13-Year-Olds Patrick and Curtis: Not Quite a Bar Mitzvah

Not Quite a Bar Mitzvah

Grandsons Patrick and Curtis, born 7 weeks apart in Chicago, both turned thirteen this fall. If they were Jewish, they would each have observed the bar mitzvah ritual: Bar = son; Mitzvah = law or commandment, able to participate in all areas of Jewish community life. Such a rite of passage usually culminates in a party with gifts.

Neither of our grand-boys wore yarmulkes. Nor did tefellin dangle from their heads or arms. Although these grand-boys have memorized Bible passages, during their birthday celebrations they did not wear religious headgear or black leather boxes (tefellin) on their fore-heads or near their hearts containing sacred scripts from the Old Testament.


What They Did Do:

After they turned thirteen, they read letters their Grandma and Grandpa Beaman had written to them when they were newborns and sent in the mail to their parents’ address with a postmark. These letters have been kept squirreled away until a special day.

At his party, Curtis opened a letter his NaNa had written to him with a December 31, 2003 postmark.



The letter was typewritten, so he breezed through sentences, smiling as he read in his emerging bass voice.

But he struggled to read another letter, which I had dashed off in cursive handwriting, now a dying art, and no longer taught in public schools.


Then he opened his gifts: a wireless mouse for his hand-constructed computer, and The DaVinci Code book.



Then it was Patrick’s turn:

Grandpa Beaman wrote Patrick’s letter with a similar postmark. It was typewritten, so there was no struggle to de-cipher looped letters. Before Patrick read his letter, Grandpa showed him a photo colláge he made for Patrick when he was a few months old.

Patrick and Grandpa, with matching lopsided grins, check out a photo collage
Patrick and Grandpa, with matching lopsided grins, check out a photo collage

An excerpt from Grandpa’s letter revealed his observations of newborn development:

When we feed you, you suck that bottle down pretty quickly. When it come time to burp, we hear it loud and clear! And then there’s often a big milk shoot-out which sometimes lands on my unprotected shirt and a big white splat a few feet down on the rug.


You are also making lots of cooing and other sounds. During the last couple of days when I made sounds, you tried your best to twist your mouth around in odd shapes to mimic some of my sounds. You REALLY want to talk. And someday you will for sure.


Patrick’s reading of the letter ended with these words:

He did not open a wrapped present. His birthday request was a gift certificate to Five Guys, a burger place in Jacksonville. Why such a present? Simple: His love for food is in his DNA – a “gift” from his grandpa.

It remains to be seen whether the boys, later as men, consider these “parchments” sacred, letters written to them as infants.

Bar Mitzvah – or not, we wish them Mazel Tov . . . congratulations and good wishes to both as they continue to develop into manhood!

And finally, our hope for them from The Shamá . . .

Deuteronomy 6:5  And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.


Cousins Patrick (3 months) and Curtis (1 month)
Cousins Patrick, 3 months and Curtis, 1 month


What can you add to my description of the Jewish ritual, the Bar Mitzvah (Bat Mitzvah for daughters)?

What other rituals or traditions does your family observe with children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews?



A Plate, a Parade, and a Song

First of all, there was no parade and no song.

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.

Laura says,

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


JennaCharReportAnd Ian’s quality of charity and compassion


Ian: Character trait of Charity & Compassion
Ian: Character trait of Charity & Compassion. He also received a senior yellow belt,  Tae Kwon Do

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 . . .

Plate ReverseZechIn 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.

*  *  *

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!

Coming next: Oh, Beautiful – Amber Grain & Grainy Amber

Vials of Venom, Oil of Healing

My mother and I are waiting in Doctor Garber’s examining room, which always has a sharp smell of rubbing alcohol. She’s the patient, and I’m with her sitting on a chair eyeing the metal tray holding at least a dozen tiny vials, so cute they look like they could fit in the kitchen of my doll-house. But they are vials of venom, possible culprits. Nurse Becky Longenecker carefully fills little syringes with each fluid, which puncture the skin of Mommy’s extended arm trying to determine whether it is house dust, hay, mildew, turpentine, or cat dander that is causing her frightful asthma attacks. I watch as some injections leave a puffy patch or a bright red spot. She leaves the office with a paper packet of pills to try. Maybe these will help.

