Ray & Ruth: A Sparkling 40th Wedding Anniversary

True Love

This month would be the 75th wedding anniversary of my parents, Ray and Ruth Longenecker had they lived. True, they bickered from time to time, but I knew their love was deep and abiding. I rested in the assurance that they would never divorce. There were signs: Before Daddy left for work down at his shop after the noon meal, he often played a little game with Mom, chasing her around the house to get his hug and kiss, as she pretended wanting to escape him. Daddy dried dishes once a week, on a Sunday somewhat unusual for a culture with strict divisions of labor between husband and wife.

They celebrated their 25th anniversary with the attendants at their wedding, Howard and Pearl Longenecker, also married twenty-five years.

When their 40th came along, we had a big shindig in early November, a week after their actual anniversary date of October 26, 1940. My sister Jean sent out fancy invitations:

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The table was set just so with the “tulip” design wedding silverware, a florist’s bouquet, and finger food with cake the grand finale.

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All four of us, my sisters and brother chipped in money to buy a chiming clock that sat for years on top of Mother’s buffet in the dining room, the ticking heart of the home. Our son Joel has inherited this clock.

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And there were sparklers – and smiling faces on this happy day when I heard Daddy say, “I could never have found a better wife!

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How It All Began

October was a favored month for weddings, at least among Mennonite couples in the 1940s-1960s. Farmers had harvested their corn, wheat, and sweet potatoes. The sowing-hoeing-harvesting cycle was slowing down. The land was preparing to lie fallow for the winter. Thus, plain weddings were often celebrated amid the riotous colors of fall.

I was born in July — 9 months, almost to the day, from my parents’ honeymoon night the previous October. When I got older and could figure out such things, my mother simply said, “Nothing happened before we were married.” Because she said it, it must be true, I reasoned. In those days, abstinence was the professed norm for engaged couples, and a white dress almost certainly meant the bride was a virgin. A couple whose first child arrived too soon after the wedding date had to appear in front of the congregation and confess their sin of fornication before they could be restored to church fellowship. I saw it happen once.

That was not the case for my parents, of course. I was born right on time, a honeymoon baby, possibly conceived right here within this idyllic, stone cottage.

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My parents were married by the bishop of Hernley’s Mennonite Church and then returned to the bride’s home on Charlotte Street in Manheim, Pennsylvania where these pictures were taken. My father was wearing a plain, Mennonite “frock” coat with bow-tie paired with a natty fedora hat on his honeymoon. My mother too sneaked in some fancy touches on her dress. Another, of course, a large, fancy bouquet on the lawn.

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And though Mother wore covering strings attached to her prayer veiling and her dress was plain with no collar or lace, tiny buttons covered in white crépe traced a vertical line on the snug cuff of her sleeves. They don’t show on the photograph, but as a child I remember seeing them all in a row, sewn on her dress then draped on a hanger and pushed to the back of her clothes closet. Were there five? Seven? I don’t know or remember, but in my mind’s eye I can see them attached there. And I thought they looked pretty!

I liked her wedding shoes too, black suede with a vamp that reached almost to her ankle, very modish, I thought. When I saw Nine West with a similar vintage shoe and a button on the strap, I knew they had to be mine.

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When we cleared out Mother’s house after her death, we discovered a saucer I had never seen before with a charming pink & blue imprint, a prophecy of things to come. They would have a baby, a girl, in fact three daughters and then a son.

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Sparkling or not, what anniversaries (or other milestones) can you recall?

Coming next: Halloween Advice from My Good Witch of the North, Aunt Ruthie

Oh, Beautiful – Amber Grain & Grainy Amber

LyricsAmericaBeautiful

Did you grow up country? Can you picture a Dad, brother, or uncle toiling under the torrid July sun in the wheat field?

If so, you know that farmers always wore hats with brims. The ruddy-faced farmers I knew in the fifties probably didn’t use Coppertone or any other sunscreen, but they always wore hats with bills, revealing a totally white forehead when the caps came off.

The medieval French farmers in the drawing below in what looks like undies and sandals shield their anonymous faces from the sun with straw hats.

