And as the world tilts toward the dog days of summer, that’s how I see it too: tiny images of poetry seen through the prism of my childhood, remembering summers in the Longenecker back yard and inside Grandma’s house. Louis Macneice expresses these sentiments vividly in his poem, “Soap Suds”
Though Macneice reminds us there’s no going back to childhood after experiencing the realities of an adult, our younger selves can still exist in memory – as photographs preserved in sepia tone. And like the bubbles in soap suds, I recall a childhood that is ephemeral, fleeting:
I can see the nicked edge of the croquet mallet, as it strikes the striped ball with a “thwack” sending it on a scrolling roll . . .
. . . taste the root-beer float Mom made from Hires concentrate, laying the 2-quart Ball jars side by side on the cellar floor to “cure.” . . . hear the straw suck of the cool drink like the sound of sudsy sink water draining.
. . . feelthe cool water as I splashed in the tub on a hot summer day in August.
* * *
Only one piece of playground equipment was a fixture in our back yard, an iron swing painted glossy silver. Here Daddy, probably at Mother’s prompting, posed with me in his plain coat and black bow tie before or after church at Bossler Mennonite. He has a tentative hold on his firstborn daughter, perhaps still feeling awkward as a parent. The calendar must have shown April because I was 9 months old. No roses or peonies bloom yet in the garden behind us.
Credit: Globe and still life. The antique globe above comes from Norwood Elementary School where Cliff first taught school. He composed the still life painting next to it during his Master’s degree studies at Florida State University.
Did your family have a croquet set? Do you still use it?
What other pictures or stories of childhood summers did this post spark in your memory?
How as an adult, have you tried to retrieve child-like wonder and playfulness?
Coming next: School Daze – They Ain’t What They Used to Be
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?
The closest thing I ever came to living in a convent was my year in the dormitory at Lancaster Mennonite School. It was much like living in the dorm at my alma mater, Eastern Mennonite College, now a University, but only more awkward. “Awkward?” you ask. “In what way awkward?”
As beginning teachers Verna Mohler (Colliver) and I were squirreled away in the LMS girls’ dormitory. Because of our tiny salaries, living here represented a major cost savings, but being so close to students, we sacrificed privacy. You can read all about this experience in last week’s post.
Students and faculty alike dressed plainly at LMS, no jewelry or fancy dress allowed. Students were sequestered from the world in other ways too: no competitive sports teams, no band or orchestra, and no theatre department.
My prior life in college was similar but a tad looser. There were intramural sports at EMC but musical expression was limited to various choruses which sang a cappella in four-part harmony. A highlight of the year came each spring when the music department presented Alfred Robert Gaul’s oratorio The Holy City, its celestial strains ringing in the rafters. However, no band or orchestra existed there either. And certainly no theatre department. To be fair, students performed plays staged in the chapel as for example Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Our graduating class donated to the college its first piano.
During my junior year at EMC when the college dormitory was filled to overflowing, eight women students were selected to live on the edge of campus in a home called Peachey House.
Verna Mohler and I lived with six others including Martha Maust, who wrote in Verna’s yearbook: ” What with mice sitting on the kitchen floor, a chicken in a book-bag, plus eight girls with plenty of vim, vigor, and yelling power you couldn’t expect anything but great times.” Then too we lived through the mighty snowstorm in the winter of 1961-62 that cut us off from the rest of the campus.
One of my fondest memories is playing the violin with Thelma Swartendruber (Chow) one of my roommates here in the Peachey House living room.
I had played my instrument at Elizabethtown High School, where I was the only Mennonite girl in the orchestra simply thrilled to wear a fancy dress for concerts. My violin case followed me to college. Sunday afternoons we played with others, sometimes even with a faculty member whom I later dated.
* * *
Mennonites have always had a love affair with music ~ hymn books, tuning forks, and four-part acappella singing a staple of all worship services in this era.
Though the Lancaster Conference Mennonite Church did not allow instrumental music in the 1960s, many Mennonite families had a piano at home. We had one, a mahogany Marshall & Wendell upright with melodious richness, especially evident when I pushed down on the damper pedal for a gorgeous, sustained tone.