But I guess they aren’t working either. Once again, Mother is propped up on feather pillows gasping for breath, her face blanched white with the effort. It’s scary for Daddy and my sisters too. We feel helpless. But Daddy knows about Ordinance # 7 in the Statement of Christian Doctrine of the Lancaster Conference of the Mennonite Church: “Anointing. According to James 5:10-18 we encourage our members to call for anointing with oil accompanied by the prayer of faith for healing.”

Olive oil in a Vial of Healing
Olive Oil in a Vial of Healing

So my dad has called for Pastor Martin R. Kraybill and Deacon John R. Kraybill, brothers, to come to Mom and Dad’s bedroom upstairs for the anointing of oil as prescribed in the New Testament passage of James 5:14 & 15.

Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church: and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.

As Pastor Martin prays and reads the scripture to Mother and to the family assembled around her bed, Deacon John anoints her forehead with olive oil, an outward symbol of the healing that is transpiring within. Mom later describes a tingling sensation like a warm, electrical current radiating from the top of her spine to the bottom. “It felt wonderful!” she says. She has been healed immediately—and by the power of the Holy Spirit.

No more doctor visits for asthma ever again, the vials of venom to test for triggers, a thing of the past. Praise God!

Have you or someone you know had an experience similar to this? We’d love to hear your story.

Your comments welcome. I will always respond!

Hallowe’en: a Scream & a News Flash

“Tick-uh-tick-uh-tick-uh-tick . . . ” The needle on my mom’s Singer sewing machine jabs the orange crepe paper as her feet mumble on the treadle. Usually the material comes from Mohr’s Fabrics in Lancaster or the Marian & Ruth Covering Shop in Mount Joy. She even uses printed feed bag for aprons or skirts. But today Mother is making an outrageously detailed Hallowe’en costume for me with orange and white crepe paper.

Color by the Magic Wand
Color by the Magic Wand

Hallowe’en was a big deal growing up. Every October the students in grades 1-4 in Miss Longenecker’s class and grades 5-8 in Mrs. Kilhelfner’s class skipped class for Hallowe’en fun. Blind-folded, we descended the cellar steps and guided by an older student stepped gingerly through a tunnel of hay bales to begin the scary trip through the fun house in the basement of Rheems Elementary School. Peeled grapes became the naked eye balls of the “remains” we touched. Instructed to blow a penny out of a dish, we proceeded through the maze with a flour-covered face. Then there were sounds of violence and a scream as we imagined mayhem. Finally, we took off our blind-folds to behold the fright of a luminous skeleton with moaning noises before mounting the back stair steps into the light.

And Hallowe’en night was even more fun. Often our outfits were home-made: a hobo or a ghost. But sometimes Aunt Ruthie went over-board with her other nieces, my younger sisters. One October 31st Ruthie created a yellow and black bee hive costume for cute little Jeanie complete with a stick she held with a wee bee bobbing up and down on the end. Janice was so jealous at having a plain old something or other to wear instead.

One year, the sisters put their heads together and decided to dress up our younger brother Mark, 12 years young than I. So we grabbed Janice’s navy blue gym suit with a built-in belt and legs that ended mid-thigh, a garter belt and nylon hosiery (Mom’s?) with my shiny, high-heeled shoes. So attired, we helped Mark navigate the 1/3-mile distance between our house and Grandma’s, where he was greeted with dumb-founded faces. “Where did this girl/woman come from?” they must have thought. In the end, the mask came off to gales of laughter. He was a SCREAM. And a good sport!

