Prairie View

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The People

As Clarissa said last night, Mennonites play the "connections" game better than anyone else. I'm on for such a game.

The big surprise was on Wed. eve. in church after we got back when Henry Schrock exclaimed, "So Grant got married to Bob Prettyman's daughter!" He remembered Bob--something we had never thought to inquire about. Link
In Washington, where we knew very few people, we nevertheless discovered quite a few common friends and past experiences. They were present among the Pine Grove Mennonites, the Deer Park Mennonites, and the ex-Mennonites in the Clayton/Deer Park/Chewelah, WA area north of Spokane.

Sherilyn (Hertzler) Martin and I were in the same Writer's Workshop for a number of years. Her parents and sister go to Pine Grove. Sherilyn co-authored a book, The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, with Sue Hooley. At Sherilyn's request I had critiqued the book, and I think I had at least one contribution to the text. I met Sue Hooley for the first time at Pine Grove. We also met Clayton Eveleth, who said he had been at Bible school in Hartville years ago with Daniel Nisly. Charlie Kessler told Hiromi that Henry Schrocks from our church sometimes stayed with them when they passed through on their way to western Washington where they used to drive to spend the winter with their daughter Mildred near Seattle. Jack Kessler told us he met Grant when he was in Washington last winter. Joe Miller's wife Freida (Mullet) used to be a member at Maranatha where I taught school for five years in Ohio. Frieda invited us home for dinner, but someone else beat her to it. Kudos to this church for their hospitality.

From Elizabeth Schrock from here we learned that Betsey (Mrs. Charlie) Kessler is a sister to Mary Sullivan, Ben's mother, who passed through here on their way west and home from Kentucky several years ago. I wrote a blog post about Ben here.

At the wedding we met Clarissa's former teacher Nelson Rudolph, who is a relative of the David Rudolph family from Greencastle, PA. I've known this family since I was in my early twenties. Nelson's wife was a Kessler.

Carolyn Schrock told me that Rose Nissley from here was her former teacher. Carolyn and Jeff's names were familiar because they were dear friends of Clarissa's family, and because of the tragedy in their family several years ago when all five of their children were instantly killed in an auto accident that also injured Jeff seriously enough to keep him from being able to attend his children's funeral.

Kathy Prettyman (Clarissa's mother) showed us the spot in the road where the accident happened. It was on a four-lane highway, and the driver of the other vehicle crossed the median from the northbound lane to hit the Schrock vehicle head on in the southbound lane. Jeff and Carolyn showed us their children's graves high on a hill near their church--five identical gravestones, each with a different name and birth date, but all with the same death date, in 2005, I believe. After a stop at the cemetery, they took us home for a delicious impromptu Sunday dinner. They also invited Tim and Joyce Eveleth, who added some offerings from their planned meal, and it was a perfectly delightful spread of food and time of fellowship.

Jeff and Carolyn have two preschool children, a son and daughter. This second family is as dear and bright as I'm sure their first family was. By all appearances, Jeff has recovered fully.

Among the Prettyman family friends, we met people whose last names were Larson, Markovic, Beckman, and Balhome. Many of these people had moved en masse from western Washington a number of years ago. They were mostly homeschoolers who were in search of a rural area in which to live, and they happened to choose the area where the Prettymans and a group of Mennonites also settled. For a time they were all together in first one Mennonite church, and then in another, but they eventually went their separate ways, and now are connected mostly by geography and shared memories. In some cases, there are still many shared values, but in others, the common values they once espoused must seem a very distant memory.

We really enjoyed learning to know Bob and Kathy's family. Besides Clarissa, there are four girls, and five boys. Clarissa is the fourth oldest, behind Garret, Austin, and Tara. Just younger than her are Colton, Angeleise, Jackson, Jed (Jedediah), Olie (Olivia), and Emma (Emmaline--long i). Emma just turned four and really misses her big sister, who moved very far away to Kansas. Garret, Austin, and Tara no longer live at home. Tara is married to Jon, and Garret plans to marry Marsela, who was born in Serbia. Austin and Colton attend college in the area. This is an intelligent, articulate, resourceful, and creative bunch.

Some time in the nineties, the Prettyman's bought a thickly wooded property and began to clear a driveway and building site. They used rough-cut lumber from the property to construct a no-frills house on a cement slab. The house is very comfortable, but is still being finished in stages. When they moved into it, it was a big improvement over living in a single-wide mobile home with seven children. Avoiding indebtedness is a high priority for them, and "making do" is preferable to living on a standard they can't afford. I admire them for this principled choice.

Kathy's dad was a contractor and designed the house, so it has good bones and forms an easy canvas for lots of creative ways to use the space. Instead of sleek, custom-made cabinets in the kitchen, they have a collection of cupboards and shelves and countertops and curtains like something you might see in a French Country kitchen. I'm sure that a lot of what they use everyday would qualify as antiques, but for them, it's just what they've found, fixed up, and made use of. It's a three bedroom house, with all the girls in one room and all the boys in another.

