Monthly Archives: April 2012

Photo Memories: Two Random Snapshots

I remember standing in the shop, located three steps from our house, watching my dad and a customer discuss an engine that sat on the large wooden table. The table wasn’t very tall, because I could see across it. It is a very simple memory of me just standing there in my dress, watching.

My next memory is in the house, newspapers had replaced the little tin dishes on my wooden play table. The snapshot is of Dad sitting on a chair with his back to the oil stove in the dining room and in front of him a chainsaw sat on top of my newspaper covered table. Mom was standing there waiting for his advice.

Strangely these two pictures are void of emotion. I am merely an observer.

Memory pockets are fascinating. I understand that things of greatest import or shock implant themselves most securely in our memory. But what was the import of that moment in the shop with dad and a customer when I must have done that same thing hundreds of times. Mom said she frequently brought things into the house for his advice when he was not able to go outside anymore. Why did those two particular moments leave such a vivid impression? Or are these last two memories actually composites of all the times I had seen those particular actions take place? A collage of photos superimposed into one.

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Photo Memories: A Lego Nap

We are three quarters of the way down the stairs, our Legos balanced carefully in our hands. I am in the lead with my older brother by two years a few steps behind. We had supposedly been napping but our Lego creations tell otherwise.

Dad is waiting at the bottom. His expression attempting to chastise us for not having taken that nap, but the amusement shining from his eyes softens the reprimand.

It’s the memory of the delight with which I showed off my Lego design along with that twinkle shining through my dad’s disapproving expression that has stayed with me all these years. It’s as if he understood and complimented us on our creativity, while frowning ever so slightly about the missed nap.

Several years ago I mentioned this incident to my older brother, Eugene, and was surprised to discover that he had also remembered it. But his memory had recorded the incident otherwise. According to Eugene, Dad was not happy at all and we got a severe scolding for not having taken our naps.

How could two people have opposite memories about the exact same incident? Were the photos taken from different angles? Did he get scolded more because he was the big brother or did he just cling to the negative portion of the response?

When I told my mom about the incident, she said, “Eugene was a typical little boy who loved following his dad around in the shop and he would try to use Dad’s tools. Your Dad was often tired from the cancer and did not always have the patience with Eugene that he might have had otherwise. He and Eugene’s personalities sometimes clashed.”

I felt saddened. Because of Eugene’s conflict with Dad and his tools, he experienced a sterner side of Dad and that is the portion of the Lego memory he has carried with him all these years. I, on the other hand, was a little girl with no interest in my father’s tools. He had no cause for impatience with me. Therefore, my photo was taken from an angle that revealed my dad’s face and I caught the twinkle of understanding that came along with the reprimand. The angle of Eugene’s photo, conversely, must have concealed the smile that accompanied the words and negatively affected his memory of the incident.

Memories of feeling loved and understood have colored my life’s story through the years, even into adulthood. It has shaped who I am. It has given me a confidence that might otherwise have been missing. The confidence that I am lovable. That the God who created me did so with love.

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Photo Memories: A God of Love

I was on the phone with my mom, listening to her reminisce. “At church you always sat with me on the women’s side and Eugene (my older brother by two years) sat with Dad on the men’s side. Then one Sunday your dad said, ‘I’d like to have Aleta sit with me today.’ But then I won’t have anyone with me,” I told him. And his response was, ‘Someday you’ll have them all the time.’” (He was referring to the ravages Hodgkin’s disease was leaving on his body.)

Mom’s thoughts continued, “I think he just wanted that experience of having you, his little girl, sit with him. He might also have wanted to ensure that you remember him.”

 A hazy memory-photo flashed through my mind and I interrupted her thoughts. “Did we go to Yellow Creek Church that Sunday?”

She paused for a second, “Yeah, church was at Yellow Creek that Sunday,”

I smiled to myself. Another memory confirmed. Although I don’t remember sitting with my dad, I do have this obscure photo-memory of being surrounded by a sea of men sitting on gray church pews. Those are the pews at Yellow Creek Church: gray painted, box-like benches that only come up to the middle of an adult’s back. Blossers, the only other Old Order Mennonite church building in Indiana at that time, has more comfortable pews that are stained dark brown. They curve up past the mid-back into a thick swirl at the top.