Generally, Mennonites in the 50s and 60s did not dress up or throw parties on Hallowe’en. I am certain our pastor, deacon, and bishop’s children did not ring door-bells bedecked in worldly costumes, collecting candy from neighbors. For sure, in a Church that “believes that wearing a necktie is a worldly practice,” fancy get-ups like these would be definitely frowned upon.* For us, though, Hallowe’en was such fun!

* Statement of Christian Doctrine and Rules and Discipline of the Lancaster Conference of the Mennonite Church, July 1968, (21)

Pumpkin displayed at Landis Homes, Lititz, PA
Pumpkin displayed at Landis Homes, Lititz, PA

News Flash!

Upcoming Feature and Book Giveaway of Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels by Valerie Weaver-Zercher.

On Saturday, November 2, I will be featuring Valerie Weaver-Zercher’s Book: The Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels.

Here are the details:

WHAT:  An introduction to Valerie Weaver-Zercher’s Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels: The author and her book.

PLUS:  One lucky commenter will win a copy of ­­­Valerie’s book

WHEN:  Saturday, November 2, 2013

WHERE:  Right here on Plain and Fancy Girl

And all you have to do is show up, read the blog post and leave a comment or pose a question..

The giveaway will close one week later on Saturday, November 9, 2013 at noon. The winner will be chosen in a random drawing. I will announce the winner here and by email.

I invite you to come by and enter. Feel free to invite your reading friends!

Today’s invitation: What are your childhood memories of Hallowe’en? What new memories are you creating?

Your comments are welcome. I will always respond.


Mom and Gus: PA Dutch Fare

My mom’s sacred space is her kitchen where she offers the sacrifice of her heart and hands to those in need and indeed her family. On my last trip to Pennsylvania, Mother made chicken corn soup from a recipe in her head. When I ask her how much of this or that, her quick reply is always, “Just how you think.” I don’t know what to think, so I always try to extract some measurements out of her. Her current “guess” for our favorite harvest soup:

Mother Longenecker’s Chicken Corn Soup

Cook 5-6 pieces of chicken, breasts or thighs. Set aside.

In broth from cooked chicken, add 1 ½ – 2 pints of corn, fresh or frozen.

Dice 4 hard-boiled eggs.

Now, add chicken breasts, chopped up

Season with salt & pepper to taste

Mom's Chicken Corn Soup without Rivels
Mom’s Chicken Corn Soup without Rivels

Rivels: dough-y lumps can be added to soup for more texture

1 beaten egg

Add enough flour to make a moist doughiness of the mixture.

Break into small dumpling-like pieces and add to soup.

 *  *  *  *  *
About 2 miles east of Mom’s house near Mt. Joy is Gus’s Restaurant. Gus is Italian, but his eatery is in Lancaster County, so aside from spaghetti, fish dishes, and fancy desserts on the menu, he offers ham loaf and pork and sauerkraut dinners with mashed potatoes for hearty Pennsylvania Dutch appetites.
A heavy meal, this dinner will give us enough fuel to make it to the Philadelphia Airport and then home to Jacksonville. Gus’s food is tasty, but Gus’s is a public place without a hoard of cooking aromas and shared memories from Mom’s Kitchen, her sacred space. In fact, it’s not a fair competition at all.
There’s no contest!
What favorite recipes do you savor during the fall season?
What are your memories of special dishes around the table with friends or family?
Coming next: Old Friends, New Friend: Homecoming @ EMU
Your thoughts welcome! I will always reply.

Great Hearts

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.

Good Lancaster County people. Great hearts!

Once Upon a Time: The Tale of a Snow Globe

Announcing the WINNER of Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World

And the Winner is (drum roll, please!) Carolyn Stoner! Thank you one and all for participating so heartily by commenting on my review of Shirley Showalter’s memoir BLUSH. Carolyn, you will receive your copy of Shirley’s memoir shortly.

*  *  *  *  *

Once upon a time there was a little boy named Curtis, who lived on Greenfern Lane in a very big city called Jacksonville. His Mommy Sarah and Daddy Joel invited his grandparents to feast on a wonderful meal with them one day.

