This week two years ago Mother was snatched from our world just five days after her 96th birthday. Late on a Monday evening, July 28, 2014, she was transported into a new and better land.
Mother lived on a dairy farm in the Manheim – Lititz area of Pennsylvania. When she married my father Ray, she moved about 12 miles west, still in Lancaster County. Like many Mennonite couples in the 1940s, they honeymooned in Niagara Falls, New York, where I most likely was conceived.
Over the years, she visited the Philadelphia Flower Show and strolled through Longwood Gardens exclaiming, “Oh, my, such beautiful flowers we saw!”
When my sisters and I studied at Eastern Mennonite College, she and daddy drove to Harrisonburg, Virginia several times, back then a four-hour drive to the Shenandoah Valley. “My, look at the mountains in the distance – so pretty,” she said.
Mother seemed happy to be a homebody. She never seemed curious about seeing world capitals as her daughters were. Traveling around the United States in five weeks with a friend as I did once would seem incomprehensible to her. “Why would I want to do that?” I can hear her say.
But when her first great grandsons were born seven weeks apart in 2003, I was able to goad her to fly to Chicago where our son and daughter lived.
Viewing the city from the Hancock Building, she sat in awe at the vast expanse of skyscrapers.
These photos recall pleasant memories and now re-confirm in my heart and mind her citizenship in a heavenly world.
In her life on earth, she was confident she would one day live in a Beautiful City full of brilliant light and everlasting joy.
For s/he looked for a city, which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
Mother often sang about heaven at the top of her lungs in front of the kitchen stove, making breakfast for her children before school. Her voice, always off key, sang about a beautiful city I imagine she could visualize as she scrambled eggs with shakes of pepper and filled cups with cocoa, each with a dollop of butter.
Would you pass up an invitation to a lawn soirée on a holiday weekend? This week 107 years ago my grandma, Miss Fanny Martin, then a single woman, received a penny postcard invitation to such a gathering on July 3, 1909.
Mary Elizabeth Kob writes in neat cursive: “You are heartily invited to attend a Lawn Soirée July 3, 1909 in honor of Jacob S. Kob at his home. Meet 7:30. Refreshments. Respectfully, Mary Elizabeth Kob.” I assume my grandmother attended the party.
From my vantage point in the 21st century, it’s hard to piece together the details. Was Mary Elizabeth Jacob’s wife, daughter, or sister? Based on the name alone, it’s hard to tell. Was the occasion a combination birthday and Fourth of July celebration? If so, the emphasis may have been on the national holiday judging from the red, white, and blue postcard colors.
Leo Kob was the only “Kob” name familiar to me when I was growing up in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania. Leo, whom I heard my parents refer to as “Kobbie,” owned a G. E. Oil and Gas Heating business in Elizabethtown, a family business that boasted the phrase “Since 1904” in a page in my high school yearbook. Maybe Leo bought or inherited the business from his grandfather or father. Was Leo related to Jacob? A search of genealogical records could prove or disprove any relationship.
Yes, excavating one’s family history leads to questions, some without clear answers.
Piecing together fragments of family history requires a measure of conjecture and speculation. Therefore, when one reaches the limits of family history and historical record, what happens next? Memoir writers can use a technique known as “perhapsing,” a tool for supplying detail in a scene when memory is unreliable or when facts are simply missing. According the writer Lisa Knopp, “The word perhaps cues the reader that the information [the writer] is imparting is not factual but speculative.” Because deviating too far from fact could result in fiction, life story writers have a tight rope to balance here. Yet “perhapsing” used sparingly or a well-placed “it might have been” can occasionally provide motivation and action, adding richness and complexity to the narrative.
