Before families went over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house, a postcard may have appeared in their mailbox to mark this grand American holiday of gratitude in the early 1900s.
Grandma Fanny Longenecker saved three of hers.
In this card dated 1909 a brilliant oak leaf, an acorn cup and a fan-tailed turkey displayed “Hearty Thanksgiving wishes” though the celebration could not have ended well for this turkey.
(Incidentally, no filters or other photographic enhancements were used on these antique cards. Their brilliance remains after 100+ years.)
Again, in the card above postmarked 1910, edible and bucolic images warm the scene which included another cozy house by the roadside.
Someone had already begun using a nutcracker on the walnuts in this still life from 1911 with an expression of hope for a happy mealtime. The quote from Shakespeare’s Macbeth (Act iii, scene 4) is ironic: Macbeth and his wife, attempting to cover up their dastardly deed of killing King Duncan, host a dinner where the condemning ghost of Banquo is about to appear. Clearly, the postcard designer took this quote out of context.
Though no ghosts may appear during your Thanksgiving celebration, you may be saddened by the specter of empty seats around the table.
Again this year, there are empty chairs at our table too. Here’s one:
“Grah-ti-tood” is the title of my very first blog post published February 25, 2013. Although it was not Thanksgiving season then, I knew gratitude could be a theme that may thread itself through my postings. Only two former students and a church friend responded to this first attempt at blogging. You can read it here.
Thank you for joining me in many posts since then. Our conversations here keep me going.
“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.” – G.K. Chesterton
Do you send Hallowe’en cards? Judging from the racks of greeting cards in stores these days, many people do.
Stores selling Hallowe’en costumes and party gear are now occupying vacated commercial space. October issues of magazines offer decorating ideas including “Boo-tiful” tablescapes. The current Better Homes and Gardens special edition (2016) displays patterns for creative pumpkin carving.
This magazine, founded in 1922, was not even in circulation when my Grandma Longenecker received these postcards, this one an invitation from cousin Lulu, mailed from the Mount Joy, PA post office in October 1908.
Another one with a more spooky vibe (freakish cats setting ghostly pumpkins airborne) requests that Fannie “Bring refreshments.”
The venue is John Ebersole’s barn in Kingston, PA. The date: Tuesday, October 31, 1911. According to Google Maps, Kingston is 112 miles from Middletown, Fannie Martin’s hometown.
By car, in this century it would take about 2 hours. Did Grandma Fannie attend? Was her transportation horse and buggy or a Model T Ford that was in production as early as 1908? It could have been Model A Ford manufactured in 1903 – 1904. And I wonder how refreshments would fare during the long trip?
I am pleased to have access to such family artifacts, but I have to speculate about so many details surrounding the events.
Grandma would have known, but she’s not here any more, so I can’t ask her. I can live out my days not knowing details about a minor, but interesting, event. If I devised a story from this event, I’d have to indulge in “perhapsing,” a creative non-fiction technique I discussed in this post.
Still, I’m curious!
What artifacts have stoked your curiosity about family events of long ago?
How do you fill in the gaps when details are vague or absent?
September is the month of late harvest. Those who preserve garden fruits and vegetables have proudly counted Ball jars and bags of frozen goodies before storing them to enjoy this winter.
My Canadian blogger friend, Linda Hoye, finds joy in the process and has made an art form of photographing her rich store of nutrition. On her website August 22 she tallied all the edibles she’s canned. Click on the link to see what’s inside those 288 jars along with a list of freezer delights and a dehydrator that hummed with banana chips, cherries, and raspberries.
Linda is carrying on a tradition very much like my mother, grandmother, and generations before her. Here my jubilant Grandma Longenecker exclaims, “All the lids on our Ball jars have sealed with a ‘Pop'” as my mother looks on.
The September 2016 issue of The Mennonite magazine has featured an article with several of my Grandma Longenecker’s recipes, including the savory chicken pot pie recipe I helped her make as a girl. Here is the link to this story. (On the link, click on the left arrow where the story begins.)
