Moments of Discovery # 2: Dad’s 1921 Report Card & Mom’s 1989 Car

The bustle in a house

The morning after death

Is solemnest of industries

Enacted upon earth, —

The sweeping up the heart,

And putting love away

We shall not want to use again

Until eternity.

Emily Dickinson was referring to the morning after the death of a loved one, but such hustle could also refer to what happens weeks or months after a loved one dies, and the bereaved are required to sift through that loved one’s possessions.

There is no shortage of articles on how to tackle this bittersweet task. Sara Davidson in a piece in The New York Times asks, “What to do with Mother’s stuff?” which in her case too involved dispatching with a car, furnishings, and memorabilia. Following Joan Didion’s rule, she tried to follow the principle of touching an object only once, making a decision and moving on.

The most emotional aspect of cleaning out a house is sorting the belongings, says Elizabeth Weintraub in an article “Cleaning Out the House After a Death.” She suggests sorting items into three piles or tagging them with color-coded stickers: Items to keep, items to donate or sell, items to throw away. Wendy Schuman outlines “9 Tips for Cleaning Out Your Late Parent’s Home.” She remarks, “Consider the cleaning-out job a labor of love. As hard as it was, clearing out my mother’s home was the last important service I could render her . . . .”  

Recently, my sisters and I said our goodbyes again and again as we sorted, reminisced, cried, but forged ahead, emptying drawers, closets, and eventually rooms.

Some discoveries are hidden. Out of sight. Others are hidden in plain view. Last week we uncovered my dad’s first grade report card from 1921-22 in a box on the upper shelf of the closet. It’s a document, really, a fancy booklet with flowing cursive penmanship. The opening page announces the teacher’s name and school, Frank R. Mauss at Washington School, like many schools of the era on the same grounds as the church, in this case Bossler’s Mennonite Church.

Ray Longeneckter_1st gr report card_4x5_300Ray Longenecker_report card1_inside_5x3_300

There are no vague S’s or U’s for satisfactory or unsatisfactory. Not even an A, B, or C. No, the grades are recorded precisely as percentages: 86% average for the first reporting period. And a 90% for behavior, not quite the teacher’s pet!

Ray Longenecker_report card2_inside_5x3_300

*  *  *

And, yes, other discoveries are hidden in plain view, like Mother’s Dodge Spirit. With 98,000 miles it’s been around the block more than once, but certainly not worthy of an antique license tag. What to do with it? After some deliberation, our sister Jean suggested we offer it to our friend Edda, a member of Bosslers’ Mennonite Church. A first-generation immigrant from Colombia, Edda is getting a foot-hold on a new life in the USA while enabling her son to get a college education. She is tickled pink with our recycled gift. A bonus for us: We get to see Mom’s car parked at church when we visit on Sundays.

EddaCar

Cards and cars – both have a second life, one an artifact to hold – the other, providing a pathway to the next step in adventure for a brave woman.

Valuing the past and the present, both solemn acts, both borne of love. As Wendy Schuman concludes, As I sorted through her things, I felt surrounded by her presence. In a way, it helped me say my final goodbye.”

Have you had to say goodbye to someone or something you have cherished?

How have you learned to say “Goodbye”?

Coming next: Mom’s Accessories: Bonnets, Hankies, Pins, and More

Moments of Discovery # 1: How Do You Furnish a House?

According to The Huffington Post, the median home price in the United States (2014) is $ 188,900.00. Even adjusted for inflation over the years, housing prices have increased enormously since the 1940s.

My parents were married in 1940. Until they bought their first home in 1941, they lived for a few months with my father’s parents, Henry and Fanny Longenecker, and then with a relative, “Uncle” Elmer Longenecker in the village of Rheems, Pennsylvania. The newlyweds’ first home of about 1240 square feet cost $ 5000.00.

Just as astonishing as the price of the house was the bill for their home furnishings from Eberly Furniture Store just above Elizabethtown. They outfitted this home for $ 425.00 including a dining room and bedroom suites with a mattress and box springs, a kitchen table, rugs and two utility cabinets.