Grain field in Medieval Times: Metropolitan Museum of Art
Grain field in Medieval Times: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

(You may be stifling a giggle at their odd attire right now!)

My dad farmed land in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, so he was a farmer too, but he was known first as a farm implement dealer. As the owner of Longenecker Farm Supply, he sold farmers tractors, bailers, or combines for grain harvesting, and they called him often in a panic when their equipment broke down: In the middle of the field. At the worst possible time. When storm clouds loomed.

Howard Longenencker, one of Dad’s cousins, and Best Man at Mom and Dad’s wedding, is pictured here in a movie clip taking his new Minneapolis Moline harvesting machinery for a whirl around the field, enjoying every minute. Watch for his jubilant wave! I’ll call the clip “Grainy Amber” because it was filmed in the 1950s with much less sophisticated technology than available now.

Another relative, Esther Mae Longenecker Hiestand, has captured images of her family’s grain harvest in her 489-page book, all about the Longeneckers descended from the line of Ulrich Longenecker, who emigrated from Switzerland to America. She and her family collected over a dozen images of hay and wheat harvesting in her portrait of a Lancaster County family entitled Pitchforks and Pitchpipes (454 – 457).

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So great a blessing was an abundant harvest that the warmth and productivity of the season was interpreted as an allegory of spiritual plenty. The ninth-century theologian Hrabanus Maurus writes that summer sun expresses the heat of God’s love, and that the season signifies the blessedness to come in Heaven (Medieval Book of Seasons, 1992.)

School children of all races and creeds sing lustily about the bounty of harvest in a patriotic song we hear often during the month of July:

Did you grow up country? Share your experience with summer harvesting of all kinds. Or add an impression, a quote. Whatever!

Up next: Purple Passages with Rainbow Colors

My Dad’s Bachelor Trip to Florida

Nose-to-the-Grindstone, that’s my dad. But I have proof in pictures that he once took a fling to Florida with his Lancaster County Mennonite buddies. Judging from the photos that remain and Mother’s comments, I can pretty much guarantee that there were no stops at a roadhouse, nights spent bar-hopping, or brothel visits.

According to their Swiss-German work ethnic and the spirit of the times, these five men, Parke Garber, Dick Sauder, Bud (Wilbur) Martin, Howard Longenecker and Daddy were destined to be dutiful farmers or businessmen, faithful husbands and fathers. But until they hit the groove for the rest of their lives, they would see the world, traveling over 800 miles from Pennsylvania to Florida.

My Dad

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They traveled in a car of this vintage with a road-map, certainly no GPS!

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To Cypress Gardens, Florida 1939

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The craziest thing recorded is a snapshot of the men playing church under the skinny wooden banner Jesus Never Fails. I say they were playing church because that was what Mother told me and I never heard anything to the contrary. The “preacher” was a farmer turned car salesman and my sanctimonious-looking dad (at right), a farm implement dealer, holds a hymnbook or Bible.

Richard Sauder in pulpit, to the right Parke Garber, extreme right Ray Longenecker, my father  (Unidentified man at left)
Richard Sauder in pulpit, to the right Parke Garber, far right Ray Longenecker, my father (Unidentified man on left)

All these pictures were stored in a heap inside our family’s piano bench for decades. Only recently have they seen the light of day.

Based on the date here, my dad was 24. He was married in 1940 when he was 25, a year younger than my age at marriage. Men of this era did not usually marry until they could support a wife. The first question Daddy queried Cliff when he asked for my hand in marriage was “Do you think you can support her?” Looking back, the question seems a little strange as I was already a teacher of four years with a salary.

What I’d like to know:

  • Who’s idea was this trip?
  • Where did they eat? (These men were used to home-cooked meals.)
  • What did they talk about?
  • Did they ever wear casual clothing? (All I see here is white shirts, suspenders, ties and long trousers.)
  • Did they send postcards to their girlfriends?
  • Did they laugh and carry on?

Wouldn’t Dad have been astonished back then if he had known two of his daughters would be raising their families in Florida, so far away from their Lancaster County, PA childhood roots?

Do you have photos in your family albums that pose questions without answers?