Knowing about Leo Kob and his family is not critical to my own memoir writing, but writing about the details of my visit to New York City to distribute gospel tracts as a young Mennonite girl is significant, as this excerpt illustrates:
Perhaps my memory has amped up the details, but I can now imagine this frightful creature grabbing me by the shoulder in a death grip as I am spun round and round like a whirling dervish. In my film clip of this horror show there was little I could do to resist the grasp of this drunken prophetess. I felt dizzy and afraid.
About this 1909 postcard? When my plain Grandma Longenecker received this post card, she looked like this:
I found it in a stash of other cards inside the fold-out compartment of Aunt Ruthie’s secretary. What other treasures may be hiding there? I wonder.
What treasures have you found either by design – or unexpectedly?
As a reader, what do you think of the literary device called “perhapsing”? Have you used it as a writer?
Every week, The New Yorker magazine features a Cartoon Caption Contest, inviting readers to submit a caption for consideration. After three finalists are chosen, readers vote for the winning caption. You can view my first attempt at a similiar contest here on this blog with family members on a Sunday outing.
When we sorted through our mother’s things after her passing, I found a large photo likely from the 1970s taken by Ken Smith Photographs from Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. The photographer snapped my Grandma Fannie Longenecker with bonnet and neck scarf and my dad, facing her away from the camera. Apparently they are in line at a breakfast buffet likely at a farm equipment convention. Others in the line are unknown. All seem intent on filling their plates, some more than others.
“What was going on here?” I ask. Everyone in the photograph registers a similar band-width on the emotional scale, except for the couple on the left.
This photo begs a caption.
* * *
What’s going on here?
Invent a caption.
Guess at the scarario.
Supply a two-line dialogue between the couple on the left.
Imagine the photographer’s motive.
Reminisce about an awkward moment you recall.
O, wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us / To see oursels as others’ see us! “To a Louse”
Robert Burns 1786
(On Seeing One on a Lady’s Bonnet at Church)
Coming next: Moments of Extreme Emotion: Where’s My Spyglass?
I played with pastel-colored beads and wooden blocks with ridges, babyhood toys. Mother kept these oblong & round beads and animal-themed alphabet blocks for her grandchildren and great-grands. These sturdy toys entertained children of mothers they nurtured in their ministry for New Life for Girls too.
To me, such simple toys bespeak innocence and the charm of a simpler life..
On this Mother’s Day 2016, these artifacts seem an apt metaphor for my mother’s contribution to our heritage.
Beads of Wisdom: Mom’s Mottos
“Outen the light,” meaning turn off the light switch to conserve energy.
“Ach, don’t talk so dumb,” spoken as a way to discourage silly talk.
“You get what you pay for.”
“Be sure your sin will find you out.”
(Someone) “turned up Jack,” meaning disappointed or didn’t pan out
“Be sure to add enough butter: Butter makes it better!”
“Tie your head shut,” admonishing us to wear a bandanna during cold or windy weather, illustrated here with a flash of memory:
I paid attention, of course, and rushed out wearing my blue wool coat and pink and white polka-dotted bandanna on my head, eager to help Grandma set the table. In cool weather, I always had my “head tied shut,” an expression Mother used to keep us from getting a cold, she thought. But looking back, I think having my head tied shut is a metaphor for keeping out the world and all the corruption that can come in through an unlocked door, even a passageway like my ears.
Blocks of Faith
Tied a nickel into the corner of a square, white hanky to teach me to give to God.
Read to me from a Bible Story Book, one story for every day of the year.
The date on the flyleaf, MCMXLII, can be translated as 1942. In the years following, my sisters Janice and Jean and my brother Mark must have heard these stories too.
3. Prayed with us at bedtime: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep . . . .”
4. Led us in prayers of gratitude before all our meals. Usually, the prayers were silent.
5. Uplifted arms, palms turned upward, her gesture of acceptance, “Whatever the Good Lord wants.”
My mother wasn’t perfect. Whose is? She had moments of impatience, she sometimes complained, yet she did the best she could. I choose to celebrate those attributes of a woman who all her life sought to please God.