Eberly Furniture receipt_150

Please note that table pads for the dining room and a third, smaller rug were apparently thrown in as a bonus. Milton was a happy man the day Ray and Ruth Longenecker walked through the door of his store. And the feeling was mutual. My Mother’s comment on the receipt says it all: “We bought this all at one time, but not these days. Isn’t this something.”

The Art Deco bedroom suite has been replaced with something more contemporary but not nearly as beautiful to my taste. What is left of the original purchase: the kitchen table and chairs and the Duncan Phyfe dining room suite.

BuffetMomChinaCabinet

Isn’t that something?

The “Moments of Discovery” series is Part One of a continuing series that will unfold as we sort through the contents of the house on Anchor Road. It joins other series on this blog: Purple Passages, Moments of Extreme Emotion, and 10 Tips/Secrets.

How do you furnish a house – traditional, contemporary, eclectic? 

Coming next: Secrets in My Hatbox

Two Vignettes: Mom’s Green Stamps & E-town’s Rexall Drug Store

All images: Google Images

“Mare – yun,” my mother calls (yells, actually), “It’s time to lick the green stamps again. The books are on top of the kitchen table.” Mom likes to interrupt my reading. To me time with my books is serious business but to her it’s play. Not working. Wasting time with books unless it’s homework, she thinks.

As I moisten the stamps with my tongue, the glue tastes gooey and sweet. Mom usually receives one Green Stamp in exchange for every dime spent at check-out. I fill the two or three green books until they are fat, each stuffed with 24 pages of unevenly gummed and incompletely perforated paper rectangles. Books of these items can be redeemed for gifts. Mother gets a catalog from the stamp company’s showroom, then matches the item she wants against its price in stamps, paying for it with stamps rather than with cash. She probably has something picked out already. I notice the cover on the ironing board has lots of scorch marks and is wearing thin, so I guess she’ll get an ironing-board cover with one of the books.

Illustrations: Google Images
Illustrations: Google Images

The gifts are usually household items like a set of mixing bowls, an ironing-board cover or something big, as writer Phyllis Tickle describes when she traded her green stamps for her daughter Nora’s baby stroller:

Surprisingly cheap is usually just cheap in premium exchanges, I have found. It certainly was in this case. The thing was made of aluminum so light and thin that the frame itself could not have weighed in at a full pound. The whole stroller did not weigh in at two. The wheels were scarcely a half-inch wide and definitely not a quarter-inch thick.

 

The sides and back of the contraption were of a plasticized, loosely woven plaid fabric neither Sam [husband] nor I could identify. The result was a kind of sling-on-wheels that had grown less and less appealing to my maternal instincts as I had become more and more of a mother and less and less of a mother-to-be. However, we did have a stroller. Hmmmm . . . .

 

Later, she concedes though “those were the good old days when strollers were strollers and not miniature, padded tanks.” (294).

A shoppers’ rewards program for loyal customers, the Sperry and Hutchinson Company dates as far back as 1896. During the 1960s, the  company issued three times as many green stamps as the U.S. Postal Service. After a series of recessions and the decreasing value of the stamps most house-wives didn’t think saving stamps was worth the trouble. However, green stamps still persist in popular culture. In A Hard Day’s Night (1964), starring the Beatles, John Lennon mentions Green Stamps when joking to Paul McCartney that he’ll get the best lawyer they can buy. In the hit “Speedy Gonzales” (1962) by Pat Boone, Mel Blanc sings the final words of the song in Speedy Gonzales’ voice, “Hey Rosita, come quick, down at the cantina they’re giving green stamps with tequila!”