While they were eating home-made spaghetti and telling stories around the table, his NaNa Marian told a new story, “The Tale of the Snow Globe.” Now when Curtis was new born, his Great Grandmother Longenecker came to visit him in the big city of Chicago. She wanted to see her new grandchild for the very first time. Of course, she had visited towns and villages and the cities of Lancaster and Harrisburg many times. She had even gone as far as Niagara Falls on her honeymoon. But she had never seen a big, big city with dozens of skyscrapers.

And then Great Grandma told how she went up, up, up many, many of stories onto the top of the Hancock building, where she could look out and see the Sears tower, the Amoco building and beyond. For a very long time, she stared and stared at the giant buildings and the miniature cars and buses below. Then she went to the gift shop and bought colorful souvenirs: tile coasters, postcards, and a beautiful snow globe with white flakes drifting down on the skyscrapers of Chicago she had seen. Her special souvenir was the snow globe, of course, which sat on a table by her telephone where she could see it day or night.

One day her special prize disappeared. She looked and looked, and had other people look with her, but the snow globe was nowhere to be found. Who could have taken it? Her cleaning lady? Visitors? Was there a break in she wasn’t aware of? The loss and the scary thoughts made Great Grandma very, very sad, NaNa Marian said.

At that very moment, Curtis said to his Daddy, “May I be excused?” After his Daddy said “Yes,” Curtis hurried into his bedroom and came back with his own Chicago snow globe, a larger version of his Great Grandma’s. “Here,” he said. “She can have this!”

“But, Curtis, you brought this down from Chicago to Jacksonville when you were only two. This is a special thing. Are you sure you don’t want to keep it?”

“Oh, I know, but I want Great Grandma to have it. It will make her feel better. You can take it to Pennsylvania in your suitcase the next time you visit her.” And that is exactly what happened.

Shock and Awe
Shock and Awe

And then tears  . . .


Appreciation too


Curtis: Look of Pride
Curtis: Look of Pride

And finally, a grateful Great-Grandmother!


Your comments welcome!  I always respond.

Night of Joy

The whole family crams into the gray 1951 Studebaker: Our family of five, Daddy, Mommy, Janice Jean and I (Mark isn’t born yet), Aunt Ruthie and Grandma–seven stuffed into an airplane cockpit, it feels like. We don’t take two cars because we are frugal. It saves gas if we all go together.

Tonight is the first night of the Brunk Tent Revival. Two brothers, George, the evangelist, and Lawrence, the song-leader, have brought a huge, unstriped tent all the way from Virginia in a tractor-trailer truck. As we approach the tent, I think we’re going to a circus except that there are pine plank benches crunched down on sawdust and spiral-bound, red, white, and powder blue songbooks on the seats. The crowd, of course, doesn’t look like circus-goers. They are polite, plain people, some pious-acting, but others even laughing. I notice the pig-tailed girls I play with when we have a “bunch” over for Sunday dinner: there are the Garber sisters, the Oberholtzers, the Brubakers, and Kraybills. We exchange shy smiles and find seats by families.

Songbook open

Since I was six weeks old, I have been taken to Bosslers’ Mennonite Church way out in the country where roads run at right angles according to each farmer’s acreage. In the corner of a white hanky, my mother always ties a shiny copper penny that I put into the little metal pig in my Sunday School class when we say, “Dropping, dropping, dropping, drop-ping, hear the pennies fall, every one for Jesus, He will take them all.” I like the pictures of Jacob and the Ladder of Angels or Joseph and his Coat of Many Colors I paste into my lesson book. We gather in the meetinghouse for sermons amply illustrated with biblical quotes from our pastor, Martin Kraybill. He is intent on inscribing our mental tapes with scriptural quotations. I am just beginning to join in with the four-part harmony I hear, blending with the sopranos and altos from the women’s side, and the tenors and basses on the men’s side of the aisle: I like the way the basses move up the scale to join the tenors in the hymn “More Holiness GIve Me” and the way the sopranos and altos get to sing two bars of music without the bass clef in “O Worship the Lord.”

