Aunt Ruthie Longenecker: Her Life in Pictures

Yesterday, Tuesday, October 4, my Aunt Ruthie celebrated her 98th birthday. Born in 1918, she is a towering figure in my life and, and along with Mother and Grandma Longenecker, my strongest mentor. And she has been mother/teacher to many.

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See the determination in that little girl’s face!

Her mother, my grandma Fannie Longenecker, replying to my sister Janice’s questions for a sociology-class interview assignment, mentioned that “Ruthie was industrious, a busy-body, a tomboy who would take risks.”


Education

The blurb in her Elizabethtown High School yearbook photo acknowledged her brilliant mind. (She skipped two elementary grades.) The description below also foretold her teaching career and hinted at the math skills she used in her long career as tax collector for West Donegal (PA) Township. She was so young when she began college at age 16, she required a chaperone.

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Ruthie attended business school near Elizabethtown and earned a bachelor’s degree from Eastern Mennonite College in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She earned a master’s degree in education from Temple University in Philadelphia.

Teaching Career

Country children in rural Lancaster County usually did not attend kindergarten. Aunt Ruthie created kindergarten for me as a 5-year-old at Cherry Hill School, close to Milton Grove, PA. I remember bouncing up and down over hills and dales riding in the back seat of her brown Hudson on the way to Cherry Hill. Two or three days a week I learned the alphabet and numbers sitting along side first graders. In the one-room classroom with eight grades, I loved singing: “Good morning merry sunshine, how did you wake so soon? You scared away the little stars and shined away the moon.”

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Hundreds of students remember Miss Longenecker at the age pictured below at Rheems Elementary School where she taught sixth grade and served as principal. Earlier in her career there, the school board (probably all male) refused to acknowledge her true function as principal and condescendingly referred to her as “head teacher.”

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It galls me even now to disclose this awful truth, and so I ask:

What title goes to the person (man or woman) who approves the curriculum, supervises textbook orders and presides over faculty meetings, responding to parental complains. It’s the PRINCIPAL I tell you!

 


Host to Refugees and Immigrants

This 1979 photo below shows Grandma Longenecker, Aunt Ruthie and Phuong Le, a refugee from Vietnam, a young girl they welcomed into their home as a daughter. Phuong was the first among dozens who sought shelter from war-torn countries. She made the most of Aunt Ruthie’s mentoring from 1976-1982, later succeeding in a career as a computer programmer and raising a fine family.

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Lutheran Social Services acknowledged Ruthie’s magnanimous contribution to refugees and immigrants with The Salt of the Earth Award, a plaque which recognized “her exceptional commitment and warmhearted compassion in welcoming the stranger. ‘Ye are the salt of the earth’ Matthew 5:13” (script from plaque)

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Love of Family

“You are always welcome here,” were Aunt Ruthie’s words after my sisters and I married and moved away from home. She labored in the kitchen when her nieces from Florida and Michigan nested in her home during vacations.

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In a small way, we returned the favor and relished her enjoying the citrus we bought from our orange and grapefruit trees in Florida.

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Appreciation for Music

A music lover, Ruthie played the piano vigorously. If the apron is any indication, she is relaxing here after over-seeing meal making, her grand-niece Crista in the background.

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Into her early 90s, she played dinner music for the elderly ( ! ) at Rheems Nursing Home. “They don’t have anybody doing much for them,” she said.

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Playing the dulcimer – wholeheartedly!

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Animal Friends

Through the years, her Schnauzers, Fritzie I, II, III, and IV have been her ever-present companions, protecting her by day and warming her feet at night in bed.

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The last Fritzie, # IV, has found a dog’s paradise, adopted by teen-age Jason and his family.

Love for Learning

Books, magazines, and the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal/New Era have kept her curious mind informed.

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During most of her stay at Landis Homes, she has whizzed through Word Finds puzzle books.

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Hands in the Soil

A life-long gardener, Aunt Ruthie has always had her hands in rich Pennsylvania soil. She was my hoeing companion in the 4 1/2 -acre tomato “patch” in Bainbridge, PA in the 1950s.

Aunt Ruthie with scarf and I hoeing in tomato field
Aunt Ruthie with scarf and I hoeing in tomato field

At home, she kept a large garden, the envy of passersby on old route # 230 that borders her property.

All summer long until Aunt Ruthie was almost 90, she mowed nearly an acre of grass on her land near Rheems, preferring outdoor work to household duties.

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For decades, she kept a strawberry patch and a vegetable garden, bordered by flowers. Now the flowers come to her.

Niece Jean brings knockout roses for Aunt Ruthie now living at Landis Homes.
Niece Jean brings knockout roses for Aunt Ruthie now living at Landis Homes.

 


She has had a goodly heritage

The Martin-Horst-Longenecker Freindschaft, circa 1938 Both in back row: My dad Ray Longenecker with zippered sweater and Aunt Ruthie on right with cape dress and white covering strings
The Martin-Horst-Longenecker Freindschaft, circa 1938
Both in back row: My dad Ray Longenecker with zippered sweater and Aunt Ruthie on right with V-necked cape dress and white covering strings

 

Gutes Leben, her high school yearbook blurb concluded.

Yes, Aunt Ruthie, has enjoyed a good life.

 

Happy Birthday, Aunt Ruthie!

Ruthie after enjoying a birthday lunch at Oregon Dairy near Lititz, PA a few years ago
Ruthie after enjoying a birthday lunch at Oregon Dairy near Lititz, PA a few years ago

 

 

Coming next: Heart on Fire, Guess Who’s Voted for President!

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Are You Too Big for Your Pot?