Old Order Mennonite communities build churches as their population increases and then they alternate services between the church buildings. That way everyone gets the opportunity to attend a church closer to their house on alternating Sundays. It’s a welcome break when you clip-clop to church in a horse and buggy. Once a community expands even more they hold services at each church house every Sunday. It’s their version of having one large building with an eight o’clock and a ten fifteen service.

The fact that this hazy photo filled with gray church pews had been confirmed helped, in my mind, to give authenticity to the others still waiting for confirmation.

My mom continued with her reminiscing, “Dad said that as everyone knelt to pray he was surprised when you also knelt down beside him, leaned your arms on the bench, folded your hands and bowed your head like the grown-ups. He hadn’t thought about teaching Eugene that.”

I can picture my mom in church leaning down and whispering: Her large hands enveloping my small ones. “Fold your hands like this.” Gently folding my fingers, she places them on the bench in front of me. “Then close your eyes and bow your head so you can pray.” I imagine myself peeking up at how she was doing it and following suit. It’s how she lives her life: demonstrating Godliness through the little everyday occasions.

I grew up envisioning God as love. The love of my mother teaching me how to live. The love of my dad’s cherishing embrace. The connection between our view of God and our parents is a powerful subconscious force within our minds and lives. I thank God for placing these memory-photos inside of my heart as a little child.

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Photo-Memories: Schnavel Kapp (Baseball Cap)

Where there is relationship there is love. Where there is love there is joy. Where there is joy there is delight. My dad took delight in me as a child and I adored him.

He was coming home from work one day, walking up the sidewalks. I close my eyes and smile as I reminisce. There are two snapshots my heart remembers from that day. Both are bathed in pure unadulterated delight.

In the first photo-memory I am running towards the door to greet him, paused momentarily by inspiration. An Old Order Mennonite girl does not wear a baseball cap, un schnovel kapp, but my brother’s was hanging on that hook by the door. It was at the perfect height for my two year old frame to reach for as I went scurrying by. I remember being poised mid air. That momentary second in which life changing decisions are made. Do I grab it and smash it onto my braided head or do I not? It would be so silly. It would give my daddy cause for a chuckle, a tease. Cause to take delight in me.

I must have decided “yes”, because in the next memory-frame I am suspended in mid air, leaping, bounding, weightless. Sheer joy. Flying into my daddy’s arms..

I have no memory of what happened next. Just this skipping in mid air, legs outstretched, heart exploding with joy feeling as my dad walked up the sidewalk. Home.

My dad only lived another two or three years after that memory. I have longed for those loving, accepting arms reaching out for me. Holding me. Not letting me fall.

It has taken years, decades, amidst a rubble of broken, flailing arms, for me to find them once again. The security of those Eternal Arms of Love. The ones that never die, never abandon. Those arms that have been poised, waiting with sheer delight for me to come leaping, bounding, flying. Home.

“Then, gathering the children up in his arms, he laid his hands of blessing on them.”   Mark 10:16, The Message

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Photo-Memories: The 1965 Palm Sunday Tornado

One of my early photo-memories is as a young toddler standing in the front section of our black cab-buggy holding onto the metal hand railing under the windshield. The memory is so vivid because of the sensation pulsing through my being. A sensation like a state of shock or fear, although not for myself. We had just passed Mart Ramer’s lane and were almost at the corner where we would turn onto county road nine and into our driveway. My mom was sitting behind me on my right and my dad on the left.

I have often wondered what could have caused an emotion so powerful that I would still remember the exact moment and the place where I was standing decades later. Also, as an adult I realized that Mom’s position on my right placed her in the driver’s seat and I questioned the accuracy of the memory, because a woman wouldn’t typically drive the horse when her husband is along? I wondered if that was perhaps the moment my Dad had told my mom he had cancer? For years I suspected that was the scenario that had most likely occurred. Recently I stumbled upon the truth.

