Aunt Ruthie Longenecker: Her Life in Pictures

Yesterday, Tuesday, October 4, my Aunt Ruthie celebrated her 98th birthday. Born in 1918, she is a towering figure in my life and, and along with Mother and Grandma Longenecker, my strongest mentor. And she has been mother/teacher to many.

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See the determination in that little girl’s face!

Her mother, my grandma Fannie Longenecker, replying to my sister Janice’s questions for a sociology-class interview assignment, mentioned that “Ruthie was industrious, a busy-body, a tomboy who would take risks.”


Education

The blurb in her Elizabethtown High School yearbook photo acknowledged her brilliant mind. (She skipped two elementary grades.) The description below also foretold her teaching career and hinted at the math skills she used in her long career as tax collector for West Donegal (PA) Township. She was so young when she began college at age 16, she required a chaperone.

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Ruthie attended business school near Elizabethtown and earned a bachelor’s degree from Eastern Mennonite College in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She earned a master’s degree in education from Temple University in Philadelphia.

Teaching Career

Country children in rural Lancaster County usually did not attend kindergarten. Aunt Ruthie created kindergarten for me as a 5-year-old at Cherry Hill School, close to Milton Grove, PA. I remember bouncing up and down over hills and dales riding in the back seat of her brown Hudson on the way to Cherry Hill. Two or three days a week I learned the alphabet and numbers sitting along side first graders. In the one-room classroom with eight grades, I loved singing: “Good morning merry sunshine, how did you wake so soon? You scared away the little stars and shined away the moon.”

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Hundreds of students remember Miss Longenecker at the age pictured below at Rheems Elementary School where she taught sixth grade and served as principal. Earlier in her career there, the school board (probably all male) refused to acknowledge her true function as principal and condescendingly referred to her as “head teacher.”

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It galls me even now to disclose this awful truth, and so I ask:

What title goes to the person (man or woman) who approves the curriculum, supervises textbook orders and presides over faculty meetings, responding to parental complains. It’s the PRINCIPAL I tell you!

 


Host to Refugees and Immigrants

This 1979 photo below shows Grandma Longenecker, Aunt Ruthie and Phuong Le, a refugee from Vietnam, a young girl they welcomed into their home as a daughter. Phuong was the first among dozens who sought shelter from war-torn countries. She made the most of Aunt Ruthie’s mentoring from 1976-1982, later succeeding in a career as a computer programmer and raising a fine family.

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Lutheran Social Services acknowledged Ruthie’s magnanimous contribution to refugees and immigrants with The Salt of the Earth Award, a plaque which recognized “her exceptional commitment and warmhearted compassion in welcoming the stranger. ‘Ye are the salt of the earth’ Matthew 5:13” (script from plaque)

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Love of Family

“You are always welcome here,” were Aunt Ruthie’s words after my sisters and I married and moved away from home. She labored in the kitchen when her nieces from Florida and Michigan nested in her home during vacations.

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In a small way, we returned the favor and relished her enjoying the citrus we bought from our orange and grapefruit trees in Florida.

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Appreciation for Music

A music lover, Ruthie played the piano vigorously. If the apron is any indication, she is relaxing here after over-seeing meal making, her grand-niece Crista in the background.

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Into her early 90s, she played dinner music for the elderly ( ! ) at Rheems Nursing Home. “They don’t have anybody doing much for them,” she said.

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Playing the dulcimer – wholeheartedly!

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Animal Friends

Through the years, her Schnauzers, Fritzie I, II, III, and IV have been her ever-present companions, protecting her by day and warming her feet at night in bed.

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The last Fritzie, # IV, has found a dog’s paradise, adopted by teen-age Jason and his family.

Love for Learning

Books, magazines, and the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal/New Era have kept her curious mind informed.

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During most of her stay at Landis Homes, she has whizzed through Word Finds puzzle books.

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Hands in the Soil

A life-long gardener, Aunt Ruthie has always had her hands in rich Pennsylvania soil. She was my hoeing companion in the 4 1/2 -acre tomato “patch” in Bainbridge, PA in the 1950s.

Aunt Ruthie with scarf and I hoeing in tomato field
Aunt Ruthie with scarf and I hoeing in tomato field

At home, she kept a large garden, the envy of passersby on old route # 230 that borders her property.

All summer long until Aunt Ruthie was almost 90, she mowed nearly an acre of grass on her land near Rheems, preferring outdoor work to household duties.

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For decades, she kept a strawberry patch and a vegetable garden, bordered by flowers. Now the flowers come to her.

