Raise a Mug to the Irish!

Is there a drop of Irish blood in my veins? I doubt it. I grew up Mennonite in the Longenecker family in Pennsylvania Dutch country, a hot-bed of Swiss-German ancestry.

Still, the Irish-named Donegal Springs is a mere 3-mile, 5-minute drive from Rheems, Pennsylvania near my birthplace. In the adjoining Dauphin County are Londonderry Township. In Bucks County, a town named Dublin, sister city to the capital of the Republic of Ireland.

Photo courtesy of Artist Cliff Beaman Dublin, GA
Photo courtesy of Artist Cliff Beaman traveling through Dublin, GA

When we visited Ireland, we met a congenial gentleman named Buchanan, who remarked that he has immigrant relatives buried in the Donegal Presbyterian Church cemetery, a place he once visited.

During my last trip to Pennsylvania, I discovered some vintage postcards stamped with penny postage, sent to Miss Fannie Martin, my Grandma Longenecker. Many of her postcards are embossed and saturated with color – no Photoshop filters needed.

In an era long before smartphones and text messages, postcards were valued. Instead of instant messages easily deleted and forgotten, these cards have become artifacts of my family history. The one below over one hundred years old is dated 1910.

StPat1912MUGfront

StPat1912MUGback

I live in a neighborhood where Irish names abound: Blarney Stone Court, Killarney Drive, Leprechaun Court, St. Patrick Lane. Names on residents’ mailboxes have included Dunleavy, O’Neill, and Kelly. We once had to fight a major retailer to retain charming shamrocks and moss-footed oaks in a wooded area adjoining our community. The hanging on our front door reflects the neighborhood and the season.

StPatBearDoor

St. Patrick’s Day this year falls on a Thursday, March 17. Until then, I wish you the luck of the Irish.

May the wind be always at your back and your pathways peaceful. If you are Jewish, Mazel Tov!

To enjoy these Irish limerick lines below add just the right word to complete the rhyme. Keep in mind the missing word must rhyme with the first and second lines. (Answer key in next week’s blog post.)

A bather whose clothing was strewed

By winds that left her quite nude

Saw a man come along

And unless we are wrong

You expected this line to be __________.

~ Anonymous

 

His sister named Lucy O’Finner,

Grew constantly thinner and thinner;

The reason was plain,

She slept in the rain,

And was never allowed any _________.

~ Lewis Carroll

There was an old fellow of Trinity

Who solved the square root of Infinity,

But it gave him such fidgets

To count up the digits,

He chucked Math and took up _________.

~ Anonymous

There was a young farmer of Leeds,

Who swallowed six packets of seeds.

It soon came to pass

He was covered with grass,

And he couldn’t sit down for the_______.

~ Anonymous

 

Edward Lear, Ogden Nash, and Lewis Carroll are among the best versifiers of this humorous form. If you want to cook up your own limerick, here is a link to the recipe with a pattern for the rhyme scheme.

 

Coming next: Wanted, Forty Winks

 

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Are You Ready for Spring?

Today marks the end of February. In less than a month spring will have sprung, Still, you may be ready for spring now, not in three weeks. Here are the thoughts of Jane Kenyon, once New Hampshire’s poet laureate, anticipating the blooms of spring in her meditation “February Thinking of Spring”

Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 8.07.19 AM

. . . or the appearance of blooms on dogwood

Dogwood

Before winter turned into spring, visits to the flower show in Philadelphia restored my Grandma Longenecker’s spirits. Or leafing through a Burpee Seed catalog.

In a letter to me during my sophomore year in college Grandma wrote about her May flowers that followed a harsh winter:

Lots of people have colds but daffodils are out “with their yellow frilled bonnets” (I have 5 kinds of them) were a joy to behold. Double tulips are at their best. Next the lilacs and valley lilies.

 


Yes, fickle February will soon melt into March madness. To herald the coming month, I shall make a poetic prediction. My good friend/muse Merril Smith has inspired me to try a new form, the shadorma, one of the many poetry challenges she has embraced on her website recently along with echo poems, triolets, and lantern shapes.