An invitation to you: Add words of wisdom or silliness from any source, including your mother.
Coming next: Vintage Photo in Need of a Caption, Part II
My mother wore many hats both literally and figuratively. Most of her head coverings were prayer veilings worn every day. As a young woman, her coverings were large, decreasing in size as she got older and church rules had progressively relaxed.
Mother wore a sunbonnet in the tomato patch in Bainbridge, PA. As far as I could tell, Mennonite women in the 1940s and 1950s, paid no attention to Coppertone ads. (Remember billboards with that sneaky cocker spaniel pulling on a little girl’s swimsuit bottom, exposing her pale cheeks?) No one that I knew then wore sun tan lotion regularly, except maybe to the shore at Atlantic City or Ocean City. Country women, including my mother, wore bonnets in the garden and fields to protect their skin.
The details are fuzzy here because this photo is another movie “still” captured from Aunt Ruthie’s 16 mm camera (circa 1955).
I look at this image of Mother’s sunbonnet worn in the tomato patch with two lenses, viewing the blurry film now and remembering the scene vividly then as an eyewitness:
I’m looking at a film clip of Mother in rows of the tomato patch just now, humped-over body bending toward a flush tomato bush facing the camera, her blue and white speckled sunbonnet sewn with three tiers of matching ruffles, a row along the bill, a row at the crease, another row near the crown of the hat—come to think of it now, headgear much fancier than her everyday prayer cap.
Figuratively too, she wore many hats:
Dresser of chickens
Sewing circle seamstress
Volunteer – MCC Gift and Thrift
Volunteer – Choice Books in Salunga, PA
Mother particularly enjoyed her last volunteer job, stamping the Choice Books logo onto inspirational books for display on kiosks in stores around the country. During her “morning away,” she got to see her niece Dotty Metzler Martin often, met her friend Bertha, and ate lunch with other friends. She always sounded thrilled to describe this excursion when we talked on the phone Saturday mornings.
Even in her early nineties, she got excited about this bright spot in her life. I thought about her experience and examined my own passions when I read this verse from Psalm 39:3
My heart grew hot within me . . . and as I meditated, the fire burned. (NIV)
If someone asked Mother, “What lights your fire?” She would probably answer, “Serving others,” a motto she lived by.
The 16 x 22 inch poster created for her 90th birthday party and later, displayed on an easel at her memorial service, shows flash points of service, including her stint at Choice Books.
How would you answer these burning questions?
What lights your fire?
What burns “hot” within you?
“When God gives you an 11-by-17 mindset, you’ll never be happy living in a 3-by-5 mental framework.” Daily Devotional: The Word for You Today, April 10, 2016
Hearing from you lights my fire. Thank you for commenting here!
Coming next: All Creatures Great & Small: The Power of Pets
Little Mennonite girls could be fancy before they became plain. They could wear hats. Their mothers may have worn flat, black bonnets on top of their prayer veilings (coverings) at Easter, but they couldn’t wear hats with ribbons and flowers. At least not in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in the 1950s.
My sisters and I are standing here in front of peony bushes wearing some cast-off hats Grandma Longenecker’s friend, Mame Goss, brought from a millinery shop in Middletown, Pennsylvania.
I recall this scene through the lens of memory:
I’m looking now at a snapshot my mother took of my sisters and me in these hats, the three of us holding hands in front of a peony bed. The magenta peonies are in bloom, so it must have been May. The double whites mingled among them have ruby flecks in their ruffled centers. My sister Janice, three years younger, is standing at one end, with blonde hair fluffed into curls, hands obediently at her side. Jeanie, a tiny tot of two or three, appears to be looking down at the grass, her burst of tulle brushing light brown hair. I’m staring straight at the camera, two thick braids trailing down my back. Our dresses are all bedecked with ruffles and bows, embroidery or smocking, dresses surely made by our plain Mennonite mother.
