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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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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A Glorious Fourth, 1909 Style and a Memoir Tip

Would you pass up an invitation to a lawn soirée on a holiday weekend? This week 107 years ago my grandma, Miss Fanny Martin, then a single woman, received a penny postcard invitation to such a gathering on July 3, 1909.

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Mary Elizabeth Kob writes in neat cursive: “You are heartily invited to attend a Lawn Soirée July 3, 1909 in honor of Jacob S. Kob at his home. Meet 7:30. Refreshments. Respectfully, Mary Elizabeth Kob.” I assume my grandmother attended the party.

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From my vantage point in the 21st century, it’s hard to piece together the details. Was Mary Elizabeth Jacob’s wife, daughter, or sister? Based on the name alone, it’s hard to tell. Was the occasion a combination birthday and Fourth of July celebration? If so, the emphasis may have been on the national holiday judging from the red, white, and blue postcard colors.

Leo Kob was the only “Kob” name familiar to me when I was growing up in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. Leo, whom I heard my parents refer to as “Kobbie,” owned a G. E. Oil and Gas Heating business in Elizabethtown, a family business that boasted the phrase “Since 1904” in a page in my high school yearbook. Maybe Leo bought or inherited the business from his grandfather or father. Was Leo related to Jacob? A search of genealogical records could prove or disprove any relationship.

Yes, excavating one’s family history leads to questions, some without clear answers.

Piecing together fragments of family history requires a measure of conjecture and speculation. Therefore, when one reaches the limits of family history and historical record, what happens next? Memoir writers can use a technique known as “perhapsing,” a tool for supplying detail in a scene when memory is unreliable or when facts are simply missing. According the writer Lisa Knopp, “The word perhaps cues the reader that the information [the writer] is imparting is not factual but speculative.” Because deviating too far from fact could result in fiction, life story writers have a tight rope to balance here. Yet “perhapsing” used sparingly or a well-placed “it might have been” can occasionally provide motivation and action, adding richness and complexity to the narrative.

Knowing about Leo Kob and his family is not critical to my own memoir writing, but writing about the details of my visit to New York City to distribute gospel tracts as a young Mennonite girl is significant, as this excerpt illustrates:

Perhaps my memory has amped up the details, but I can now imagine this frightful creature grabbing me by the shoulder in a death grip as I am spun round and round like a whirling dervish. In my film clip of this horror show there was little I could do to resist the grasp of this drunken prophetess. I felt dizzy and afraid.

 


About this 1909 postcard? When my plain Grandma Longenecker received this post card, she looked like this:

Fancy Victorian Fannie Longenecker before she became Mennonite
Fancy Victorian Fannie Longenecker before she became Mennonite

I found it in a stash of other cards inside the fold-out compartment of Aunt Ruthie’s secretary. What other treasures may be hiding there? I wonder.

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What treasures have you found either by design – or unexpectedly?

As a reader, what do you think of the literary device called “perhapsing”? Have you used it as a writer?

A Snow Bunny and a German Lullaby

On Christmas Day 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida, the temperature stood at 85, at least twenty degrees above the normal daytime thermometer reading for this time of year.

Temperature on our porch Christmas Day 2015, Jacksonville, FL: 85 degrees
Temperature on our porch Christmas Day 2015, Jacksonville, FL: 85 degrees

Over most of the USA, Christmas day was warmer than usual, the forecasters predicting a near record-breaking temperature of 62 degrees for Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, once my hometown.

ElizabethtownPAweather60ChristmasWarmChristmasLancOnline2015

Years ago when our young family left Florida’s palm trees and beachy sand during the Christmas holiday, we hoped for Pennsylvania snow, praying for enough inches for sledding and making a snowman.

One Christmas (1973) my husband Cliff and brother-in-law Bill sculpted an Easter Bunny from snow, a photo that made it into the now defunct Elizabethtown Chronicle.

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Snow slows everything down.

Snow descends from the skies in soothing swirls, no two flakes alike. The morning after a snowfall is quiet – traffic slows, the earth sits snug in silence, wrapped in beauty.

