Sunday, July 31, 2011

Who I Want To Be Like

When I grow up I want to be like Josie and Andrew and Dema.

Josie is this lady from the East somewhere, maybe Delaware, and she used to be married to a Baker from this area, until he died of cancer many years ago.

Later she remarried and now she comes to Oregon I'm guessing twice a year.

We have no past or family connections but she is always smiling and she always greets me like she is just so delighted to see me again. You know she does that to everyone but she makes me feel like she's happier to see me than her own relatives, and it's our secret.

I'm easily fooled like that.

Yesterday I heard that Josie was in the hospital with an infection that was turning to sepsis, but she was up and walking around, which the doctor said was impossible or miraculous or something. Josie told him that all her friends were praying for her. The doctor said that's the only possible explanation.

I hope she'll be ok. I want to see her again.

Andrew and Dema are an older couple whom I see several times a year when our church has some meeting or activity with theirs. They come from Amish stock so we always chat in Dutch. The best way to describe them is Christ-like. Andrew often says, "God bless you," in German and it feels weighted, a little like it must have felt for the children to have Jesus lay his hands on them and bless them.

Andrew and Dema are both tiny people but they radiate that same warmth Josie has, like they are just delighted with you and seeing you again, and this is their lucky day, getting to see you! And oh, pooh on the aches and troubles of old age, they want to talk about the important stuff, particularly how you are doing.

I found out today that they lost their oldest son at age 20 in an airplane crash in 1975.

I want to be someone who can move beyond personal loss and get old and just radiate this joy in living and this interest in others.

Quote of the Day:
"You set such high standards! I don't think anyone else's mom makes them pick blueberries before they can go to Dollar Tree!"

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Another Mystery to Solve

This is for all the ladies who were at the women's retreat at Paden, Oklahoma, in April.

I had some of Emily's books along, but not enough, so a few people paid for a book and wrote their addresses down for me.

After I came home, Emily was filling out the orders and was down to the last order when she ran out of books. So she ordered some more books, and by the time they came, she had lost that last address. She thought she had put it in the pocket of her backpack but it's not there any more.

All she can remember about it is that the handwriting was hard to read.

If you were there, would you mind asking around to see if we can locate this person and get her book to her.


Quote of the Day:
"It WAS his fault! He did NOT have to listen to me!"
--a lovely young guest in our home the last few days. I overheard this from the next room. I think she was talking about her brother.

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Odd Harvest

This is the harvest that everyone will tell their grandchildren about.

Normally, somewhere in June it stops raining. The farmers start cutting toward the end of June. The grass dries in the windrows. The combines roll in sometime between June 28 and July 4. Paul's has the warehouse running 24 hours a day.

Everyone works like crazy and is done combining by the last week in July or maybe a little into August.

Not this year.

June consisted of rain and clouds and chill and damp, interspersed with just enough nice weather to get our hopes up.

Finally, sporadically, people got their fields cut. A lucky field here and there got combined.

But mostly, all this long way into July the grass has been sitting there in windrows, waiting waiting waiting, for the crucial warm, sunny, nice weather that July always brings.

Except this year July just won't bring. It dries for a few days, then rains for a day, dries for one or two more, then more rain.

The danger is that if it's too wet, too long, the seed will sprout in the rows and be worthless.

We still keep looking at the thermometer every day, willing it to please get up to 70--or please pretty please, 75, or will we actually be so fortunate to hit 80!? Here's a calendar with the last month's high temperatures.

So now it's the 22nd of July. Paul has three able-bodied young men all raring to go make some money sacking seed, but there's no place to rare to and no seed coming in. So today they all weeded my garden, just to have some work to do.

So far this year 400,000 pounds has come in. Normally by this time it would be 3 to 5 million pounds.

Meanwhile the rest of the country has been baking in hideous heat. Mom and Dad in Minnesota are doing their best to cope but it wipes them out. In Kansas they're meeting to pray for rain. In Northern Ontario, where we used to live, the northern reserves are threatened by forest fires and they are evacuating the most vulnerable people.

As you can see on that Accuweather calendar, it looks like the lumbering weather ship in Oregon is finally turning. To the very great relief of the farmers.

