My Dad’s Bachelor Trip to Florida

Nose-to-the-Grindstone, that’s my dad. But I have proof in pictures that he once took a fling to Florida with his Lancaster County Mennonite buddies. Judging from the photos that remain and Mother’s comments, I can pretty much guarantee that there were no stops at a roadhouse, nights spent bar-hopping, or brothel visits.

According to their Swiss-German work ethnic and the spirit of the times, these five men, Parke Garber, Dick Sauder, Bud (Wilbur) Martin, Howard Longenecker and Daddy were destined to be dutiful farmers or businessmen, faithful husbands and fathers. But until they hit the groove for the rest of their lives, they would see the world, traveling over 800 miles from Pennsylvania to Florida.

My Dad

1938RayinFlorida_3x5_300

They traveled in a car of this vintage with a road-map, certainly no GPS!

1939FloridaBoysCars300

To Cypress Gardens, Florida 1939

1939WilburBudMartinFlorida BoysCypress Gardens_300

The craziest thing recorded is a snapshot of the men playing church under the skinny wooden banner Jesus Never Fails. I say they were playing church because that was what Mother told me and I never heard anything to the contrary. The “preacher” was a farmer turned car salesman and my sanctimonious-looking dad (at right), a farm implement dealer, holds a hymnbook or Bible.

Richard Sauder in pulpit, to the right Parke Garber, extreme right Ray Longenecker, my father  (Unidentified man at left)
Richard Sauder in pulpit, to the right Parke Garber, far right Ray Longenecker, my father (Unidentified man on left)

All these pictures were stored in a heap inside our family’s piano bench for decades. Only recently have they seen the light of day.

Based on the date here, my dad was 24. He was married in 1940 when he was 25, a year younger than my age at marriage. Men of this era did not usually marry until they could support a wife. The first question Daddy queried Cliff when he asked for my hand in marriage was “Do you think you can support her?” Looking back, the question seems a little strange as I was already a teacher of four years with a salary.

What I’d like to know:

  • Who’s idea was this trip?
  • Where did they eat? (These men were used to home-cooked meals.)
  • What did they talk about?
  • Did they ever wear casual clothing? (All I see here is white shirts, suspenders, ties and long trousers.)
  • Did they send postcards to their girlfriends?
  • Did they laugh and carry on?

Wouldn’t Dad have been astonished back then if he had known two of his daughters would be raising their families in Florida, so far away from their Lancaster County, PA childhood roots?

Do you have photos in your family albums that pose questions without answers?

Snow Falling on Anchor Road

Every single memory of snow in my childhood is pleasant. Sparkling flakes in luminous free-fall as I look out the kitchen window. Snow festooning evergreen boughs. Then bundling up in snowsuits, knitted caps, mittens. Getting out the sleds.

After more than one snowstorm, Aunt Ruthie grabbed her movie camera and trained her sharp eye on some big, tall sledders who went coasting down the hill from our house to Grandma Longenecker’s.

Then she captured our anticipation of trumping through nearly hip-high snow and finally (my favorite) Mother pulling my sister Janice and I on the Flexible Flyer sled along Anchor Road.


Another parent and daughter are observing the snow in The First Snowfall by American poet James Russell Lowell, a poem I remember Mother reciting.

FirstSnowfall1

Mabel marvels at the beauty of the snow and inquires of its origin . . .

First Snowfall2

. . . but as the father’s replies to Mabel, he remembers the snow which hides the scar of another child’s burial plot.

FirstSnowfall3

Then Mabel feels her father’s gentle kiss, a kiss she will never know was intended for the daughter beyond his touch. The last stanza leaves Mabel in child-like wonder, her father in pensive grief.

Screen Shot 2014-12-29 at 12.03.34 PM


This post began with snapshots of fun in the snow and ended with a reflection on loss. But snow can be the setting for other memorable events: a frolic with friends, a car accident, a marriage proposal (I’ll save that for another post!)

You probably have memories of snow, recent or long ago. Here’s your chance to share them.

Disappearing Images: 7 Items Missing in Mom’s Bedroom

Mother Longenecker still lives in the same house she and Daddy bought soon after they got married in 1940. Their bedroom looked the same for decades, but it’s changed over the years. Here’s what is missing . . . and what I remember from so long ago.

1. The Art Deco inlaid-wood vanity where Mother sits on a bench to comb her long, glossy black hair before twisting it into a bun topped with a Mennonite covering.

Courtesy Google Images
Courtesy Google Images

2. A matching wardrobe smelling of moth balls and a copy of Sane Sex Life, with a dust cover of scarlet red and white. Black and white pen illustrations included. Eyes wide in wonder.

3. The chenille bedspread. I love the fluffy texture and the furry feeling under the pillows when I smooth the spread as I make my parents’ bed.

ChenilleBedspread 4. A skinny box with a silky slip inside wrapped in white tissue, brought home from a shopping trip to Hagar’s, Garvins, or Watt & Shand in Lancaster. We sometimes call them petticoats.