Niece Jean brings knockout roses for Aunt Ruthie now living at Landis Homes.
Niece Jean brings knockout roses for Aunt Ruthie now living at Landis Homes.

 


She has had a goodly heritage

The Martin-Horst-Longenecker Freindschaft, circa 1938 Both in back row: My dad Ray Longenecker with zippered sweater and Aunt Ruthie on right with cape dress and white covering strings
The Martin-Horst-Longenecker Freindschaft, circa 1938
Both in back row: My dad Ray Longenecker with zippered sweater and Aunt Ruthie on right with V-necked cape dress and white covering strings

 

Gutes Leben, her high school yearbook blurb concluded.

Yes, Aunt Ruthie, has enjoyed a good life.

 

Happy Birthday, Aunt Ruthie!

Ruthie after enjoying a birthday lunch at Oregon Dairy near Lititz, PA a few years ago
Ruthie after enjoying a birthday lunch at Oregon Dairy near Lititz, PA a few years ago

 

 

Coming next: Heart on Fire, Guess Who’s Voted for President!

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Aunt Ruthie: Art through the Ages

My Mennonite Aunt Ruthie Longenecker is elderly now. She has always loved art and is still producing beautiful things nearing age 97. Like Mary Delany, known for her exquisite scissors art, age is no hindrance to creativity.

Note the red and teal crayons in Ruthie’s hand here.

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My Artist/Aunt/Teacher Ruthie now lives in a retirement community, where she took an art course several months ago. I have no way of knowing whether the instructor suggested the topic or not, but one thing is certain, her images reflect her deep love of plant and animal life.

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Bunnies with trees - neon image a reflection of wall date/time reminder
Bunnies with trees – neon image a reflection of Ruthie’s wall date/time reminder
Droopy daisy petals contrast to erect bunny ears
Droopy daisy petals contrast with erect bunny ears

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Aunt Ruthie, also my teacher in Grades 1-4 at Rheems Elementary School, splashed art all over our curriculum in addition to construction paper creations most every school child makes:

  • Clay moldings fired in a tiny kiln
  • Finger paints – My favorite, blending red and blue to make purple!
  • Jig-saw cut-outs made into wall hangings
  • Plaster of Paris figures

True, she taught the 3 R’s – reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic. I excelled in reading and was often chosen to read aloud “with expression” when the school superintendent appeared in the classroom. However, arithmetic was a different matter. I can still conjure up an image of her brown, beveled ruler dancing ominously above my hand, white-knuckled while struggling to line up 4-digit numbers vertically so the sums would add up correctly.

One happy pause in the school day came after lunch though: Picking colors from the stadium of crayons standing at attention in my green & gold box of 48 Crayolas. My classmates and I filled in the *purple curves and lines of figures from fairy tales and fables while she read from Uncle Remus or the tale of Rumpelstiltskin.

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She took a course in oil painting, probably in her 40s or 50s, her love of nature evident in the works shown here.

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(White birch?) Sycamore tree and bridge along lane leading up to the Martin farm Oil painting by Ruth Martin Longenecker
White birch tree and bridge along lane leading up to the Martin farm
Oil painting by Ruth Martin Longenecker

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Aunt Ruthie/Miss Longenecker would likely smile in a self-deprecating way at the notion of linking her artistic flair with the idea of “art as sacred expression” which Melissa Pritchard asserts in an article suggesting that “Art [is] a form of active prayer.” Yet, in retrospect, I recognize that art for Aunt Ruthie was a full expression of her humanity, her creativity, and her spirituality.

On July 16, 2015, the U. S. Senate passed ­­­­by a vote of 81/17 a bi-partisan Elementary and Secondary Education Act to ensure that “all students—regardless of their socioeconomic status—experience the demonstrable positive impact that [art] and music education has on learning and life.” In other words, the Senate is trying to catch up with what the research has been saying for years, the arts improve and reinforce learning in the full range of academic subjects.

Ruthie would be pleased with that move. In her mind, now addled by memory loss, art never ever left the curriculum. For her, art is ageless.

A thing of beauty is a joy forever.  Its loveliness increases/ It will never / Pass into nothingness.                  – John Keats    “Endymion”

* * *

Do you have a family member who excels in art? How do you express your own artistic flair? (Don’t discount the home arts like sewing, baking, making creative tablescapes.)

BIrdVaseFlowersRuthie’s flower arrangement in bird vase

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.

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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.