The photo below portrays a young Mennonite girl, Anna Leaman, with covering and caped dress circa 1926 playing the violin. Whether Anna was posing to please her parents or whether she loved playing the violin, it’s impossible to say. I do see a faint smile playing around her lips. Obviously she had been taking lessons and making music solo here.
But rest assured, when she went to church on Sunday, no piano, organ or violin would drown out the blend of soprano, alto, tenor, and bass voices who worshipped in blessed harmony.
Did you play an instrument during school or college days? Do you still play it? Any anecdotes to add to the dorm life episodes here, or living with a roommate in an other arrangement?
Coming next: Moments of Discovery, The Story Behind the $ Bill
Nuns live in convents. At least that was true in America in the1960s. Strictly speaking I was not an actual nun, a Catholic sister with a habit like Karen Leahy, who left her convent at Mount Maria to pursue a literary life and experience more freedom. (My review of her book The Summer of Yes here.)
As a student at Eastern Mennonite College, where my un-cut hair was piled neatly under a prayer cap, serving the church was held in high esteem. In fact, the idea of service was drummed in to me as a teaching intern. And so, when the dean of education at the college suggested I apply to Lancaster Mennonite School for my first teaching job, I jumped at the chance. I could serve God and pursue a career I already knew I loved.
I didn’t wear a wimple, scapular, or tunic either. But, as a Mennonite girl in the 1960s, I did wear a prayer veiling and caped dress. My prayer veiling served to acknowledge my obedience to church rules while a cape over my bodice muffled whatever feminine contours I may have had then. Like Karen Leahy, known as Sister Marie Cordé, my clothing announced my separation from the world before I uttered a word. It also assumed a higher set of expectations from me.
Even before I joined the faculty at Lancaster Mennonite School, I wore a prayer veiling and a caped dress, but not all the time. Just for church. But now as Sister Longenecker, a teacher at LMS, plain clothing was de rigeur, not optional.
And I could do so with one of my EMC classmates, Verna Mohler. She and I had shared dorm space at EMC. Now we would transplant ourselves into a similar arrangement as beginning teachers at LMS.
Verna and I were side by side and plain. She taught American Literature, and I English Literature along with Penmanship and Spelling.
Yes, side by side in the yearbook, The Laurel Wreath, whose table of contents featured 5 divisions: Faculty, Students, Organizations, Activities, and Worship. There was no orchestra or band – no football or basketball teams then either. Certainly no theatre.
During our first year of teaching we lived in adjoining rooms in the girls’ dormitory, an awkward situation because of the proximity of students. One evening before supper, I took off my cape and went to the dining hall with just a sweater over my dress. A perceptive student reported me to the Dean of Girls, who gently suggested I mend my ways and remain caped around students at all times.
Of course, our students were plain too . . .
But my bulletin boards were fancy
The second year Verna and I moved out of the girls’ dormitory and lived on the edge of campus in a mobile home, which we shared with June Sauder, the Home Economics teacher.
Our trailer was situated in a park-like setting on the other side of the Mill Stream, a bridge between us and campus buildings.
Here again I flirted with danger. One of us rented a TV to see the shocking story of the Kennedy assassination unfold and subsequent funeral proceedings. A student noted the blue glow from our trailer window and reported us to the administration, an action for which we were reprimanded. However, words that we heard on the broadcasts became additions to our students’ vocabulary knowledge: cortege, caisson, requiem.
Sometimes after hours, we skipped wearing the prayer coverings, but always had our heads covered, even if it was with a filmy white bandanna.
Verna’s Comet became our get-away car when June, Verna and I drove into Lancaster city with serviceable black purses to admire fancy red ones in a shop window, our expressions hopeful.
The Lancaster Mennonite School publication, Bridges, to which I still subscribe, has changed dramatically since Verna’s and my short tenure there. Student rosters now include names like Rodriguez, Rosenfeld, and Fukuhara along with the typical Lancaster County Mennonite names Weaver, Harnish, and Nissley.
The LMS sports teams are going to the playoffs this year. Lancaster Mennonite and Lancaster Catholic are competing in an international ping-pong tournament. Most interesting of all, the name of Lancaster Mennonite High School appears on the Fulton Theatre marquee in downtown Lancaster displaying the 2015 Beth Bash Award for Excellence in the performance of Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Imagine!