Do share your memories of the canning process – pride, joy, the arduous work – even mishaps are welcome here around the kitchen table.
Do you still preserve garden food for the winter? We’re all ears!
“I think of my canning as fast food, paid for in time up front.”
~ Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle
Coming next: An Artist Writes Memoir: Joan Z. Rough’s Scattering Ashes
“Listen to this” I said to Cliff as I began reading the page on sorting papers: “Rule of Thumb – Discard Everything. ” As I continued reading the chapter on sorting papers in Marie Kondo’s New York Times best seller, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I saw my husband’s eyes bug out, his jaw go rigid. I imagined his next move would be grabbing the book from my bare hands. (He didn’t.) Even though papers accumulate in our house like snowdrifts, he was having none of it.
It’s hard to dispute the dictum of a Japanese cleaning consultant like Kondo who claims that none of her clients have lapsed – and who has a three-month waiting list. She insists that if you organize your house properly, you’ll never have to do it again.
At the heart of her message is this: Keep something only if it sparks JOY in your life. And related to this: Give it away, if you think it will inspire joy in others.
So, I have divested myself of possessions I’ve held onto for decades.
Ribbons and sewing notions have gone to a church friend, Donna, seamstress extraordinaire, who has connections to talented women needing supplies.
Like my friend Carolyn, I have passed on items of fine dining. My wedding crystal went to my hair stylist and super hostess Jackie. Originally, I intended to donate my crystal (from The Susquehanna Glass Factory in Columbia, Pennsylvania) to The Community Hospice Thrift Shop. But before I ever got to the donation center, Jackie took a look, fell in love, and the crystal sherbets and glasses became hers.
By far the hardest thing to divest myself of is MY BOOOOOKS! They are part of my self-hood, my identity for the decades of my long teaching career. I am not the only book lover who wrestles with such impulses. Summer Brennan writes about the heartache of such a task here. Like her, I feel torn by the lure of Kondo’s promise of the magic of recycling and my impulse to embrace William Dean Howell‘s advice, “Oh, nothing furnishes a house like books.”
I’ve given dozens of books to Angel Aid, a charity for women and children. But I feel just as good when they land in the hands of young scholars, like Matthew, who can appreciate the nerdy translation of my Chaucer texts from Middle to Modern English, pre-digital translate days.
Matthew took my Milton text too, and two Survey of English Lit texts. He exclaimed, “I appreciate this. I can’t thank you enough,” followed by a smiley face and book emoticon.
I feel a certain lightheartedness at getting rid of stuff, especially if I can pass them on to people who appreciate their worth.
Grandma Longenecker can relate to such a feeling. She told me so in a letter from Rheems, Pennsylvnia in April 1975.
“They are busy at the shop, selling a lot of new equipment, I turned the shop over to Ray and house to Ruth, so I’m rid of that stuff.”
In other words, Grandma divested herself of two properties by deeding them over to my father and aunt. I’m guessing that she was immensely relieved of responsibilities for either property.
She continued to live in her lovely Victorian home until the day she died.
Coming next: A rollicking review of Marie Kondo’s book and a glimpse of the shop Grandma deeded to my dad. Neat versus messy? You decide.
Your tips for paring down and tidying up are welcome here. 🙂
Every week, The New Yorker magazine features a Cartoon Caption Contest, inviting readers to submit a caption for consideration. After three finalists are chosen, readers vote for the winning caption. You can view my first attempt at a similiar contest here on this blog with family members on a Sunday outing.
When we sorted through our mother’s things after her passing, I found a large photo likely from the 1970s taken by Ken Smith Photographs from Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. The photographer snapped my Grandma Fannie Longenecker with bonnet and neck scarf and my dad, facing her away from the camera. Apparently they are in line at a breakfast buffet likely at a farm equipment convention. Others in the line are unknown. All seem intent on filling their plates, some more than others.
“What was going on here?” I ask. Everyone in the photograph registers a similar band-width on the emotional scale, except for the couple on the left.
This photo begs a caption.
* * *
What’s going on here?
Invent a caption.
Guess at the scarario.