I hope the ship turns in other places as well.

Quotes of the Day:
"If the farmers lose their crops, I wonder if they're gonna sue God."

Tonight we ate supper outside.
Paul: [knocks Jazz off his lap with the back of his hand] If I brush the cat off my lap, is that like what's-his-name kicking the cat toward the fire?"
Me: Ha ha, no.
Me: (thinks) AAAHH, he actually read and somewhat paid attention to that story I wrote!!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

My First Mennonite Fiction

It happens every time I rant about Amish fiction. Everyone says, and rightly so, "Why don't you write something better?"

And my answer is always, "I have no idea how to write fiction. I never write fiction. I have no idea how to get started. It's not something I can do."

Kind of like climbing Cape Perpetua, come to think of it. Or typing, back in high school, finishing those quilts, or any number of other things I just know I can't do.

So last night we were sitting around having this same discussion, again. And Emily and Jenny said, "Mom, of course you can write stories. You just need to do it."

"No," I said, "I don't know how."

"Here." Emily put the laptop on my lap. "Just start writing. About anything. Write about Jenny and her cats."

Ok, fine. I started writing. Two paragraphs later I suddenly realized I was having fun. Emily posted this on Facebook: "Mom: (looks at me with big eyes, like she's just discovered the secret of the universe) I guess if you just take facts, and embellish them any way you want, you can write a story!"

I had so much fun that I wrote late into the evening, and then I went to bed and thought of more details, so I got up and wrote some more.

Today I took turns between writing and housework.

And here it is, my first Mennonite Short Story.

I'm tempted to flood you with disclaimers first such as, be kind, it's my first attempt, it's not meant to be heavy theology, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

So I'll just post it and you can be honest about what you think.

What Needs To Be Done
by Dorcas Smucker

Jenny had been crazy about cats since the age of 10 when she found a half dead kitten under the oil tank on a cold, dripping Oregon-winter day. She pulled it out while their big German Shepherd licked his chops over her shoulder, then held it tight so the dog couldn’t eat it, took it inside, and bathed it in the bathroom sink with her mom’s Midnight Orchid Bath and Body Works shampoo and blow dried it with her mom’s hair dryer, without asking her mom about either of these. Jenny believed, as Mom had taught her, that you just did what you needed to do. And this needed to be done.

She named the kitten Fluff because she was young and the kitten was fluffy and needed a name. She convinced her dad to let it sleep with her, just one night, which led to two and then a week, but then Jenny got sloppy with changing the cat litter and out Fluff went, where it scratched the dog across the nose, once, and then reigned on the porch like a queen. Once a week Jenny fed it tuna, and Fluff would abandon her mouse-hunting in the ryegrass field, streaking to the back porch just as Jenny scraped the last of the tuna into the cat dish, because she loved tuna more than anything except Jenny herself.

Jenny was now 17 and had owned at least six additional cats in the meanwhile, most of them rescued strays. On summer afternoons she sat reading on the hammock with cats lying like sacks of warm liquid on her shoulders and in her lap. In winter she opened her window and let them in off the porch roof and held them while she did her homework.

She loved her cats with a pure and unselfish devotion. She even loved Fescue, the yellow half-blind cat someone had dropped off beside the road three years before, who sat on the porch rail by the hour, glaring at everyone but Jenny, and who flew into a frenzy at the sight of bare feet, particularly on men, which was not a problem most of the time because the men in the house, being farmers, wore heavy work shoes. But Jenny always had to tuck her bare feet under her skirt when Fescue joined her on the hammock.

Even Dad no longer complained, much, when the cats came indoors, unless they actually jumped up on the kitchen table. Everyone in the family indulged Jenny because she was the youngest and charmed them all.

Jenny also loved Travis. Ah, Travis. 19 years old, tall, curly haired, already making a name for himself as the best mechanic around, having quickly graduated from combine driver to mechanic the previous summer when he worked for the biggest grass seed farmer in the valley and nonchalantly replaced the header clips when the rollers got plugged, using and ruining the only tool he had, the fork his mom had packed in his lunch, and impressing Mr. Powell, who didn’t need to know that Travis had simply Googled the problem on his Iphone and followed the directions.