A statement from their current principal J. Richard Thomas reveals the continuing strong spiritual mission of LMS:
As a school, we are building stronger wings and growing deeper roots one student at a time. Here students encounter a risen Christ who calls them to transformation, empowering them to be world changers. Our Graduate Profile states that our graduates will “practice global awareness, cultural sensitivity and humility, respect, an anti-racist lifestyle and compassionate living.”
With stronger wings and deeper roots, the graduates of the class of 2015 were commissioned to walk humbly with Jesus . . . and, in doing so, partnering with God in building a kingdom where individuals “from every tribe, language, people and nation” are gathered together around the Lamb. Revelation 5:9
Is your life, like mine, dramatically different now from your childhood experience? Share your story here.
The postcard says Metzie and Molly if you look closely, but Joann and I were unofficially known as Mighty Metz and Sister Styx, the dashing duo that rode in the back seat of a Chevy Impala on a road trip with Joann’s parents, John and Mary Metzler.
Feeding a hooded squirrel at a stop off in Glacier National Park
Our Southern route included the cotton fields of Alabama . . .
. . . and Rock City, Georgia with a view of seven states
. . . and a tapering Falls
How I Paid for This Trip: I wrote an adult study series for Herald Press during May and June of 1964 for which I was paid $500.00. I brought cash and Traveler’s Cheques. Credit cards like the Diner’s Club Card were in circulation back then, but we didn’t have any. Actually, like many Mennonites, we thought credit cards were a little shady because of the possibility of misuse.
Frugality, Joann’s and Mine:
Joann says to her mother in Canyonville, Oregon: “Mom, give me the map, let’s stop at some little hick place for dinner. Then I’ll have money to buy some more myrtle wood!”
In Oregon, I remark to Joan: “Boy, oh, boy, my future husband will have a wife who can keep on a budget, thank goodness!” Little did I know my future husband Cliff was living not so far away in California at the time.
Joan and I alternated weeks in paying room costs. I paid tolls and park entrance fees instead of gas, which was probably less than 30 cents per gallon then.
I remember paying 50 cents to drive through a redwood tree!
We both kept diaries and photo logs. Mine looks battered and torn. Still, there’s a record.
Church: We attended a service at the Mormon Tabernacle but the choir was missing, gone to the World’s Fair. Ugh . . . so disappointing!
I was accosted by a Mormon guy in the tabernacle gift shop: He thought I was Israeli and mistook my black bonnet for a feminine yarmulke and tried to convert me to Mormonism.
We also visited Sweet Home Mennonite Church in Oregon with Rev. Orie Roth, pastor.
Sin: We drove by garish casinos and hotels down Main Street, Las Vegas. Among the glitter and glitz of sky-high, flashy neon lights, we noticed advertisements for $ 10.00 weddings. Do you think people got married drunk? we wondered.
Western Hospitality: On our way to Sequoia National Park we pulled off the road and discovered a friendly guy mowing his lawn. Thus we met the Shaefers. Mr. Schaefer showed Uncle John his orange grove, and Mrs. Schaefer loaded us up with a 12’ x 15’ box of peaches, oranges, two bags of grapes, 2 bags of oranges, and a quart of raisins she had picked/dried herself.
Thanks to the miracle of “General Delivery,” I got mail from home at planned intervals. Here’s a note from Aunt Ruthie with a cascading series of cartoons
And a birthday card from my sister Jean with a letter . . .
. . . and a note from Mother chiding Jean for not leaving any space to write: “I don’t know who she thinks she is . . . didn’t leave any space for Mother!”
Two letters sent to me addressed simply as Los Angeles – General Delivery came back with a note “Unclaimed – Return to Sender.” Imagine that!
I brought back gifts for all the family. Janice received a myrtle-wood vase from Oregon, brother Mark a table lamp with a cactus base, and Daddy, a polished piece of petrified wood. My ledger shows I bought Jean a pretty blouse for $ 4.10, but alas no picture here!
