10 Ways My Grandma & I are Alike (or Unlike)

Grandma Longenecker with niece and maid-of-honor Evelyn ("Honey")
Grandma Longenecker with niece and maid-of-honor Evelyn (“Honey”)

10 ways I’m like (or unlike) my Grandma Longenecker  

1. She started fancy and turned plain. I reversed the cycle, plain to fancy.

GrandmaPortrait

2. She always wore black laced-up shoes with heels to do housework. For me, it’s tennis shoes in winter and sandals in the summer. No heels in the kitchen.

3. She never voiced criticism about a person (except once). I am an exception to her rule.

4. She wished to have prettier hands. I love the compassion and service her work-worn hands reveal.

5. She never learned to drive. I passed my driver’s test on the third try.

6. She never watched television. I’m a Downton Abbey addict.

7. Her sewing machine was rarely silent. Mine has been stowed away in favor of a computer.

8. She shoveled snow in Pennsylvania. I now live in Florida sans snow…

Grandma in sun-bonnet shoveling snow in Pennsylvania, 1950s
Grandma in sun-bonnet, skirt,  and apron shoveling snow in Pennsylvania, 1950s

9. No one left her house without a garden snip or a tasty morsel from the table. I seem to have the same sharing habit. So does my sister Janice!

Home-grown kumquats and soup mix
Home-grown kumquats and soup mix for a recipe from sister Janice

10. Grandma loved knee-slapping humor. Sister Jan remembers she even fell off a chair once overcome by gales of laughter. I don’t need an excuse to laugh either.

One of her pincushions - I'll never part with it!
One of her pincushions  I’ll never part with

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What habits or preferences have been passed to you from a relative?

What other similarities or differences have been passed between the generations?

Mennonites, Ventriloquists, and Memoir

The wild, permissive Rentzels with a red porch light live next door to our family, the Mennonite Longeneckers, one of several plain families that live on Anchor Road.

Image: Wikipedia
Image: Wikipedia

In their parlor, the Rentzel’s old Emerson black & white TV has introduced me to the wonders of The Howdy Doody Show with Buffalo Bob. As often as I can, I escape at 4 o’clock every day, running next door to ask Mammy Rentzel whether I may watch the show. Of course, she says Yes. I become part of the Peanut Gallery, mesmerized by Howdry Doody himself, a freckle-faced boy marionette with 48 freckles, one for each state of the Union in the 1950s.

EmersonTVHowdyDoody

My favorite parts are seeing Quaker Oats shot from guns, cannon-style and laughing along with the speechless Clarabell the Clown, who talks with a honking horn or squirts seltzer water. The shades are always pulled in the Rentzel’s tiny living room that smells like pipe smoke and mothballs, adding to the secretiveness of my television viewing. We’re not allowed to have a TV at home. Our church forbids it, but there is no rule to keep me from watching shows on somebody else’s TV! (Statement of Christian Doctrine and Rules and Discipline of the Lancaster Conference of the Mennonite Church,1968, Article V, Section 7):

Television programs are often destructive to the spiritual life and undermine the principles of separation from the world, the precepts of Christian morality, the proper respect for human life, and the sanctity of marriage and the Christian home.

Yet, Phineas T. Bluster, Clarabell the Clown, and Howdy Doody himself, continue to cast their spell upon me. Before I knew the word, I observed that Buffalo Bob Smith was a ventriloquist, himself voicing words that appear to come from the mouth of Howdy Doody.

The word ventriloquist derives from two Latin words: “venter” referring to the belly and “loqui,” to speak. Isn’t that what writers do? Speak on paper or computer screen from a place deep inside themselves where language mixes with thought and feeling.

Critic Brian Boyd says of writer Vladimir Nabokov, “In his novels Nabokov can not only ventriloquize his voice into the jitter and twitch of [his characters], but he can also” invent incidents . . . names, relationships.” Like a ventriloquist, Nabokov in his autobiography entitled Speak, Memory translates his life experiences into words.

Yes, memoir writers do just that: Give life to their memories by putting them into words. If your life is recorded as jottings in a journal or collected as photos in albums, you are “writing” memoir, perhaps starting out as amusement for yourself, but just so bequeathing a legacy to the next generation.

I’ll bet you may already have recorded your history, ventriloquizing your voice into something tangible: letters to family members in college, love letters, scrapbooks, family photo albums (physical or online) even recipes.

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How are you ventriloquizing your experience: art, journals, recipes, a memoir?

Inquiring minds want to know. The conversation starts (or continues) with you. As you know, I will always reply.