Friends from Faraway and Long Ago: Kitsa and Lydia

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)

KitsaYearbookPortrait

Always on the look-out for fun!
Kitsa, always on the look-out for fun!

And then Lydia . . .

LydiaYearbook Portrait

Lydia in Dr. Daniel Suter's Anatomy class
Lydia in Dr. Daniel Suter’s Anatomy class with lab assistant

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.

1979Grandma,Ruthie, Phuong_small

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:

Framed print on the wall of Grandma and Aunt Ruthie's sitting room, 1996
Framed illustration on the wall of Grandma and Aunt Ruthie’s sitting room, 1996

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.

EMUJusticPeaceQuote

 

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.

Postcript:

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?

Two Mennonite Nonagenarians: Mother Ruth & Aunt Cecilia

Here is my mother’s family of four brothers and one sister in a farm meadow in the 1940s. They are children of Abram Hernley Metzler and Sadie Landis Metzler, a Mennonite family of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Metzler_Uncles_Aunts_young_5x4_150

Standing in birth order are her brothers Landis, Leroy, Clyde, Abram, Jr., with my mother and her sister Verna. Two of her siblings died in their sixties, the others in their seventies. Only my mother is still alive at age 95.

When Mother turned 90 in 2008, her 94-year-old sister-in-law Cecilia Metzler, married to my Uncle Clyde, said to her: “Ninety’s nothing . . . . You have to live past that to make your mark these days.” (Then I saw a quick smile and heard an I-got-you-there chuckle.) Aunt Cecilia, who calls herself Cece now, has always been energetic and feisty, a farm wife and a pastor’s wife. Up until 2011, she has sent me Christmas cards – always the first week of December. And via her daughter Erma’s account, I would occasionally even get email messages from her.

Aunt CeCes card_9x7_300

Mother too has always been strong and hardy all these years. She still lives alone but has watchful neighbors along with my brother Mark who checks in with her regularly. Her mind is still sharp though her hearing, which has always been in a category I’d call bionic, is failing now. When I asked her a few weeks ago, “Do you remember wearing Evening in Paris cologne?” She questioned me back, “Carrots, what do you mean carrots?” This from a woman who most of her life had to hold the telephone receiver away from her ear because the sound was too loud. Oh, my.

I call her often, but she says she likes to get something in the mail, a letter with a stamp on it, she hints. As if to demonstrate how it’s done, last week she sent me a short note with concern about a friend’s health along with a check for special vitamins I send to her. Yes, she still pays her own bills.

Thankfully, her friend is fine now.
Thankfully, her friend is fine now.
"Cecilia Do you really think we are going to live to be 100?" my mother might be asking.
“Cecilia, do you really think we are going to live to be 100?” my mother may be asking.  (Photo: Mother’s 90th party at The Gathering Place, Mount Joy, PA.)

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Recently, “60 Minutes” aired a show entitled Living to 90 and Beyond hosted by correspondent Lesley Stahl. The show featured interviews of some of the more than 1600 men and women who participated in a study named “90+” funded by the National Institute of Health. All of the data was collected in the 1980s from residents of a community south of Los Angeles called Leisure World, now re-named Laguna Woods. The study was launched to determine the secrets of longevity and perhaps find clues to preventing diseases like Alzheimer’s often associated with advancing age.

On air, the interviewees, all over 90, were shown undergoing physical testing: reflexes, pace of walking, how quickly they could sit down and stand up again. Their mental acuity was checked as well: Tell me today’s date, spell w-o-r-l-d backwards, remember these words (brown, shirt, charity) – I’ll ask you to repeat them to me in a minute. And so on.

Claudia Kawas, spokesperson for the NIH study, concluded with some statements that weren’t at all surprising. And some that were:

  • People who exercise definitely live longer than those who don’t.
  • Board games, socializing with friends, working in the garden enhance mental health.
  • Taking vitamins doesn’t seem to make much difference.
  • It’s not good to be skinny when you are old.
  • Drinking 1-3 cups of coffee seems to be beneficial.
  • One or two glasses of wine daily is recommended.

My Mother, almost 96, and Aunt Cecilia, now age 99, were part of the “Game Girls” crowd in their prime. They loved playing Uno, Skip-Bo, and Hand & Foot with friends. And they probably both still drink one or two cups of coffee with breakfast.

But rest assured, neither of these good, elderly Mennonite ladies ever imbibes a glass of wine with dinner.

 WineForbidden

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Most of us know one or more friends or family members over 90. Does longevity run in your family?

Do you have a story about a nonagenarian you know?

Coming next: A visit with author Kathleen Pooler and introducing her new book!