Family Dinners: Keeping the Spark Alive

Are family dinners important? What about empty nesters? Families of one? Do family dinners protect against the effects of teen drug use and cyberbullying? Writer Melodie Miller Davis in her recent blog post “How do you keep family dinner?” got me thinking about recent research on the topic.

In her post, she refers to Columbia Casa Family Day, a national initiative to remind parents that they have the “power to help keep their kids substance free.” Cornell University researchers also have discovered that shared meals may help prevent eating disorders. An article in Time asserts that teens benefit from interaction with their families and find security in the shared, predictable ritual of family mealtime possibly preventing early drug use and the effects of cyber-bullying. However, there is also research that claims such effects are overstated or not verifiable.

Whatever the case may be, the faster the pace of our lives and the more insane world events become, the more I long for the sweet spaces of serenity that sharing family meals can provide.

The Longeneckers and the Metzlers, two strands of my family line were oblivious of any such research but carried on the ritual of family meal time together. Here is a post from the Metzler gatherings, often picnic style.

Family dinners can be very large as seen here in Grandma and Aunt Ruthie’s house with twenty, mostly Bossler Mennonite Church friends, gathered around their huge dining table.

Mother L_Bossler eating_at Ruthies

Whether large or small, indoors or out, dinners require preparation. My sister Jean and her family provide some of the “raw material” from a shared meal at Mother’s house.

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Years ago if we didn’t visit Pennsylvania, I shared holiday meal making with my sister Janice, who lives just 2 ½ miles from us.

There's one in every crowd - even in family!
There’s a joker in every crowd – even in family!

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And then the over-flow table with the kids . . .

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After awhile, our children began entertaining us, first in Chicago where all four worked, earned graduate degrees and started a family.

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Then when they moved to Florida, two years apart, their meal making continued with Fourth of July at Joel’s house . . .

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. . . and Thanksgiving at Crista’s house in her bright sun room.

Any excuse for a party! Besides birthdays, Fourth of July can be a cause for celebration too.

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One of us, who loved everything about entertaining from meal preparation to talking and eating around the table, will be missing this holiday season and every meal in between, our Mother Ruth Longenecker, hostess extraordinaire.

Mother slicing pig stomach with baked corn and a stick of butter close by
Mother slicing pig stomach with baked corn casserole and a stick of butter close by

 How have family dinners marked your family history?

Coming next: # 1 in a series “Moments of Discovery”

Do You Know Your Ethnic Mix?

“Your DNA has a story. It’s time to discover it,” invites an ad on the back cover of the February 10, 2014 issue of The New Yorker. “It’s easier than ever to discover your ethnic heritage – and possibly find new cousins along the way,” the advertisement continues. Simply send in a small saliva sample, the key to revealing your DNA strands, which will unlock the secrets of your ethnic roots and disclose where your ancestors lived up to a thousand years ago.

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Genealogy, roots, ancestry . . . In my Pennsylvania Dutch family tree, names and dates were often written in the family Bible:

Longenecker Family Bible with German BIble at right
Longenecker Family Bible with German New Testament at right

Eight generations ago, Ulrich Langenegger (1664-1757), left his birthplace in Langnau, Switzerland, because of religious persecution, and moved to the Rhine Valley in Germany and subsequently immigrated to America from Rotterdam on the good ship Hope.

In America, his son, Christian Langenecker (1703-1759) settled in the rich farm land of Donegal Township in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania where followed two more generations of Christian Longeneckers, with the initial “a” in the last name changing finally to an “o.”

Henry Risser Longenecker, my Grandfather, son of Levi Longenecker, listed in the family Bible.
Henry Risser Longenecker, my Grandfather, son of Levi Longenecker, recorded in the family Bible.

And so the family tree on my father’s paternal side continues:

Christian Longenecker, Jr.  1785-1855 buried in Bossler Mennonite Church Cemetery

John Longenecker  1817-1898 married Nancy Garber, my great-great grandmother

Levi Longenecker  1850-1931 married Annie Risser, my great-grandmother

Henry Longenecker  1876-1946 married Fannie Martin, my grandmother

Ray Longenecker  1915-1985 married Ruth Metzler Longenecker, my mother

On my father’s maternal side some of our history is recorded on the bottom of a chair given to me in 1975. Even then it had a 150-year-old history of Martins, Brinsers, and Horsts in the lineage of my Grandmother Fannie Martin Longenecker.

The Martin Chair, circa 1815
The Martin Chair, circa 1815

My mother’s story is a blend of other Pennsylvania Dutch Names: Landis, Harnish, Hernley, and Metzler. After attending the 275th Metzler reunion last June, I wrote a post entitled Another Valentine, A Different Romance, recounting the parallel history of Swiss-German Mennonites who also came to Pennsylvania at the invitation of William Penn to farm the rich soil of Lancaster County.

Because of their unique heritage as plain folks, focus on Mennonite ancestry is not unusual. But interest in tracing one’s ancestry has ballooned nation-wide in the last decade. “Finding Your Roots” the immensely popular PBS series by Professor Henry Louis Gates which aired in 2012 mirrors that trend. Using both traditional research and genetics, the series traces the family roots of such disparate celebrities as Condoleezza Rice, Sanjay Gupta, Margaret Cho, Robert Downey Jr., and Rev. Rick Warren. There are some surprising intermingling of genetic roots among the stories as I recall.

Thus, as our family trees expand and send out branches in many different directions, the fascination with our roots continues: Healthy roots, thriving branches, the tag of Homecoming Weekend at Eastern Mennonite University last fall, says it well.

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Do you know your ethnic mix? Does it matter to you?

Is your story more complex because of adoption?

What fascinating discoveries have you made in learning of your ancestry?

Your thoughts matter to me! I look forward to hearing from you.