I didn’t hear a Bang. I didn’t see the pot Fall. But when I looked from the upstairs bedroom window, I saw shiny red chards of pottery on the patio floor. I really liked that red pot and now it was in pieces.

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How did that happen?

There was no wind. I was not aware that a storm had come through during the night. Still the pot had apparently fallen from its perch on the maroon planter, three feet above the concrete. Now it was smashed to bits on the patio.

Encased within the pottery was a plastic inner pot from which roots were dangling. The plant was apparently pot-bound, “longing to break free”!

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It doesn’t take a genius to see these tall plants had outgrown their tiny pot: roots bursting through the pot hole.

My solution? Re-pot the plant. Add fertile soil. Use a bigger pot.

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I heard my orchid, a rare re-bloom, sing morning praises.
I heard my orchid, a rare re-bloom, sing morning praises.

And then I made the planter pretty too – with an unbreakable basket

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Some of the most memorable lines in Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love” speak of cracks ~ “Ring the bells that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering / There is a crack, a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.”

I see at least 3 lessons here:

  1. Even cracks have a function: they can let the light in.
  2. You don’t have to be perfect to be beautiful. What’s broken in you can be a metaphor for human aspiration. Your flaw can show effort and growth.
  3. When you are pot-bound, move into a bigger pot.

My blog friend writer Dorothy Sander recently published a post with a poem “Finding Her Here” exalting our cracked and broken parts. You can find encouragement by reading it here.



Psalm 51:17 “A broken and a contrite heart thou wilt not despise.”

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What are your thoughts about the broken pot? Is there an explanation I may be overlooking, either literally or metaphorically?

Have you outgrown the pot you are planted in?

Or, when you outgrew your “pot,” how did you find a bigger one?

Coming next: Are you ready for spring?

The Potting Shed and Other Marvels

I just talked to my brother Mark in Pennsylvania, and our 15-minute conversation was interspersed with his exclaiming . . .

“It’s sleeting.”

Then, a few minutes later, “It’s raining . . .”

And finally, “It’s sleeting again!”

It’s March and most people north of the Florida latitude are sick of winter. Suffering from S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder}, they are waiting to see the sun break through the winter blahs and unveil the crocuses and narcissus ready to pierce the soil.

Writer Linda Joan Smith had that feeling in mind when she said

Outside Snow’s dingy blanket may still muffle the stirrings of tulips and daffodils, and the pond may still be rimmed with ice. The reward of the garden must wait, but our gardening labors have begun. (“The Potting Shed,” The Traditional Home, March 2002)

Smith celebrates the potting shed, “the room that is as much a workshop to the gardener as the kitchen is to a cook.” She makes reference to the advice of John Claudius Loudon, who in his 1830s An Encyclopaedia of Gardening, recommends that proper potting shed must have light, air and warmth, including “a fireplace never omitted.” Smith’s article pictures two versions of the shed – an impressionistic one where there may not be precise order . . .

Illustration: James Staag, Traditional Home, March 2002
Illustration: James Staag, Traditional Home, March 2002

And one meticulously appointed where there is “a place for everything, and everything in its place,” (229) so says Mr. Barnes of Bicton Gardens writing in the1840s.

Photograph: Curtice Taylor, Traditional Home, March 2002
Photograph: Curtice Taylor, Traditional Home, March 2002

My blog friend Linda Hoye, who moved recently from the Pacific Northwest to Canada, is a gardener extraordinaire. In her blog A Slice of Simple Life she uses plastic gallon jugs for winter sowing:

Winter sowing is placing seeds outside, in the winter, in mini-greenhouses made from things like empty milk jugs. The plastic jugs protect the seeds from harsh weather while allowing the cold to toughen them up during the cold weather. When it gets warm enough inside of the little greenhouses the seeds germinate and become viable outdoor plants sooner than those started indoors because there’s no need to harden off the plants.

When you check out her post, you can see her mini-greenhouse project complete with a photo of the jugs in a tub.

Did I mention that Linda is innovative? Yes, indeed. She gives a blow by blow pictorial account of preparing a worm hotel – indoors. Knowing that worms aerate the soil, she nurtures them as help-mates in the growing process. Even she says, “Eww!” as she mingles coir mix, pumice and finely chopped veggie scraps topped with a damp newspaper before she moves the operation to the garage. Soon she will prayerfully tuck seeds, tiny flecks of hope, into dampened soil. Obviously, Linda has faith that “to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow” (Audrey Hepburn).

And gardener Hoye believes in whimsy too, as her creation of a fairy garden illustrates, anticipating spring in a post entitled “Spring is in the Air.

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Some Gardening Quotes:

“Outside there is water music as packs of snowflakes melt into water drops, merge into rivulets, trickle into puddles, then subside into pools and streams. The garden is mud, but no matter. Soon it will drain and dry in the strengthening sun.”  ~ “The Potting Shed,” The Traditional Home (March 2002)

“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.“~ Margaret Atwood in Bluebeard’s Egg (1986)


In March 1985 my farmer parents, Mother and Daddy Longenecker, left wintry Pennsylvania and visited Florida where they couldn’t wait to get their hands into the soil. Soil that nourishes citrus trees, azaleas, and camellias is not necessarily good for hardy Lancaster County plantings. Daddy took one look at the sandy soil in my sister Jan’s huge back yard and ordered a load of chicken manure. After working it into the ground, he and Mother scored straight rows for planting.

Mother Ruth Longenecker sowing seeds in Florida
Mother Ruth Longenecker sowing seeds in Florida

Do you have gardening tricks or stories about gardening to share? Here’s your chance!