*  *  *

Mother doesn’t drive to the Green Stamp showroom on her own to redeem her stamps because she doesn’t have a license.  But there’s a Lancaster – Elizabethtown bus that goes right by our house along Old Route 230. She knows when to tell me to pull on the cord over-head that buzzes to tell the driver where to stop in town. We’ll go to the W. T. Grant store because it has most of what she needs. Our next stop is  the Gladdell Shop with pretty dresses. In the window I see a sleek, lavender dress made of chiffon fabric on the mannikin. It’s pleated at the waist and has a belt with a rhinestone-studded buckle. I imagine jut how slithery and cool it would feel gliding over my skin. I would be instantly chic and stylish, not plain. But Mother is completely blind to the fancy frocks and heads for the lingerie department. A night-gown? Some hosiery? (She always orders a boring shade called “gun-metal.”) No, she has picked out a smocked, tricot bed jacket in blue with a bow to wear in the hospital over her gown when Mark is born and visitors appear.

The shopping trip gets even sweeter near the end. Mom will check her watch, so that we will have just enough time to go to the Rex-All Drug Store before the bus picks us up heading back east. Dr. Garber usually dispenses pills in little white envelopes from his office, so we are not interested in the pharmacy at the drug store.

ice cream soda

Instead we head straight to the soda fountain which is as close to theatre as I’m going to get. Stepping inside the chrome rails that mark the fountain area off from the rest of the store, we sit on the red leatherette cushioned stools that spin. Fluorescent tubes of light above the fountain equipment advertise bubbly ice cream sodas with a straw. Above it like rays from the aurora borealis but stretched around the perimeter of the fountain area is a glow of bluish-purple lights illuminating the walls. Then I look up and see stars sparkling from the ceiling. I’m in heaven. Until the bus comes all too soon.

What story can you tell about green stamps or soda fountains?

Something you can add about a different memory from the 1950s or 60s? 

Two Mennonite Nonagenarians: Mother Ruth & Aunt Cecilia

Here is my mother’s family of four brothers and one sister in a farm meadow in the 1940s. They are children of Abram Hernley Metzler and Sadie Landis Metzler, a Mennonite family of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Metzler_Uncles_Aunts_young_5x4_150

Standing in birth order are her brothers Landis, Leroy, Clyde, Abram, Jr., with my mother and her sister Verna. Two of her siblings died in their sixties, the others in their seventies. Only my mother is still alive at age 95.

When Mother turned 90 in 2008, her 94-year-old sister-in-law Cecilia Metzler, married to my Uncle Clyde, said to her: “Ninety’s nothing . . . . You have to live past that to make your mark these days.” (Then I saw a quick smile and heard an I-got-you-there chuckle.) Aunt Cecilia, who calls herself Cece now, has always been energetic and feisty, a farm wife and a pastor’s wife. Up until 2011, she has sent me Christmas cards – always the first week of December. And via her daughter Erma’s account, I would occasionally even get email messages from her.

Aunt CeCes card_9x7_300

Mother too has always been strong and hardy all these years. She still lives alone but has watchful neighbors along with my brother Mark who checks in with her regularly. Her mind is still sharp though her hearing, which has always been in a category I’d call bionic, is failing now. When I asked her a few weeks ago, “Do you remember wearing Evening in Paris cologne?” She questioned me back, “Carrots, what do you mean carrots?” This from a woman who most of her life had to hold the telephone receiver away from her ear because the sound was too loud. Oh, my.

I call her often, but she says she likes to get something in the mail, a letter with a stamp on it, she hints. As if to demonstrate how it’s done, last week she sent me a short note with concern about a friend’s health along with a check for special vitamins I send to her. Yes, she still pays her own bills.

Thankfully, her friend is fine now.
Thankfully, her friend is fine now.
"Cecilia Do you really think we are going to live to be 100?" my mother might be asking.
“Cecilia, do you really think we are going to live to be 100?” my mother may be asking.  (Photo: Mother’s 90th party at The Gathering Place, Mount Joy, PA.)

*  *  *

Recently, “60 Minutes” aired a show entitled Living to 90 and Beyond hosted by correspondent Lesley Stahl. The show featured interviews of some of the more than 1600 men and women who participated in a study named “90+” funded by the National Institute of Health. All of the data was collected in the 1980s from residents of a community south of Los Angeles called Leisure World, now re-named Laguna Woods. The study was launched to determine the secrets of longevity and perhaps find clues to preventing diseases like Alzheimer’s often associated with advancing age.

