Up and Down Anchor Road: Secrets

Home for me is bracketed by the two houses we ping-pong between: our parents house and Grandma’s house on Anchor Road. Her house is at the bottom of the hill and ours at the top.

1989RuthieHouse          HouseMom

Both houses are along side Anchor Road, between Elizabethtown to the west and Rheems to the east—centered between Harrisburg, the capital, and Lancaster, the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country. Not long ago the road didn’t have the status of a real name. It was just Rural Delivery # 1 on the mailman’s morning route.

Why the name Anchor Road, so far inland and nowhere near water, unless you count the Susquehanna River? Years ago, Anchor Inn sat down the street, a welcoming grey hostel for guests with a barn and cornfield.


In years to come, it would sprout legs and walk backward about 200 feet propelled by huge trucks, announcing its wish for privacy as a single family home.

At the edge of the nearby village of Rheems, a bridge of concrete separates the sprawl of Heisey’s Limestone quarry on either side.  On the bridge, there is a keystone-shaped metal insignia and below it inscribed the name of Rheems.


Here the road makes a hard right under the railroad overpass and on around the corner to Grandma’s house, a turn-of-the-century Victorian homestead where the extension of our family, Grandma Fannie, my Dad’s mother, and Aunt Ruthie live. On these acres is a stately house with a slate roof, sloping lawn with oaks and a birch tree for climbing, two gardens—one with strawberries and vegetables, and the other for Silver Queen sweet corn. Between the house and the railroad tracks is a woods bordered by a hill my sisters and I climb up to for raspberries in summer and sled down on our Flexible Flyers in the winter. We come here to Grandma’s when my mom says it’s rime to “sca-doo!” Sometimes my dad brings home a big kettle of pot pie from his mom’s stove for our supper.

Halfway up the hill from Grandma’s is the Hoffer’s. The place seems like a dairy farm, but I think they have only two cows, one Guernsey and one Holstein, whose milk and cream they share with us. Granny Hoffer is plainer than we are: large prayer covering with silky ribbons tied under her chin but, oddly, tiny gold-loop earrings on each lobe.


Granny pours the just-drawn milk and fills my bluish jar to the very top. Cream always dribbles out because Granny doesn’t want to give us one fraction of an ounce less than two full quarts; she calls it gospel measure. I see their dog Queenie and a lazy cat Minnie. Mom says they don’t need any more animals around the place because Granny’s son Amos and daughter-in-law Bertha fight like cats and dogs. What secrets lurk inside these walls?

Secrets revealed next time:

1. How do Lancaster County women rein in their girth in the 1950s?

2. Why do the Rentzels have a red light glowing on the porch?

3. Why did Daddy have to pull a Rheems resident from the wreckage of his car?


Loving Hands, Homes & Teddy Bears

Hex signs on barns, fertile farms, plain dress, PA Dutch cooking: These are the first impressions many people have of Mennonites in Lancaster County. But the ethic of compassion of these folk draws from a deeper well: From their founder, Menno Simons, to the present day, the practice of helping others is deeply ingrained:

Menno Simons_mod_8x11_72                      

In fact, the mission statement on the website of the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), echoes those words of Menno Simons in 1541:

The Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), a worldwide ministry of Anabaptist churches, shares God’s love and compassion for all in the name of Christ by responding to basic human needs and working for peace and justice. MCC envisions communities worldwide in right relationship with God, one another and creation.  

                         MCC_screen shot_2x2_150pix_72

Their logo expresses their mission as the cross and dove merge in a “dynamic, interactive relationship in which the cross empties into compassionate action fulfilling our call to global service.”

In a similar vein, loving hands was the image used for the theme of the 90th birthday celebration for my mother and aunt, her sister-in-law, both named Ruth Longenecker, have the same birth year and middle initial “M,” and live independently on the same street,

                            Hands clip

Mother is and was handy in many ways. Along with Daddy, my mother served on the board of New Life for Girls, an agency supporting the rehabilitation and guidance of young women in urban areas. For many years she volunteered at the Mennonite Home making beds. She served also at the MCC International Gift and Thrift Shop in Mt. Joy, PA. One Monday a month she went to sewing circle where she helped piece quilts and knotted comforters for overseas relief. My sisters and I also remember rolling long, long strips of gauze for bandages to send abroad.


Aunt Ruthie, Principal of Rheems Elementary School and West Donegal Township tax collector, took her call to missions in a different direction. For over 25 years, she with Grandma, opened their home to refugees and immigrants, beginning with Phuong from Vietnam whom she sponsored. Her home was a warm cushion absorbing the cultural shock of leaving home and family. Aunt Ruthie was never married and has no biological children, so she was flummoxed by Phuong’s normal adolescent activity: She takes such long showers, she doesn’t know when to hang up the phone, and she wants to stay out so late!

      1989RuthieHouse 1979Grandma,Ruthie, Phuong_small

The house on Anchor Road was a safe haven, welcoming  refugees from a collage of countries in addition to Vietnam: Bosnia, Croatia, Serbia, Russia—anywhere there was political upheaval.

1990s SaltofEAward Salt of the Earth Award for 25 years of service through Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services in recognition of “exceptional compassion in welcoming the stranger,” as Menno Simons admonished.

When I was a child, Grandma’s house was a Home Depot for relief: On the back porch she collected eggs from local farmers to help the needy. In a corner of the kitchen facing a window with a bird feeder, she parked her sewing machine with stacks of fabric in baskets to make baby clothes, blankets, shirts, pants, pajamas, and comforters. During the Great Depression, the needy were closer at hand, and Grandma would repair raggedy teddy bears with buttons for eyes, and red yarn or rick-rack for the mouth.

NormalTeddys TeddyBearDepression

Normal teddies                            Missing ears, detached arms

At the heart of all this giving is love, pure and simple. “And now abideth faith, hope, and charity, but the greatest of these is charity.” And nothing says “love” to a child like a teddy bear.

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