His yellow tag says: Cheeno Duncan – Host Family: Ray & Ruth Longenecker
How would you feel if you were an 8 or 10-year-old from New York City and after a 3-hour train ride landed you in the farm pastures of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, lush but unfamiliar? Cheeno and Roxanne Duncan were part of the Fresh Air program designed to give urban children summer vacations away from their hot tenement building apartments.
My parents, always alert for ways to serve God through their church, Bossler Mennonite, offered a home to two of these children in 2-3 consecutive years in the early 1960s. A side benefit would be playmates for my 10-year-old brother Mark, who was 7 years younger than his closest sibling, my sister Jean. And for the first time, the whole family would be brought in close contact with children of a skin color and culture different from our own.
These two tales about Roxann and Cheeno come verbatim from letters my mother sent to me while I was enjoying a 5-week cross country road trip. One was addressed to Grants Pass, Oregon, delivered, and another addressed simply to Los Angeles, California, no street address, from where it was “returned to sender, unclaimed.”
TALE # 1 Crying
July 27, 1964 Written in my mother’s handwriting, unedited:
Good morning Marian It is all but 8:30, quiet peaceful around here as yet. Sat. night Roxann decided she has homesick. Wasn’t to long till Cheeno saw her crying. Mark came down and said Mommie now they are both crying. So I went up into the bed room. There they were, two sets of tears. I asked Cheeno why are you crying. He said because she is crying. Then I said well now I will cry because you are crying. So I tried to start pretending [to cry]. Roxann had to laugh. It didn’t last to long. But they decided they would feel better if they slept in one bed. So I left them.
TALE # 2 Leaving
August 4, 1964
Dear Miss. Marian Well we took the Duncans to the train station today. We were about 2 blocks away from the station Roxann said we don’t have our yellow tags on. I rushed in quickly and explained the situation. He said they must have tags on. But we can make some others. Well that was finally straightened out.
But oh horrors what could be next. Cheeno picks up his lunch bags and lets it fall to hard on the cement. There goes a broken jar with root beer all over the bag and the floor. I quickly got some Kleenex but not quiet enough. Ruthie [my Aunt] goes to the car and comes back with an old pair of her silk “panties” Oh she said we don’t even have paper to put them in. she had taken the broken jar and paper bag to the car already. There we were left holding some-thing we didn’t care to be seen with. Luckly we did see a trash can. Ruthie laughed and said if any body finds or see’s this they will think she just took off her ____??____
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The program, originating in 1877, is flourishing to this day. See more about the Fresh Air Fund here.
There are many ways to experience independence and freedom. Here’s one example. You can think of some others as you reflect on this past holiday weekend. Hope you had a Happy Fourth!
Coming next: A Plate, a Parade, and a Song