I wore my first adult hat ever, a pale blue clôche with a blue chiffon dress one spring when Cliff and I were dating.
At Crista’s 5th birthday party I was wearing a knitted skull-tight cap, typical of the 1970s.
In the 1990s I bought a white hat trimmed in black ribbon and feathers, probably for Easter. I don’t wear hats anymore. I have already taken this one to Angel Aid, a charity for mothers and children.
My sister Jan and I wore British-style hats to Downton Abbey events sponsored by our PBS station in Jacksonville, Florida. Each of our hats adorned with feathers, a flower and seed pearls cost $ 5.00 at Roots’ Country Market near Manheim, PA. We didn’t tell anyone at the gala how much our gorgeous hats cost.
Hats have mostly gone out of fashion in recent decades, except among the trendy young. NAACP leader Roslyn Brock makes a style statement with her wardrobe of about 200 fashionable hats, expressing her love for her Grandmother Leona Pittman who “believed a woman was not properly dressed for church without one.” Brock emphasizes that
I’m following in the legacy of female civil rights leaders who completed their Sunday go-to-meeting clothes with fashionable hats.
Hats are the centerpiece of Roslyn’s wardrobe. She admits that she’ll buy the hat first and then find a matching suit or shoes. For Roslyn, who enjoys couture creations from Philip Treacy, Queen Elizabeth’s designer, wearing hats “keeps our history and culture alive.”
How a hat makes you feel is what a hat is all about. ~ Philip Treacy
In June it will be two years since my mother died unexpectedly. I still miss her terribly. Grief occasionally comes over me in waves. Now less often, with less severe impact. Still . . .
On my dresser I have kept three mementoes of Mother, one on top of the other: the two-quart Ball jar with bubbles in the glass, emblematic of her love of cooking and canning. And her last Mennonite black bonnet and white prayer covering veiling made of bobbinet fabric, a see-through, hexagonal mesh. Symbols of her constant faith and hope in God, each piece of headgear is less than half the size of those she wore in her youth.
Any hats in your history?
What did it look like? Where did you wear it? Do you still wear a hat? Comments are warmly welcomed. Don’t be shy.
At Easter-tide I’m dipping once again into my Grandma Fannie Martin Longenecker’s stash of vintage post cards. Here is one dated April 1908 from “your RBC,” it says, with the postmark wrapped around the face of the card.
Another, from 1910, displays the marvelous passion flower adorning the cross.
The message from Grandma’s cousin Elizabeth begins with “Dear Coz” and in black flowing fountain-pen ink cursive begs her for a visit: “Try and come down to E-Town on Sat. Eve and come to Demmys. I will be there now don’t forget it.”
The passion flower which blooms in the spring has come to symbolize the suffering and death of Christ, hence the nickname “passion.” Mary Delany, herself a late-blooming artist, constructed a lovely flower with 230 petals with her scissors art.
The bloom (Passiflora) grown in my garden illustrates the religious symbolism explained below.
One writer, a Franciscan sister, has expressed the meaning of the flower parts in this way.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, Spanish Christian missionaries adopted the unique physical structures of this plant, particularly the numbers of its various flower parts, as symbols of the last days of Jesus and especially his crucifixion:
* The pointed tips of the leaves were taken to represent the HolyLance. * The tendrils represent the whips used in the flagellation of Christ. * The ten petals and sepals represent the ten faithful apostles (less St. Peter the denier and Judas Iscariot the betrayer). * The flower’s radial filaments, which can number more than a hundred and vary from flower to flower, represent the crown of thorns. * The chalice-shaped ovary with its receptacle represents a hammer or the Holy Grail * The 3 stigmata represent the 3 nails and the 5 anthers below them the 5 wounds (four by the nails and one by the lance). * The blue [purple] and white colours of many species’ flowers represent Heaven and Purity.
This is the season of spring, Easter, and Passover. Happy Holy-day to you!