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*  *  *

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Birthday # 95: A Tribute & Party

Aunt Ruthie age 89 mowing an acre of lawn
Aunt Ruthie age 89 mowing an acre of lawn

July 2013 phone conversation between Aunt Ruthie and me:

M:  Well, Ruthie, how are you doing?

AR:  Well, I’m puzzled!

M:  Puzzled? What about?

AR: I’m doing puzzles, doing “word find”!  Ha ha ha!  (Still witty at 95)

Teaching: Adoring teachers surround their retiring principal at Rheems Elementary School

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Living for Others:

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Receiving Salt of the Earth Award from Lutheran Social Services for ministry to refugees and immigrants
Receiving Salt of the Earth Award from Lutheran Social Services for ministry to refugees and immigrants

Music: 

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Playing the dulcimer 1996
Playing the dulcimer 1996

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Back to the piano at Rheems Nursing Home: Of the residents, many of them younger than she, her response: “They are poor souls. They probably wouldn’t recognize it if I repeated songs.”

Her schnauzer, Fritzie IV:

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January 4, 2012 When her care-giver, nephew Mark has surgery, she remarks: “You and I, Fritzie, are orphans now.”

     *   *   *   *   *   *   *

The school-teacher, principal, tax collector,  family and church accountant, “mother” to dozens of refugees and immigrants has now landed on the spot of the calendar that says 95.

In July 2013, after falling at home, she recuperated at a rehab center and is now living at Landis Homes, a residence for seniors, many of whom are Mennonite, near Lititz, Pennsylvania. She has survived a pacemaker procedure and pneumonia in 2008, a hip break in 2010, and another fall this year. Yet she can still get out of bed, dress herself, and go places with her walker.

Hobbled by her falls and the natural progression of age, she’s no spring chicken, but she is still mobile. However, she finds her memory loss harder to deal with. The pilot light in her brilliant mind (she skipped 2 grades and had to have a chaperone at college because of her age) is now flickering during these last few years:

May 15, 2010 “Am I out of it?” she asks, dealing with the confusion that has set in.

May 17, 2010 “Sometimes I feel as though I must guard against a mental relapse.”

May 22, 2010 “I feel like a monkey on a stick.” Or a doll – Sue (then her housekeeper)  comes “in the door, takes me off the shelf, dusts me off, and puts me back up again.”

Feb, 27, 2011  “I took care of my grandfather, my mother, and now, I have to be taken care of. I was hoping this wouldn’t happen to me!”

January 11, 2012  “I don’t trust myself to say the right answer.”

April 13, 2013  Though there is confusion about where she is and the day of the week, she still notices that the hands on her Bulova Caravel watch have stopped. She gets a new piece of jewelry on her wrist today–and a touch quilt!

TODAY  IS  HER  95th PARTY: Time to Celebrate

Sister Jean and Aunt Ruthie at the 95th Party
Sister Jean and Aunt Ruthie at the 95th Party
Aunt Ruthie and Colleen's touch quilt
Aunt Ruthie and Colleen’s touch quilt

Her Wit: She gets the Last Laugh!

At Landis Homes, conversing with her sister-in-law, my mother, who is the same age, has the same name, down to the middle initial:

 Aunt: I want to go home to my house, my dog, my things . . . .

Mother: You have it good here, Ruthie.

 Aunt: All I do is sit here. I could just as well do my sitting at home.

Mother: Here you have nice people to help you, good food, pretty flowers all around. Virginia Hoover, Simon and Mary Jean Kraybill from church, even Cecilia Metzler, my sister-in-law live here. And they all love it!

Aunt: Why don’t we just exchange places then? We have the same name. You could sit here just as well as I. No one would ever notice.

Ha! Ha!

Your comments welcome! I always respond.

School Daze: Games We Played

My class at Elizabethtown Library
My class at Elizabethtown Library

Here we are all bunched up together for a photo documenting our excursion from Rheems Elementary School to the library in town about 3 miles away. But we’ll soon board buses, and go back to our two-room school-house in Rheems where we’ll probably have lunch or recess. And we’ll lose our serious faces, eyes agape.

Recess, yes! After Miss Longenecker, grades 1- 4, or Mrs. Kilhefner, grades 5 – 8, excuses us, we all scram out to the playground equipped with a slide, see-saw, and jungle gym with bars for climbing and twirling our bodies around. Before we go back to class, most of us will pay a visit to the typical wooden outhouses, one for girls and one for boys, right next to each other and both regularly anointed with lime to quell the smell.