The slightly crowded sleeping conditions prompted the older boys to look for some creative alternatives. When Garret and Austin still lived at home, the family bought a garden-shed minibarn, and the boys finished it out as an office and bedroom. It's lined with very nicely done tongue and groove wood on the walls and peaked roof. The half that now serves as guest quarters has a hide-a-bed couch, refrigerator, microwave, and bottled water cooler/heater.

This is where Grant stayed when he was there last winter, and we stayed there over the time of the wedding. A really slick porta-potty was installed right next to the building. I didn't know they had special wedding models, but this one had a dispenser for papers to place on the toilet seat, a sink with running water (if you started it by stomping on the rubber bubble underneath it), paper towels, a mirror, a hand-sanitizer dispenser, and a solar light. The only improvement I could think of would be some kind of sound proofing. This must be a universal design flaw of porta-potties. No problem, of course, if they're placed in a clearing in the woods without other people around, as ours was.

Colton too has begun to build himself a "home" outside the family home. His is elevated, with the lower story mostly enclosed with timber. The ground floor serves as a shed for his bicycle and other outdoor gear. His "engineer brain" came in handy for designing and building this place. It's not finished out on the inside yet, and progress slowed considerably when he began to help regularly in the family business.

When Clarissa undertook building construction as an adolescent, it was for her rabbits. She took pity on them for having to live in such a small space, so she made a proper building for them by hauling small logs out of the woods and using them to build a shed. I saw pictures of the project while it was underway.

Elsewhere on the property, the men have constructed sheds and shops in a way that makes sense for the climate and the available resources. The workshop is a partial dugout. Another structure is constructed of poles from the woods, with huge tarps stretched over the framework to provide protection from the elements. With all the wind protection from the surrounding trees, this works better for them than it would for us.

Garret, who now works in landscape maintenance, provided the brains and the main force behind the landscaping that was done around the house. Rail fences and rock borders define the edges of the yard and flower beds, and Kathy has indulged her love of plants by filling them with things she loves or wants to experiment with. Pansies bloomed exuberantly--in August. An apple tree in the back yard hung full of large and beautiful green apples. The vegetable garden contains raised beds--the best way to make productive soil out of what is mostly decomposed granite underfoot. Deer and wild turkeys have done serious damage to the garden, and a fence is planned.

Amid all the busyness of getting ready for the wedding, and the necessity for Bob to get a lot of work done ahead of the wedding, we still had time for lots of good conversation with Bob and Kathy. On Sunday afternoon and evening, after the hullabaloo died down, we took a long drive with them, and ate dinner in a quiet place with no children around. Kathy and I sat in the back seat and talked a mile a minute. She and I are kindred spirits, with many shared interests. Clarissa had told me that her mother is quiet by nature, but I did not find her the slightest bit withdrawn. I think she often just doesn't need to talk a lot because Bob carries the ball in conversations when they're together.

We heard a lot about the part of their journey that involved Mennonites, although I'm sure there was a lot that was left unsaid. We're aware of some of the hurdles that non-ethnic Mennonites (or NABs, as Clarissa calls them--Non-Anabaptist Background) face, but conversation with them uncovered a layer of hurdles we had almost forgotten existed.

It's more clear to me than before that integration works best when there is considerable congregational autonomy, rather than strict adherence to uniform standards across many congregations. I also can see clearly that what Paul Y. told me a year ago makes sense. He said that in situations where Mennonites are called on to help form a congregation among non-ethnic Mennonites, he believes that Mennonites must "force" the locals to forge a structure that they can call their own, even when it would be far easier to hand them a package deal to help them get started. At the same time, he is aware of the importance of standing ready to assist, and help people move toward maturity in Christ.

Bob had a heart for reaching out to the people among whom he lived, and believed that plugging into an organized church structure would help facilitate such outreach. He also admired the hardworking, self-sufficient, and service lifestyle he saw among the Mennonites. He didn't anticipate some of the barriers that such a structure might introduce. Helping with community emergency services and medical care didn't work out, and supporting homeschoolers didn't either. The emphasis on group schooling, avoiding higher education and close working relationships with non-Christians were all "Mennonite" ideas that ran counter to his vision. He couldn't figure out either how to guide his children into vocations that were right for them, given the prohibitions he was taught. He couldn't understand why a black vehicle was better than a white one, remembering as he did, from his days running a car dealership, that black vehicles were "luxury" models, almost always worth at least $2,000 more than an identical white vehicle.

Although it was comforting to reflect on the fact that most of the barriers Bob's family encountered would not have been issues in our church, we are aware that people of diverse backgrounds always face challenges when they decide to share in brotherhood. Humility calls us to be alert to what may be present in our setting that makes integration difficult for people who join us.

It was especially good to feel oneness with Bob and Kathy in being able to pray for these children of ours who now share a common path into the future.


  • I missed you while you were gone, and here you were kind of in our neck of the woods! I've enjoyed these Washington/wedding posts very much. I'm sure we'd all enjoy a post on how your Kansan son met and married a girl from Washington.

    By Blogger Dorcas, at 8/29/2011  

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