On air, the interviewees, all over 90, were shown undergoing physical testing: reflexes, pace of walking, how quickly they could sit down and stand up again. Their mental acuity was checked as well: Tell me today’s date, spell w-o-r-l-d backwards, remember these words (brown, shirt, charity) – I’ll ask you to repeat them to me in a minute. And so on.

Claudia Kawas, spokesperson for the NIH study, concluded with some statements that weren’t at all surprising. And some that were:

  • People who exercise definitely live longer than those who don’t.
  • Board games, socializing with friends, working in the garden enhance mental health.
  • Taking vitamins doesn’t seem to make much difference.
  • It’s not good to be skinny when you are old.
  • Drinking 1-3 cups of coffee seems to be beneficial.
  • One or two glasses of wine daily is recommended.

My Mother, almost 96, and Aunt Cecilia, now age 99, were part of the “Game Girls” crowd in their prime. They loved playing Uno, Skip-Bo, and Hand & Foot with friends. And they probably both still drink one or two cups of coffee with breakfast.

But rest assured, neither of these good, elderly Mennonite ladies ever imbibes a glass of wine with dinner.

 WineForbidden

*  *  *

Most of us know one or more friends or family members over 90. Does longevity run in your family?

Do you have a story about a nonagenarian you know?

Coming next: A visit with author Kathleen Pooler and introducing her new book!

Purple Passages and a Laugh: May 2014 Edition

Miracles & Problems

MiracleProbSign

 

Uncertainty & Faith

The opposite of doubt is not faith. It’s certainty. Faith based on certainty is no faith at all.      Anne Lamott

Embrace the present. Uncertainty is no excuse for paralysis. Do not wait for good to happen for yourself in order to do good for others.     Leymah Gbowee

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.     

Hebrews 11:1   NIV

 

Tea and Books

You can’t get a cup of tea big enough or a book long enough to suit me. C. S. Lewis

TeacupVertical

 

Mothers & Mother’s Day  

This year has celebrated its 100th anniversary in America

Mother jivving to "Turn Your Radio on and Listen to the Music in the Air"
Mother jiving to “Turn Your Radio on and Listen to the Music in the Air” on my iPod

A mother’s happiness is like a beacon, lighting up the future but reflected also on the past in the guise of fond memories.

Honore de Balzac

I am sure that if the mothers of various nations could meet, there would be no more wars.

 E. M. Forster

Roses and Love Life

RoseWall

I once had a rose named after me and I was very flattered. But I was not pleased to read the description in the catalogue: no good in a bed, but fine up against a wall.        Eleanor Roosevelt

Laughter is carbonated holiness. 
― Anne Lamott

*  *  *

Add a quote or comment on one you’ve read. Please do!

And you can be sure I’ll join the conversation.

(Coming next: “Where the Magic Happens” showcasing author Mary Gottschalk)

A Dozen Daughters: My Mother’s Other Family

Longenecker family portrait circa 1961: Mark, Marian, Janice, Jean with parents
Longenecker family portrait circa 1961: Mark, Marian, Janice, Jean with parents

This is the family I grew up in: my parents Ray and Ruth with my two sisters and one brother. But after I left home and eventually married, my parents had more children. No, my mother was not a modern-day Sarah. She didn’t have babies in old age. But in their early sixties, Mother and Daddy “adopted” another set of children, about a dozen daughters in all, through an agency called New Life for Girls.

Because they entered my parents’ lives after I left home, I never felt jealous of them. They were simply unknown to me, mysterious. Oh, I did meet two of them, Gloria and Julie. They came to see my mother when she visited her first two grandsons born in Chicago in 2003. By then these girls both had grown children of their own.

Gloria’s Story

Gloria grew up in inner city Chicago with an alcoholic father who beat her mother and more than once tried to choke her with a dog chain. Her mother, single now with 8 children to feed, had to go to work. Alone in the world, Gloria turned to drugs and men, looking for love. She set her sights on rich men, men she hoped would take care of her. But the rich men were users, drug dealers or worse. Not surprisingly, Gloria became pregnant at age 14.

