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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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

* * *

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

Ray & Ruth: A Sparkling 40th Wedding Anniversary

True Love

This month would be the 75th wedding anniversary of my parents, Ray and Ruth Longenecker had they lived. True, they bickered from time to time, but I knew their love was deep and abiding. I rested in the assurance that they would never divorce. There were signs: Before Daddy left for work down at his shop after the noon meal, he often played a little game with Mom, chasing her around the house to get his hug and kiss, as she pretended wanting to escape him. Daddy dried dishes once a week, on a Sunday somewhat unusual for a culture with strict divisions of labor between husband and wife.

They celebrated their 25th anniversary with the attendants at their wedding, Howard and Pearl Longenecker, also married twenty-five years.

When their 40th came along, we had a big shindig in early November, a week after their actual anniversary date of October 26, 1940. My sister Jean sent out fancy invitations:

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The table was set just so with the “tulip” design wedding silverware, a florist’s bouquet, and finger food with cake the grand finale.

40thAnnivTable

All four of us, my sisters and brother chipped in money to buy a chiming clock that sat for years on top of Mother’s buffet in the dining room, the ticking heart of the home. Our son Joel has inherited this clock.

40thAnnivClock

And there were sparklers – and smiling faces on this happy day when I heard Daddy say, “I could never have found a better wife!

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How It All Began

October was a favored month for weddings, at least among Mennonite couples in the 1940s-1960s. Farmers had harvested their corn, wheat, and sweet potatoes. The sowing-hoeing-harvesting cycle was slowing down. The land was preparing to lie fallow for the winter. Thus, plain weddings were often celebrated amid the riotous colors of fall.

I was born in July — 9 months, almost to the day, from my parents’ honeymoon night the previous October. When I got older and could figure out such things, my mother simply said, “Nothing happened before we were married.” Because she said it, it must be true, I reasoned. In those days, abstinence was the professed norm for engaged couples, and a white dress almost certainly meant the bride was a virgin. A couple whose first child arrived too soon after the wedding date had to appear in front of the congregation and confess their sin of fornication before they could be restored to church fellowship. I saw it happen once.

That was not the case for my parents, of course. I was born right on time, a honeymoon baby, possibly conceived right here within this idyllic, stone cottage.

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My parents were married by the bishop of Hernley’s Mennonite Church and then returned to the bride’s home on Charlotte Street in Manheim, Pennsylvania where these pictures were taken. My father was wearing a plain, Mennonite “frock” coat with bow-tie paired with a natty fedora hat on his honeymoon. My mother too sneaked in some fancy touches on her dress. Another, of course, a large, fancy bouquet on the lawn.

WeddingMomDadFlowers

And though Mother wore covering strings attached to her prayer veiling and her dress was plain with no collar or lace, tiny buttons covered in white crépe traced a vertical line on the snug cuff of her sleeves. They don’t show on the photograph, but as a child I remember seeing them all in a row, sewn on her dress then draped on a hanger and pushed to the back of her clothes closet. Were there five? Seven? I don’t know or remember, but in my mind’s eye I can see them attached there. And I thought they looked pretty!

I liked her wedding shoes too, black suede with a vamp that reached almost to her ankle, very modish, I thought. When I saw Nine West with a similar vintage shoe and a button on the strap, I knew they had to be mine.

ShoesVintage9West

When we cleared out Mother’s house after her death, we discovered a saucer I had never seen before with a charming pink & blue imprint, a prophecy of things to come. They would have a baby, a girl, in fact three daughters and then a son.

NIagaraFallsSaucerNiagaraFallsSaucerDetail

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Sparkling or not, what anniversaries (or other milestones) can you recall?

Coming next: Halloween Advice from My Good Witch of the North, Aunt Ruthie

Laundry at the Longeneckers

     We have to try it again. Here’s another shirt,” Jane said as she plucked one of Dad’s blue work shirts out of a plastic bag full of shirts—clean, sprinkled and rolled—all ready to iron. “Start with the yoke,” she directed.

I grabbed the damp shirt out of her hand and flopped it onto the ironing board. “I know where to start,” I huffed. I knew to start with the yoke, then iron the collar, then the left sleeve and cuff, front and back, then the right sleeve and cuff, front and back, then the right front, taking particular care around the buttons . . . and with the button hole placket where it was so easy to iron in wrinkles.

So begins Carol Bodensteiner’s chapter “Laundry Lessons” in her memoir Growing Up Country, a chapter that describes to a tee the washing, drying, folding, sprinkling, and ironing of laundry, chores that were also observed in the Longenecker family.

Mother’s work week was regulated by the pendulum of ritual. Certain tasks were done on certain days in her 1950s household. If it was Monday, she washed clothes, on Tuesday she ironed them, and so on through the week to Friday, the big cleaning day.

Her wringer washer and a rinse tub was pulled out to the middle of the “washhouse,” a room next to the kitchen every Monday. Sometimes I helped by feeding clothes from the rinse tub into the washer wringer, a tricky task for a child. At least once I got my arm caught in the wringer. Of course, my screams and yells summoned Mother to fly out of the kitchen, bang on the release apparatus to make the two rollers fly apart. After the fright and the pain subsided, I was amazed my arm wasn’t as flat as a paper doll’s.

When I was tall enough to reach the clothes line, I hung up wash clothes, towels, shirts, and dresses, instructed to “hide” underwear in one of the inner lines so neighbors wouldn’t see. To this day, if there is a sunny day with a breeze in Florida, I hang sheets out to dry.

Sheets on Line

On Tuesdays, Mom pulled the ironing board out of the wall, set up the iron and away I went, attacking first the easy stuff like hankies. I nourished my sense of order and accomplishment letting the point of the heavy, hot iron smooth out all the wrinkles in the garments that followed: school blouses and skirts, finally graduating to Daddy’s white, starched Sunday shirts.

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Same ironing board with vintage iron
Same ironing board with vintage iron

We never ironed sheets though one Mennonite woman we knew, Pearl Longenecker, sat down (probably on Tuesdays too) in front of her ironer, a white appliance shaped like a miniature piano, with a hot roller that smoothed each crease in her sheets and pillow cases, pressing them into lovely squares and rectangles to fit her closet space.

Grandma Longenecker’s ritual matched our own though it took place on her back porch. Like Colonial American women before her, she made her own soap cooking together grease and lye in a big metal tub, stirring the whole mess as it boiled. Though the smell was pungent and slightly disagreeable, Grandma smiled as she cut the congealed mixture into squares and rectangles, knowing the grease and grime would be erased from her laundry on wash day. If there were spots that wouldn’t come out with lye soap, she spread the stained garment, usually white, on the grass because she was sure “the sun will draw it out.” And it usually did!

LyeSoap

Share your laundry rituals, past or present. Something historical–or hysterical!