Coming next: Climbing the Swiss Alps: 7 Steps Toward a Narrative Arc
Is there a drop of Irish blood in my veins? I doubt it. I grew up Mennonite in the Longenecker family in Pennsylvania Dutch country, a hot-bed of Swiss-German ancestry.
Still, the Irish-named Donegal Springs is a mere 3-mile, 5-minute drive from Rheems, Pennsylvania near my birthplace. In the adjoining Dauphin County are Londonderry Township. In Bucks County, a town named Dublin, sister city to the capital of the Republic of Ireland.
When we visited Ireland, we met a congenial gentleman named Buchanan, who remarked that he has immigrant relatives buried in the Donegal Presbyterian Church cemetery, a place he once visited.
During my last trip to Pennsylvania, I discovered some vintage postcards stamped with penny postage, sent to Miss Fannie Martin, my Grandma Longenecker. Many of her postcards are embossed and saturated with color – no Photoshop filters needed.
In an era long before smartphones and text messages, postcards were valued. Instead of instant messages easily deleted and forgotten, these cards have become artifacts of my family history. The one below over one hundred years old is dated 1910.
I live in a neighborhood where Irish names abound: Blarney Stone Court, Killarney Drive, Leprechaun Court, St. Patrick Lane. Names on residents’ mailboxes have included Dunleavy, O’Neill, and Kelly. We once had to fight a major retailer to retain charming shamrocks and moss-footed oaks in a wooded area adjoining our community. The hanging on our front door reflects the neighborhood and the season.
St. Patrick’s Day this year falls on a Thursday, March 17. Until then, I wish you the luck of the Irish.
May the wind be always at your back and your pathways peaceful. If you are Jewish, Mazel Tov!
To enjoy these Irish limerick lines below add just the right word to complete the rhyme. Keep in mind the missing word must rhyme with the first and second lines. (Answer key in next week’s blog post.)
Edward Lear, Ogden Nash, and Lewis Carroll are among the best versifiers of this humorous form. If you want to cook up your own limerick, here is a link to the recipe with a pattern for the rhyme scheme.
No driver wants to hear this coming from under her car hood, even if it is my aging Infiniti. When I reported these scary noises to my husband Cliff, he immediately went into Investigator Mode. His problem-solving scenario proceeded like this: visiting a neighbor who restores antique cars, checking with an auto shop we’ve used before, and then contacting the dealership, the most expensive option. He wrote down notes for each, notes with names, dates, schematics, and most importantly, dollar signs.
He handles plumbing problems at home or HVAC hang-ups the same thorough way. Whether buying a new lawnmower, computer equipment or making travel plans, my husband Cliff is a comparison shopper supreme.
Once upon a time, Cliff used this same methodical system to find suitable dates. During college he had a little black book in which he entered names of girls to date. After they passed the sensational-physical-attributes test, their names and interests were entered into this book. Some girls’ names were crossed off the list because they were too giggly, walked like a duck, or were unable to sing on key.
Cliff went into serious search mode to find a mate after an unofficial engagement fell apart. Then his college roommate suggested he meet his next-door neighbor, a teacher and a Mennonite, during Christmas vacation. We met on a blind date In December 1965. I say blind because the normal-looking Mennonites he had known from the West were very unlike the girl standing in front of him, plain with hair coiled up under a prayer cap – me.
Maybe because of the mystique of our differences or because we had similar interests, ours was a whirlwind romance sustained by letters for months after Cliff returned to post-graduate work and me to teaching. Then his letters dwindled, probably because of his hesitation about dating a girl like me from such a strange background.
He went into comparison shopping mode again as he began his first year teaching, dating a nurse from a fine family. Later, he said after he had come to his senses, “I couldn’t get you out of my mind. I thought I would miss something if I said goodbye to you forever.”
According to Cliff, two things I did sealed the deal for him.
