grandma of America – Do you know what she needs or wants for Christmas? Forgot to say I’ll pay her way up & we really want them to come, so make it strong, times soon here!

Later in the letter, Grandma admonishes:

Be sure and get arrangements to come home early & if possible bring the girls along. I’ll pay Kitsa’s fare on arrival & find out what she would like for Christmas. This $ 5.00 spot is for you, maybe you need a little for odds and ends or transportation home. Tell us what you are hungry for, that you don’t get at school.

Mark tells me ‘Marian will soon come home’ and his face lights up, so we are all looking forward to that day. Hope your old toe is better.

Grandma’s interest in Kitsa persisted through most of my college years. In her letter of March 8, 1962, she referred to Kitsa and her roommate pictured on the front page of Christian Living magazine (February 1962).

For over 25 years, my Grandma and Aunt Ruthie practiced peace and goodwill toward all, as they opened their home to refugee and immigrant families, beginning with Phuong (pictured below), a young woman who arrived by boat from Vietnam. Their home was a warm cushion absorbing the cultural shock of leaving home and family; it was a safe haven, welcoming refugees from a colláge of countries including Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Russia—anywhere there was political upheaval.

1979Grandma,Ruthie, Phuong_small

Although she graciously accepted the Salt of the Earth Award from Lutheran Social Services in the 1990s, Aunt Ruthie never bragged about her benevolence. From her perspective, she was merely sharing the love of Christ and fulfilling the statement of Menno Simons, founder of the Mennonite faith:

Framed print on the wall of Grandma and Aunt Ruthie's sitting room, 1996
Framed illustration on the wall of Grandma and Aunt Ruthie’s sitting room, 1996

In a noisy world where some speak of building tall walls and wish to spread terror and violence, I am thankful for my heritage including an education at an institution, now Eastern Mennonite University, where the language of peace is preached and modeled. In fact, it is now possible to earn both under-graduate and graduate degrees in justice and peace-building at the University.

EMUJusticPeaceQuote

 

Regrettably, the contact information I have currently for both Kitsa and Lydia has not yielded any results, so I don’t know what paths their lives have taken. But I do know that their lives, like mine, have been imprinted with the power of peace, a message this world could stand a good dose of in these troubled times.

Postcript:

Just this morning, December 11, 2015, I had a long phone conversation with Kitsa, her smooth, alto voice music to my ears. She now lives with her husband in North Carolina and is very active at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church where she is head of the Hellenic Culture initiative. She also gives private Greek language lessons.


 

How have international friendships affected your life? Have you connected with long-lost friends recently?

Merry, Mary Matryoshka Doll

matryoshka doll also known as Russian nesting doll refers to a set of wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside the other. The first Russian nesting doll set was carved in 1890 by Vasily Zvyozdochkin from a design by Sergey Malyutin, a folk crafts painter. Traditionally the outer layer is a woman, dressed as a traditional Russian peasant. The smallest, innermost doll is typically a baby carved from a single piece of wood. Much of the artistry is in the painting of each doll, which can be very elaborate. The dolls often follow a theme, from fairy tale characters to Soviet leaders.

My own matryoshka doll from Ukraine is usually nestled between two volumes on my library shelf: Arthur Gordon’s A Touch of Wonder, and A Treasury of Religious Verse. But now on display during this season the largest doll tells the story of Christ’s nativity . . .

MaryJesusMatryoshka

. . . and, un-nested, the story of his subsequent life on earth unfolds, culminating in the Crucifixion and Ascension.

5figuresMatryoshka

Merry Christmas to One and All!