Today marks the end of February. In less than a month spring will have sprung, Still, you may be ready for spring now, not in three weeks. Here are the thoughts of Jane Kenyon, once New Hampshire’s poet laureate, anticipating the blooms of spring in her meditation “February Thinking of Spring”
. . . or the appearance of blooms on dogwood
Before winter turned into spring, visits to the flower show in Philadelphia restored my Grandma Longenecker’s spirits. Or leafing through a Burpee Seed catalog.
In a letter to me during my sophomore year in college Grandma wrote about her May flowers that followed a harsh winter:
Lots of people have colds but daffodils are out “with their yellow frilled bonnets” (I have 5 kinds of them) were a joy to behold. Double tulips are at their best. Next the lilacs and valley lilies.
Yes, fickle February will soon melt into March madness. To herald the coming month, I shall make a poetic prediction. My good friend/muse Merril Smith has inspired me to try a new form, the shadorma, one of the many poetry challenges she has embraced on her website recently along with echo poems, triolets, and lantern shapes.
The shadorma must form 6 lines of 3-5-3-3-7-5 syllables and make sense.
St. Pat’s Day
Daylight Savings Time, Oh Dread
Did you count the syllables? 🙂
What flowers populate your dreams of spring?
If you live in South Africa or Australia, your seasons are reversed so you may have a different vision. What in nature lifts your spirits right now?
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)
And then Lydia . . .
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.
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:
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.
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.
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?
Dorothy had the Good Witch of the North to give her “magical protection from fatal harm” on her journey to the land of Oz and back. Yet she followed an uneven path, using her brain, sometimes thinking with her heart, and slowly but surely developing courage.
I had my own Good Witch, Aunt Ruthie Longenecker from Pennsylvania, not Kansas. As a plain Mennonite, she never gave me glittering red shoes. I had to buy them on my own after I turned from plain to fancy. But she gave me plenty of golden advice, none more emotionally charged than the time she perceived I was veering off course at college and falling for a young man she imagined would be my downfall.
The advice arrived in a 4-cent envelope written in her flowing, left-handed cursive:
The Gibson greeting card is a cute pop-up.
Enclosed with the card was a terse note written on the back of a deposit slip from the First National Bank of Marietta, a curious choice of stationery. (You can read this note or the text below it in print.)
Here is her message in print form, directing me to forsake that boyfriend (aka “opera singer”) at the top of the hill:
Tell that opera singer on the top of the hill he has already sung his “swan song” and that you have decided to contribute more to this world than dishpan hands and another case for the marital appeasement courts. Think for yourself and your own future and let him produce positive evidence of his greatness. Call his bluff. – Don’t be licked. If he doesn’t understand English there’s always the possibility of a second semester transfer to Millersville, E-town or Goshen – Halloween is a good time to get rid of all ghosts and apparitions, so good luck to the Little Witch in Peachey House.
Added to this note was a “Hazel” cartoon clipping to reinforce her words:
The ink jotting has become almost indecipherable over the years, but she notes:
Hazel never went to High School, but she sure is a graduate student of human nature – by the length of the unwritten line the word must be “nuts” – or maybe it’s “yellow.”
At the time (my sophomore year at Eastern Mennonite College), I was trying to keep my life on track academically despite romantic upsets and did not then realize the full force of Aunt Ruthie’s words or the depth of feeling behind then. Squinting back through the telescope of years as a much older adult, I do now.
In Aunt Ruthie’s day, women usually chose either the single life and a career or motherhood and maintaining a household. Hardly ever both.
I was beginning to see from the models emerging in the 1960s that one could answer the call of both vocations, professional and domestic. Choices did not have to be an either-or proposition, and they didn’t have to happen simultaneously either.
How about you?
Did you ever benefit from unsolicited advice?
What models of vocational choice made an impression on you growing up? How did these influence you?
Dollar Discovery! On September 10, 2015 I opened an envelope dated April 30,1962 that Mother sent me in college. I had read her letter then, but did not open the Bossler Mennonite Church bulletin where she had tucked a dollar bill (series date 1957) until now. I wonder now whether she was testing to see if I had taken the time to open the bulletin she enclosed.
When I opened the bulletin commemorating Church College Day, a few weeks ago, out tumbled a “Silver Certificate” dollar bill backed by REAL money, not the “Federal Reserve” bills we carry around in our wallets nowadays.
US district Judge J. Skelly Wright ordered the desegregation of elementary schools in New Orleans, LA.
John Kenneth Galbraith, then U.S. Ambassador to India, wrote a letter to President Kennedy proposing a negotiated peace between North Vietnam and South Vietnam.
