Quiet Lives Matter: My Brother Mark

My brother Mark was my first baby. He was born when I was 12, and I soon became a mother to him. I even have a picture to prove it, a blurry movie still from one of Aunt Ruthie’s 16 millimeter camera shoots.

Holding brother Mark as my sister (age 7) Jean zooms on by
Holding brother Mark as my youngest sister Jean (age 7) happily zooms on by

I most certainly bottle fed him and changed his diapers. When he was a few months old, my sisters and I made up a little ditty often chanted repeatedly when we played with him:

De honey and de sweetie and de hon-ey boy

De hon, de hon, de hon-ey boy . . .

Practicing our Latin, we would refer to him as “Marcus -a -um” when he got a little older. Looking back, I wonder now how much the age difference and his being our longed-for brother played a role in such playfulness.

Mark passed through the usual boyhood stages, going to school at Rheems Elementary (here pictured at age 8) and learning to ride a bike.

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MarkBikeFence

Like most boys this age, he climbed trees and played with his beloved dog, Skippy, butterscotch colored and 3-legged.

Mark handing walnuts to his sister Janice, 1964
Mark handing walnuts to his sister Janice, 1964

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In the doggy photo, Mark is already wearing shop overalls and shop shoes ready for work at Longenecker Farm Supply, our family business in Rheems, Pennsylvania.

Eventually, his work at the shop translated into industrial arts credit at Elizabethtown High School, where he earned a certificate of attendance.

Here painted and sealed in polyurethane is a cartoon of Mark on a Deutz tractor which certified his skill at the wheel and gave a nod to his service with the Rheems Fire Department.

Stool art courtesy of Cliff-Toon Stools by Cliff Beaman, 1985
Stool art courtesy of Cliff-Toon Stools by Artist Cliff Beaman, 1985

Later, he worked at our dad’s shop full time, from where he was often sent out to fix machinery when farmers were stuck needing repairs in the field.

Mark in front of shop beside soybean extruder, 1984
Mark in front of shop beside soybean extruder, 1984

As family members aged, he kept the home-fires burning at the two houses on Anchor Road, first ministering to our Aunt Ruthie’s increasing needs as her memory loss progressed. Because of Mark’s care, Ruthie was able to stay in her own home at the bottom of the hill for four years longer than would have been feasible otherwise. He occasionally took her dog Fritzie IV for walks, a dog variously dubbed vicious, feisty or protective depending on whom you asked. Out of respect for Ruthie and her devotion to her Schnauzer, he took care of a dog he didn’t particularly like and certainly didn’t love.

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Simultaneously, he helped take our Mother Ruth to doctor and dentist appointments and often shopped for groceries, enabling our mother to stay in her own home at the top of the hill until she died last year at age 96.

When we realized we would be selling Mother’s house, Mark’s contacts from the shop along with his extended group of friends in the area enabled us to sell the property without a realtor’s assistance and accompanying fees.

Every Sunday now he takes Pearl Longenecker in her nineties to church at Bossler Mennonite Church.

Mark continues to live in Aunt Ruthie’s house with his daughter Shakeeta (Kiki) who moved in recently, caretakers of the Longenecker homestead we hold dear.

MarkKiKi

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From my point of view, Mark does not suffer from the effects of striving, the bane of modern existence. It’s safe to say he has never slavishly checked off items on a to-do list or reached for the benchmarks of fame and fortune as many do. In other words, he hasn’t made a big splash in this world. But my brother Mark is a helper, living a quiet life that matters.

Stephen Post, Hidden Gifts of Helping

We eat because it keeps us alive, and we help others because it keeps us human.  (29)

And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water . . . , verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward.     Matthew 10:42   King James Version


Are there unsung heroes in your family or among your group of friends and acquaintances? Thank you for spicing up our conversation here with your story!

Coming next: Help! A Vintage Photo in Need of a Caption

August Wedding: Love Over Time

During the first week of August Cliff and I celebrate three wedding anniversaries, our son and daughter and their spouses along with our own. Our children are beginners at marriage (sort of), but for us it’s # 47, three years away from golden.

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Our romance was of the “Some Enchanted Evening” sort, recounted in an earlier blog post which near the end merely hints of conflict to come. In the beginning, there was the clash of cultures: a high-energy, pioneer-type from the Pacific Northwest marries a Mennonite school teacher from southeastern Pennsylvania. As my mother-in-law said on our wedding day, “You two will have a lot of adjustments to make.” I knew that was true in my head but naively imagined of course we will be the exception: Doesn’t love conquer all?

Because of Cliff’s career, we settled in Jacksonville as newyweds, a city with a semi-tropical climate and an overwhelming expressway system–a far cry from the gentle, rolling hills and farmlands of Lancaster County; Southern accents, not lilting Pennsylvania lingo. Our adventures included both the typical and the unconventional: Living in a 8’ x 24’ foot travel trailer for a year and a half with a two-year-old daughter and baby son. Starting a fledgling graphic arts business in our home where we experienced both feast and famine. A miscarriage. Working on graduate degrees while raising a family. Long separations as Cliff traveled the country with his own art show. The deaths of Cliff’s mother and my father. And other unwelcome events: a mammoth falling oak just grazing the side of our house, the dining room ceiling becoming a sieve as the roof leaked, my new car totaled putting my back out of whack. Larkin Warren in her vignette “Because love grows deeper over time” illustrates her own version of marital challenge:

In the early days it was all about him. His favorite foods . . . . favorite flavor of ice cream, and whether he liked my hair up or down. I loved to make him laugh, and worked hard not to cry in front of him. I cleaned my house before he came over, always wore mascara, always had champagne in the fridge.

[But] we’ve seen each other at our worst, and that’s not an exaggeration. Physically ill, emotionally grief-stunned, job-panicked, or angry enough to throw crockery at the wall . . . .  Red-faced, blotchy, hoarse from yelling. Our parents grow old, and ill, or nutty: our children make mistakes that drop us to our knees. Through it all, how on earth can he love me, given what a flawed, messy, moody person I am: The artifice is long gone; he see me.

Yes, the artifice is gone. The scales, if there were any, have long since fallen from our eyes. In retrospect, we see clearly now. But we remember beholding the luster of un-tested love, the gritty struggles mingled with the shiny penny days. “We have seen it from both sides now,” says poet E. J. Mudd:

OldWivesPNG

Adam Gopnik adds metaphorical wisdom:  Love, like light is a thing that is enacted better than defined: we know it afterward by the traces it leaves on paper.

Dear reader, your traces on the “paper” of this post are welcome. Thanks for commenting. You may also enjoy reading secrets of a 20-year-marriage @ http://notquiteamishliving.com/2014/07/twenty-years-three-things-about-love-n-marriage/

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One of the beloved members of our family has gone home to be with the Lord this week. Following the publication of this edition, postings on this blog will be suspended for a time.