Christmas with the Animals: Treasures from Aunt Ruthie & Fanny and Mary Martin

When I was a little girl, my Aunt Ruthie painted this wooden dish with a lamb and the Bethlehem star. She made one for each of my sisters too. I’m sorry there is no date though I imagine we were in elementary or middle school in the early 1950s.

RuthieWoodPlateChristmas

 

Christmas scenes always include animals. A donkey, lamb, and sheep usually surround the manger scene with the Christ-child as the focus. Sometimes camels too, though missing from this nativity scene . . .

We were fearful that this nativity set was somehow lost in our move this year, but was discovered in a crowded corner of the garage at the last minute.
We were fearful that this nativity set was somehow lost in our move this year, but was discovered in a crowded corner of the garage at the last minute.

A Dog

Victorian postcards also pictured animals. Some in my stash include an adorable chocolate-colored puppy embossed by a floral-frame already imprinted with 2-cent postage.

postcardjoyfulpuppynodate

postcardpuppyimprint1900s

A Flock of Birds

I was surprised to find a card addressed to Mrs. Samuel Martin, my Great-Grandmother. Mary Horst Martin, a robust, warm-hearted woman whose mother died in childbirth, and orphaned after her father died in a logjam on the Susquehanna River near Middletown, Pennsylvania.

SamMaryMartin

My sisters and I wish we could have known Great-Grandma Mary, who never met a stranger. “Just put an extra board in the table,” was her motto when unexpected guests came to her door. She also had a practical streak and opened wide the “door” of her bodice if she got too hot in the kitchen. In the photo here I see some mischief playing in her eyes, her hands folded “just so” probably at the photographer’s prompt. And although she wore a covering, her white ribbon slightly askew, it probably did not put a lid on her free spirit.

The card she received featured large-breasted birdies in the snow.

postcardhappybirdsmrs-samm1913

Mary was a farmer’s wife with a rural delivery address (R. D.), and her friend Stella, probably from Middletown, gives instructions to “come up to the house” when she is in town.

Excited to think that some of my great grandmother's DNA may remain on this postcard from 1913.
Touching the card, I am excited to think that a trace of my great grandmother’s DNA may remain on this postcard from December 23, 1913.

 

A Designing Woman with Gifts

postcardladydrawing1911

When she was in her twenties, my Grandma Fanny received this card from Barbara, who would be considered now a millennial, communicating through iMessage, Instagram, or Snapchat.

postcardladydrawing1911tofanny

Her unedited message on the reverse side of the card (punctuation missing) appears in neat penmanship:

Hello Fannie times look very suspicious down here, from away up yonder you know. Ha! Ha! If I could only tell you the rest. You can imagine. How do they look up there? And sure enough you expect to entertain me on Xmas ha! A Merry Xmas and A Happy New Year to all.

And then on the face of the card above: “Yours you bet, Barbara!”

The untethered gifts that exceed the grasp of the young, demure woman on the card may suggest that the “treasures of dear remembrance” mean more than a gift wrapped up with a bow. But maybe not . . .

What do you imagine she is thinking?

Can you identify the breed of bird in the postcard?

What else stands out for you in Christmas correspondence?

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS, HAPPY HANUKKAH, AND HAPPY KWANZAA!

Advertisements

Aunt Ruthie: Birthdays to Remember

The Longeneckers think birthdays ending in 5 or 0 are special. At a Longenecker family gathering in Florida in 2003, we celebrated the birthday of my brother Mark, who turned the big 5-0.

Brother Mark's 50th Birthday 2003
Brother Mark’s 50th Birthday 2003   (Tim Kulp, spouse of grand niece in background)

And also of my Aunt Ruthie who celebrated her 85th birthday at our house at the same time.

Aunt Ruthie Longenecker's 85th Birthday, 2003
Aunt Ruthie Longenecker’s 85th Birthday, 2003

This month on October 4th, Ruthie reached her 98th birthday. That called for two celebrations: one among residents of the home where she receives nursing care and the other with her family at the same facility.

 

What she said at the first celebration:

It came suddenly and it left the same way . . .