At the Ealing Jazz Club in London, Brian Jones was introduced to Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. The three would become the heart of The Rolling Stones.
Walter Cronkite replaced Douglas Edwards as the anchorman for the CBS Evening News.
The Century 21 Exposition World’s Fair opened in Seattle, Washington on April 21, 1962
What was happening in the Longenecker house then?
Here are unadulterated excerpts from Mother’s letter:
“Hello to all the gals at Peachey House. . . . “Did you get your book – – – I mean your ‘Books,’ The Post Master want to know when you got the book we send. Don’t for-get to tell us he want to see know how long it took to get to E. M. C.”
“. . . I called LaVon’s mother on Fri. the way it sounds Maybe you are taking her place. she is going to work for Dr. Walmer 5 weeks then she is going to be counsler at a few camps. She is sure you will like it. She said you even get off the fourth of July with Pay. she knows they pay over a $ a hour but she didn’t know right yet how much.” (Lavon Nolt (Kolb) is a school friend: We attended first grade → college together. Here Mother is discussing summer work for me.)
“. . . I started to tell you Janice [sister] and I were at the Mother & daughter banquet on Fri. eve. they really had a nice program. & plenty of food such as fruit cup, a very large slice of Ham loaf, baked potato, corn & peas, cold slaw, pickles & olives, celery & carotts, ice cream & cake Mints & nuts. Well, we were just stuffed.”
“. . . When you get your check get it cashed then you will have when you need.”
There are two references to money in this letter, three if you count the dollar bill I didn’t discover until now. I don’t remember what the check was intended for or the amount, but it was probably not enough for books or tuition. And seldom did Mother write a letter that didn’t mention a menu or food preparation.
I know now that she equated food with love. And she knew that money, even a little bit, would sweeten my passage through my college days too.
God bless the memory of my mother, who knew the value of a dollar . . .
. . . and the appeal of a home-cooked meal!
Did this post prod memories of happy surprises about money or food? Join the conversation here.
The closest thing I ever came to living in a convent was my year in the dormitory at Lancaster Mennonite School. It was much like living in the dorm at my alma mater, Eastern Mennonite College, now a University, but only more awkward. “Awkward?” you ask. “In what way awkward?”
As beginning teachers Verna Mohler (Colliver) and I were squirreled away in the LMS girls’ dormitory. Because of our tiny salaries, living here represented a major cost savings, but being so close to students, we sacrificed privacy. You can read all about this experience in last week’s post.
Students and faculty alike dressed plainly at LMS, no jewelry or fancy dress allowed. Students were sequestered from the world in other ways too: no competitive sports teams, no band or orchestra, and no theatre department.
My prior life in college was similar but a tad looser. There were intramural sports at EMC but musical expression was limited to various choruses which sang a cappella in four-part harmony. A highlight of the year came each spring when the music department presented Alfred Robert Gaul’s oratorio The Holy City, its celestial strains ringing in the rafters. However, no band or orchestra existed there either. And certainly no theatre department. To be fair, students performed plays staged in the chapel as for example Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Our graduating class donated to the college its first piano.
During my junior year at EMC when the college dormitory was filled to overflowing, eight women students were selected to live on the edge of campus in a home called Peachey House.
Verna Mohler and I lived with six others including Martha Maust, who wrote in Verna’s yearbook: ” What with mice sitting on the kitchen floor, a chicken in a book-bag, plus eight girls with plenty of vim, vigor, and yelling power you couldn’t expect anything but great times.” Then too we lived through the mighty snowstorm in the winter of 1961-62 that cut us off from the rest of the campus.
One of my fondest memories is playing the violin with Thelma Swartendruber (Chow) one of my roommates here in the Peachey House living room.
I had played my instrument at Elizabethtown High School, where I was the only Mennonite girl in the orchestra simply thrilled to wear a fancy dress for concerts. My violin case followed me to college. Sunday afternoons we played with others, sometimes even with a faculty member whom I later dated.
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Mennonites have always had a love affair with music ~ hymn books, tuning forks, and four-part acappella singing a staple of all worship services in this era.
Though the Lancaster Conference Mennonite Church did not allow instrumental music in the 1960s, many Mennonite families had a piano at home. We had one, a mahogany Marshall & Wendell upright with melodious richness, especially evident when I pushed down on the damper pedal for a gorgeous, sustained tone.
The photo below portrays a young Mennonite girl, Anna Leaman, with covering and caped dress circa 1926 playing the violin. Whether Anna was posing to please her parents or whether she loved playing the violin, it’s impossible to say. I do see a faint smile playing around her lips. Obviously she had been taking lessons and making music solo here.
