The Story of an Old Order Mennonite Girl

Circle Letters: The Story of an Old Order Mennonite Girl - A Memoir by Aleta M. Schrock

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Daddy's Baby Girl: A Photo Memory

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.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

TODAY: Christmas 2011

Merry Christ-mas! I am blessed.
This morning my husband sang in the Christmas Choir at church and I operated the computer that projected the words to the songs on the back wall above the balcony. So while the congregation thought the choir members were merely lifting their eyes in worship to God, they were actually reading the cheat-sheet I was displaying. The choir members knew the songs, but since we had a big production today, it was nice for them to have the words there in case of a moment of nervous blankness.
Initially I found myself working hard to have the correct verses displayed at the right time in order to not make a fool of myself. But then God reminded me: We don’t do things with excellence to exalt ourselves: we do things with excellence to better serve others. Through this attitude Christ is also exalted and served. The presence of God was wonderfully present and we were blessed through this time of worship in song.

One king held the frankincense.
One king held the myrrh.
One king held the purest gold.
One king held the hope of the world.
(Words and Music by Jeff Borders, Gayla Borders
        and Lowell Alexander, Arranged by Jay Rouse)

Thank you God for choosing to being born as a human and providing real life and hope for this world.
My husband and I cooked and baked this week. Some of it was done in bits and pieces during the day, some of it late at night. Friday night we came home from choir practice sometime past 10:00 PM and decided that if we wanted the pumpkin pies and milk tapioca made it needed to be then. So we reached into the cupboards and got out the pie pans that had last been used at Thanksgiving and that would probably not be used again until Easter.
I got out the milk tapioca recipe written on a lined index card in my grossmommy’s handwriting- a family favorite.
“Milk Tapioca,” my husband laughs. “It’s tapioca. Why bother adding the word milk?”
“Ah, but the word milk is essential,” I tell him. “In the spring we cook Rhubarb Tapioca. Tapioca can also be used to thicken fruits, making it Peach Tapioca or Cherry Tapioca… Yeah, I believe the word Milk added to the front of Tapioca is indispensable.”
We measured and stirred, baked and cooked, laughed at silly nothings and sang Christmas Carols. While the pies were in the oven, sometime around 1:00 AM, Daniel stood by the stove stirring my milk tapioca while I washed up the last of the dishes. Suddenly he remarked, “I had an extra can of pumpkin left over. I should have checked more carefully when I made that comment about the filling be more runny than normal. Let me see…” His brow furrowed slightly as he counted cups and teaspoons. “Yeah, I doubled everything except the pumpkin.” We discussed whether it was going to set properly or whether it would have enough of a pumpkinny taste. To our surprise it turned out quite well, slightly sweeter than we would have preferred, but quite edible.
While we were laughing at his cooking error, I tasted the milk tapioca. “Did you forget something, too?” he asked when he saw me walk over to the refrigerator and stare at the recipe posted there.
“It’s the salt,” I said while holding up fingers to figure out 1/8 times twelve. Grossmommy’s original recipe called for only two cups of milk. She always tripled it when she made it and I had those measurements penciled in besides the others, all except for the salt.
“It needs more than salt,” my husband commented licking a spoon. “It also needs sugar.” I added the salt and then went back to the recipe. The original recipe called for three tablespoons of sugar, multiply that times three. I was lifting fingers again.
“Ah, that’s the problem.” The tripled recipe needed one cup plus one tablespoon of sugar, but because I always add slightly less sugar, I had penciled in only one cup. That evening while cooking I had forgotten that the recipe already had less sugar figured into it and I added a scant cup of sugar. I might have gotten away with that if it wasn’t for the fact that tonight I was duodectupling the recipe. By adding two scant cups of sugar I had reduced the sweetness by somewhere between four to six tablespoons. I added four more tablespoons and the milk tapioca turned out perfectly.
 My sister-in-law and her college age daughter ate dinner with us after church on Christmas Day. My husband had made a delicious cranberry walnut stuffing. I told him he’ll need to write it down so we can duplicate it again next year. We had made extra of everything so we could send some home with our guests plus enjoy leftovers all week.
In the afternoon we all went to the Dollar Theater and saw the movie: In Time. My husband and I had seen it earlier this week and wanted to see it again. It’s thought provoking.
My husband’s job doesn’t allow him to be home every evening, so we are especially enjoying his time off. Many evenings we sat side-by-side on the sofa, each with our laptop, feet propped up or curled under, drinking hot tea or hot chocolate, nibbling on cheese and crackers or cookies… just being. Occasionally I would ask for a moment of his time and he would lean over to read or proofread my writing. Other times I would pause and listen to the latest research he had found on electro-magnetics and then an enlightening conversation would follow.
One evening, in honor of our first date, we drove through a local neighborhood to see the Christmas lights. We reminisced, comparing the two evenings. On our first date it was close to zero and windy. This year it was in the forties and we could comfortably roll down the windows to listen to some of the musical displays.
My life contains health, love and laughter. Indeed, I am blessed.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

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.