And something for myself too
The strangest thing I brought back: Water in a Gerber’s baby food jar (Aunt Ruthie’s suggestion) from The Great Salt Lake, where we floated with no danger of sinking.
Photos I took almost two hundred photos on Kodak Ektachrome color slide film and sent home film rolls in heat-resistant pouches to be developed. Joann took photos and movies.
We don’t make a photograph just with a camera, we bring to the act of photography all the books we have read, the movies we have seen, the music we have heard, the people we have loved.
Yes, imagine two Mennonite girls tripping across the country . . .
In a blue-gray 1958 Chevy Impala sedan
With a chauffeur and navigator
Through 47 states + Mexico
Five weeks in 1964: July 18 – August 24
My Travel Partners: The Metzlers, whom I call Aunt and Uncle, and their daughter Joann
Unlike John Steinbeck who wrote Travels with Charley about his one-man, one-dog travelogue in the 1960s, we were a four-some, Joann Herr, my new best friend, her parents, John and Mary Metzler, and me. But like Mark Twain, we were “innocents abroad,” leaving our cozy Mennonite countryside and venturing through the wild and wooly West to the Pacific coast, eyes agape with wonder.
Best Bud: Joann Metzler (Herr) whom I met while she was student teaching at Rheems Elementary School, where my Aunt Ruth Longenecker was principal. “She’s such a nice girl. You ought to meet her,” Ruthie said about Joann. She was right! I even thought so at the end of the trip.
Chauffeur Extraordinaire, Uncle John: One day he drove 748 miles! John Metzler, who raised crops and cattle, is related on my mother’s side of the family through a common ancestor, Valentine Metzler, whose immigration to Pennsylvania was celebrated in the reunion in 2013. During this thousands-of-miles-odyssey behind the wheel, he sometimes came up with quotable expressions:
“Oh, schmatza (PA Dutch for pain),” he frets when there are too many switchbacks on mountain roads.
“Now we’re caught with our pants down!” when he makes a wrong turn.
“I thought I’d be hen-pecked with three women around and by golly I am already!” he exclaims 11 days into the trip.
Navigator with a Built-in Compass, Aunt Mary: With only a road map and keen sense of direction, Joann’s mother “Aunt Mary” was quite a trooper. She made sure we were ready to roll between 6:30 and 7:00 am every day. When I felt road sick, she doled out Chiclets. She was eager to see her spry, 81-year-old Aunt Susan in Los Angeles.
In Cheyenne Uncle John was taken for a German because of his PA Dutch accent, and Mary tells him “ta be more English!” Here are the two smiling at Crater Lake, Oregon.
The Big Loop – Like Steinbeck, we did follow a northern route across the Mid-west, angling down through California and sweeping across the Southwest into Texas and further east to Florida and then north back home to Pennsylvania. Along the way, we sometimes fancied ourselves in foreign lands: Parts of Utah looked like Greece to us, the Rockies like the Swiss Alps, and some of Oregon, the Holy land because of myrtle trees.
In the Rockies, I make a snowball on my birthday!
We were entranced by presidents, puffy clouds, national parks . . .
And the Magnificent Grand Canyon
Oregon and California: Myrtle trees, Joshua trees, Dates and Olives!
Tijuana, Mexico: sombreros, a heady substitute for our prayer caps. Joann had no idea she was inviting kisses!
What We Wore
The photos prove our plainness. We always had something on our heads: prayer coverings, black bonnets on top of our caps for Sunday in Salt Lake City, Utah. Accordion pleated plastic wind-breakers for stiff breezes or rain. Dresses or skirts – absolutely no slacks or shorts.
Grandma Longenecker gave me a travel iron – no permanent press fabrics yet in our wardrobes in the Sixties.
Days were HOT!
One day it was 110 degrees in a car with no AC. Our Boontonware cups melted in the rear view window. Our backs made puddles on the seats, so we tried the feet-in-air position, backseat monkeys! Here below are the Boontonware cups before they melted! And, yes, photos at state lines were staged – part of our ritual.
Uncle John couldn’t wait to get to Cheyenne, Wyoming to see the Rodeo, The Daddy of ’em All during Frontier-land week.