The shadorma must form 6 lines of 3-5-3-3-7-5 syllables and make sense.

Fickle month

Bye, February

St. Pat’s Day

Irish rule

Daylight Savings Time, Oh Dread

Celebrate: Easter!

 

Did you count the syllables?   🙂

What flowers populate your dreams of spring?

If you live in South Africa or Australia, your seasons are reversed so you may have a different vision. What in nature lifts your spirits right now?

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Coming next: How to Teach a Piano Lesson

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.

AtlanticCitySteelPier1910

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

Hats Off to Dad!

My father wore many hats. Work hats mostly, but also a goofy blue derby hat I faintly remember stashed high up on a closet shelf, and a fedora reserved for Sundays or other special occasions. Through his long history at the shop, Daddy sold a wide array of tractor brands which supplied him with hats embroidered with their company logo: Massey-Harris, Minneapolis Moline, New Idea, Fox, and Deutz.

His hats changed with his loyalty to the brand of farm equipment he was promoting. None made him happier, however, than the hat he wore with one of his first purchases after his father, Henry R. Longenecker, passed the business on to him. With the tag still attached to the grill, Daddy proudly drove the new Massey-Harris tractor back and forth in the alley next to the shop in Rheems, his sister Aunt Ruthie recording the spectacle with her new 16 mm movie camera.

Shop Hats

The Welding Helmet Invented by the German Hans Goldschmidt in 1903, welding was one of my Dad’s specialties, a boon to farmers with harvester units or even plow shares needing repair. A free-standing acetylene cylinder and oxygen tank for welding stood near one of the double wooden doors. This allowed easy access for welding repairs as a tractor or harvesting equipment was pulled through the giant, wheeled doors that ran back and forth on a metal channel.

I watched Daddy slap a Darth Vader-like helmet on his head, don long, flared-sleeve gloves, and use long, skinny welding rods to fuse broken parts together. Sparks flew everywhere in this Fourth of July fireworks show extending into August, the height of the harvesting season.

Along the back of the dark recesses of the shop was a large grinding machine that could sharpen a 6 to 8-foot section of blade used for scissoring hay, wheat or barley.

Daddy did most of his work in his shop but occasionally he was called to the field. A doctor of motors, he made “house” calls to the fields of anxious farmers, work stalled with broken-down equipment.

Farm Hats

My father was first of all a farm implement dealer and mechanic, but he also farmed ten acres of land in Bainbridge, Pennsylvania combining corn and tobacco crops and then later corn with tomatoes. Farming is serious business in the searing sun requiring a cap with a long bill. The result:  a white “farmer” forehead and red-brown cheeks and arms. My mother and Aunt Ruthie often wore sun bonnets, in the field but as you can see, we were bare-headed and probably bare-footed too.

Brand new tractor with tiny sister Jean and me behind the wheel
Cultivating land for tomato crop in Bainbridge
Cultivating land for tomato crop in Bainbridge

A beekeeper too, my dad wore a bulky hat complete with a mesh veil to smoke out the bees.

 

Fancy Hats

Church, weddings, funerals – all were occasions for a fancy fedora. But one occasion in particular required dressing up: posing on the steps of the U. S. Capitol building ready to meet with congressmen regarding the threat of a proposed air base to some of the rich farmland of northern Lancaster County. A sizable delegation of plain people (many of them Mennonites) including my dad in his fedora and Grandma drove to Washington D.C. to make their case with government officials. When a follow-up investigation was conducted, sink-holes had reportedly been found in the farm-land around Bossler’s Mennonite Church. The case was subsequently closed.

Sadie Greider, Grandma Fannie Longenecker and Ray Longenecker  on steps of the Capitol in Washington, D. C.
Sadie Greider, Grandma Fannie Longenecker and Ray Longenecker on steps of the Capitol in Washington, D. C.

Tell us about your dad’s hats – what he wore, or any other “Dad” memory you want to share now.

Happy Birthday, Will!

News Flash!