 

What happened at the second:

The preliminaries: Tao from Viet Nam, one whom Aunt Ruthie sheltered as a young woman, beautifies the table with an autumn bouquet. Her children think of Ruthie as their grandmother.

taoflowerbouquet

Then –  family meal with dessert . . .

No 5’s or 0’s appeared on the birthday cake in front of her, but there was a huge number 9 in the calculation – not 98 candles, but close!

marianruthie98

She had her drowsy moments during the party, but slowly awakening once, she looked around the table and observed, “It can’t be denied that women outnumber the men here.”

birthdaygroup

My sisters Janice and Jean, two grandnieces, and a nephew

She didn’t have enough wind to blow out the two candles at first. Neither did I. We all sent her good wishes after 4-5 puffs, extinguishing the two flames.

blowoutcandles

 

Special Report: Ruthie Reaction

I promised to give you a postscript to my post Aunt Ruthie Longenecker: Her Life in Pictures.

Earlier in the week, Ruthie with her perky pony tail leaned in, looked intently at my computer screen with eyes wide open.

ruthieperkyponytail

When we came to the vintage photo of the 1930s family reunion, she began identifying a few relatives she remembered – her aunts, uncles, her father, her mother (“My, she was thinner then, if you know what I mean,” she said with a wry smile, viewing her mother.) Her left hand moved steadily if quavery across the family photo – speaking names of relatives long dead: “Grandma Martin, Grandpa Sam, Uncle Frank, Uncle Joe, Mattie, Bertha, oh, and my brother Ray.” Long pauses often punctuated the name call.

I was thrilled to observe the foggy memory mists lifting and blowing away for a few precious minutes . . .

Remember my promise on the October 5 post? I did show her the post of her life in pictures, including your comments.

They made her smile, smile real big!

ruthiereaction

“Thank you,” she said.

Madeleine L’Engle’s birthday sentiment:

The great thing about getting older is that you don’t lose all the other ages you’ve been.


Given a choice, what age would you choose among the ages you’ve been?

Hallowe’en: the Village, Valdemort, and a Video

Ten years ago grandsons Patrick and Curtis were one-year-olds at Hallowe’en. In October 2004 they lived far away from us in Chicago. Fortunately, their parents captured snapshots of them in costume, Curtis a pumpkin and Patrick, Tigger, both in store-bought outfits, unlike my own get-ups, which were always homemade as shown in my Hallowe’en post last year.

Curtis as pumpkin_2004_1000

Patrick_Halloween Tigger_2004_1031

Last weekend, among the children dressed as Muggles, Dumbledores, or Valdemort, Patrick and Curtis  chose to attend the “Harry Potter” Sunday Symphony sans costume. Only Curtis wielded a wand, which caused a wee bit of trouble amidst the spider webs.

 PatCurtPotterSymphony

*  *  *

Students at Rheems Elementary School grades 1 – 8, though familiar with Washington Irving’s “The Legend of Ichabod Crane” and perhaps Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” could not have anticipated J. R. R. Rowlings’ Harry Potter series.

Though Rheems was no School for Hogwarts, our village school had its own version of The Sorcerer’s Stone and the Goblet of Fire in the Deathly Hallows of the school’s basement, made ghoulish by the upper grades who created scary events with “eye” grapes in bowls, ghostly recorded voices among the hay-bales, and an illuminated skeleton.

Students raided closets and attics to conjure up costumes for the Hallowe’en parade, the culmination of visits to the House of Horrors in the basement of the school. My Mennonite aunt, also my teacher Miss Longenecker, initiated much of the fanfare that marked all the holidays, both the sacred and the secular. Here she has recorded our annual Hallowe’en parade, including the stumbles and falls!

Quote of the week by Erma Bombeck:

A grandmother pretends she doesn’t know who you are on Halloween.

Your Hallowe’en memories — a scary tale? a memorable outfit? The conversation starts here.

Coming next: What’s for Dinner: Dried Beef Gravy and . . .

Secrets of My Report Card & Other Tall Tales

My mother saved all my report cards. When I retrieved them from the attic, only grade 8 was missing. They are tall documents, sheathed in a coarse, brown envelope. And they speak for me as a student: mostly A’s with a smattering of Bs. Once I got a C- on a history final exam the year my brother Mark was born.