Travis had told this story to all the guys at a Sunday evening youth group gathering, around the fire pit at Mark and Nancy’s the youth sponsors, soon after it happened, while the girls went in the house to fetch the marshmallows and graham crackers and sticks and Hershey bars to make s’mores, and also lemonade and watermelon and hot chocolate and brownies and chips and popcorn, this being a Mennonite gathering.

Just as Jenny had come over with a stack of paper plates, Travis had said, loud enough for her to hear, “and Don was like, ‘WHOA, no way did you fix that all by yourself!‘ and I was like, ‘Dude, it’s just me and the combine out here!’”

She had pretended not to hear, but resolved to ask her brother Ben later what that was all about, when she suddenly kicked a leg of the picnic table in the dark and the entire stack of plates flew out of her hands and under the camp chair that Dave was sitting in.

Dave, who was far too tall and thin and normally couldn’t put two words together in any coherent fashion when a girl was around, heard the thump and the swish and turned around curiously. He saw Jenny grimacing and holding her flip-flopped foot. “Are you all right?” he said, too concerned to be shy.

“I think I broke my toenail,” Jenny said. “But I’ll be ok, really. I just need those plates under your chair.”

Dave leaned forward, reached through the metal X of the chair, and patted around for the plates. Jenny noticed with one horrified glance that this made his polo shirt, an old school uniform from two years ago, ride up in the back. Too high. She thanked God for the merciful darkness that kept her from seeing details.

Dave finally retrieved the plates and handed them to her, his dark eyes searching for hers in the firelight. “They even landed bottom side down, all in a stack, aren’t you lucky?” he said, the longest speech Jenny had ever heard from him. The word “bottom” reminded her too much of polo shirts riding up, so she blushed in the dark, snatched the plates with a quick thanks and was gone.

Travis, who was wearing a green t-shirt with a Bible verse on the front contorted to look like a Mt. Dew logo, leaned back in his chair on the other side of the fire and smiled to himself. Dave didn’t stand a chance, they both knew that. Long ago, when Travis and Dave were both juniors at the church ACE school, Travis had flipped through a spiral notebook in Dave’s cubicle and discovered a poem, a real rhyme-and-rhythm poem, with a line of hearts in the margin, devoted to Jenny, with hair like a penny, golden and copper, with a heart as full as a seed-warehouse hopper. That was crossed out and replaced with “copper and golden, the heart of a guy to embolden.” Of course Travis had shared this treasure with everyone in the classroom.

While Travis, still chuckling, had served his detention that day, Dave drove home wishing it would be ok to drive into that large Douglas fir along Highway 228 and die quickly, and Jenny sat weeping all the way home in her brother Ben’s car while he said, “Oh, that’s just Dave, that’s just how he is, don’t worry about it, Travis would never write you a poem, believe me.”

And somehow after that she was in love with Travis, with his dangerous ways and his coolness and his grin and his way of always knowing just what to do to look smooth. Jenny’s dad wouldn’t let her date until she was 18, but there were always notes slipped under dividers in school, text messages on cell phones and meetings at the water fountain after Sunday school, when Travis gave her a quick wink as he pushed the button for her.

Everybody knew they were an item and would start dating officially and post pictures on Facebook as soon as Jenny was 18. Jenny’s parents tried to rein things in in the meanwhile, with limited success.

Jenny’s mom did not like Travis. She knew his type. She could tell a mile away what sort of character a man had, and no way was her beautiful and innocent Jenny, pride of her heart and last of her many children, tossing her life at that hollow chocolate bunny in an Aeropostale shirt.

She kept quiet, but she was a woman who always saw and knew what needed to be done, and did it.

Jenny went to school the following year, surrounded by the love and support of her doting parents and her cats and her friends and always the exciting presence of Travis on the edge of her life. Travis was taking the farm-equipment mechanics course at the local community college, paid for largely by his boss, he informed her at least once a month. Jenny graduated from high school in May and all through June she updated her dad’s books for the warehouse and baked for her mom and texted her friends and sat in her room with cats on her lap and thought about Travis and life and going to Bible school in the fall and who would be her bridesmaids when she and Travis got married, some lovely future day, and should they serve a full course meal at the reception, or a buffet with salads and sandwiches?