Group Outdoor Games:

1. Softball  (Need an extra inning? Teachers, not so pressured by students’ test scores, may extend our play.)

2. Red Rover “Red Rover, Red Rover,” let ________ come over!) involving mad dashes around school building.

3. Crack the Whip  Classmates in a line, running, then strong body at one end stops short, so others flip around. Cheap thrill!

4. Tag   When someone chases you down on the playground and touches you, you are IT!

5. Hide and Go Seek   HideGoSeek

Games with Just a Few:

1. Simon says

2. Hop-scotch

3. Four square

4. Jump rope

5. Double jump rope  Each child has a handle on two different jump ropes and flicks them one at a time in opposite directions.  “I dare you not to trip up!”

Rainy Day Games:

1. Jacks  Jacks game

2. Pick Up Sticks

Courtesy: Google Images
Courtesy: Google Images

3. Tiddly-Winks  (Players try to snap small plastic disks into a cup by pressing them on the edge with a large disk.)

Treat for Teacher:

Someone, probably Ralph, announces in the middle of class “Fruit Roll!” and kids behind every desk in class jump up with an apple, orange, or grapefruit to roll along the oiled, wooden schoolhouse floor toward the teacher’s desk, an unexpected treat!  [In an era when teachers fear spit balls or worse–guns! even, such a gesture is most endearing.]

FruitRoll

I wish I could show a photo of the school and outhouses, but one cold evening during Christmas vacation, the school burned down, suspiciously, and was replaced by a standard- issue concrete structure, not nearly as nostalgic as the steepled one with a bell that I remember.

I was already in junior high in the big school uptown when the fire occurred, but my sister Janice remembers being shifted to Washington School, the building adjacent to Bossler’s Mennonite Church, where our Daddy and Aunt Ruthie attended. This old school had a large furnace in the basement with a sizable flat top, and students would bring potatoes wrapped in foil to bake on top of the furnace for a nice hot lunch on cold, cold days.

Like Mildred Armstrong Kalish in her memoir, Little Heathens, depicting Iowa farm and school life during the Depression, I have fond, fond memories of Rheems Elementary School in the 1950s.

Fun time resource for parents, grandparents:

http://www.grandparents.com/grandkids/activities-games-and-crafts/outdoor-games

 *   *   *   *   *

Add some memorable games to the list!

School Daze: Songs We Sang

Second Grade: Rheems Elementary School
Second Grade: Rheems Elementary School

Valentine parties, Easter parades, Hallowe’en fun houses in the basement, Christmas programs, we had them all, but those were special occasions. At Rheems Elementary, a two-room school, we had our daily ritual: Bell ringing from the school-house steeple (always by a boy), Bible reading, the Lord’s Prayer, the Pledge of Allegiance, and then singing before lessons began:

This is My Father’s World, My Country ‘Tis of Thee, and Home on the Range were staples in our little golden songbook. But many of the lyrics we sang would be considered insulting to various ethnic and racial groups today. For example, Old Solomon Levi, playing to the stereotype of the wily Jewish merchant:

My name is Solomon Levi

At my store in Salem Street,

There’s where you find your coats and vests,

And ev’rything else that’s neat:

I’ve second-handed Ulsterettes,

And ev’rything else that’s fine;

For all the boys — they trade with me,

At one hundred and forty-nine.

Chorus.

Oh, Mister Levi, Levi, tra, la, la, la.

Poor Solomon Levi, tra, la, la, la, la, la, la, la

Next, we might sing My Old Kentucky Home with what was then dubbed the negro dialect: “The sun shines bright in on my old Kentucky Home, / Tis summer, the darkies are gay.”

What! “Darkies are gay . . . “?  Innocent of the dissonance in the words we would discover later, we sang the chorus at the top of our lungs:” Weep no more, my lady. Oh, weep no more to-day; / We will sing one song for the old Kentucky home. / For the old Kentucky home, far away.” For sure, Paula Deen would be safe in such a culture.

The dialect continued when we belted out Dixie: “I wish I was in de land ob cotton, / Old times dar am not forgotten, Look a-way! Look a-way! Look a-way! Dixie Land.” There was even a winking nod to obesity in one of the stanzas: “Dar’s buckwheat cakes, an’ Injun batter, / Makes you fat or a little fatter . . . .

And then there was the wistful: When You and I Were Young, Maggie, and My Grandfather’s Clock, sung by youngsters that had no conception of aging or mortality.