Supply a two-line dialogue between the couple on the left.
Imagine the photographer’s motive.
Reminisce about an awkward moment you recall.
O, wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us / To see oursels as others’ see us! “To a Louse”
Robert Burns 1786
(On Seeing One on a Lady’s Bonnet at Church)
Coming next: Moments of Extreme Emotion: Where’s My Spyglass?
My sister Janice and I blew up balloons when we were little. Here is a stop-action snap from Aunt Ruthie Longenecker’s 16 millimeter movie film. The balloons were thick, rubbery and multicolored.
We also blew bubbles sitting on the porch swing or standing in the back yard. I don’t have pictures of those, but on one of the walls at Landis Homes, where Aunt Ruthie now lives, an Amish girl is forever blowing bubbles, possibly expressing her wishes and dreams.
On top of a chest of drawers in Aunt Ruthie’s former bedroom sits a terrarium, a bubbly dome, covering butterflies in suspended animation on branches that rise above a blanket of lichen.
Terrariums, popular during Victorian times, usually contain live plants. Moss, ferns, and other flora thrive in the warm humid environment. During short winter days, weak slants of sunlight draw moisture to the top of the dome during the day, which circulates back down to the soil in the evening, creating a hermetic climate. You can read about the history of the terrarium here. The author features dish terrariums, pickle jar and wine glass terrariums, terrariums with waterfalls.
Grandma Fannie Longenecker had terrariums too, a miniature world of green we peered into when the ground was snow white in winter. Some of her glass containers were cookie-jar shaped, crowned with a knobby top. Others were rectangular and covered with a thin pane of glass.
A few ferns, though not in terrariums, still grace the bay windows at Grandma’s house. She never had a TV.
Something else shiny and green I played with upstairs, a little-girl dresser. But now a grown-up girl gazes back at me when I angle the mirror just right.
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
~ I Corinthians 13:12 NIV
Your discovery this week may not have been a balloon, a dome, or a mirror. It may have been something else. Inquiring minds want to know!
Kitsa and Lydia were among the very few women in my graduating class at Eastern Mennonite College who did not wear a prayer veiling atop their heads. Why? Because they were not Mennonite.
Lydia Mattar from Jerusalem, Jordan and Kitsa Adamidou from Salonika, Greece were international students and my good friends when I attended EMC. Their origins both have a biblical stamp: Kitsa’s hometown was originally known as Thessalonika, the name of two New Testaments books (Thessalonians I and II) and Kitsa’s father from Jerusalem was the Keeper of the Garden Tomb, the site of Jesus’ burial and resurrection. (Photos from 1963 Shenandoah yearbook)
And then Lydia . . .
I was drawn to Kitsa and Lydia during my freshman year because I have always been curious about other cultures. In fact, one year Lydia was my roommate. It appears this inclination has run deep in my DNA. Now as I hold in my hand one of my Grandma Fannie Longenecker’s letters from college I can sense her keen interest in my “foreign” friends and a deep longing to know them better.
In this letter dated December 1, 1960, she insists that she would like both girls to spend Christmas at her home. Born in 1892, Grandma Fannie Longenecker was 68 when she wrote these words to me:
Dear Marian – Guess you’ll be surprised to hear from me, I sure wanted to write before, just didn’t get at it – (Reason) older and slower . . . . Ruth was looking for a letter from you so be sure and bring Lydia & Kitsa along home over Christmas, and forget all about paint etc, two of you can stay here & we’ll have a good time that’s the thing that really matters, I think I’ll be Kitsa’s Grandma of America – Do you know what she needs or wants for Christmas? Forgot to say I’ll pay her way up & we really want them to come, so make it strong, times soon here!
Later in the letter, Grandma admonishes:
Be sure and get arrangements to come home early & if possible bring the girls along. I’ll pay Kitsa’s fare on arrival & find out what she would like for Christmas. This $ 5.00 spot is for you, maybe you need a little for odds and ends or transportation home. Tell us what you are hungry for, that you don’t get at school.