The grass in the fields grew heavy and brown and Jenny’s dad told them all at the supper table about who he had hired to sack seed, and which shifts they would work—Ben at night, Dave on the afternoon shift, and Shawn the neighbor boy would take mornings—and he hoped they could start cutting by the end of June this year. Jenny and Mom were not terribly interested in these details but they let him talk because they loved him.

When the youth group got together, Travis talked loudly of how he was now in charge of not only prepping the combines for harvest, but all the windrowers as well, and Don Powell told him he could beat the guys at Fisher Implement, hands down.

One evening at the supper table Dad said, “Dave came by today and offered to clean the office, the bins, anything, because he wants to be familiar with how everything works before he starts sacking. I like him. A guy that offers to do extra, that’s who I like to hire.”

“Everybody likes Dave,” said Jenny. “Bless his heart.”

“He’s saving money for college, did you know that?” said Dad. “He says he wants to be a teacher. Not that I think college is necessary to teach in our school, but we could sure use a teacher for the upper grades who knew what he was doing with math and science and stuck around for more than a year or two.”

Dad was the school board chairman and had spent far too many Augusts with the double burden of cleaning the summer’s seed plus trying to recruit teachers from back East who too often ended up being silly 19-year-old girls who couldn’t do algebra.

Dad grinned. “And if there’s anyone that college and the World won’t be able to pollute, it’s Dave.”

The hot weather came right on schedule and by the end of June everyone was busy from early morning til late at night. Jenny drove her dad’s combine every day as soon as the dew was off the grass and came stumbling in the door exhausted at night. Once in a while Dad took a turn on the combine and she drove the truck full of seed to the warehouse, where Dave, dusty in a summer camp t-shirt from 2004, bought her a Diet Pepsi, her favorite, from the fridge in the corner and told her to sit down and rest on the sacks while he got in the truck and dumped the seed.

“We’re having the youth over Sunday night after church,” said Jenny’s mom the last week of August, when the frenzy of harvest was wearing off and her husband had laid off the neighbor and cut back the shifts of Dave and Ben.

“Nice, Mom. Real subtle,” Jenny said. “I’ll act surprised when they all sing Happy Birthday.”

Travis texted Jenny during the sermon on Sunday evening. “Heard this same sermon twice b4 I think.” Jenny snickered but felt a whiff of irritation. She had told him her parents didn’t want her getting or sending texts in church.

Oh well, she was almost 18, nearly an adult.

Jenny’s parents hurried home after church and, as she had hoped, Travis offered Jenny a ride. The driveway was full of cars when they arrived, and out by the clotheslines a dozen young people played volleyball as the lingering dusty yellow haze hung in the air, with the smell of summer and hay and grass and wonderful possibilities.

Gradually the game slowed and the sun dropped toward Mary’s Peak and the young people drifted to the back of the house where Dad was building a fire in the bottom half of an old metal barrel. Jenny found this embarrassing—why couldn’t they have a brick fire pit like everyone else?—but she knew he didn’t want to set the ryegrass stubble on fire, as dry as it was.

They filled their plates and sat around the fire, tired and sweaty and enjoying the last of a day of rest before another busy week began. Everyone sang “Happy Birthday,” of course, and Jenny acted surprised and embarrassed.

Fescue watched, glowering, from the porch rail. Jenny, in her green camp chair, looked around, contented, taking in the magic of the late-summer air and this group of people she loved. Soon it would all change—summer would be over, school would start, the harvest workers would leave, the rains would come. But tonight it was all wonderful, and Travis was beside her, and she was almost 18.