5. Evening in Paris cologne. Did Mom buy it for herself or was it a birthday gift from Daddy?

 EveningInParisCologne

6. A jar of Noxzema. Sticking a finger deep in and gouging out a spoon of cleansing cream that feels cold on my skin even in the summertime. Can you smell the camphor and menthol just now? Maybe a touch of eucalyptus?

7. Daddy. He died in 1985.

 

Postcript: What is still there? Hanging on the wall above a highboy, a framed pastel-tinted print by Wallace Nutting. The title on the left reads “Wig Wag Churning” (girl seated churning butter). A phrase on the right: “Wallace Nutting.” As a youngster, I kept looking for a boy named Wallace cracking nuts. Much later I figure out Mr. Nutting must be the artist.

WIgWagChurning

What images or scents do you associate with your mother?

Another loved one?

False Pregnancy

If I swallow a water-melon seed, my stomach might swell up.

If I touch freckle-faced Ricky with the dirty fingernails, I might grow a baby. Oh no!

Those were my childhood fears. With a limited sex education, I tried never to swallow watermelon seeds or touch grimy Ricky. But my parents also had fears, largely unfounded. What my Daddy dreaded most as the father of three adolescent girls is that one of us might turn up pregnant some day and bring shame and disgrace upon the family. “We don’t ever want to hear of that happening in our family,” he exhorted. In my Bible he wrote this not-so-veiled admonition from Ecclesiastes:

Daddy's inscription of Ecclesiastes 12:1 in the flyleaf of my Bible
Daddy’s inscription of Ecclesiastes 12:1 in the flyleaf of my Bible

Why he worried about my falling into mortal sin was beyond my comprehension: I always had my nose in a book and rarely dated Mennonite farm boys, or any other boys for that matter.

My experience with the lusts of men were of the non-Mennonite variety in my early teens. Summers I worked behind the meat counter for the Kleinfelters at Middletown Merchandise Mart. No worries with Mr. Kleinfelter, though he was often a bit tipsy, but some of his suppliers were another matter. Oily-haired Mr. Zapcic would creep up to the counter and invite me to “help” him in his produce business in Lancaster. “I need somebody to work behind the counter. You would be perfect!”

“That’s pretty far from Elizabethtown,” I mentioned innocently. Lancaster was almost 20 miles away.

Without my asking, Mr. Z. offered: “Oh, I’d see that you got there. You could ride with me.” It finally dawned on me what he was after and afterwards tried to ignore him. Yet he continued to harass me. Like Pamela in Samuel RIchardson’s novel, I rebuffed the man’s advances. Finally, I had to solicit some Kleinfelter help to get him to let me alone.

*  *  *  *  *

Senior Photo: Eastern Mennonite College
Senior Photo: Eastern Mennonite College

During the summer of 1964 my Aunt Ruthie and I attended Temple University, she to complete her Master in Education degree and me to begin it. From the hamlet of Rheems at 4:30 in the morning, we drove to Lancaster, took a train from Lancaster to Philadelphia, then rode the subway into north Philadelphia and walked eleven blocks to the campus of Temple University with classrooms filled with students who chain-smoked. I still wore a prayer veiling with a crown of dark brown braids fastened with hairpins underneath, ever the epitome of moral innocence. Ruthie’s classes lasted longer than mine, so I waited for her on a circular, wooden bench on the grassy campus outside the classroom.

A suave older man approaches me and raves about my hair. It could be a scene right out of Bird Life in Wington, Gertie the Goose meets Willie the Wolf.

I notice at once his pearly white, even teeth and brushed back hair. Is he a college student? He for sure doesn’t look like one. Other students are milling around, I notice, so what could be the harm in talking to this stranger?

Willie: “Sprechen ze deutsche?” Not waiting for an answer, he spouts, “You have gorgeous hair. It’s so thick and glossy.”

Gertie: Oh,uh [Insert Pennsylvania Dutch lilt] . . . why thank you.

Willie: I own a hair salon in the suburbs of Philly. I’d take you there and give you a different hair-do. It would frame your face really nice.

Gertie: Really?

Willie: Of course, I wouldn’t charge you anything.

Gertie: Well, thank you.

The dialogue continues for another minute or two, and then two things happen: I feel an electrical zap down my spine and a visitation from the Holy Spirit, who urgently whispers — “NO!” in my ear: “Run for your life. This guy is up to no good.”

Scales fall from my eyes as I swiftly dismiss his cunning ideas–and find an excuse to leave the bench and search desperately for Aunt Ruthie. Her class must be over. Soon, I hope. God, I hope soon!

Willie the Wolf in roadster tries to seduce Gertie Goose
Willie the Wolf in roadster tries to seduce Gertie the Goose in Calvin Reid’s cautionary tales

It’s your turn. Any narrow escapes from unsavory characters in your early years? Other threats to your moral virtue?

Your story is welcome here, and I will always reply.