ShakesBirthdayCrown

To mark Shakespeare’s 450th birthday, “the Royal Shakespeare Company is spearheading a three year Jubilee, between 2014 and 2016, that will involve theatre performances, events and live streaming cinema around the world.”

*  *  *  *  *

Florida State College students: Of course they're discussing Shakespeare!
Florida State College students: Of course they’re discussing Shakespeare!

It’s April 23 in my college class of English Lit students. Each has brought in a can of Coke, Dr. Pepper or bottled water. I bring cupcakes—chocolate and vanilla for the party.

Reputedly, April 23, 1564 is the birthday of William Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon. It is also the date of his death in 1616, but we are celebrating his life, especially the writing of his gushy love sonnets (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”) and his play, King Lear, which we have just read with all that fussing about a father’s will, sister sniping, revenge and murder. The body count is always high in Shakespeare’s tragedies.

A fixture at every birthday party, Shakespeare wore a bow today.
A fixture at every birthday party, Shakespeare wears a bow today.

Until I was out of high school, I did not realize that my Mennonite Mom was referring to Shakespeare’s line “God has given you one face, and you make yourself another” (Hamlet) when she chided me for wearing makeup. “I’m happy with the face God gave me,” she would retort.

And Grandma Longenecker probably wasn’t aware she was quoting from Midsummer NIght’s Dream either when she tried to comfort me with the words of Lysander: “The course of true love never did run smooth” over my break-up with David, a boyfriend in college. And of various presidents, Truman, Eisenhower, or Kennedy, she would quote from Shakespeare’s Henry IV: “Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.” I can still hear her cracking the “C” in crown.

Other quotes you may know: 

  • Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.
  • If music be the food of love, play on.
  • Suspicion always haunts the guilty mind.
  • No legacy is so rich as honesty.
  • What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.
  • O, had I but followed the arts!
  • ‘Tis better to bear the ills we have than fly to others that we know not of.
  • With mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.
  • This above all; to thine own self be true.

What special sayings do you remember from your childhood?

 

What quotes by Shakespeare can you add to the list?

I love it when you comment!

Please check it out: My writer friend, Traci Carver, teacher at Valwood School, a college prep high school in Valdosta, GA, posted on her blog a creative classroom scene from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet featuring foam pool noodles and Twitter hashtags. Creative and memorable!

 

 

Easter at Grandpa Martin’s Farm: Freshest Eggs Ever

Easter eggs on the farm? Why sure – Fresh eggs from Aunt Sue’s chicken pen, popped into her kettle of water brought to a boil in the kitchen. And then in short order, eggs cooling on the counter soon ready for us to paint. With paint wands made of little wisps of cotton wrapped around tooth-picks, my sisters and I with all the other little cousins make squiggly lines, circles and scallop shapes on the curvy shells, filling them in with rainbow colors.  Sometimes we even add little bunny or flower stickers. But all that artistry happens after devouring the Easter ham.

Easter egg dyeGrandma Longenecker’s sister Aunt Sue Martin, who never married, lived on the farm and took care of Great-Grandpa Sam after his wife Mary died. I’m about six now, and Easter dinner is celebrated around the table at the old home place in Dauphin County close to Middletown, PA. Families of Uncle Joe, Uncle Frank, and Grandma surround the table laden with ham, turkey, home-preserved vegetables, and finally desserts. The clucking of chickens and a few dog barks offer background sound to the talk, usually about politics and family matters. Before or after the meal, Aunt Sue, actually my great aunt, feeds her other hungry brood, here with my sister Janice.

Women learn early that anything that is alive is a potential and probable responsibility.

Phyllis Tickle, The Graces We Remember: Sacred Days of Ordinary Time (61)

After the drowse-inducing pies and puddings, it is picture posing time. Aunt Ruthie with her new-fangled movie camera captures various relatives posing on the porch.

Grandpa Sam, my Dad, Cousin Leonard, Uncle Joe
Grandpa Sam, my Dad, Cousin Leonard, Uncle Joe

And then we play some more. Make up our own fun. Just the collie dog, a wagon, and the wide open meadows down by the creek are all it takes to keep us happy!

