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


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


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?


The Longenecker Sisters’ Road Trip, Part 1

Girls’ road trips are part of the landscape of American pop culture. Who can forget Thelma and Louise? Wanting to take a short vacation from their dreary lives, Thelma (Geena Davis) and Louise (Susan Sarandon) head out from Arkansas to the Grand Canyon in a 1966 Ford Thunderbird. They stop at a roadhouse and it’s all downhill from there. Crime and mayhem ensue until finally the gun-toting girls and their car zoom over the edge of the Grand Canyon. Both Davis and Sarandon received Best Actress Academy award nominations (1991).

Image courtesy Wikipedia
Image courtesy Wikipedia

And what about Oprah and friend Gayle who took off in a much ballyhooed road trip documented on TV and watched by millions . . .

Image Huffington Post
Image Huffington Post

Here’s how the Huffington Post encapsulates their excursion:

In 2006, Oprah Winfrey and her friend Gayle King embarked on what became a much talked-about (and hilarious) 3000-mile road trip across the country. When they weren’t cruising the highway in their red Chevy Impala, the two joined a local game of Bingo in Wichita, met some real-life cowboys on the range and crashed a wedding in Tulsa, surprising and amusing nearly everyone they came in contact with.

In spite of an anxiety-ridden moment on the George Washington Bridge, Oprah and Gayle completed their trip unscathed. When they returned to Chicago, Oprah handed over the keys to that Chevy to a deserving woman named Reola Holdaway.

The Longenecker sisters, Marian, Janice, and Jean are not movie stars or TV personalities. None of us has owned a gun much less aimed one at a policeman as Thelma did. But as siblings, we have done many other things together — playing and fighting as children, working in the tomato patch in Bainbridge, PA, even singing in a trio at church, sometimes with less than perfect results.

Scred Trios_final_7x9_300

The last time any of us can remember vacationing together was back in 1977, the year Daddy broke all sales records at Longenecker Farm Supply, won a free trip to Jamaica and took the whole family including his married daughters and son Mark. We left our husbands and young children behind and frolicked in Ocho Rios for a week — just Mom, Daddy, my sisters and brother Mark.

As married women with children, we have met at least once a year at the Longenecker homestead in Pennsylvania. Recently, we have been clearing out the house after Mother’s death making decisions about her possessions together. And now, as a pause in our separate journeys, we celebrate with a road trip. So, you see, it’s high time to make more memories.


The plan: My sisters and I, with two of our daughters, are gathering from Florida and Pennsylvania for a Merry-May celebration in Charleston, SC. We’ll get there by car and I’ll record our adventures here in two installments. It won’t be the Italian Riviera but we can refresh and renew our sisterhood close to the Charleston harbor inlet leading out to the Atlantic Ocean. And it won’t be Thelma and Louise, or Oprah and Gayle, but it will be Marian, Janice, and Jean.

Stay tuned for Part 2!

In the meantime, have you and close family members taken a road trip together recently or long ago? Tell us about the adventure here.

Mennonites at the Beach 1950s style

Atlantic City, New Jersey was the beach mecca for vacationers on the East Coast in the early 1900s. Still dressed in fancy Victorian formality, vacationers caught the salt air as they strolled along the famous board-walk at the Steer Pier, a combination theatre and amusement park: “Rain or Shine … There’s Always a Good Show on Steel Pier” the saying goes. But for most Mennonites, the Steel Pier was an elegant building to ogle only. The theatre was worldly and therefore strictly forbidden by church rules.


But Mennonite families liked the ocean, including my own. Many summers Daddy took Mother and the family to Atlantic City or Ocean City, New Jersey for a day. Mother just loved the water. From the time she pulled on her white latex bathing cap over her bun and donned her black, satin bathing suit with a fluffy skirt, she was bobbing up and down in tune with the waves.

Daddy in his maroon, scratchy-wool, full-body suit was usually at the shore line yelling to her, “Waaatch ooouut for the un-der-tow!” By the end of the day, he was sun-burned and out of sorts, insisting on taking his thirsty, sandy-toed family straight home, a 3-hour drive. In spite of our protests, there was no stopping for a meal let alone an over-night stay in a motel. Daddy was much too frugal for that. Yet he’d dutifully come back for more next year.

Daddy tames the undertow and gets into the water--finally!
Daddy tames the undertow and finally gets into the water!

Uncle Leroy and Aunt Clara liked visits to Atlantic City too. I don’t remember them in bathing suits, but they liked riding the bicycle built for two on the boardwalk.


LeRoy Metzler_on Boardwalk

And so did my parents!

Ray and Ruth L_Bicycle built for two

On a Bicycle Built for Two . . .

When Grandma Longenecker came to Florida the year our daughter Crista was born, she strolled Jacksonville Beach with plenty of sun-protection: black bandanna on top of her covering, caped dress, black stockings and black-heeled shoes, apparently enjoying herself.

Fannie Longenecker at beach

What family vacations stand out as memorable, past or recent? The beach, the mountains, or some place else?

