Hats Off to Dad!

My father wore many hats. Work hats mostly, but also a goofy blue derby hat I faintly remember stashed high up on a closet shelf, and a fedora reserved for Sundays or other special occasions. Through his long history at the shop, Daddy sold a wide array of tractor brands which supplied him with hats embroidered with their company logo: Massey-Harris, Minneapolis Moline, New Idea, Fox, and Deutz.

His hats changed with his loyalty to the brand of farm equipment he was promoting. None made him happier, however, than the hat he wore with one of his first purchases after his father, Henry R. Longenecker, passed the business on to him. With the tag still attached to the grill, Daddy proudly drove the new Massey-Harris tractor back and forth in the alley next to the shop in Rheems, his sister Aunt Ruthie recording the spectacle with her new 16 mm movie camera.

Shop Hats

The Welding Helmet Invented by the German Hans Goldschmidt in 1903, welding was one of my Dad’s specialties, a boon to farmers with harvester units or even plow shares needing repair. A free-standing acetylene cylinder and oxygen tank for welding stood near one of the double wooden doors. This allowed easy access for welding repairs as a tractor or harvesting equipment was pulled through the giant, wheeled doors that ran back and forth on a metal channel.

I watched Daddy slap a Darth Vader-like helmet on his head, don long, flared-sleeve gloves, and use long, skinny welding rods to fuse broken parts together. Sparks flew everywhere in this Fourth of July fireworks show extending into August, the height of the harvesting season.

Along the back of the dark recesses of the shop was a large grinding machine that could sharpen a 6 to 8-foot section of blade used for scissoring hay, wheat or barley.

Daddy did most of his work in his shop but occasionally he was called to the field. A doctor of motors, he made “house” calls to the fields of anxious farmers, work stalled with broken-down equipment.

Farm Hats

My father was first of all a farm implement dealer and mechanic, but he also farmed ten acres of land in Bainbridge, Pennsylvania combining corn and tobacco crops and then later corn with tomatoes. Farming is serious business in the searing sun requiring a cap with a long bill. The result:  a white “farmer” forehead and red-brown cheeks and arms. My mother and Aunt Ruthie often wore sun bonnets, in the field but as you can see, we were bare-headed and probably bare-footed too.

Brand new tractor with tiny sister Jean and me behind the wheel
Cultivating land for tomato crop in Bainbridge
Cultivating land for tomato crop in Bainbridge

A beekeeper too, my dad wore a bulky hat complete with a mesh veil to smoke out the bees.

 

Fancy Hats

Church, weddings, funerals – all were occasions for a fancy fedora. But one occasion in particular required dressing up: posing on the steps of the U. S. Capitol building ready to meet with congressmen regarding the threat of a proposed air base to some of the rich farmland of northern Lancaster County. A sizable delegation of plain people (many of them Mennonites) including my dad in his fedora and Grandma drove to Washington D.C. to make their case with government officials. When a follow-up investigation was conducted, sink-holes had reportedly been found in the farm-land around Bossler’s Mennonite Church. The case was subsequently closed.

Sadie Greider, Grandma Fannie Longenecker and Ray Longenecker  on steps of the Capitol in Washington, D. C.
Sadie Greider, Grandma Fannie Longenecker and Ray Longenecker on steps of the Capitol in Washington, D. C.

Tell us about your dad’s hats – what he wore, or any other “Dad” memory you want to share now.

Ode to Tomatoes: Plant, Pick, Eat

 Tomato Girl_crop_9x7_150

I never think of myself as a Daddy’s girl, because I get along with Mom better. But there I am in plain daylight grinning as I ride the tractor with Daddy. We’re cultivating the 9 acres of land in Bainbridge for the next tomato crop. I stand on the tractor’s floor board with the evenly spaced holes for draining mud and moisture. Hanging onto the back of the tractor seat, we climb a grade — putt-putt-putt-putt-putt — and then back on level ground, mom snaps our picture. It’s a warm day in May, and I see beads of sweat on Daddy’s neck even though there’s a slight breeze blowing.

Cultivating land for tomato crop in Bainbridge
Cultivating land for tomato crop in Bainbridge

Daddy wears many hats in his farm supply business. He mans the parts department, hires mechanics, markets his equipment, and when a new tractor, harvester, or cultivator arrives, he walks across the street in Rheems to the railroad tracks at the appointed time and pulls a new tractor from a PA Railroad freight car that stops for just minutes to make the delivery.

He is so proud of his new tractor. Either he has ordered it for a farmer from the Minneapolis Moline plant, or he has someone in mind to sell it to. I hear him on the phone now with a prospect: “Hello, this is Longenecker from Rheems . . . .“ Everyone in northern Lancaster County knows him, so he doesn’t have to say “Longenecker Farm Supply” or explain who he is.

Sister Jean and I admiring the new Minneapolis Moline tractor with Daddy
Sister Jean and I admiring the new Minneapolis Moline tractor with Daddy

If there are Urban Mamas in Lancaster city, we don’t know about them. Everyone we know eats fresh and local from farms or country gardens. Cherries in May, peas in June, and sweet corn and tomatoes all summer long. In pea season, we gather around the kitchen table and eat a light supper of peas from the garden in a huge bowl. The china serving bowl I see now has embossed pink flowers and gilt edging. Of course, Mom pours lightly browned butter on top. “Butter always makes it better,” she says. After our fill of peas, peas, peas, there might be Breyer’s butter brickle ice cream and pretzels.

