Prairie View

Monday, May 22, 2017

Quote for the Day--May 22, 2017

Three of my grandsons were here today for several hours.  The middle one, Carson (3), made these observations:

"I heard that car go past.  That means I have sensitive ears, or it was a loud noise."

Later he added this:  "Or I might have imagined it."

I like how he reasons through all the possibilities, turning each one over for examination, and submitting them for others' consideration.  I also  like how he can articulate what he's thinking.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Time to Savor Memories

On Friday of last week, I spent several hours at the house that used to belong to my parents but is now becoming the home of my sister Linda.  The activity of the day was sorting through old letters.  Progress was slow because so many treasures surfaced.  Now and then I pondered briefly the ethics of reading the personal exchanges between people who are now deceased or aged.  But that didn't keep me from reading the next one.  One of the things that struck me is how many of the questions and struggles of young people in the late 1940s and early 1950s resemble the struggles of young people in 2017.

In one of my mother's letters to her boyfriend (my father), she asked what he thought she should do about some of the "indiscretions" she had indulged in while she was in Christian service (at Brooklane, a Mennonite mental health facility) away from her home community and Old Order Amish church.  She mentioned having posed for pictures and something else that I can't remember.  She wrote that she didn't think those things were sins in themselves, but she realized that they were a violation of what her church expected of her.  That realization troubled her.

In another letter, one of Dad's brothers wrote him, asking for input on whether he could safely enroll in college without risking alienation from his home church.  The letter was written to Dad while he was a student at Eastern Mennonite College in Virginia.  It was mailed from Puerto Rico where the brother was serving under MCC.  The brother wrote that he had asked their parents and not gotten an answer.  In thinking about it, he realized that probably his parents did not wish to bear the responsibility of encouraging him to go to college, and that if he pressed them for an answer, they might feel obligated to say no.  He had also written his uncle Fred, who was an Amish minister in another state, and then ended up  not mailing the letter for the same reason--that he feared he would feel obligated to say no, even though he might not have personal scruples against the proposal.  My uncle made it clear that he hoped to use an education to teach school--something he would be able to do with a physical handicap he had acquired as a toddler.

You've paved the way, my uncle wrote.  In effect, he was asking, how is is working for you?  He ended up with a career in public education, while staying in the church his parents were part of.

I found the provisional teacher's certificates that were awarded to my father by the state of Kansas.

Another official set of paperwork gave my father permission to plant castor beans.  I remember that field of castor beans.  I don't know why he needed special permission to plant them, but it sounds like my dad to have wanted to try something a bit out of the ordinary in farming.

I have no idea why, but most of the letters we found were still in their original envelopes, nearly all opened by a neat scissors slice across the end--not by using a letter opener to slit the long side at the top of the sealing flap.  The letters sent to my dad while he was in college were simply addressed:  David L. Miller, Eastern Mennonite College, Harrisonburg, VA.  Three cents in postage was sufficient.

I came across a letter from Amos Yoder (Dorcas Smucker's father) while he was working at MCC headquarters in Pennsylvania.  I also found a letter from Chris Swartzentruber, who, after having lived in several states away from his home state of Iowa, was still contemplating where he might move his family in order to focus on outreach and escape some of the inconsistencies and trappings he experienced in various communities where he had lived.  He ended up in Costa Rica.  One of his daughters eventually married Pablo Yoder, my sister-in-law Judy's brother.

Another letter was from ___________Mancini (sp?).  I remember my dad naming him as a person not of Anabaptist background who was making an effort to reach out to those who were becoming open to mission outreach.  He wrote to my father, thanking him for his kind letter, noting that he was getting a lot of critical mail.  I think my dad said that eventually those who were moving in that direction did decide to disassociate themselves from Mancini because of opposition to him from fellow church members.

One of my mother's best friends, Miriam Hochstetler, (aunt to Jo--Mrs. Oren Yoder) wrote to Mom from Minnesota that the area she was in was beautiful.  "I know you've always been a nature lover," she wrote, "but here, I am too."  Miriam and Mom had worked together at Brooklane in Maryland, and Miriam had later moved to Minnesota to work in voluntary service there.  Hmmmm.  My mom was known as a nature lover in her young adult years.  So that's where I got that.  

In the world history class I taught this past semester I kept coming across things that I was sure I had learned from my mother.  Several weeks ago I heard in a student presentation that Joseph McCarthy had provided a valuable service by exposing Communists in American government.  I'm sure I remember my mother offering a very different version of Joseph McCarthy's role in the US political realm.  A quick check online revealed a Britannica Online entry that agreed with my mother's version--and with my memories of having learned about McCarthyism in later school studies.

Just recently, I also came across a mention of the Ural Mountains in world history class.  I remember my mother telling me that the the Ural Mountains are in Russia.  They're still there, just like she said they were.

On what occasions did my mom talk about things such as McCarthyism and the Ural Mountains?  I have no idea, except that I'm sure that it happened in the course of living what seemed to us all at the time to be an ordinary life.  It's only now that I realize how extraordinary it was.  The wider world was very present in our household, peopled though it was with twelve children and very busy parents.
Can you tell that I'm awash in memories of my parents?  Now that school is over for the year, I have the freedom to savor these memories.  I love it.