Grandfather'sClock lyrics

GrandfatherClock_crop_180

Graduating to Junior High in 7th grade, the singing before lessons stopped, but my classmates and I were introduced to both highbrow and lowbrow music. The official music teacher, Miss Enterline, fresh out of college, enthralled us with Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice  and cajoled us to join her gender-separate choruses: Melo-men and Melo-dears. Then there was my homeroom and typing teacher, Mrs. Elsie Care. Her door name-plate said “Mrs.” but when she came to school in a dress with a zipper down the back, she asked a student to help out with the zippering up. Where was Mr. Care, I wondered: Traveling? Too busy to bother? Was she separated, or even divorced? I noticed someone always helped her out of her sartorial dilemma soon enough. Though she taught business courses, she insisted that we learned the words to “16 Ton,” even writing them on the blackboard with her large, loopy handwriting. At the time I thought it strange, but, endearingly, she had introduced us to pop culture:

 Tennessee Ernie Ford

Mrs. Care signed my yearbook with shorthand, which I neither cared about nor understood, but her quirkiness is etched in memory. . . Mrs. Elsie G. Care, the “G” for Gioconda, woman of mystery and intrigue.

A Scrapbook: Bonnets, Bandannas, and Sex Ed

Bonnets

“Tie your head shut!” – An oft-heard admonition from my mother, my Aunt Ruthie, and Grandma Longenecker. Translation: If you tie your head shut, you won’t get sick with colds, sinus trouble, what not. And so our heads are tied shut with bonnets and bandannas and then adorned with the Mennonite prayer veiling. In other words, there is usually something besides my hair on top of my head or around my ears from babyhood on up.

My photo at 10 months old features a machine-sewn miniature version of a bonnet that I remember my Grandma wearing in the garden.

Marian_Dad_10 mos_150

On billboards we see the little blond girl advertising a fake way to get sun-tanned. “Don’t be a paleface,” she says.  But we don’t need to buy Coppertone lotion to make our skins dark. We get our tans the honest way. Our skin turns brown naturally in the summer playing outside or working in the garden or tomato patch. To tell the truth, we depend on the sun-bonnet or the grace of God to not scorch our tough Swiss skins.

Bundled up in snowsuit
Bundled up in snowsuit
Another hat - on tricycle
Another hat – on tricycle

More Bonnets & Bandannas @ Work

Like Mildred Armstrong Kalish in her must-read memoir Little Heathens depicting rural life in Iowa during the Depression, we in Pennsylvania Dutch land are not offended or shocked by four-letter words that are part of our daily life either: cook, bake, wash, iron, dust, pick tomatoes, sweet corn, beans, or sweet potatoes.

Sisters and I throwing wood for furnace
Sisters and I throwing wood for furnace
Cousin Janet and I say, "Rabbit for dinner!"
Cousin Janet and I say, “Rabbit for dinner!”
Aunt Ruthie with scarf and I hoeing in tomato field
Aunt Ruthie with scarf and I hoeing in tomato field

WIth skirts and scarves we plant, hoe, and pick tomatoes in Bainbridge, PA. For details, see Tomato Girl, parts I and II.

Proudly advertising DeKalb corn, no bonnet or bandanna
Proudly advertising DeKalb corn, no bonnet or bandanna

School and Sex Ed

Surrounded by girls with curls visiting the Elizabethtown Library, I’m the one to the left with a floral bandanna, keeping my head tied shut, just like Mother expected.

My class at Elizabethtown Library
My class at Elizabethtown Library

With all its books, this library is an impressive step up from the small bookcase at Rheems Elementary School. Yes, there is a library at Bossler Mennonite Church too, which is where I begin to get my sex education. In a blue and white book with a glossy, stiff cover, I discover that when a mommy and daddy “got very close” a baby was created. “Now what does “get very close” mean?” I wonder. Later I un-earth a book entitled Sane Sex Life with a red, black and white dust cover in my parents’ bedroom. Hidden in their wardrobe among sweaters, long-johns, and mothballs, this book adds a new dimension to my literary diet of Lippincott textbooks, church catechism, and storybooks. Whenever I think my mother won’t hear the sound of the wardrobe door open, I sneak a look at its realistic drawings (gasp!) and mind-boggling explanations, astonished that such a books exists.

Yes, I keep these strange revelations under my hat, bandanna, prayer veiling–whatever I am wearing on my head.

And Play

Picnicking with plain friends
Picnicking with plain friends

Prayer coverings take no vacations. Because a woman is apt to pray any time or any place, the Church (Lancaster Mennonite Conference) ordains that we stay veiled morning, noon, and night.

What special outfits do you remember from your childhood or teen-age years?

Did they make you feel attractive? Out of place?