Marian_2nd grade report card_outside_4x4_300

Aside from letter grades A – F (No S’s, N’s or U’s in the 1950s), there is a full page of my elementary school report card devoted to behavior, including attitude toward school work, recitation, and conduct. In second grade, Miss Longenecker checked the box for “Gives Up too Easily.” I was beyond surprised. I was stunned that my teacher who was also my aunt would think that I was a quitter. What made her think that, I wondered. Did I throw down my pencil when I couldn’t do arithmetic? Or start bawling? The next marking period, the box for “Shows improvement” was checked.

Marian_report card_inside_8x6_300

In 5th grade negative check-marks showed up for my conduct. Imagining my teacher Mrs. Elsie Kilhefner would not notice or care, I whispered, earning the tick beside the box “Whispers too much.” The report cards following show I whispered constantly, every once in a while showing a tendency to reform my chatty ways.

Of the 23 ways behavior could be described on these old-fashioned report cards most were negative. Only three indicate something positive, one for each category: very commendable (attitude), very satisfactory (recitation), and very good (conduct). The adage “Children are to be seen and not heard” was prominent in the adult-centered society of the 50s. Not one teacher that I remember told us we were special and destined for greatness.

Since then American culture has leaned more toward the child-centered. In the 1970s my children Crista and Joel heard Mr. Rogers tell them on TV “You are my Friend, You are Special.”

They sang along with the Gaither tune: I am a Promise, I am a possibility. I am a promise with a capital “P” with one stanza that shouts: “You can climb the high mountain and cross the broad sea . . . .”

Cover: Gaither "I am a Promise" album
Cover: Gaither “I am a Promise” album

In 2012 David McCullough Jr. made a 12 3/4-minute speech to the graduating class of Wellesley High School in Massachusetts before a group of privileged, upper-class teens and their perceived-to-be “helicopter” parents.  The speech went viral on YouTube. Entitled “You are Not Special,” McCullough argues that if everyone is special, then no one is.

Other rich points:

1. We have come to love our accolades more than our achievements.(Don’t go to Guatemala so you can impress admissions at Harvard or Yale. Go because you want to serve the people there.)

2. “Selflessness is the best thing you can do for yourself.”

3. Climb the mountain so you can see the world, not so that world can see you.

YourTube screen capture
YouTube screen capture

In other words, through service to others, stand tall  – like my report card from days of yore.

I’m always happy to see your thoughts here – thanks!

2 Easter Vignettes: Sacred and Sentimental

* Poem for Easter – British poet George Herbert loved to explore the soul’s inner architecture. He often wrote poems with shapes representing a theme, the resurrection in this case. The poetic lines, “increasing and decreasing to imitate flight,” also mimic the spiritual experience of rising and falling.

Easter WingsVertical_poem_4x5_300

Then viewed vertically the poem displays images of two butterflies, symbols of new life: Emblem poetry (technopaegnia) printed in a shape that reflects the subject of the poem.

Manuscript from the Bodleian Collection, Oxford University, 1633
Manuscript from the Bodleian Collection, Oxford University, 1633

Since by long centuries of custom the date of Easter is annually determined from the first Sunday after the full moon on or after March 21, the intertwining of physical and spiritual seasons is virtually inevitable.

Wisdom in Waiting: Spring’s Sacred Days by Phyllis Tickle

* Easter parade at Rheems Elementary School

My Mennonite school teacher, Miss Ruth Longenecker, was an artist. Though she dressed plainly with hair in a bun and a standard regulation prayer covering, her life brimmed with color, design, and pageantry. She painted in oils, preserving the old sycamore tree by the bridge at the old Martin home place on canvas:

Sycamore tree and bridge along lane leading up to the Martin farm Oil painting by Ruth Martin Longenecker
Sycamore tree and bridge along lane leading up to the Martin farm       Oil painting by Ruth Martin Longenecker

In her classroom at Christmas time was a tall tree laden with brilliant bulbs and glistening tinsel at school, though Mennonites were discouraged from having worldly Christmas trees at home. For St. Patrick’s Day, my classmates and I wore Derby hats and huge green shamrocks. But Easter was a real blow-out. Students brought hats and silky flowers from home to add to the creative collection (pasted, stapled, sewed). We paraded up and down the village streets near Rheems Elementary School, our teacher preserving the frivolity on her 16 mm movie film. Even the boys wore hats, some even more flower-encrusted than the girls.