She watched the different groupings around the circle and guessed what they were saying. Dad was over there talking with Dave and Tom about how the rain on the 8th of July had affected the ryegrass yield—she caught the words “two tenths of an inch.” They both looked attentive, bless their hearts. Ben and Shawn were planning a canoe trip down the Willamette, Edith and Sandy were giggling, no doubt about the Amish crew from Indiana that they cooked for this summer. And half a dozen guys and girls leaned in and loudly discussed the merits of EBI, SMBI, and even Calvary Bible School, whose only first-hand authority present was a Beachy guy from Iowa who was out for the summer, baling straw for Hostetlers. Travis insisted that EBI was the only place worth going to, even though he had never been there. “They say you have to study your brains out at SMBI.”

Mom wandered softly around the group, pouring iced tea, gathering empty plates. She stopped in front of Dave. “There’s one sandwich left and I’m sure you’re still hungry, sacking seed all week.” She handed it to him and smiled.

“Thanks,” he said, and took a bite. Hmmm, he thought to himself. Tuna? I thought they were all chicken salad. Oh well. Tuna’s good too.”

Five seconds later Jenny giggled to herself as Fluff leaped into Dave’s lap and sniffed at the sandwich. Dave carefully broke off a small bite and fed it to the cat, then took turns feeding the two of them. Good old Dave, such a softie, she thought. Fescue will be jealous, no doubt. She glanced up. Fescue was no longer on the porch rail. Probably out hunting mice, which was just as well.

Mom wandered slowly behind Jenny’s chair and leaned down as though picking up a stray napkin.

A moment later the quiet evening was ripped by a strangled cry from Travis and a stream of words that had never been heard at any Marksville Mennonite Church youth gathering before, ever, the best of which included “Crazy, blasted cat!” Jenny gasped in horror as Fescue the cat flew through the air, propelled by Travis’s flip-flopped foot, straight toward the fire and mercifully over it and out the other side, and then tore off toward the rhododendron bed with a yowl and a lingering whiff of singed fur. Travis lifted his foot in the air, a line of bloody streaks down his bare big toe.

Mom was behind him in an instant, patting his shoulder, fussing and soothing. “Oh Travis, I am so sorry, that is just terrible, that silly cat cannot stand bare feet, dear me, Jenny, you should have penned him up, tsk tsk, here, come inside, I’ll get you some Neosporin and a Band-Aid.”

Travis limped to the house. Mom followed, brushing a few cat hairs from the front of her dress.

Jenny looked around, stunned, and noticed with sudden clarity that all the other youth guys were wearing basketball shoes, as always. Except for Dave, who also wore sandals--Birkenstocks in fact, as always--with white cotton athletic socks, and who was still feeding the delighted Fluff bites of tuna sandwich.

Suddenly, Jenny knew things she had never known before, about herself and her life and her choices and what she wanted her future to be like.

What was it Mom always said? You do what needs to be done.

She got up and walked over to Dave. “Can I have a bit of that sandwich to give to Fescue? I think he might need some comfort.”

Dave looked at her, holding her gaze just a moment longer than necessary. “Yes,” he said, “I think he might.” He broke off a generous corner and gave it to Jenny, whose hand shook just a bit as she took it.

Dave slowly ate the last bite and scratched Fluff under her chin, thinking. There were things that needed to be done, yes there were. And when the time was right, he would do them. Yes, he most certainly would.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Another Amish Novel Rant/Critique

Ok, here I go again.

Every time I go on a rant about Amish fiction I tell myself, as you probably would like to tell me also, ok, enough already, we get it, hello?, time to move on, JUST LET IT GO.

And then I do it again.

At our annual birthday tea on the porch the Neighbor Lady Who Does Not Like to be Named Online said her daughter has a set of Beverly Lewis books that I just might like. She thought they were better than the norm. And she was interested in my take on the historical period they covered, which was in the 60s when the New Order began.

So I borrowed the 3-book Courtship of Nellie Fisher set, read the first half of the first book, and quickly skimmed the rest.

I have to hand it to Beverly Lewis, she actually got me interested in the story lines. Will Nellie and Caleb get together? Well, you know they will, but how? Was Suzy saved before she died? Whatever happened with that bizarre baby-sharing idea? Did Datt and Mamm join the New Order?

And I have to admit the characters were reasonably authentic and real and interesting.