What We Did at Night
Sometimes Joan and I disturbed the peace of the Metzler pair next door in the motel. Once I kicked down a picture on a motel wall in Wisconsin and nearly fell on my head to try to retrieve it. Daily we wrote in our diaries and totted up our expenses down to the last penny.
Usually we snacked and read books. One night I lowered the hem on a skirt with my sewing kit to comply with standards of Lancaster Mennonite School, where I would return to teaching in the fall. Here I’m making a feast of boysenberry bread near Kanab, Utah.
Many thanks to photo-enhancer Cliff for bringing faded memories back to life!
How did I pay for this trip on my slim school teacher’s salary? What secrets did my diary and expense book reveal? Did anyone from home remember my birthday? Find out in my next post!
It’s me, pigtails flapping in the May breezes, skipping beside Grandma toward the rhubarb patch. Behind Grandma’s house toward the woods a thick nest of rhubarb stalks stands sentinel over a ridge facing the twelve sweet cornfield rows. In her garden, the pinkish-red rhubarb spears get back-row status but I think they are pretty enough for her flower garden out front.
“You said you are stopped up – didn’t have any luck when you went to the bathroom.” Grandma with her sunbonnet and apron pulls off the biggest pinkish-red stalks, the green heart-shaped, crinkly leaves falling to the ground with one swath of her knife. “A dose of this will fix that.” She’s looking intently at the rhubarb but I know she’s talking to me.
I have eaten Grandma’s rhubarb sauce before, but I never thought of it as a laxative. “It has roughage in it. It’ll really clean you out.” She runs her rough hands along the spine of the stalk to show me the fibers.
“I see,” I say but right now I wonder if it tastes as good as it looks, so I bite into a stalk and find out too late that it has plenty of pucker power. “Eeee-ow. It tastes sour,” spitting the mouthful out on the ground.
“Goodness gracious, you have to boil it first in sugar water to make it taste good, don’t ya know!” She giggles at my ignorance and finishes pulling off more rhubarb stems with a twist of her wrist like separating a stalk of celery from the bunch. Then we head back toward her kitchen.
Making Rhubarb Sauce
The round, dented aluminum pot is simmering on the stove. With every passing minute the mixture of sugar water and rhubarb cut into 1/2-inch chunks is becoming more ruby red. At the last minute Grandma says, “ Just two shakes,” and I flick my wrist to shake the little can of cinnamon twice as swirls of steam half-scald my hand and wrist.
When it cools, it will taste both tart and sweet. That I know!
(Adding Strawberries to the rhubarb adds another layer of flavor.)
What You Might Not Know About Rhubarb
Yes, rhubarb has good cathartic (laxative!) powers, but according to Marion Owen, co-author of Chicken Soup for the Gardener’s Soul, rhubarb is out to save the planet too:
Rhubarb not only saves our plants from aphids, it may also save the planet. In the mid-1980’s, when a hole was discovered in the ozone layer, researchers found that CFC’s were one of the primary reasons for the ozone’s decline.
One of the most common forms of CFC’s is freon, which is used as a refrigerator coolant. Conventional methods for breaking down CFC’s were costly and dangerous. But in 1995, two Yale scientists discovered that oxalic acid, found in rhubarb, helped neutralize CFC’s. Rhubarb to the rescue!
Marion Owen from Kodiak, Alaska, also publishes a newsletter titled The UpBeet Gardener.
Beets, rhubarb, memories of springtime in the garden – all are on the table for today’s conversation!
But what about name changing? Celebrities, like actors, musicians and other entertainers have changed their names as a way disguise their ancestry, make a statement or achieve a unique identity.
In mid-century, British-sounding names in the entertainment industry were thought to be more appealing to the public than Slavic, German or Jewish-sounding names. Thus . . .
Robert Allen Zimmerman → Bob Dylan
Issur Danielovtich Demsky → Kirk Douglas
Helen Lydia Mironoff → Helen Mirren
Entertainer Whoopi Goldberg apparently began life as Caryn Elaine Johnson.
Dancer Fred Astaire was once Frederick Austerlitz.
Actor Ben Kingsley’s birth certificate reads “Krishna Pandit Bhanji.”
