Summer Stage #3, Saturday, 11 June 2016–First, let’s get the week’s strange weather scene off center stage right away. We had two cold days followed by a mighty hot weekend. So it was, so it is, so be it. Lights out. Scene over.
Not so fast. How can one treat the weather so summarily? Here’s a quote from a British woman we met in 2002 in Gorran Haven, Cornwall. We were admiring her garden. “My hydrangeas are crying for rain,” she said. Today we could use rain, too, but what we’re crying for is that our hydrangeas will sprout blossoms and not just sport lush leaves like they’ve done for three years. The day of reckoning may be nigh.
‘Top this,’ said the turtle
I had something up my sleeve
The date: June 15, 1995. The place: Quehl’s Restaurant, Tavistock, Ontario. The occasion: well, that’s the story from 21 years ago.
Marty and I were on our way for a holiday in England. We were flying out of Toronto and wanted to visit with Ontario aunts and uncles and my parents whom we saw more infrequently than we did Uncle Ross and Aunt Ruth at home in Indiana.
I had something up my sleeve in calling the group together (and picking up the tab). After chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, and pie and coffee, I gave a brief update on our work, our travel plans, our leisurely 364 mile trip from Elkhart to Tavistock, noting the roadside sign we saw, but passed up, en route: “Help Wanted to Make Hay.” Actually, cousin Ralph and Marjorie, his wife, took time out from haying to be part of the lunch. Then I turned the tables to say this meeting was all about paying a tribute to each of them.
About the aunts I said, “I never met an aunt whose food I didn’t like. Amen? Amen!Mashed potatoes without lumps, roast chicken, beef and noodles, pies, cakes, cookies, cinnamon rolls. You are Grade A++ cooks and that doesn’t say it all. I have wonderful memories of times around your tables . . . and in your living rooms, Thank you!”
About the uncles I said, “I never met an uncle who didn’t have a healthy appetite. What else is there to say? Just this: you are equally as hard workers as your wives and sister or sister-in-law Vera. You have many skills, you set good examples, you have a keen sense of humour, and you like to laugh.”
To all, including my parents, I said: “Your values are in the right place–home, church, school, community, world. I want to pay tribute and thank each of you individually for what you have meant to me.” Here was my chance to share memories.
Dad’s siblings and sisters-in-law
Ina (Roth): “You are a good example of practicing the arts of home and family. You are friendly, warm, and good-natured. Your sewing and needlepoint skills are outstanding. You and Laverne were married June 30, 1945, so your 50th anniversary is coming up soon. Congratulations! You always show an interest in our doings and beings. Thank you!” Ina is the only surviving aunt on my dad’s side.
Laverne: “You are a youngster, 74 years young. You are a ‘gut deitsch schwetzer’ (Pa-Dutch speaker), a ‘hart schaffer und du kanst gut lache’ (hard worker and you can laugh heartedly). I remember the time you bought what you called a ‘boat,’ a 1956 Plymouth hardtop. Woo-hoo, Sunday drives were never the same after that. You and Ina demonstrate a healthy show of affection for each other. At haying time, after lunch, you had time to get your glasses ‘schmutsich’ (smudged) with a lap sit and kiss. Thanks to you, back in the day, I learned how to make hay with a hay loader pulled by horses. Your welcome was always warm and sincere. Thank you!”
Elma (Good): “You are a woman with an encouraging word, inquisitive mind, a Bender who is also a Good-Bender. Your home on Henry Street in Kitchener was a mecca for country cousins. We could ride the wagon down a real sidewalk, play in Victoria Park, and go to the store for a Coke. When Arnold and Bertha made their confession of faith and were received into the church through baptism, your home was a place of reverence and celebration. Grandfather Solomon cautioned us not to be too rambunctious that Sunday, or maybe it was not to be wild at all on this special day. I’m sure all we cousins obliged. Thank you!”
Gladwin: “Born May 18, 1917, makes you 78 years young. You are a farmer at heart, a lover of horses and bees and walking, and, with Elma, an environmentalist. You loved delivering milk in Kitchener with a horse-drawn wagon. When Silverwoods switched to trucks it took you longer to do your deliveries, yet I never heard you complain. Your care of the earth, eye for beauty, and always gracious welcome are examples to all of us. Your are a man of your word and a man of the Word. You show us how to be happy in life. Thank you!”
Edna (Roth): “Chocolates. Popcorn balls. Gaily decorated Christmas trees. That’s you. You have an amazing green thumb; your African Violets are a joy to behold. You are comfortable with lots of people. Your MCC work at the Thrift Store and in the Cutting Room are legendary. Your laugh is infectious. When we retire, we’ll be hard pressed to keep up with you. Thank you!”
Milfird: “Has anybody caught up to you, Milfird? You are always on the go. ‘Industrious’ describes your example to me. When you quit farming you built cabinet tops. You can do anything you lay your hands to–including making money (you just have to open the mail box). You are a man of laughter and good nature. Thank you!”