GrandpaSamWagonSnapshot000020
Marian and sister Janice with her dolly on Easter

Do your Easter memories include attending a church service? Eating a meal with relatives? Painting eggs? Hunting for Easter eggs?

What do you think of the quote by author Phyllis Tickle?

EggShells

10 Ways My Grandma & I are Alike (or Unlike)

Grandma Longenecker with niece and maid-of-honor Evelyn ("Honey")
Grandma Longenecker with niece and maid-of-honor Evelyn (“Honey”)

10 ways I’m like (or unlike) my Grandma Longenecker  

1. She started fancy and turned plain. I reversed the cycle, plain to fancy.

GrandmaPortrait

2. She always wore black laced-up shoes with heels to do housework. For me, it’s tennis shoes in winter and sandals in the summer. No heels in the kitchen.

3. She never voiced criticism about a person (except once). I am an exception to her rule.

4. She wished to have prettier hands. I love the compassion and service her work-worn hands reveal.

5. She never learned to drive. I passed my driver’s test on the third try.

6. She never watched television. I’m a Downton Abbey addict.

7. Her sewing machine was rarely silent. Mine has been stowed away in favor of a computer.

8. She shoveled snow in Pennsylvania. I now live in Florida sans snow…

Grandma in sun-bonnet shoveling snow in Pennsylvania, 1950s
Grandma in sun-bonnet, skirt,  and apron shoveling snow in Pennsylvania, 1950s

9. No one left her house without a garden snip or a tasty morsel from the table. I seem to have the same sharing habit. So does my sister Janice!

Home-grown kumquats and soup mix
Home-grown kumquats and soup mix for a recipe from sister Janice

10. Grandma loved knee-slapping humor. Sister Jan remembers she even fell off a chair once overcome by gales of laughter. I don’t need an excuse to laugh either.

One of her pincushions - I'll never part with it!
One of her pincushions  I’ll never part with

Question Mark w border1_1x1_300

What habits or preferences have been passed to you from a relative?

What other similarities or differences have been passed between the generations?

The Red Hat Society: A Different Chapter

Red hats, purple dresses, feather boas — all signatures of the Red Hat Society. There is even a Queen Mother, Sue Ellen Cooper of Orange County, California, who founded the Society in 1998 after she hosted a fancy tea party for ladies decked out in purple and red. Since then, Cooper has written two best-sellers about her Society, which has spawned thousands of chapters of women with “hattitude” nationwide.

"When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple / With a red hat . . . !"
“When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple / With a red hat . . . !”

My sisters and I had our own Red Hat Lady, my plain Grandma Longenecker’s fancy cousin, Mame Goss, who brought picked-over hats of all colors to us from a millinery shop where she worked in Middletown, Pennsylvania. Getting hats from Mame was heady stuff! She was a main character in the script of our youthful play-acting.

Mame is one step closer to revealing the treasures in her bag now. Soon we lay eyes on the partly smashed trousseau of hats, left over from the spring season. We fight over who gets what, of course.

* * *

“Here’s a straw hat with a polka dot bow, “ I say but cast it aside. Janice and Jean don’t pick it up either. They are eying the red satin bows and lavender netting attached to other headgear.

* * *

“Hey, I want this one,” Janice and Jean tussle over a swoopy hat with pink flowers. Jean finally picks up a white thing that looks like an upside-down, flat-bottomed boat with a wad of blue tulle tied in a fluffy bow in the back. Janice’s is flat and round and dark, not my taste, with black-eyed Susan circling the straw hat. I get the best hat, I believe. It is flat and round too, but navy, and studded with azalea pink silk flowers around the edges. Best of all, I can pull a dark blue net over my face. Instantly, I become a woman of mystery and allure.

* * *

We take our newly-found treasures up to Grandma’s bedroom and indulge in more fantasy. The space between her marble-topped vanity and tall headboard becomes our runway. We take turns prancing in front of her vanity mirror with wavy glass, cocking our heads just so and smiling at our reflections.