Mark tells me ‘Marian will soon come home’ and his face lights up, so we are all looking forward to that day. Hope your old toe is better.
Grandma’s interest in Kitsa persisted through most of my college years. In her letter of March 8, 1962, she referred to Kitsa and her roommate pictured on the front page of Christian Living magazine (February 1962).
For over 25 years, my Grandma and Aunt Ruthie practiced peace and goodwill toward all, as they opened their home to refugee and immigrant families, beginning with Phuong (pictured below), a young woman who arrived by boat from Vietnam. Their home was a warm cushion absorbing the cultural shock of leaving home and family; it was a safe haven, welcoming refugees from a colláge of countries including Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Russia—anywhere there was political upheaval.
Although she graciously accepted the Salt of the Earth Award from Lutheran Social Services in the 1990s, Aunt Ruthie never bragged about her benevolence. From her perspective, she was merely sharing the love of Christ and fulfilling the statement of Menno Simons, founder of the Mennonite faith:
In a noisy world where some speak of building tall walls and wish to spread terror and violence, I am thankful for my heritage including an education at an institution, now Eastern Mennonite University, where the language of peace is preached and modeled. In fact, it is now possible to earn both under-graduate and graduate degrees in justice and peace-building at the University.
Regrettably, the contact information I have currently for both Kitsa and Lydia has not yielded any results, so I don’t know what paths their lives have taken. But I do know that their lives, like mine, have been imprinted with the power of peace, a message this world could stand a good dose of in these troubled times.
Just this morning, December 11, 2015, I had a long phone conversation with Kitsa, her smooth, alto voice music to my ears. She now lives with her husband in North Carolina and is very active at St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church where she is head of the Hellenic Culture initiative. She also gives private Greek language lessons.
How have international friendships affected your life? Have you connected with long-lost friends recently?
Every week, The New Yorker magazine features a Cartoon Caption Contest, inviting readers to submit a caption for consideration. After three finalists are chosen, readers vote for the winning caption.
Recently, in my cache of Kodak carousels I found a slide from the 1960s in dire need of a caption. Clearly, the season is autumn, and the family including Grandma Longenecker, my mother, brother Mark, and my dad are on a Sunday afternoon outing, judging by their dress. No one’s expression conveys a feeling of alarm over the possibility of Grandma’s imminent slide down the steep hill.
“What was going on here?” I ask. Everyone in the photograph registers a different band-width on the emotional scale, but most seem clueless about Grandma’s precarious position.
Help me solve the puzzle with a winning caption here.
Think free for all, not free fall!
* * *
If you would rather not submit a caption, you might speculate about what is going on here, who the photographer may have been, or offer a story about a memorable family outing you recall.
Pictures don’t lie, or do they?
Coming next: Signs & a Wonder in St. Mary’s, Georgia
Once upon a time seven children from three different states came to visit their family in Pennsylvania. Some came from far away in a car, plane or train so they could see each other and get to know their grandparents and great-grandparents, who lived in the lush farmlands and wooded meadows of western Lancaster County.
They liked too when Great Grandma would bring them warm strawberries from her patch in the spring time, and in the summer some ripe, pink-cheeked Bartlett pears from the tree planted near a gently flowing brook. Grandma loved trees and sometimes sat in the shade of a Japanese cherry tree as she rocked on the porch. She smelled the wisteria that twisted around a trellis close by and enjoyed the morning-glories climbing upon harp-like strings by the kitchen door.
One sad June day in 1980, their great grand-mother died, so all seven young children ages 1 1/2 – 11 gathered near the small village of Rheems to say “goodbye” to their Great Grandmother Fannie Longenecker, who was 89 years old. Some of the children called her Grandmother-of-the-Birds because she loved hearing birds chirp and gave them seeds to eat in the winter-time.
Great Grandma’s daughter, their Great Aunt Ruthie, loved trees too and when her mother died, she decided to plant an oak tree as a remembrance. All the children helped to plant the tree. Even the littlest one put some soil around the tree so the roots would be covered up tightly.
