A Snow Bunny and a German Lullaby

On Christmas Day 2015 in Jacksonville, Florida, the temperature stood at 85, at least twenty degrees above the normal daytime thermometer reading for this time of year.

Temperature on our porch Christmas Day 2015, Jacksonville, FL: 85 degrees
Temperature on our porch Christmas Day 2015, Jacksonville, FL: 85 degrees

Over most of the USA, Christmas day was warmer than usual, the forecasters predicting a near record-breaking temperature of 62 degrees for Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania, once my hometown.

ElizabethtownPAweather60ChristmasWarmChristmasLancOnline2015

Years ago when our young family left Florida’s palm trees and beachy sand during the Christmas holiday, we hoped for Pennsylvania snow, praying for enough inches for sledding and making a snowman.

One Christmas (1973) my husband Cliff and brother-in-law Bill sculpted an Easter Bunny from snow, a photo that made it into the now defunct Elizabethtown Chronicle.

SnowBunny1973

Snow slows everything down.

Snow descends from the skies in soothing swirls, no two flakes alike. The morning after a snowfall is quiet – traffic slows, the earth sits snug in silence, wrapped in beauty.

German Carols about snow are soothing too. Grandma Longenecker sang the first verse of Stille Nacht in German to us as tots, a carol of three stanzas we learned well enough to sing for Christmas programs at Rheems Elementary School. Now in my memory a warm spot remains where I hear Grandma’s voice singing the words to “Stile, Stile, Stile,” a lullaby that evokes the image of gently falling snow in the still of the night.


Whether the weather is dull or delightful, songs from the olden days can help carry us through.

Credit: Weather.com
Credit: Weather.com    12.26.15

How was your weather during this holiday week? Weather stories during a childhood Christmas or Hanukkah celebration may have popped into your mind too. There’s always more to the story when you join in.

Coming next: My Word, It’s 2016!

Up and Down Anchor Road: Secrets Revealed

Thumbnail: Home is on Anchor Road, connecting our house to Grandma’s house and neighbors in between. The story continues . . .

. . . . As we drive from Grandma’s past the Hoffers, I notice off to the right the weathered frame house of Mr. Heisey, who contentedly makes and fixes clocks. Then come our next-door neighbors, the Mummas, who have just opened the Clearview, a home-style diner on Route # 230, which parallels our road. Their old Lincoln Continental bobs in and out of their driveway early and late. Owning a restaurant is slavery in more ways than one, Mom says. Our mother likes Edna Mumma, who like Mom has a brood of kids to worry over.

Corset

Before the restaurant took over all of her time, Mom used to enjoy Edna’s Spencer parties (like Tupperware, but with metal stays and elastic, not plastic), specializing in heavy-duty corsets for well-fed Lancaster County bodies.

Sometimes Edna calls up my mom and asks her to help out on chicken “dressing” days. Together they kill the chickens, pluck their feathers and chop them up into separate pieces for cooking. I can hear one half of their conversation on the phone:

“Sure, I’d be glad to help . . . just say when.”

“No, I don’t want anything for it. Remember, you gave us 4 or 5 pullets the last time I helped. . . . “

“You daresn’t look on turns like that. . . .”

“Okay. I’ll be over as soon as I’m done making applesauce.” Working together, they often dress thirty or forty chickens at one time.

Lancaster County farm women are always busy. Why, the day before my sister Janice was born Mom was dressing chickens. Before Jean was born, she was canning peaches, and before I was born at home, she was hoeing tobacco.

A mixture of gravel and grass connects our house to the Mummas, only a 1/2 mile from Grandma’s. Out in front of our white frame and green-shuttered house, there are two leafy maple trees and a forsythia bush, which puts out spiky, yellow blooms in April. Until we get too heavy, my sisters and I can climb all over the red Japanese maple beside the house. Our porch, flanked by four evenly spaced posts, sports two painted metal chairs in the summertime and a swing from where we can count cars on a Saturday afternoon or hope for Uncles Landis, Leroy, Clyde, Abe or Aunt Verna and our cousins to visit on Sundays after church.

The Rentzels live next door and on the corner the Gromolls, whose clothing is two degrees plainer than ours. I believe they’re black bumpers, an ultra-conservative branch of Mennonites, who paint their bumpers black to avoid showing off shiny chrome. A small street separates their house from Wolgemuth’s Tavern, where we surmise Betty Rentzel finds some of her clients, lured by the glowing red porch light. Daddy calls the tavern a beer joint. Every so often he has to rescue a drunken driver from the wreckage of a car that doesn’t steer well enough to stay on the road in front of our house. One Saturday night it was Charlie Oberholtzer, who still can’t look Dad in the eye.

Rounding off our neighborhood is a huge, grey farmhouse, sheltering two families: cheery, loud-spoken Eva Gebhardt and the Hilsher family with a gang of boys who feed the pigs, cows, and chickens on the farm and help their dad plant corn in the acreage across the road from our house.