One day Auntie Mame brings another batch of hats. When I spy the red felt with broad brim, I know it is mine. Our catwalk this time is not the narrow confines of Grandma’s bedroom, but the front lawn along Harrisburg Avenue: Marian, Janice, and Jean preen for the camera this time. Soon enough we will stuff our hair under a prayer veiling, but until then, we’re fancy girls!

Home movie from the 1950s

Do you remember playing dress up as a kid? What were your costumes? Inquiring minds want to hear your story. 

Mennonites and Race: A Longenecker Lens

This week we celebrate Martin Luther King Day, a tribute to the man with a vision for racial equality in the twentieth century and beyond. Just so, this post pays tribute to his dream and his legacy through a Mennonite lens.

Dr. Martin Luther King

“Jesus Loves the Little Children, All the Children of the World, Red, Brown, Yellow, Black and White,They are Precious in His Sight, Jesus Loves the Little Children of the World.”

As a tiny tot I was taught this song in Sunday School at Bossler’s Mennonite Church in the 1950s though the entire congregation was white. I saw children with slanted eyes and yellowish skin in picture books and a few black people in Lancaster and Harrisburg or maybe on the PRR train on our way to Philadelphia. But there were no children of a different skin color at Rheems Elementary School.  Or even at Elizabethtown High School. Not a one!

It was ancestry, not skin color, that made a difference in my family. Grandma Longenecker, benign soul though she was, did make disparaging remarks about other ethnic groups. She called a woman she was slightly acquainted with in Bainbridge “The Hunky Lady.” From her tone, I think Grandma Fannie was referring to the woman’s origins in Hungary, and therefore different from us, the Pennsylvania Dutch. And she made no bones about her view of Irish housekeeping. If we made a mess playing in her big kitchen, she’d remark, “It looks Irish in here,” and we’d be tidying up behind her broom. Fast!

In a recent visit to the attic, I came upon a pair of bookends featuring two pop-eyed black faces, a boy and a girl, painted in grade school.  Were such children curiosities to us? Novelties? Why would my teacher approve of  such an art project? Along with stories like Little Black Sambo, they were obviously part of the folklore of another era, not at all politically correct by today’s standards.

blackBookends

My first encounter with a black person, up close and personal, was with little Chico Duncan, a black boy from New York City, who came to our home for a week in the “Fresh Air” program in which volunteer families would give city children summer vacations in the country. (Shirley Showalter’s book Blush devotes an entire chapter to her friendship with their family’s Fresh Air girl.) The most fascinating thing about Chico was his hair, kinky black and glistening. Was his hair naturally oily or did he put on something from a bottle? I longed to touch it and feel the texture, but fear or embarrassment or both restrained me from even asking. Besides, he was a BOY, and I had hoped for a girl to play with!

But that was years ago. Now at Bossler’s Church, children who sing “Jesus Loves the Little Children” may actually be sitting besides a child with a darker skin tone. The church treasurer, a former missionary, has an Ethiopian husband; one farm family has adopted African-American twin babies. There is a couple of Middle-Eastern descent. The Bishop, Director of African Programming with Eastern Mennonite Missions, has biological grand-children of Kenyan-American ancestry.

And my Grandma Longenecker? For at least two decades through Lutheran Social Services, she and Aunt Ruthie sponsored families from all over the world—particularly Viet Nam, Africa, and eastern Europe. They, along with many other Lancaster County families, welcomed the immigrants and refugees from countries at war for weeks or months at a time until they could get a job, an apartment of their own, even acquire an education.

A few months ago, I re-visited Aunt Ruthie’s bedroom, (now unoccupied because she lives at Landis Homes) and saw on the wall as if for the first time, a framed picture of three women:

CardGame2

Two elegantly dressed Victorian women and a black woman, obviously a maid, playing cards. Is the maid holding the card tray for the other two? Is she teaching the ladies tricks of the trade? Are all three playing the game? Three would make a better game, don’t you think?

Detail: Women Playing Cards
Detail: Women Playing Cards

What experience with race did you encounter as a child? What story or anecdote can you add? I love when the bell chimes with your comment!