Ida (Roth): “On May 31 you were 91 years old. Your mother, Nancy, was a good model of longevity, living with you for many years lived and tending garden even when she wasn’t supposed to do that anymore. Your fried ham at haying and threshing time was heavenly, your pies divine. You are a quiet, supportive person. It’s almost two years since Clarence passed away. One of the precious memories I have of Clarence is visiting him at home with Ross during the Cassel Church 50th Anniversary (Ross was the guest speaker). Clarence was reading his Bible and in the conversation told Ross, ‘I understood what you said’ (preached). Clarence knew and valued things now and things eternal. Thank you!”
Vera: “On June 1 you’ll be 86-years-old. If only everyone could have a sister and an aunt like you. You raised several families in working for three doctor families in New Hamburg. And you helped raise all of us nephews and nieces. You raised your brothers, too. You are a big part of their successes. The loan of money to me for college tuition stands tall in my gratitude. It would have been hard to make it without your helping hand, graciously offered. Thank you!”
Mom’s siblings and sister-in-law
Marie (Roth): “An early memory of you is of homemade chocolate ice cream. Harold found a real sweetie. You are a people-person, a gracious hostess, a reader, a wide-ranging observer of the state of life. It is always a pleasure to catch up with you. Thank you!”
Harold: “In October you’ll turn 70. Where has the time gone? Was it you who granddad schimpfed (scolded) for leaving the bag truck–after playing in the barn–lying in the gangway or was it Ross and Orie who left it lying after a game of tag? You lived long years on the home farm. That’s a historic place. It’s where I was born, afterall. Chris and Katie were God-honouring parents and grandparents. They listened each week to the Nightingale Chorus on the radio and were especially proud that three of their sons were part of the Bender Male Quartette. Your musical talents have skipped a generation. You were the first to pay me for my labour, that is for hoeing corn in the afternoons after Summer Bible School. It didn’t take very long to amass $10, a sum big enough to open a bank account, Thank you!”
Orie: “You are a man of stories, dry wit, music, and many other talents. Like your oldest brother, Walter, you found employment off the farm, first at the Tavistock Woolen Mill and then as a self-employed salesman. You honoured us by letting us witness your marriage to Rita Brubacher. We know you miss her dearly, even as you prize the goodly sum of years you had together. For some of those early years you lived on love and bacon from Burns (slaughter house). You worked hard cleaning out the stables at Burns. Your co-worker belonged to the Jehovah Witnesses and you spent evenings studying your Bible to respond to his blanket interpretations of Scripture. You travelled widely, wrote articles for the church press and your own Orie’s Stories. You are a diarist, family historian, and faithful member of First Mennonite Church in Kitchener. You are a worthy model of uncle-hood and the man who grandchildren will grow to appreciate. Thank you!”
Mom (Leona): “For your nurture, positive attitude, provisions of clothing, food and love, thank you! Your bedtime stories, books, care in sickness, and letting us go to face the world are high points in my gratitude. In times of special need, such as when Dad caught his hand in the corn picker and spent three months in hospital, you provided for the six of us children. With your last 25 cents you got two loaves of day-old bread at Luft’s Bakery in New Hamburg. The oil and the meal never ran out. You are a highly regarded mother, sister, sister-in-law, grandmother, friend. Thank you!”
Dad (Lloyd): “You were a dashing young man with a Chevy coupe. You had an eye for a good woman who would share your name in the modern-day fashion of Mom retaining her maiden name. You provided for us during war years by peddling home-cured meats and produce in Woodstock, then by driving a gravel truck, and finally by buying a farm. You gave us a lesson in peace by making a bonfire and burning the flint lock rifles that were in the woodshed of our new farm and which Will and I used to try to scare some neighbor lads. Thank you!”
On Thursday evening we did a walk on the Syracuse-Wawasee Trail, sponsored by Indiana Humanities. Indiana poet laureate Shari Wagner served as resource person, reading poems at various junctures along the five-mile-long walk. Shari, our niece we’re proud to say, encouraged the more than 20 of us to be mindful of our natural and human past and protect and preserve the good for those who will come after us.
Observe, listen, taste, smell, and touch life in its natural state, Shari commended. Wildness is reflected in seeking the well-being of the earth, of all living things and of each other. She recommended readings by Scott Russell Sanders, including an essay on Wildness in his book, Earth Works.
Reviewer David Hoppe quotes Sanders as saying, “The greatest theme in American literature is the search for right relations between humankind and nature, between civilization and wildness.” Another quote from Sanders I like, “I astonish easily.”
In Earth Works Sanders writes, “When I ponder the way of wild things I do not think of blind chance. I think of the screech owl calling, resourceful and resolute, and of the hemlock shedding snow. I think of ferns unfurling and comets tracing their clean curves. I think of seeds and spores, eggs and sperm, those time capsules jammed with souvenirs from past lives and brimming with future lives. I think of images beamed down from the Hubble telescope, showing nebulae giving birth to stars.”
We ended the evening with a tasty picnic meal, group reflections, and root beer floats. Thank you Shari, Megan and Indiana Humanities!
Scenes from nature
Be cool. Go wild. Pick an edible wild plant. Write a poem about it. Make waves. Eat chocolate. Talk to a turtle. Pay tribute to someone. Best! -John