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Coming next: Marriage to a Difficult Man: Parts I and II

February Garden: Forlorn or Fabulous?

Ordinarily, I am proud of my patio garden.


But January 2014 was tough in Florida: two nights in the 20s and several days around the freeze point. And so the plants in my garden took a beating.  The impatiens, in spite of being covered, froze to death. The pentas bushes were reduced to black, ashy stems and had to be trimmed back. Daughter Crista, the green thumb in our family, assures me they will come back strong.

Last night, there came a frost, which has done great damage to my garden. . . . It is sad that Nature will play such tricks on us poor mortals, inviting us with sunny smiles to confide in her, and then, when we are entirely within her power, striking us to the heart.

~Nathaniel Hawthorne, The American Notebooks

Welcome to My Garden: dead Impatiens, live asparagus fern
Welcome to My Garden: dead impatiens, live asparagus fern

If you live in Hawaii, my garden may seem forlorn. Alaska your residence? Well, then it may look just fabulous.


Wisteria and passion flower vines are gone, leaving a naked metal fence, still bent where it took a hit from a falling oak tree branch. What remains? Red sister, rose bush in a planter, aloe shoots, asparagus fern, bromeliad with perky red flower.


Soon the passion flower and wisteria vines will intertwine to soften the metal fence. The pentas will flower up, and I’ll buy new impatiens. There’s hope!

If winter comes, can spring be far behind?  

 ― Percy Bysshe ShelleyOde to the West Wind

While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.    

                   Genesis 8:22 KJV

Do you like to garden with either indoor and outdoor plants?


I remember Grandma and Aunt Ruthie paging with intent through the Burpee seed catalogs in February or March each year picking out the varieties they like best. What about you?

Tell your gardening story here.


In Praise of Tree Guys

3 Stories in One

The certified arborist surveys the 16 tall oaks on our property in Florida and pauses at one: “I don’t like the looks of that tree,” he warns. “Its bark looks splotchy and the ground around it feels spongy.” He taps near the root with his steel-toed boot. “Do ya hear that. It sounds hollow.” Every homeowner wants to hear a hollow tree sound. Right?

Most of Jacksonville is flat, but our property is situated on a hill with magnificent live oaks, most of which can live for centuries. But laurel oaks have far different life spans of 60 – 80 years. The twin to this laurel oak tree laid itself down to rest about 1½ years ago the day after Christmas beside our house grazing only a small corner of the roof. Minimal damage then. We were so fortunate.


Squint to see guy atop tree
Squint to see guy atop tree

“I’d take this one down right away unless you want it to carve a canyon in your house.” He points to the second-floor master bedroom in harm’s way. Now willing to exchange the thousands of dollars for tree removal for the tens of thousands of house repairs or a tragic death, we schedule tree surgery. That’s when we meet the tree guys. In the pecking order of blue collars, tree people probably rank below plumbers and electricians. The older ones methinks even look like trees, gnarled and burly. The younger ones are wiry, muscular, all highly coordinated.


The most talented one to mount our tree has teeth that look like they’ve been pushed into his gums by a cartoon dentist, but talented he is: balancing his body expertly at 80 feet, adjusting cords with perfect tension between himself and the ground crew, judging the exact angle to make the incision. They get the job done with no casualties. Finishing up, they haul off the boulder logs, rake the droppings, reconstitute my bird bath with finesse. Praise be to the tree guys!

Praise be to the Creator of trees:

We fly from Florida to California for a change of scenery, exchanging live oaks and pines of Jacksonville for the cedars and eucalyptus of the Monterey peninsula, Florida heat and humidity for day-time temperatures in the mid 60s.

cedar treestonesFlowersWater

Marvelously fashioned by the Creator God as well, cedar trees on the Pacific coast exude the fragrance of the hope chest from my girlhood, and the pungent eucalyptus, a balm for respiratory problems.

Eucalyptus Tree,  Pacific Grove, CA
Eucalyptus Tree, Pacific Grove, CA

And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not whither, and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.   Psalm 1:3


Uh oh, what happened next . . . ?

We spot some explorers on the rocks of the bay. “That looks like fun,” I think. My shoes are sturdy and the rocks jutting out into the bay seem dry. But things go south fast. The next thing I know, I’ve gone topsy-turvy in a twisted side-ways posture onto a huge rock. The first thing I think of is the Medic Alert commercial, “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!” No, that’s a lie. It’s the second thing. The first thing I think of is “Have I broken any nails?” Well, I have, but now I see a skinned knee with hands oozing blood. Slowly, I hoist myself up and gingerly pick my steps back to the car for band-aids.


The tree guys, precariously suspended between heaven and earth, were trained and experienced, knew the dangers, and had back up in case of a mis-step. But not me. I saw the warning sign, ignored it, imagining I could beat the odds. My gamble did not pay off this time, so I suffered the consequences.

Praise be to the tree guys! And to the Creator of gorgeous scenery. And to lessons learned the hard way.