One day an evangelist named Brother Raymond, came into Gloria’s neighborhood. She responded to this kind man’s message of salvation and made a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. Though her heart had changed, Gloria’s life didn’t get any easier. Several times she slid back into her old ways and had more babies out of wed-lock. The hard times made her harder. She became tough as nails, always looking for a fight.

Finally, Brother Raymond suggested a way out. “There is an agency called New Life for Girls in Pennsylvania that might help you get your life on track. To enter their program though you would have to agree to their rules and stick by them. Also, your children would be staying in a separate facility.”

Gloria: “Oh no, I can’t be separated from my children!”

Brother Raymond: “Well, then we’ll try to find a host family for you, so that on weekends you can visit with them in a nice Christian home in the country.”

And that’s how my parents’ lives intersected with Gloria’s.

Weekends with the Longeneckers

Gloria was looking for an anchor and she found one in her weekend visits to the Longenecker family on Anchor Road near Elizabethtown. Pennsylvania. Most importantly, she could be with her children. Mother and Daddy would pick Gloria up at the train station with her four children who played with toys including the same marble-roller I played with as a child.

Gloria's grand-children playing with the same marble-roller we had as children: Demetri 12, Inani 13, and Samantha 10.
Gloria’s grand-children playing with the same marble-roller we had as children:
Demetri 12, Inani 13, and Samantha 10.

And she could enjoy Lancaster County abundance. “This is how life should be,” Gloria exclaims as she recalls some of her favorite things:

  • Going to Root’s Sale where fresh farm produce abounds.
  • Helping Mom make applesauce with her metal sieve and wooden mallet.
  • Turning the crank on the ice cream churn, always vanilla with Hershey’s chocolate syrup and peanut sprinkles.
  • Helping with quilting at Bossler’s Mennonite Church Sewing Circle.
  • Eating fresh corn on the cob – and fresh tomatoes out of the garden, both dripping juice.
  • Making tangy home-made root beer from Hires Root Beer Extract, the two-quart jars cooling on their sides in the cellar.
  • Having devotions with my parents on Sunday morning after which my dad would march over to the piano and bang out the melody to “Fill My Cup, Lord,” singing at the top of his lungs.
  • Following the Longenecker rules. And to the letter.

My brother Mark still lived at home when Gloria and her children visited, so she got some first-hand tips on getting children to obey. When Mark questioned Mother about why he had to get up and go to church Sunday morning, Mom would reply, “Because you’re in my house and that is the rule.”

But Gloria recalls Mother’s softer side when she tearfully called her at one point to break the news about yet another unplanned pregnancy: “She never criticized me; she stood by me, and said “’You just have to trust that God is still in control.’”

Gloria Araujo In kitchen with Mother (age 95)
Gloria Araujo in kitchen with Mother (age 95) April 2014

Gloria Today

Over the years, Gloria has told her own children and grand-children this same bold statement when they question her authority: “Because you’re in my house and that is the rule.” And she teaches her clients how to use firm discipline with their children in her role as a social worker at The First Baptist Church of Wheaton, Illinois, where she has recently been appointed deaconess.

“Now I work with many Cuban refugees, help them get into an apartment, find jobs and medical aid—set them on the right track. It feels so good to see lives changed,” she says.

In Retrospect

In a little green autograph book sitting on one of Mother’s living room end tables are listed all the names of the girls from New Life my parents have hosted. This April in her recent visit, Gloria noticed that her name was the first one to be signed in 1978, along with her sister Julie’s. After the signatures of 11-12 other girls, she signed the book again. “It’s only suitable that I sign the last page,” she says.

Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature:

the old things are passed away; behold, all things become new.

​​2 Corinthians 5:17

 Motto of New Life for Girls

 

7 Things I Do that Remind Me of Home

Over forty years ago I left Lancaster county and my Mennonite life. Though I have visited dozens of times since then, Jacksonville, Florida, has been my home. Nonetheless, every single day I notice myself repeating rituals that reveal the imprint of my early training.