Strange neighbors are not unusual. What interesting neighbors do you recall from your childhood?

Up and Down Anchor Road: Secrets

Home for me is bracketed by the two houses we ping-pong between: our parents house and Grandma’s house on Anchor Road. Her house is at the bottom of the hill and ours at the top.

1989RuthieHouse          HouseMom

Both houses are along side Anchor Road, between Elizabethtown to the west and Rheems to the east—centered between Harrisburg, the capital, and Lancaster, the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch country. Not long ago the road didn’t have the status of a real name. It was just Rural Delivery # 1 on the mailman’s morning route.

Why the name Anchor Road, so far inland and nowhere near water, unless you count the Susquehanna River? Years ago, Anchor Inn sat down the street, a welcoming grey hostel for guests with a barn and cornfield.

AnchorInn

In years to come, it would sprout legs and walk backward about 200 feet propelled by huge trucks, announcing its wish for privacy as a single family home.

At the edge of the nearby village of Rheems, a bridge of concrete separates the sprawl of Heisey’s Limestone quarry on either side.  On the bridge, there is a keystone-shaped metal insignia and below it inscribed the name of Rheems.

RheemsSign

Here the road makes a hard right under the railroad overpass and on around the corner to Grandma’s house, a turn-of-the-century Victorian homestead where the extension of our family, Grandma Fannie, my Dad’s mother, and Aunt Ruthie live. On these acres is a stately house with a slate roof, sloping lawn with oaks and a birch tree for climbing, two gardens—one with strawberries and vegetables, and the other for Silver Queen sweet corn. Between the house and the railroad tracks is a woods bordered by a hill my sisters and I climb up to for raspberries in summer and sled down on our Flexible Flyers in the winter. We come here to Grandma’s when my mom says it’s rime to “sca-doo!” Sometimes my dad brings home a big kettle of pot pie from his mom’s stove for our supper.

Halfway up the hill from Grandma’s is the Hoffer’s. The place seems like a dairy farm, but I think they have only two cows, one Guernsey and one Holstein, whose milk and cream they share with us. Granny Hoffer is plainer than we are: large prayer covering with silky ribbons tied under her chin but, oddly, tiny gold-loop earrings on each lobe.

GrannyCovering

Granny pours the just-drawn milk and fills my bluish jar to the very top. Cream always dribbles out because Granny doesn’t want to give us one fraction of an ounce less than two full quarts; she calls it gospel measure. I see their dog Queenie and a lazy cat Minnie. Mom says they don’t need any more animals around the place because Granny’s son Amos and daughter-in-law Bertha fight like cats and dogs. What secrets lurk inside these walls?

Secrets revealed next time:

1. How do Lancaster County women rein in their girth in the 1950s?

2. Why do the Rentzels have a red light glowing on the porch?

3. Why did Daddy have to pull a Rheems resident from the wreckage of his car?

Nice Ice, Snow Aglow

Credit: Guideposts
Credit: Guideposts

OldSchBook

Prickly winter air . . . crunchy, crusty snow . . . Flexible Flyer sleds . . . wet mittens . . . white leather ice skates.

 

Vintage skates now in the recycling bin!
Vintage skates just before they were tossed into the recycling bin!

All my memories of winter time in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, are good ones. Cold, soggy socks warmed up and dried out on the heat register in Grandma Longenecker’s kitchen. Frozen lips thawed by hot chocolate with fat little marshmallows bobbing up and down.

Yes, there was snow and there was ice, sometimes both the same weekend. On snowy days and nights when traffic was at a stand-still, two Longenecker Flexible Flyer sleds zipped down the curve of the long hill between our house and Grandma’s. (There were more children than sleds, so we had to take turns.) Alongside the woods, there was another, shorter hill with a steeper grade for a faster thrill.

FlexibleFlierSled

The ice was nice on Heisey’s pond. The Heiseys, Jap and Winnie, owned the limestone quarry on the edge of Rheems, and Winnie Heisey’s  pond was filled with skaters, including me, especially on Sunday afternoons. Some skaters waltzed around the perimeter of the pond. Some played crack the whip with most landing on their behinds as the tail of skaters at the end of the line flew off in other directions. Some wobbly beginners skated slowly. The expert ones skated forward and backwards. Since it required wiggling the behind just so, I could never master this move.

IceSkatingPond

Just now, can you hear the melody line of The Skater’s Waltz by Emil Waldteufel? His name would fit right in with the listings in a Lancaster County, PA phone book, but Waldteufel was not actually German, but an Alsatian Frenchman inspired by ice-skaters venturing onto the frozen Seine River in Paris. News to me!

In the orchestral piece, composer Waldteufel captures the mood of serene skaters with graceful rising and falling lines but then interjects exuberance with bouncy notes and even some sleigh bells.

The piano doesn’t do the waltz justice, but it should bring back a memory or two!

Tell us your winter memories. Do they involve sledding? Ice skating? Something else?

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