Hand-made millinery on display at Rheems Elementary School
Hand-made millinery on display at Rheems Elementary School

Thank you for commenting. You can count on me to reply.

The conversation continues . . . .

Coming Monday: Guest post on Mary Gottschalk’s blog: Flying the Coop: Leaving Mennonite Land

Hallowe’en: a Scream & a News Flash

“Tick-uh-tick-uh-tick-uh-tick . . . ” The needle on my mom’s Singer sewing machine jabs the orange crepe paper as her feet mumble on the treadle. Usually the material comes from Mohr’s Fabrics in Lancaster or the Marian & Ruth Covering Shop in Mount Joy. She even uses printed feed bag for aprons or skirts. But today Mother is making an outrageously detailed Hallowe’en costume for me with orange and white crepe paper.

Color by the Magic Wand
Color by the Magic Wand

Hallowe’en was a big deal growing up. Every October the students in grades 1-4 in Miss Longenecker’s class and grades 5-8 in Mrs. Kilhelfner’s class skipped class for Hallowe’en fun. Blind-folded, we descended the cellar steps and guided by an older student stepped gingerly through a tunnel of hay bales to begin the scary trip through the fun house in the basement of Rheems Elementary School. Peeled grapes became the naked eye balls of the “remains” we touched. Instructed to blow a penny out of a dish, we proceeded through the maze with a flour-covered face. Then there were sounds of violence and a scream as we imagined mayhem. Finally, we took off our blind-folds to behold the fright of a luminous skeleton with moaning noises before mounting the back stair steps into the light.

And Hallowe’en night was even more fun. Often our outfits were home-made: a hobo or a ghost. But sometimes Aunt Ruthie went over-board with her other nieces, my younger sisters. One October 31st Ruthie created a yellow and black bee hive costume for cute little Jeanie complete with a stick she held with a wee bee bobbing up and down on the end. Janice was so jealous at having a plain old something or other to wear instead.

One year, the sisters put their heads together and decided to dress up our younger brother Mark, 12 years young than I. So we grabbed Janice’s navy blue gym suit with a built-in belt and legs that ended mid-thigh, a garter belt and nylon hosiery (Mom’s?) with my shiny, high-heeled shoes. So attired, we helped Mark navigate the 1/3-mile distance between our house and Grandma’s, where he was greeted with dumb-founded faces. “Where did this girl/woman come from?” they must have thought. In the end, the mask came off to gales of laughter. He was a SCREAM. And a good sport!

Generally, Mennonites in the 50s and 60s did not dress up or throw parties on Hallowe’en. I am certain our pastor, deacon, and bishop’s children did not ring door-bells bedecked in worldly costumes, collecting candy from neighbors. For sure, in a Church that “believes that wearing a necktie is a worldly practice,” fancy get-ups like these would be definitely frowned upon.* For us, though, Hallowe’en was such fun!

* Statement of Christian Doctrine and Rules and Discipline of the Lancaster Conference of the Mennonite Church, July 1968, (21)

Pumpkin displayed at Landis Homes, Lititz, PA
Pumpkin displayed at Landis Homes, Lititz, PA

News Flash!

Upcoming Feature and Book Giveaway of Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels by Valerie Weaver-Zercher.

On Saturday, November 2, I will be featuring Valerie Weaver-Zercher’s Book: The Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels.

Here are the details:

WHAT:  An introduction to Valerie Weaver-Zercher’s Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels: The author and her book.

PLUS:  One lucky commenter will win a copy of ­­­Valerie’s book

WHEN:  Saturday, November 2, 2013

WHERE:  Right here on Plain and Fancy Girl

And all you have to do is show up, read the blog post and leave a comment or pose a question..

The giveaway will close one week later on Saturday, November 9, 2013 at noon. The winner will be chosen in a random drawing. I will announce the winner here and by email.

I invite you to come by and enter. Feel free to invite your reading friends!

Today’s invitation: What are your childhood memories of Hallowe’en? What new memories are you creating?

Your comments are welcome. I will always respond.

Marian2011Halloween