Tonight at the revival service we also sing a cappella, keeping pace with the song-leader’s energetic gestures. Then Brother Brunk comes to the lectern, a hefty Bible in one hand. He starts off with a joke or silly comment, which my Grandpa Metzler criticizes with the comment, “He even makes the people laugh!” He then preaches about our guilt because of sin and God’s loving plan to save us through his Son Jesus. His words pierce my consciousness, and a sense of need fills my heart. I can visualize Jesus standing before me with outstretched arms.

Will you receive Jesus into your heart and have Him cleanse you of your sin tonight? Now is the day of salvation. Come to Jesus now!”

The invitation for people to come forward sounds like an appeal directed only to me. I begin to cry softly, tears falling onto the lap of my lavender and white dotted Swiss dress, hoping someone will pay attention and tell me what to do next. I cry louder and notice my parents discussing what to do with Marian. Daddy walks with me down the aisle and ushers me into a “prayer room,” a miniature tent off to the side. There I meet kind Anna Ruth Breneman who shows me more Bible verses and prays short phrases that I repeat, asking Jesus to come into my heart, take away all my sin and fill me with new life. I feel cleansed, happy, relieved.

There is another step in the process. Next, I am led to a platform where I as a nine-year-old make my first public speech, a testimony of four simple words: “I’m glad I’m saved.” Aunt Ruthie meets me after the benediction and gives me a kiss on the cheek, which takes me by surprise. She has never before shown much affection. Apparently she approves of my decision.

On the way home, I sit on the back seat next to the window and look up at the clear, starry sky and full harvest moon. I feel euphoric. Later on, I go to bed and see that same moon casting a shaft of pure radiance in through the window-panes, bathing the oak headboard with mellow light. It traces the interlocking circular patterns punctuated by an upright sprig of laurel on each bedpost. Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright with the shaft of light that has penetrated the panes of glass magnifying the joy in my heart.


Years later, I learn that the proper word for this moment is epiphany, a manifestation of divinity in the life of a simple, trusting, Mennonite girl.

EMU Crossroads 2002
EMU Crossroads 2002

Grandma’s: A Wedding under the Willow


Here we are, Juliets without our Romeos

When Mom says “sca-doo!” at home, we know we can find amusement at Grandma’s house. Aside from the mysteries of the woods behind her house, other attractions include a slope where lilies of the valley blossom in April. A chicken house big enough to actually play house in. An out-house equipped with a Sears & Roebuck catalog for wiping, its little roof-top smothered by lilac bushes–wonderful air freshener! And a willow tree. We love that willow tree by a trickling brook where we play Bride, with a cast-off piece of netting like my mother, aunts, and grandmas use for prayer veilings.

At ten, I’m the oldest, so I direct my sisters at first. “Jeanie, go to the chicken house for the veil.” There are no chickens in Grandma’s chicken-house anymore, just a bunch of crates and wooden boards we use other times for make-believe. Jean goes off to retrieve the big square of white netting in its hiding place inside the door in a crate on the right. “Janice, let’s find some flowers for the bouquet.” Off we go in different directions, and Janice comes back with dandelion blossoms, and I find some irises.

Blue Willow book from parents early 1950s

Blue Willow book from parents early 1950s

We meet back at the willow tree, its arching fronds our sanctuary for many a glorious wedding. We need a bell ringer, a bride and a groom. Before I can get a word in edgewise, Jean pipes up, “Let me be the bride this time; I wanna be the bride, pleeease.” Well, I guess we can give in this time. Then Janice and I dicker for who plays groom and who rings the bell. Next, we have to get the bride ready.