I had asked my mom about the Palm Sunday Tornado. She told how we were at Emma-Grossdaudy’s and she and Grossmommy had driven up to Wakarusa to visit my great aunts, Nora and Martha.”

“Did I go with you?” I asked.

“No, Dad wasn’t feeling well. He was tired because of the cancer and you and Eugene stayed with him at Grossdaudy’s house.”

“I remember it was eighty degrees which was unusual for April 11,” she continued. “I tied our horse, Nick, to a telephone pole behind Nora and Martha’s house. They had some more company that afternoon and Grossmommy and I went inside and visited with everyone. While we were visiting a storm blew in and we were all peering out the windows at the dark clouds rolling overhead.”

Once the storm blew over and the sky cleared Mom said she ventured outside. She noticed the hazy, pale, yellow sky the storm had left behind as she walked over to where Dick Metzler, Nora and Martha’s neighbor from across the street, was picking twigs out of his yard.

 “It was a tornado,” Dick informed her. Wyatt is flat and a trailer park in Elkhart has been wiped out.”

Wyatt is a small town located ten miles southwest of Wakarusa and Elkhart is ten miles northeast. In shock Mom returned to Nora and Martha’s house.

The Old Order Mennonite Church does not allow many of the world’s technological conveniences. Therefore they did not have a radio or a television to hear the news and weather reports. The rest of the family was, as yet, oblivious about their narrow escape from the tornado.

Mom continued her story, “After returning to Nora and Martha’s house I told Grossmommy I was ready to go home. I untied Nick and on the way home I must have been subconsciously sticking my head out the buggy door to look behind us. I didn’t realize I was doing it until Grossmommy asked if everything was all right.”

Unable to voice her fears, Mom mumbled, “Everything’s fine.”

Shortly after Mom and Grossmommy returned, our family headed for home.

“We were almost at home,” Mom said. “When turned to your dad and blurted out, “There was a tornado and Wyatt is flat. Your dad looked at me in disbelief.”

“Why didn’t you say something earlier?” he asked.

 “I didn’t think about it,” Mom responded.

“Mom, were you driving?” I asked.

“Oh, I don’t remember,” was her quick response, than she paused for a moment. “I probably was.” After another moment of reflection she reiterated, “I think I was driving, because I frequently did during those times. The cancer had already started to weaken your dad and I would drive so he could conserve his energy.”

I stared at my mom in disbelief. “I remember that moment! I was standing in the front end of the buggy, holding onto the railing when you told Dad that Wyatt was flat.”

That strange sensation was caused by the anxiety I sensed in their voices. I was only twenty months old in that Palm Sunday Tornado memory-photo. The entire memory was real; it was only cropped too closely within my memory and Mom’s story added the outlaying sections of the picture.

An overwhelming sensation of wowness! pulsed through my veins. Another memory confirmed. Another portion of my life, of my dad’s life substantiated.

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Photo-Memories: Daddy’s Baby Girl

Throughout my childhood years, and even now as an adult, I have carried with me the feeling of being loved and special. This feeling may, in part, be due to a particular photo-memory of my dad. I have no timeline with which to gage this memory, except for the feeling of being the size of a little one or two year old girl enveloped in my daddy’s arms.

He is sitting on a kitchen chair leaning slightly forward, my back leaning against his chest, my legs following his as they form his lap, his arms snuggling me into his embrace. We sit there with our backs to the kitchen table, facing the area where the large white granite sink would have been inside the back door: Our hearts connected; a knowing that I am his baby girl.

Even though it is a still-life shot with no words spoken in the photo-memory, my feeling has always been that he spoke them. That he actually called me his Baby girl.