But rest assured, when she went to church on Sunday, no piano, organ or violin would drown out the blend of soprano, alto, tenor, and bass voices who worshipped in blessed harmony.
Did you play an instrument during school or college days? Do you still play it? Any anecdotes to add to the dorm life episodes here, or living with a roommate in an other arrangement?
Coming next: Moments of Discovery, The Story Behind the $ Bill
A toy train and a baby doll. That’s what these brother and sister pairs are exchanging with each other.
Trading is fun among friends, no matter what their size. Big or little, old or young – most people like to exchange gifts, conversation, sometimes even big ideas.
It is a giant leap from tots trading toys to literary giants exchanging thoughts, but the principle is the same and so are the benefits.
C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, both scholars at Oxford University fired one another’s imaginations in a small group called The Inklings. Both yearned to write science fiction with faith and morality as a central theme. Legend has it that “they literally tossed a coin to decide who would write a book on space travel versus time travel.” Though their early attempts were not completely successful, C. S. Lewis went on to pen The Chronicles of Narnia, and J. R. R. Tolkien wrote the Lord of the Rings series. Generations since then have enjoyed the fantasy of Tolkien’s hobbits and elves of Middle-earth and Lewis’ charming children and Narnian nymphs.
Their haunt? Frequently The Rabbit Room, a snug space tucked away in the Eagle and Child pub, Oxford, where a roaring fire, animated conversation and pipe smoke fueled their imaginations. At least twice weekly these brilliant minds hatched plans for plots and both nurtured and challenged one another’s brain children.
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Christiane Northrup, M. D. a frequent PBS-TV presenter, promotes friendship as one of the paths to glorious agelessness. A sub-topic on her website exhorts women of all ages to cultivate varied friendships that she dubs “tribes” of friends. Though I never thought of my friend groups as tribes, I do recognize various kinds of friends I’ve been privileged to know at various times and places in my life.
Colleagues at Florida State College in Jacksonville
Friends at the Gym (They’re bashful!)
Friends from Eastern Mennonite College
Even sisters can be friends!
My friendship with Verna Mohler Colliver is one I’ve maintained since college days as room-mates at Eastern Mennonite College (now University). I caught up with Verna at our last college reunion.
Since the reunion, Verna and I have exchanged photos and slides of ourselves as beginning teachers at Lancaster Mennonite School in the 1960s. Indeed, she helped me hatch a plan to reflect on those early years in our careers by providing some photo “fuel” for two upcoming blog posts. That’s what friends do. And I appreciate it too!
As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.
Proverbs 27:17 King James Version
Do you have “tribes” of friends? Do you see them often? How do you keep your friendship(s) alive?
But there was a plate. A plate of cupcakes. I can show you the plate, but the cupcakes are missing. Why? Because our grandchildren ate them all up. In fact the two older boys ate theirs up seconds after they landed on the plate. I missed the photo op completely.
Last weekend the family gathered to celebrate the Fourth of July. Some months ago, I had read Laura Brennan’s suggestion about celebrating success of family members with a plate of accomplishment. I caught her enthusiasm and thought “What a great idea!” All four grand-kids had received recognition at school this past year, so it seemed sensible to combine a national holiday with a family celebration.
We have a fun and easy way to celebrate in our house: it’s called The Plate of Accomplishment. In going through my mom’s stuff, I found one lone, gorgeous dinner plate – shimmery, just lovely. So when one of us has an accomplishment to celebrate, they get to eat dinner on that plate. It comes out with much fanfare (a mini-parade, actually) and a song: “It is the Plate of Accomplishment, it is the Great Great Plate of Accomplishment …
Our grand-kids’ accomplishments were not measured by degrees as adults might do. There was as much hoopla about a memo from a teacher dashed off in minutes as for a bound book in a school library.
And so it went in birth order. . .
We celebrated Patrick’s printed book “My Life as a Pencil”
And Curtis’ recognition for academic achievement among 5th graders in the District
Jenna’s gift for noticing trash on the playground and stopping to pick it up at recess
And Ian’s quality of charity and compassion
As long as the pixels and electrons hold together on this website, today’s post will be a family record for the Daltons and the Beamans for years to come. Just as importantly, I pass this celebration along as a template to commemorate all sorts of happy occasions among your own friends and family members, including nieces and nephews.
Back to the celebration: I don’t really think my grand-kids paid much attention when I read them the inscription on the back of the plate. They knew cupcakes were coming! Yet the Old Testament writer Zephaniah prophesied the power of praise . . .