And sometimes, tomato sandwiches. Now, you ask, why would you eat tomato sandwiches when you were in the tomato patch all summer? Wouldn’t you be sick and tired of them? Well, not the way Mother fixes them:

TomatoOnVine

How to make the Perfect Tomato Sandwich, according to Mother Longenecker:

  • 2 slices of bread
  • Spread one side of each with mayonnaise, always Hellman’s
  • Layer medium-sliced, fresh tomatoes from the field (none of this harvest-green and then spray-with-preservatives business from the grocery store.)
  • Sprinkle some sugar on top of the tomatoes—and there you are!

TomSandYellow

If  you are counting calories and watching your waistline, this is not your dish. But try it just this once. It’s kind of sloppy: bright red tomato juice oozes out and puddles your plate, nourishing your senses and soul.

. . . at the midpoint
of summer,
the tomato,
star of earth, recurrent
and fertile
star,
displays
its convolutions,
its canals,
its remarkable amplitude
and abundance,
no pit,
no husk,
no leaves or thorns,
the tomato offers
its gift
of fiery color
and cool completeness.

excerpt from “Ode to Tomatoes,” Pablo Neruda

Tomato Girl, Part I

Tomato Girl, Part I

Lancaster County, early June 1953 – and I’m in the tomato patch with Mother and Daddy. Actually, it’s not a tomato patch, it’s over 9 acres of farm land not far from Elizabethtown in Bainbridge where we are about to plant a new tomato crop. Years earlier, my parents planted tobacco, but a Mennonite revivalist came through the county, preached powerfully against making a profit from plants that could be turned into deadly cigars and cigarettes, and so like others they switched to tomatoes or corn.

Rev.TomatoPlantMach_mod_11x8_72

Today Mom and I sit side by side on the metal “tractor” seats at one end of the planter, each with a burlap bag laden with tomato plants in our laps. A trowel-like attachment of the machine attached to the Massey-Harris tractor carves a row and we take turns inserting a plant with dangly roots into the furrow.  As soon as a valve opens with a gush of water, two metal “hands” close over the plant, sealing it into the rich, humus soil. Usually Mom and I are synchronized, but if we can’t keep up with the click-clack of the mechanism, we yell at Daddy at the helm who hits the tractor brake so we can catch up.

TomatoBlossom     Move ahead to hot July now, and Monday starts another tomato-picking week. My time-conscious Mom keeps us all on schedule: “Marrrr-i-an, it’s soon time to go!’ So I schuss around and put the thermos on the porch so Ruthie sees we’re ready.” She will be at our house any minute now with the Longenecker Farm Supply pickup to take herself, my mom and me to our field near the village of Bainbridge. I can see it now: rows of warm, red globes in clusters on the bushes. Timmy Barnhart, ”Barney”—a squat, jolly farmer in bib-overalls will probably meet us there and help with the harvest. I like when he comes; he knows that twelve-year-old tomato pickers like the Reed’s butterscotch candy and red licorice packets he stuffs into his pockets to sweeten the labor.

TomatoOnVine

I’m paid ten cents a basket for my pains, but it’s hard to keep track of the number I fill, so I decide to put one green tomato on top of every 5/8 bushel basket, so I can add them all up and compute the dimes I’ll earn. Frugal Mom puts an end to this idea: “Don’t do that; you’re wasting perfectly good tomatoes. Why don’t you put your baskets in the middle of the row separate from the rest.” I know she’s telling me to do it this way, not asking if I really want to.

And so I plod—up and down the endless rows as the sun beats down on us. For awhile the grown-up chatter between my Mother, Aunt Ruthie, and Barney keeps me entertained, but then I stick my hand into a stinky, rotten tomato for the tenth time this morning, and I burst into tears. Dear Barney, now just a blue blur near the end of the row, hears the outburst and suggests a trip with the two of us going to Stauffer’s General Store down the alley and around the corner along a side street in Bainbridge. The store has oiled, wooden floors just like school and smiley Anna Mae Hess behind the counter. Barney, a widower, likes Anna Mae, and they chat for a while, giving me sweet reprieve from the blazing sun. Before we go, he orders two pints of Breyer’s neopolitan ice cream in a square box each cut in half with a butcher knife. Anna Mae puts four flat wooden spoons in a paper bag with the cold treat and we’re back in the field to share a late morning snack with Mom and Aunt Ruthie.

Tomato Girl_crop_9x7_150

Late afternoon brings Daddy in his flat-bed Reo truck to load the baskets in three or four staggered layers. If there is any room left over, Oscar Forrey, a farmer who patronizes my daddy’s shop, can add his picking to our harvest. “There’s no sense in two people driving half-filled trucks to the same place now is there?” Dad says. He’ll drive to the Mt. Joy depot for tomato farmers where the Heinz Company will truck the harvest way over to Hanover. My Dad has brought along a cold watermelon (wasser-ma-loon, he calls it) to save us from dehydration. Bless his heart! Mom must have told Daddy about my melt-down because he promises me a bike for my July 24 birthday. I picture a shiny blue and white Schwinn with a cute, white woven basket in front of the handlebars, maybe with fancy, pink dingle-dangles!

I don’t remember if my teachers ever assigned an essay “What I Did on My Summer Vacation.” But planting and picking tomatoes would have been my topic until I turned 15 and could work for real pay at Baum’s Bologna.  There I wrapped sweet bologna in clear cellophane and pasted on the label, festooned with a smiley Amish face with a beard and wide straw hat. Then I graduated to working in the dementia unit at Masonic Homes. But that’s another story.

Tell us something memorable about your summers as a child or a young teen. If you remember it after all these years, we’d certainly be interested in reading about it.