Emma Schrock

Yes, But We Didn’t Have Him

In my Baby Book, six weeks after my dad had passed away, my mom wrote:

On June 8, you said, “Soon will be Dad’s birthday.” Mom told you it was yesterday. Then you said, “Yes, but we didn’t have him.”

Then in July, a month later Mom recorded:

When we passed the graveyard on Sunday you said, “When that pile of dirt goes down, Dad will have stood up.”

On Friday, October 4, 1968, almost six months after my dad’s funeral Emma wrote about me in her diary:

At Nellie’s funeral she stood real close to the grave. I believe she wanted to see what graves were like.”

The funeral has been lost somewhere within my memory. I believe it’s buried somewhere with the memory of the pain attached to it.

My childhood was a happy one. When adults asked me about my dad I remember telling them about the good memories I had and then adding, “I’m glad he died when I was so young that way I was too young to remember any sense of loss. They all believed me. I did too until one day when I was twenty-five.

How can one grieve and release a buried memory? While hypnosis has crossed my mind, it leaves me feeling uncomfortable. There is a reason God created our minds with the amazing ability to block out memories that cause overload. Is that a part of his promise to not allow more than we can handle to come into our lives? (1 Corinthians 10:13)

I believe that eventually, when my emotions are healed enough to handle it, the memory will return. Acknowledging that there was a loss has been the first step in receiving that healing. In His time God will show me the next step along that path.

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Photo Memories: The Final Snapshot

After the funeral there is only one more snapshot. A dream. In this dream my dad has just stepped through the outside door into the kitchen and I am staring up at him. He’s wearing his denim-blue work shirt, suspenders and denim overalls. Our eyes lock. My heart cries, “Why don’t you come home anymore?” But not a word is spoken. There are no tears. I only feel an indescribable longing.

I have frequently questioned the authenticity of this dream-memory. Even though the dream had occurred prior to the time my mom had remodeled our house, in my memory the dream was set in our newly remodeled kitchen. Was my dream-memory superimposed into our new kitchen because I have difficulty remembering how our pre-remodeled house used to look or was it a false memory?

Several years ago I discovered the answer in my Aunt Emma’s diary. On December 19, 1969, one year and eight months after my dad’s death, sandwiched in between a comment about how cute my younger brother Roland could talk and how she had shipped off a box of sugar and creamer sets she had painted, Emma had penned the following words:

“Mother (Grossmommy) said Aleta told her she dreamed her father came in the door. “Do you know why I dreamed that? Because I wish to see him.””

More than forty  years later I could still feel that longing deep inside. My heart crying out for my daddy. This time the tears came.

That longing subconsciously followed me throughout my life. Because of it, unhealed, I made choices that I believe I would not have made otherwise. I spent my teen years searching to fill that empty void in my heart. It was not until I allowed God to fill it that I found peace.

We all have a God-shaped void within us. It is only by daily inviting his presence in to fill it that we maintain that peace.

Categories: Childhood, Emma Schrock, Old Order Mennonite, Photo-Memory | Leave a comment

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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Life As A Book

My aunt, Emma Schrock, began her 1971 diary with this poem by Gertrude Laura Gast:

The New Year like a book lies before me;

On its cover two words, “My Life,” I see.

I open the covers and look between—

Each page is empty, no words can be seen,

For I am a writer, I hold the pen

That’ll fill these pages to be read by men.

Just what kind of book will my book be,

My life written there for others to see,

Each day a page written, one by one—

Will it be worthwhile when finished and done?

Lord, help me keep these pages clean and fair

By living the life I’d have written there.

She understood that our lives are interesting stories for others to read. Therefore, she kept a diary and before her death in 1991, even began to recopy each diary by hand in larger notebooks so that it would be in an easier to read format for her nieces and nephews.

Eleven years later a diary entry about a friend named, Joe, expressed this same concept.

Joe, a man from Chicago became interested in learning more about the Old Order Mennonite Church and every other weekend he drove his car from his home in Chicago to the Old Order Mennonite community. He often stayed at my Grossdaudy Schrock’s house (Whom I referred to as Emma-Grossdaudys.) and since Grossdaudy was in his late eighties and no longer able to drive, Joe drove their horse and buggy to church for them. He would often spend the night at my Grandparents and became good friends with my Aunt Emma who still lived at home. She was fascinated with him and his life. She watched him buy a farm, date an Old Order Mennonite girl from Virginia and prayed for him to join church some day. She made several comments similar to the following August 11, 1982, journal entry:

Joe’s life is like reading an interesting story. One wonders what’s next.

She saw Joe’s life as an interesting book. He was fascinated with the Old Order Mennonite way of life and saw our culture in a similar light, as a fascinating story to live in.

I believe we all have a story. It’s there waiting to be told. We can choose to find it by fully developing, living and loving the life we have or instead live vicariously through the lives of others we deem more exciting.

I discovered this when I was somewhere between the age of nine and eleven. During those years I lived, ate and breathed mystery stories and had just finished reading a great one. I rolled onto my back on a blanket under a Maple tree in our back yard, gazing up into the blue sky, relishing that after-a-good-book feeling resonating through me, wishing my life were as exciting as the books I read: mysteries to solve, foreign lands to travel, exciting people to meet…

Then the realization came. My life is exciting. It is just that when the characters in a book face a dull moment, they turn the page and start a new chapter and in real life I had to live through those boring moments. At that instant, as my body lay on the blanketed grass and my eyes gazed through the leafy maple branches past the fluffy white clouds to the blue sky beyond, I knew that if all the exciting moments in my life, were compacted together, they would create an exciting story. It was all in the point of view. My life was a book.

During the next seven years mystery stories evolved into animal stories and then were eventually replaced by romance novels. During my mid-teen years I lived, ate and breathed romance novels by Grace Livingston Hill containing the theme “poor, hard working girl meets rich, handsome guy and lives happily ever after.” I eventually recognized them for the junk that they were, but I had no idea that in another seven years, as a college student, those novels would come to my rescue.

At the age of twenty-three, when I was in college, I lived in a little apartment by myself. Each week I did not have enough extra money to even buy a piece of chocolate candy. One day after I had paid all the bills and bought the basic groceries I needed for the week, I sat on the floor beside my day-bed looking through tears at my one remaining dime. I felt thankful for having a dime left over while simultaneously trying to ignore the fact that I had four entire college years to live through before I could become a teacher and begin earning a decent income.

Suddenly, in the midst of my tears, the nostalgia of those teenage romance novels swept through me and I saw myself as one of those “poor, hard working girls.” As the sentiments of those novels enveloped me, I realized that, just like the characters in the book, I did not know what exciting, romantic experiences lay just around the corner. At that time I would not have admitted it openly, but those seemingly empty novels had reached through the years to encourage me.

* * * * *

The following year I actually met and fell in love with a “rich, handsome guy.” But when he hinted at the topic of marriage, I panicked, “Not until after I graduate from college.” Shortly after that he asked if he could pay my rent and living expenses so that I would not have to work anymore and thus have time to take more classes and graduate sooner.

A year later he panicked and decided he did not want to get married after all. The night he broke up he gave me a check to cover all my living expenses for my final year of college. His comment was that as a teacher I would make a difference in the lives of children, and he viewed the money he gave me as an investment into those lives.

It took some time for me to realize it, but I had just survived my own personal romance novel and I actually lived happily ever after… Eventually.

Categories: Childhood, College, Emma Schrock, Old Order Mennonite | Leave a comment

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