In my Mennonite upbringing in the 1950s and 60s, honor given to a family member would probably be shyly appreciated but not expressed openly. Why? Because recognition of this sort smacked of pride, the worst sin of all. After my high school graduation with honors, my parents barely acknowledged all the recognition I received. During my Eastern Mennonite College graduation ceremony, not a word was spoken about my ranking in the class. Such practices were soon to change though. I was near the end of the Old Guard.
It is definitely not psychologically sound to overlook the accomplishments of the deserving and according to Zephaniah, it is certainly not biblical either.
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As you read this post, did a name or two pop into mind, someone deserving of a plate of accomplishment? It’s your turn to tell!
Did you ever have a Pollyanna? A secret pal back in the days when mail traveled only in paper envelopes with postage?
As I was going through one of my Boxes under the Bed, I found this quaint gem sent to me at college in celebration of St. Patrick’s Day, March 17. The charming card is signed Pollee Ann, obviously a reference to the main character in the children’s book series Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter, who finds the glad in everything. Though she was tragically orphaned and sent to live in the home of her gruff Aunt Polly, 11-year-old Pollyanna has come to represent eternal optimism as she spreads cheer, sometimes secretly, all around town.
My secret pal spells her name “Pollee Ann,” an interesting sobriquet for Pollyanna. And the card reached me in spite of the fact there is no street address or zip code, not introduced into the postal system until 1963. The termZIP, an acronym for Zone Improvement Plan,was chosen to suggest that “mail travels more efficiently, and therefore more quickly (zipping along), when senders use the code in the postal address.”
Have a Zippy St. Patrick’s Day!
Some celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by baking/eating cupcakes or cookies with green icing or wearing a shamrock pin. How do you celebrate St. Patrick’s Day?
Is a family graduation on your calendar this year?
As a faculty member at Florida State College at Jacksonville (then Florida Community College), I attended graduation every year in full regalia with hundreds of ecstatic grads, joyful families, and proud faculty and administration.
The Tawdry Tale
One year stands out though: 2001. State Representative X rose to the podium to deliver the commencement address and announced that his remarks would be short and to the point. Relieved, the audience sat back to enjoy a brief speech entitled A Short Guide to a Happy Life. Hmm . . . the title sounded familiar, I thought. Then he went on to tick off the main points: 1. Don’t confuse life with work. 2. Life is what happens when you are making other plans. 3. If you win the rat race, you are still a rat. . . . Then it dawned on me. I have heard this all before. In fact I’ve read it. Recently. In a book. In a book by Anna Quindlen with the same title. This man with an honorable title in high office is plagiarizing his speech, giving no credit to Quindlen or reference to her book. His whole speech. Boldly. Baldly. With no bones about honesty!
My sense of justice on high alert, I set out to right the wrong. No, to expose the guilty. I contact the campus president in charge of graduation. Yes, she will check up on my suspicion and she does follow through. There are more emails and phone calls, which in the end boil down to the critical question: Where is the audio recording of that address? Alas, it is never un-earthed. We are told the recording mechanism failed (?) and thus no incriminating evidence is available. Sadly, just my words remain which have now fallen. Flat. On deaf ears.
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My own college graduation is a distant memory. When I graduated from Eastern Mennonite College with a degree in English, I was still a plain girl, but with a B. A. degree in English education. I don’t remember at all who spoke at the commencement address or what the topic was, but I am sure there was an emphasis on service to others, demonstrating peace while upholding justice, still strong tenets of my alma mater, now Eastern Mennonite University.
The Nobel Laureate
Tomorrow another graduation occurs. On Sunday, April 27, 2014 an honorable woman, Leymah Gbowee, co-winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize and a 2007 EMU alumna, will give the 96th annual commencement address at Eastern Mennonite University. Gbowee was the focus of a documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” which demonstrates how women, both Christian and Muslim confronted then-Liberian President Charles Taylor “with a demand for peace and end a bloody 14-year-old civil war.” Her genius: Gbowee rallied women, all dressed in white from various ethnic groups to lock arms, protest, and over time literally pray the ruthless rebels, including the President, into retreat. They even staged a sex strike which her book describes in more detail. In 2007 Leymah Gbowee received a Master of Arts in Conflict Transformation from the Center for Justice and Peace-building at EMU, also her alma mater. No doubt in her graduation speech she will make reference to her book: Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War.
But I can assure you—she has plagiarized neither her book nor her speech!
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When have you become outspoken against an injustice? What were the results?
Have you heard of Leymah Gbowee? Anyone else you know with her qualities?