1. Eat pickled eggs – Usually reserved for Sunday dinners and picnics, I eat them for breakfast almost daily now.

Hard-boiled eggs pickled in beet juice
Hard-boiled eggs pickled in beet juice

2.“Outen the light” – I don’t use that Pennsylvania Dutch expression any more, but when no one is in a room, I make sure the light switch is turned off. “Don’t burn a hole in the daylight” is a saying that has burned into my psyche.

3. Wash dishes – Mother never had a dishwasher, except her own hands. Though I’ve had a dishwasher most of my married life, I often wash dishes by hand: fine china, big kettles, forks. Sometimes warm, soapy water is soothing.

Daddy drying dishes - Only on Sundays after church!
Daddy drying dishes – Only on Sundays after church!

4. Re-use aluminum foil –  I never use Reynolds Wrap only once. It is cleaned off, folded and stored for multiple uses. (But I don’t scrape the residue from the wrapper of a stick of butter anymore unless it’s a big hunk. )

5. Tidy up – After retiring from full-time teaching, I dismissed my cleaning lady, so cleaning the house is in my domain once again. Dusting is the bane of my life, but I can’t abide dirty floors. Mother’s house was cleaned stem to stern once a week on a Friday with deep cleaning heralding the spring and fall seasons.

6. Water the maiden-hair fern – Grandma Longenecker loved ferns. She loved the misty, floaty, lacy aesthetic of ferns. My sister Janice has kept alive some off-shoots of Grandma’s. Here’s my maiden-hair fern:

fern

7. Go up and down stairs – The Longenecker home place has 2 floors and an attic. The staircase between them has 18 steps. When it was time for bed, Mother would say, “It’s time to go up the wooden hill!” Now at almost 96, she still uses her stairs, once in the morning and once at bed-time. Bowed with age into an L-shape she ascends, fiercely defending her independence.

Our tri-level has a pair of stairs, 7 steps each. Good for keeping those calf muscles in shape.

If you don’t know what to do, just take the first step. “To take the first step in faith, you don’t have to see the whole staircase.”    Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

StaircaseBeaman

Are any of these points similar to those in your life?

What can you add to the list from your own experience?

 

Disappearing Images: 7 Items Missing in Mom’s Bedroom

Mother Longenecker still lives in the same house she and Daddy bought soon after they got married in 1940. Their bedroom looked the same for decades, but it’s changed over the years. Here’s what is missing . . . and what I remember from so long ago.

1. The Art Deco inlaid-wood vanity where Mother sits on a bench to comb her long, glossy black hair before twisting it into a bun topped with a Mennonite covering.

Courtesy Google Images
Courtesy Google Images

2. A matching wardrobe smelling of moth balls and a copy of Sane Sex Life, with a dust cover of scarlet red and white. Black and white pen illustrations included. Eyes wide in wonder.

3. The chenille bedspread. I love the fluffy texture and the furry feeling under the pillows when I smooth the spread as I make my parents’ bed.

ChenilleBedspread 4. A skinny box with a silky slip inside wrapped in white tissue, brought home from a shopping trip to Hagar’s, Garvins, or Watt & Shand in Lancaster. We sometimes call them petticoats.

5. Evening in Paris cologne. Did Mom buy it for herself or was it a birthday gift from Daddy?

 EveningInParisCologne

6. A jar of Noxzema. Sticking a finger deep in and gouging out a spoon of cleansing cream that feels cold on my skin even in the summertime. Can you smell the camphor and menthol just now? Maybe a touch of eucalyptus?

7. Daddy. He died in 1985.

 

Postcript: What is still there? Hanging on the wall above a highboy, a framed pastel-tinted print by Wallace Nutting. The title on the left reads “Wig Wag Churning” (girl seated churning butter). A phrase on the right: “Wallace Nutting.” As a youngster, I kept looking for a boy named Wallace cracking nuts. Much later I figure out Mr. Nutting must be the artist.

WIgWagChurning

What images or scents do you associate with your mother?

Another loved one?