A Tall Tale
The tree grew and grew for thirty-five years. Now it is very, very tall. Cardinals, robins, and nuthatches hop around in its branches at various seasons of the year. In the summer squirrels enjoy the shade it sheds over the lawn.
The children visit Great Grandma’s house still, but they don’t often come at the same time now because they have grown up and have families of their own. When they do come, though, they can see how tall the tree has grown and imagine how deep the roots have spread out since they planted that tiny tree so many, many years ago.
Like birds, they have flown away on strong wings . . .
Like trees, they have memories deeply rooted in the Pennsylvania soil
* * *
Someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago. ~ Warren Buffett
A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots. ~ Marcus Garvey
Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree. ~ Martin Luther
I think that I shall never see
A billboard lovely as a tree.
Perhaps, unless the billboards fall,
I’ll never see a tree at all.
~ Ogden Nash, “Song of the Open Road,” 1933 (parody of a Joyce Kilmer poem)
* * *
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 wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
Psalm 1:3 KJV
Is there a tree of significance to your family? Where is it planted? What other images did you recall as you read this post?
Earlier this month, my husband Cliff and family laid to rest his father Lee Beaman in a tiny urn above the coffin of his mother in the cemetery adjoining the church. Across the street from the simple, white-plank Methodist Church near Ridgefield, WA, are lilac bushes in full bloom this April. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, here is a website you may want to check out: //lilacgardens.com/
Like floral fireworks, these blooms explode in vivid lavender, each blossom bursting in “bullet-shaped buds.” Poet Richard Wilbur seems to scrutinize the lilacs he describes by looking into not just at the hundreds of teeny buds arranged in each bursting bloom tighter than stick pins in a pincushion.
As poet Wilbur points out, each tiny lavender bud appears “quick and bursting,” not holding back its beauty – is open and free. Similarly, when friends and family eulogize the beloved, their remarks tend to be candid, “quick and bursting,” revealing true feelings, knowing this is probably the last time to express their sentiments publicly.
Lincoln and Lilacs
Another poet, Walt Whitman, connected grief to the springtime and lilacs as he expresses his deep attachment to Abraham Lincoln, whose death April 15, 1865, is commemorated in his famous poem When Lilacs Last By the Dooryard Bloom’d. Written in private, the poem is a public elegy to the President the people adored. The poet revered the President too and when the cortége passed by, Whitman placed a sprig of lilacs on the coffin:
“With delicate-color’d blossoms and heart-shaped leave of rich green, /A sprig with its flower I break.” (stanza 3) Then admitting that “the lilac with mastering odor holds me,” Whitman will forever associate the fragrance of lilacs with his fallen hero (stanza 13).
Finally, referring to Lincoln as a “Powerful western fallen star” the poem closes with the lines
For the sweetest, wisest soul of all my days and lands—and this for his dear sake,
Lilac and star and bird twined with the chant of my soul,
There in the fragrant pines and the cedars dusk and dim.
Lilacs Bushes and Grandma’s Outhouse
Please permit me this odd segué!
I love lavender and purple – and I love lilacs and wisteria. Wisteria climbing joyfully on a trellis on Grandma’s verandah and lilacs some distance away. . .
Close to an oak tree that Grandma Longenecker’s grand-children planted in her honor after her death in 1980, was an outhouse (now long gone) surrounded by a clutch of lilac bushes. The lilacs around Grandma’s house served as a fragrant air freshener. Of course, there is nothing elegiac about an outhouse, a tallish, square white structure with a roof, equipped with a Sears & Roebuck catalog or better yet for the job – a phone book. The outhouse, dedicated to defecation, bears evidence that bodily functions continue, that you are still alive. Lilacs thrive there.
Long live the lilacs. Long live symbols of life, death, and rebirth!
* * *
. . . and a bush nobody had noticed burst into glory and fragrance, and it was a purple lilac bush. Such a jumble of spring and summer was not to be believed in, except by those who dwelt in those gardens.
The Enchanted April, Elizabeth von Arnim
Now, your turn. What is your relationship to lilacs or other spring flowers? To commemorating the death of loved ones?