The historical aspects of how the New Order began were probably the most interesting. It doesn't mention the Brunk revivals specifically, but I wonder if they were involved. And my biggest question was--with all these winds blowing, why didn't my parents join the New Order instead of leaving Iowa in 1967 for the sake of their older children approaching Rumspringe age? They moved to this new community in southern Ohio composed of people from northern Ohio who turned out to be a rather hotheaded bunch, very different culturally from Mom and Dad, even though they were Amish, and it didn't work out well at all. So yeah, why didn't they stay in Iowa and join the New Order?

So I have to hand it to Beverly Lewis for what she gets right. And for how many books she sells. Mei zeit. I'm sure she could have bought that house at the coast, the one I'll get when my ship comes in, half a dozen times over by now. Not that I'm jealous.


You know this is coming.

The details in her books are what drive me crazy.

She goes to great lengths to show us that these characters are speaking Pennsylvania Dutch. She throws in such words and phrases as Denki, wunnerbar gut, Ordnung, rumspringe, ferhoodled, and so on.

So, ok, we get it, they're speaking another language.

But then of course she writes 99.5% of the dialogue in English, since not all of us know Dutch, primarily Beverly Lewis herself. So, this is all a translation, right?

So why? WhywhywhywhyWHY does she always write the dialogue in this bizarre hick-pioneer-midwestern-redneck lingo, dropping g's all over the place and putting in these strange phrases that have absolutely no counterpart in Dutch? "It's ever so wunnerbar gut of ya to take me to the quiltin'." "Time to get to the plowin' fer sure and certain, ain't so?" "I was hopin' ya would be willin' to go home from the singin' with me tonight."

Ok, I'll stop there before I start foaming at the mouth.

But please hear me on this: AMISH PEOPLE DO NOT TALK LIKE THAT.

If Beverly Lewis could get this part right, I would be quiet, I promise.

Quote of the Day:
"I saw me some wonderful-gut writin' today, Mamma."
Emily, after I mockingly read the line, "I saw me some wonderful-gut stitchin,' Mamma!" and Emily said after I write my Amish/Mennonite novel, people will say this instead.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Connecting the Dots

As we all know, one of the nicest things about the Web and blogs and Facebook and such is the immediate connections.

So, maybe one of you can help me connect the dots from Oregon to Pennsylvania.

My e-friend LuAnne sews athletic skorts for the girls at the local Mennonite high school. She researched the best source for athletic knit fabric and, not surprisingly if you know the Pacific Northwest at all, found it in Portland, Oregon.

She ordered what she needed and discovered that the shipping is very expensive. She contacted me: Would I know of anyone going to Portland who could pick it up, and of anyone who could then get it to Pennsylvania?

Last week I went to the Union Station in downtown Portland to have lunch with a cousin on an Amtrak layover, then I drove another mile or two to Rose City Textiles, a fascinating place with zillions of types of athletic fabrics, and there I picked up LuAnne's fabric, two rolls about a foot in diameter and 5 1/2 feet long.

So now the fabric is at my place.

Option A: too late--I should have sent it with the Faith Builders chorale over the weekend, and had them take it to Canon City, Colorado, where LuAnne's family is headed on a trip.

Option B: Is anyone from Oregon driving to the BMA convention in Ohio next weekend, July 22-23? LuAnne won't be there but could have someone from her church pick it up.

Option C: Paul's nephew is here for the summer, working in the warehouse. He'll be driving to Wisconsin at the end of the summer and could take it home with him. Is there any traffic between WI and PA?

Option D: Another nephew might be moving their things to Indiana soon and I could probably tuck it in their truck, but I haven't checked with them yet. (JoNell??)

Option E: of course, someone might be driving straight from Harrisburg, Oregon to Newmanstown, PA.

If you have ideas, you can either leave a comment or email me at

LuAnne thought I should cut off some fabric and keep it for my bother but trust me, I enjoy this kind of bother.

Quote of the Day:
(at the picnic table)
Ben: Did you know if you eat that you have to get married in a traditional church type setting? Cuz you can't elope, ha ha ha!
Jenny: Is that why you don't like cantaloupe?

Sunday, July 10, 2011