Lady Gaga’s Italian heritage is revealed in her birth name, Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta and Jennifer Anniston’s Greek ancestry in Jennifer Anastassakis.
Vanilla Ice probably signed his grade school papers as Robert Van Winkle.
The suave designer Ralph Lauren was once Ralph Lifshitz!
My maiden name was Longenecker, which was changed to Beaman when I married. As a teacher, I would tell students how to spell my name using the 3-little-words approach: Be-a-man. Very rarely was my last name misspelled.
However, my first name (Marian) apparently is tricky to spell. It is often misspelled and in a number of puzzling variations. People with PhDs (not you of course!) and book authors (again, not you!) are the most frequent offenders. Yes, I’ve kept track of them – ha!
Marrian (on a name card at a dinner by a computer that stuttered)
No wonder John Wayne is no longer MariOn Morrison!
Can you add any other interesting name changes to the ones above? Maybe you have some examples of strange naming or spelling from your own family . . .
P.S. Even if you mangle the spelling of my name, we’ll still be friends. That’s a promise! 😉
Coming next: Purple Passages with the Bard of Avon
A snapshot of a baby boy dressed as a girl and an old flash bulb. Those are some of the items we find clearing out Mother’s house. Last October my sisters and I began the arduous task of sorting, saving, or recycling the accumulated store of her possessions having lived in the same house for over 73 years. You can read about it here.
Today’s post features snapshots, both photos and artifacts, from both Mother and Daddy with a surprising find at the end.
MOTHER: Some of what I found from Mother could be filed into 3 categories of nurturing:
Our metal lunch pails carried many a bologna sandwich, usually Baum’s Bologna from their shop north of E-town. After Mother pulled back the burlap, she sliced thick rounds for sandwiches on buttered bread – always butter . . .
Every picture, every story seems familiar in this Bible Story Book with pages, crackly brown with age. Sniffing into the spine, I roll back in time to the little girl on her lap. I loved the art work then. Now I love its charm even more. Did Daddy read these stories to me too? Maybe so, but I can’t remember.
Cameras freeze time, preserving memories. Mother didn’t write in a journal, but she consistently recorded our family’s story over time. The old box camera is long gone, but here is a “flash” of memory possibly from her last camera . . .
DADDY Some of what I found representing my father was surprising:
Although I have several photos of Daddy holding me as a baby, my father was a man’s man: a tractor-driving, motor-fixing, field-plowing, deer-hunting guy. He even hammered on the piano keys. His work clothes were of black moleskin cloth, matching the grease he was in close contact with at the shop. I am certain he never wore pink. Yet here he is posed for the camera in a dress, flanked by his parents, Henry and Fannie Longenecker, my Victorian grandma not yet attired in Mennonite garb that would characterize the rest of her life. Daddy’s dress is not a christening outfit. There was no christening among Mennonites. I suspect that babies of both genders wore dresses to make diaper changing easier.
Our scavenging took us to the attic chest filled with treasured quilts. My sister Jean and Mother tagged each one a few years ago, so there would be no doubt as to their provenance. Apparently, Daddy drew his needle through a white quilt, stitching animals in red. I see a camel, sheep, chicken, pig, duck, an elephant. Even an ostrich.
Here is just a teaser. (Look for Daddy’s full quilt on a later post!)
Daddy’s nickname for me was Pocahontas, not so much because I looked native American, but probably because of my thick, dark braids and big eyes. When I found this doll, I decided it shouldn’t be given away, sold, or recycled. It now sits on the dresser in our bedroom with “strubbly” hair, not braided!
Final Note: A Curious Find On our first visit to Mother’s house in October after the funeral, we saw a wicker basket on top of a hallway chest with a poem entitled “Safely Home,” something we had never noticed before. Were we blind to it earlier? Having a premonition of what was to come, did Mother put it there for us?
I am home in heaven, dear ones; / Oh, so happy and so bright. / There is perfect joy and beauty / In this everlasting light . . . .
(Anonymous, Osterhus Publishing House) . . . a mute but eloquent affirmation
Your turn: Are you holding on to something you treasure from a loved one? A photograph? A small gift?