Over the years I have often questioned the accuracy of this memory, while hopefully clinging to it. My first language is Pennsylvania Dutch, but my memory consists of the English phrase “Baby Girl.” In Pennsylvania Dutch we frequently use English/Dutch combinations, so I thought that he would more likely have said something like “Baby Madle”  which is Baby Girl or perhaps “Glae Madle,” Little Girl or possibly even “Glae Buple”  Little Baby, but none of those phrases felt quite right. My feelings register the phrase “Baby Girl”. If my dad would not have used that phrase perhaps the entire memory-photo was off. Had my emotions left a thick layer of smoky residue across this picture?

The last several years I have been reading my Aunt Emma’s diaries. She is my dad’s sister. The oldest in the family. Her diaries span fifty-two years from 1939, the year that my dad was born, until 1991 when she passed away. She wrote in her diaries that after Dad learned he had cancer, he would just sit and hold me and play with me for hours at a time. As I read I experienced a renewed hope that my memory of snuggling on his lap and being called his baby girl might actually be real.

After reading Emma’s diaries, I initially wanted to tell her story, but even though her brief diary entries brought her to life in my mind, I struggled with putting who she was on paper. I finally came to the realization that her story touched some deep places within my story and I needed to first tell mine. So I called my mom and began to relate my earliest memories. This was the first time I had shared many of them with her or with anyone for that matter.

My mom and I talked about which of the “Baby Girl” phrases Dad might have used. “He might have said “Baby Girl,” Mom said. “Either that or “Baby Madle.” But I doubt that he would have used the word buple, it holds a more negative connotation.”

As I thought about these things my mom started talking again. “When I was expecting for the second time,” she mused. “Your dad asked if I thought it might be a girl this time and I responded that it was probably another boy.”

“But wouldn’t it be nice to have a girl since we already have a boy?” he asked.

Wow! He really wanted me! My heart thrilled at the thought.

Since that time I have come to realize that possibly the reason the words were not a part of my photo-memory is because he may not have spoken them. They may merely be the memory-expression of what we both felt at that moment. But no matter what the words were that he had spoken or not spoken, the one thing I know for sure is that I had heard his heart. He wanted me, a baby girl. I was and I am his Baby Girl.

That feeling of being loved has stayed with me throughout my entire life… with both family and friends… and when in my late teens I came to Christ as a broken, hurting child, it was easy to receive the love and forgiveness of my Heavenly Father.

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Photo vs Movie Memories: Aunt Emma

All of my earliest childhood memories are merely snapshots in my head. The Old Order Mennonite Church I grew up in does not allow cameras and discourages its members from having their pictures taken. My dad’s family religiously observed this ordnung or rule; therefore, I have no tangible photo album of my early childhood.

The only album I posses is the perceptions within my mind, taken as snapshots void of conversation, yet poignant with emotion. Through these emotions connected with each memory-photo, I have a knowing of what is being said even though I cannot remember actually hearing the words being spoken. I have wondered if,  just like faces fade within our memory, the voices fade too, and therefore I am left with only the knowing and not the sound.

These photo-memories have aged and become somewhat fuzzy and since they may not have been taken in the best lighting, I have questioned their authenticity. Yet, through the years I have clung to the hope that they are genuine, because their contents are all the memories I have of my dad.

There is only one early childhood memory alive with movement. It’s a memory of my dad’s oldest sister, my Aunt Emma. Emma was a favorite with all of us grandchildren. In this action filled movie-memory Emma is sitting in the dining room on her white high-chair, her outstretched arm waving a straight, dark-walnut stained cane, her voice filled with laughter. I can still feel the sheer joy of darting back and forth between the kitchen and dining room; dodging sideways, evading her cane, peals of laughter bouncing against the white painted walls.

Over the years I have been curious why all the memories of my dad are contained in these still shot photos. Why Emma’s is the only early childhood memory with live action. Then, as I read my Aunt Emma’s journal and also began to record my memories, I stumbled upon what I believe to be the why.

My dad passed away from Hodgkin’s Disease when I was four and a half years old. My four year old mind was not capable of comprehending death: It could only perceive it as an abandonment of hellish proportions. My memories of him froze in action along with the grief of losing him. I still remember the feeling of being Daddy’s Baby Girl, but there is no sense of loss connected to those memories. My mind freeze-framed the memories before it got to the painful emotions. My aunt Emma, on the other hand, remained a source of joy well beyond my childhood. My memory of her is not merely a freeze-framed photo; it is a part of my life-movie.