I made him a monogrammed bath robe for Valentine’s which kept him from freezing on off-campus housing his last few months in college
I called various hospitals to try to figure out in which hospital he was a patient when he had pneumonia and was too sick to contact me.
Fortunately our friendship was rekindled when we both attended the August 1966 wedding of the couple who introduced us. Now it was Christmas 1966, and Cliff drove from Jacksonville Florida to pick me up in Charlotte, North Carolina where I was teaching. From there we headed to my hometown, in Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania in his white Plymouth Savoy.
There one snowy evening before Christmas Cliff said, “Let’s take a drive.” So we bundled up and headed out, crunching footprints in the new fallen snow. Fat flakes were falling from the sky even thicker as we slid into the car, the plastic seats crackling from the cold. Memories of the evening have become a movie in my mind.
“Where are we going?” I quizzed.
“Oh, I don’t know. We’ll just take a drive in this beautiful snow,” Cliff replied rather lamely.
As he tried hard to urge the heater to warm us up, we reminisced about our first dates the Christmas before. “Do you remember how deep the snow was when we went to see the Sound of Music?”
“Of course I do!” The car’s windshield wipers were swishing away mini-cotton balls of snow now.
In the back of his mind, Cliff wondered, “What will she say if I ask her to marry me?”
As we approached the archway between Rheems and Mount Joy, I exclaimed, “The road hasn’t been plowed any farther. We’re at a standstill!” We had come to a crossroads.
Then he said, “If you thought it was God’s will, would you marry me?”
Quickly I responded, “Of course I would.” But in an instant I recognized this as a marriage proposal encased in a tricky question, a snowy fleece.
“Well, then, will you marry me?”
With a “Yes,” the camera dissolved into hugs and kisses.
And yes, the little black book has been destroyed long ago.
Is there a comparison shopper in your family? Are you such a shopper?
You are invited to share your marriage proposal story here too.
I still should be placed at the head of the table.
What am I?
You have probably already guessed the answer, a piece of furniture often passed down through the generations. Yet sorting through what is bequeathed us, we often handle family heirlooms whose origins are a riddle.
Our mother’s adjustable high chair, for example. It’s for sure from the Metzler/Landis side of the family, but we are not sure exactly where it came from. Did parents Abram and Sadie Metzler buy it new? Did the Landis grandparents present it as a gift because it was their very first grand-daughter? It looks well preserved, but its origin still a puzzle.
This gorgeous, glazed floral dish . . . of its vintage we are sure.
It’s no mystery where this Japanese teacup came from either. Mother, pretending to be me, wrote legibly in black that it’s from my maternal Grandma, Annie Metzler. It once survived an explosion in my curio cabinet. You can read about that here.
The German Bible has been in our family for centuries. The signatures signify it belongs in the Longenecker line. No mystery there.
A Special Chair
This chair below has sat in our bedroom for years. And it’s no enigma where it came from.
The provenance of the chair was taped to the bottom of this chair. Did I say chair? Yes, of course, this is the answer to the riddle above.
Since 1975, I have transcribed the names of generations of Martins and Longeneckers that have used this chair to host dinners. It’s called the Joseph Martin chair because it was handed down to us from Fannie Martin Longenecker, our grandmother.
Teacups, dishes, and chairs are inanimate. Unlike the personable “characters” in the Be Our Guest song from Beauty and the Beast, they come to life only when friends and family gather ‘round the table hospitably.
A Memorable Dinner
This photo was snapped just before bodies of all ages – the wiggly young, the pregnant great grand-daughters, the middle-aged, the elderly – gathered around the table at Grandma Longenecker’s house ready to dig in to Christmas dinner in 2004.
This was the last time Aunt Ruthie was able to host the dinner. She was 86 then. Of course she had lots of help, but this was the last time she sat as hostess at the head of the table, probably on an antique chair.
* * *
What antiques do you regularly use at home? Have stored in the attic? Do you know a reliable website or service for valuing antiques?