German Carols about snow are soothing too. Grandma Longenecker sang the first verse of Stille Nacht in German to us as tots, a carol of three stanzas we learned well enough to sing for Christmas programs at Rheems Elementary School. Now in my memory a warm spot remains where I hear Grandma’s voice singing the words to “Stile, Stile, Stile,” a lullaby that evokes the image of gently falling snow in the still of the night.


Whether the weather is dull or delightful, songs from the olden days can help carry us through.

Credit: Weather.com
Credit: Weather.com    12.26.15

How was your weather during this holiday week? Weather stories during a childhood Christmas or Hanukkah celebration may have popped into your mind too. There’s always more to the story when you join in.

Coming next: My Word, It’s 2016!

Do You Know Your Ethnic Mix?

“Your DNA has a story. It’s time to discover it,” invites an ad on the back cover of the February 10, 2014 issue of The New Yorker. “It’s easier than ever to discover your ethnic heritage – and possibly find new cousins along the way,” the advertisement continues. Simply send in a small saliva sample, the key to revealing your DNA strands, which will unlock the secrets of your ethnic roots and disclose where your ancestors lived up to a thousand years ago.

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Genealogy, roots, ancestry . . . In my Pennsylvania Dutch family tree, names and dates were often written in the family Bible:

Longenecker Family Bible with German BIble at right
Longenecker Family Bible with German New Testament at right

Eight generations ago, Ulrich Langenegger (1664-1757), left his birthplace in Langnau, Switzerland, because of religious persecution, and moved to the Rhine Valley in Germany and subsequently immigrated to America from Rotterdam on the good ship Hope.

In America, his son, Christian Langenecker (1703-1759) settled in the rich farm land of Donegal Township in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania where followed two more generations of Christian Longeneckers, with the initial “a” in the last name changing finally to an “o.”

Henry Risser Longenecker, my Grandfather, son of Levi Longenecker, listed in the family Bible.
Henry Risser Longenecker, my Grandfather, son of Levi Longenecker, recorded in the family Bible.

And so the family tree on my father’s paternal side continues:

Christian Longenecker, Jr.  1785-1855 buried in Bossler Mennonite Church Cemetery

John Longenecker  1817-1898 married Nancy Garber, my great-great grandmother

Levi Longenecker  1850-1931 married Annie Risser, my great-grandmother

Henry Longenecker  1876-1946 married Fannie Martin, my grandmother

Ray Longenecker  1915-1985 married Ruth Metzler Longenecker, my mother

On my father’s maternal side some of our history is recorded on the bottom of a chair given to me in 1975. Even then it had a 150-year-old history of Martins, Brinsers, and Horsts in the lineage of my Grandmother Fannie Martin Longenecker.

The Martin Chair, circa 1815
The Martin Chair, circa 1815

My mother’s story is a blend of other Pennsylvania Dutch Names: Landis, Harnish, Hernley, and Metzler. After attending the 275th Metzler reunion last June, I wrote a post entitled Another Valentine, A Different Romance, recounting the parallel history of Swiss-German Mennonites who also came to Pennsylvania at the invitation of William Penn to farm the rich soil of Lancaster County.

Because of their unique heritage as plain folks, focus on Mennonite ancestry is not unusual. But interest in tracing one’s ancestry has ballooned nation-wide in the last decade. “Finding Your Roots” the immensely popular PBS series by Professor Henry Louis Gates which aired in 2012 mirrors that trend. Using both traditional research and genetics, the series traces the family roots of such disparate celebrities as Condoleezza Rice, Sanjay Gupta, Margaret Cho, Robert Downey Jr., and Rev. Rick Warren. There are some surprising intermingling of genetic roots among the stories as I recall.

Thus, as our family trees expand and send out branches in many different directions, the fascination with our roots continues: Healthy roots, thriving branches, the tag of Homecoming Weekend at Eastern Mennonite University last fall, says it well.

*  *  *  *  *

Do you know your ethnic mix? Does it matter to you?

Is your story more complex because of adoption?

What fascinating discoveries have you made in learning of your ancestry?

Your thoughts matter to me! I look forward to hearing from you.