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The Castle Dungeon continued

… continued from March 23, 2012…

My feet clinked across the rough wooden floor as I left the cool, musty, dampness of the dungeon below me and entered the freedom of the sunny world outside.

All I know for sure about the end of Grossdaudy Andrew Martin’s story is that in 1745, about eighteen years later, he docked in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. And in an old graveyard in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, a grave stone is inscribed “A.M. 80 1759.”

How did he get free? Is there some harrowing escape story that he never told? Did he recant in desperation to gain his freedom? Where did that idea come from? I had never considered that possibility before. I shook that uncomfortable thought from my head. The most likely possibility is that the states of Germany had once more changed kings and religious freedom had returned.

Once released, how did Andrew manage to find his wife and children? Was he imprisoned the entire eighteen years or did he spend some of those years tracking down his family? Did he have the finances to come to America? Did a friend pay his way or did he indenture himself out for a passage fare? As an indentured servant he might have spent the first five years in America working for his freedom rather than finding his family. I do not even know what his wife’s name was? I do not know why it has not been recorded. Perhaps it was Amanda.

“Have you heard any news of my wife, Amanda Martin, or perhaps one of my son’s, Jacob, Henry or David?” Did that same faith that carried him through those years of imprisonment and possible torture also give him the assurance that he would eventually be reunited with his family again?

He survived with the help of caring Mennonite families, working here and there for his keep, until one day while walking down a hot dusty road in Weaverland, Pennsylvania, a farm in the distance his destination, he saw the familiar shape of a woman draping laundry across the bushes. Could it be? Was she still alive? His heart beat faster at the thought of once more seeing his beloved. His feet quickened their pace as he saw her turn to watch this stranger bearing a familiar shape making his way up the road. As he neared the farm he stopped and called out, “Amanda? Is it you?”

She stood frozen for a moment then dropped the shirt she had been ready to toss across the next bush and ran into his arms. Eighteen years had been a long time, but for this brief moment it was forgotten.

I sit in my house in Elkhart, Indiana holding a book titled The Family History of John W. Martin 1852 – 1975 imagining how the ending of Andrew’s story might have played out.

According to the book Andrew had a son David. David’s first wife, Barbara, and their three sons sailed with the family to America in 1727. Barbara died on the ship during the journey to America. Was she buried at sea? What heartache did they experience watching her body sink. The book doesn’t give any details.

Later David was remarried to Anna Groff. George was the second of David and Anna’s children, born in 1742. George had a son Abraham who had a son John. The book in my hands lists the family tree of the thousands of descendants of John and Susanna Eberly Martin. John had a son Elias who had a son Phares who had a daughter Irene who had a daughter Aleta. That’s me. I sit here two hundred fifty years later marveling at the faith of my forefathers.

Because my Grossdaudy Andrew Martin and his family of ten generations ago had the strength to live what they believed, endure the persecution for their faith and courageously venture into the unknown to give hope to their future generations, I live in peace and freedom in Elkhart, Indiana. But that strength does not just come from Andrew Martin. Every branch of my family tree that has been traced reaches back to these same roots of Anabaptists willing to risk their lives for the God they loved. 

Know therefore that the LORD thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations; Deuteronomy 7:9

The blessings go for a thousand generations and mine have been handed down through only ten. I have inherited a tower of strength.

I get up each morning and go to bed each night in comfort, ease and safety. I do not feel guilty for this luxury. It is a gift from God. But there is a responsibility that accompanies this gift. During this time of peace and safety I need to learn to live by faith, to put on the full armor of God. I cannot rely on the faith of my forefathers. It is this armor that provides me with the confidence I need, the confidence to live like my forefathers- fully in faith, fully in Christ.

 10Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. 1Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. 13Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Ephesians 6:13

I put on Christ by reading his Word. He becomes my armor. In him I am strong. In him I stand.

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