Janice places the netting on Jean’s head just so, and I pull her pigtails up behind her ears and use the light brown braids to tie the veil securely to the top of her head. Now, we’re all set: Groom Janice loops one arm around Jean’s, and I rush over to the longest willow branch I can find and pull on its thin, sinewy length until the wedding bell chimes overhead, and then we all, including the bride, sing together in warbly voice: “Here comes the briiide, please step asiiide.” It’s a magical moment. A breeze blows gently through the willow branches and fans the bouquet of purple and gold. But before the bride has a chance to whisper, “I do,” we hear Daddy’s truck drive in the lane. He’s come to pick us up and bring home a big kettle of saffron-flavored pot pie from his mom’s stove for our supper at home on top of the hill.

There are no crystal balls to visualize our own weddings in the future, but we are careful not to duplicate color choices for our attendants. Jean starts with blue, Marian with pink, and Janice has yellow, a pleasing bouquet of hues. But our veils are white.

Up and Down Anchor Road: Secrets Revealed

Thumbnail: Home is on Anchor Road, connecting our house to Grandma’s house and neighbors in between. The story continues . . .

. . . . As we drive from Grandma’s past the Hoffers, I notice off to the right the weathered frame house of Mr. Heisey, who contentedly makes and fixes clocks. Then come our next-door neighbors, the Mummas, who have just opened the Clearview, a home-style diner on Route # 230, which parallels our road. Their old Lincoln Continental bobs in and out of their driveway early and late. Owning a restaurant is slavery in more ways than one, Mom says. Our mother likes Edna Mumma, who like Mom has a brood of kids to worry over.


Before the restaurant took over all of her time, Mom used to enjoy Edna’s Spencer parties (like Tupperware, but with metal stays and elastic, not plastic), specializing in heavy-duty corsets for well-fed Lancaster County bodies.

Sometimes Edna calls up my mom and asks her to help out on chicken “dressing” days. Together they kill the chickens, pluck their feathers and chop them up into separate pieces for cooking. I can hear one half of their conversation on the phone:

“Sure, I’d be glad to help . . . just say when.”

“No, I don’t want anything for it. Remember, you gave us 4 or 5 pullets the last time I helped. . . . “

“You daresn’t look on turns like that. . . .”

“Okay. I’ll be over as soon as I’m done making applesauce.” Working together, they often dress thirty or forty chickens at one time.

Lancaster County farm women are always busy. Why, the day before my sister Janice was born Mom was dressing chickens. Before Jean was born, she was canning peaches, and before I was born at home, she was hoeing tobacco.

A mixture of gravel and grass connects our house to the Mummas, only a 1/2 mile from Grandma’s. Out in front of our white frame and green-shuttered house, there are two leafy maple trees and a forsythia bush, which puts out spiky, yellow blooms in April. Until we get too heavy, my sisters and I can climb all over the red Japanese maple beside the house. Our porch, flanked by four evenly spaced posts, sports two painted metal chairs in the summertime and a swing from where we can count cars on a Saturday afternoon or hope for Uncles Landis, Leroy, Clyde, Abe or Aunt Verna and our cousins to visit on Sundays after church.

The Rentzels live next door and on the corner the Gromolls, whose clothing is two degrees plainer than ours. I believe they’re black bumpers, an ultra-conservative branch of Mennonites, who paint their bumpers black to avoid showing off shiny chrome. A small street separates their house from Wolgemuth’s Tavern, where we surmise Betty Rentzel finds some of her clients, lured by the glowing red porch light. Daddy calls the tavern a beer joint. Every so often he has to rescue a drunken driver from the wreckage of a car that doesn’t steer well enough to stay on the road in front of our house. One Saturday night it was Charlie Oberholtzer, who still can’t look Dad in the eye.

Rounding off our neighborhood is a huge, grey farmhouse, sheltering two families: cheery, loud-spoken Eva Gebhardt and the Hilsher family with a gang of boys who feed the pigs, cows, and chickens on the farm and help their dad plant corn in the acreage across the road from our house.

Strange neighbors are not unusual. What interesting neighbors do you recall from your childhood?