Monday, March 25, 2013

Barn, Aunts, Weight, and Boys

Some time ago we had a family picture taken with Paul's Grandpa Orval's old barn in the background.  This photo is on the cover of my new book and also on the living room wall.

Something very odd keeps happening.  People say, "That is really a nice picture of that old barn."


"Oh.  Sorry.  It's a nice shot of your family too.  But that is just a really neat old barn."

Yesterday was a Smucker lunch at the fellowship hall at church, complete with locals and the folks from John Day and Cousin Brian and his lively wife Twila and their even-livelier flock of daughters from Idaho, and also Paul's aunts Nadine and Allene, who among many other virtues tell great stories.

I believe it was Twila who commented about the nice shot of Grandpa's old barn.

Which led to a story about Aunt Wilma.

"Wilma wasn't afraid of anything.  Not a thing.  She'd pick up snakes and chase us.  She thought that was so funny. And when Dad built that barn, Wilma climbed up to the very peak of the roof and reached underneath and painted that part up underneath there, under the roof."

The soffit, I think she meant.  Just imagining it made me go weak in my legs.

"What, did she straddle the peak and lean down?" I said.

"No, she kind of lay down up there and reached around. She wasn't afraid of anything."

It's nice that feminism came along some 20 years later and freed Aunt Wilma from male oppression forcing her into stereotyped gender roles.

That cynical statement is born out of supporting Emily through a literature(!?) class this last term in which the teacher and all the other students assumed without question that in the vague "past," all married women were equally oppressed by their husbands, all black people in this country were equally downtrodden, all religious folks were equally deluded, and all women were equally forced into specific gender roles.

She also took a journalism class this term in which she was told you never make blanket statements or assumptions in your writing and you have to be able to verify, chapter and verse, every statement you make and every fact you present.


She decided she definitely prefers journalism to literature.

The aunts also told about the engaged couple who met at Walmart.  "Yes!  They met at Walmart!  He prayed before he went.  It never occurred to me to pray before I go to Walmart, that I'll meet someone, but I guess I should!"

We said, "Huh?"

Finally we pieced the story together, between two emphatic aunts injecting random bits of information.

She turns out to be Uncle James's children's aunt who has been widowed for a number of years.  She was just going to Walmart on a normal shopping trip.  She certainly didn't pray about a new husband before she left.

He was "Ralph Yoder's" brother, so we all know he comes from Mennonite stock but SHE had no way of knowing that when she kept running into him at Walmart that day.  And she also didn't know that his wife had died a year ago.  Or that before he left the house that day he prayed he'd meet someone.

They kept meeting up in the store in one aisle after another, and finally at about the third meeting she said, "Do I know you??" and they started talking.

And the rest is history.

And we will see if the Aunts decide to pray before they go to Walmart next time.

As a certain Smucker wife exclaimed, "I'll have to keep that in mind for if 'Nathan' ever dies!"

I am sorry if I hurt you with that recent post about fashion.  Some people took it as making fun of fat people.

Of course I didn't mean to hurt anyone but most of the time I do a lot of damage before I have a clue of it, and I always have more to learn about how words come across.

Here are some of my thoughts, in hindsight.

1.  Weight is a very volatile subject.  Much more so than other human-body issues, such as gray hair, neck wrinkles, chin hairs, even tattooing and vaccinations.  Offenses flare up quicker with weight than anything else, I think.

2. I may not be obese but I weigh more than I want to and I know about struggles with weight and how it's like holding a big beach ball underwater: hard continual effort and if you let go for a second it bobs right back up to where it was before.

3. A certain overweight person was heard to say, "It's who I am, and I can't help it."  I'm sure all of us who would like to lose a few (or more) pounds would like to think we can't help it.  "I've had babies, it's the Prednisone for my asthma, I'm 50 years old, it's my thyroid."  However.  If we all went on the Haiti diet, and had a mango for breakfast and then walked a mile and fetched a 5-gallon jug of water home on our heads and then ate a little bit of corn mush that we cooked over the fire and then hoed the garden all afternoon, we would all lose weight, Prednisone or not.  So let's not kid ourselves.

4. We will lose weight when the pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same.  What keeps me from losing weight is that I don't like to think about food.  I like to toss something in my mouth when I'm hungry.  Losing weight will require a mindfulness that I haven't been willing to expend.

5. The attitude of my fine Amish forebears seemed to be that weight wasn't a big deal as long as you could work hard and were healthy.  It would have been silly for a woman my age and size to obsess about getting skinny.  However, it was NOT ok to be "mocklich fett" i.e. so "fett" that you could hardly get out of a chair.

Because then you could hardly work, either.

I pulled this picture of Amish people from Katie Troyer's Facebook.  She also has a wonderful photo-blog called Project 365.

I'm intrigued with Mrs. Green Dress there in the middle.  She is not model skinny but if she is anything like the Amish ladies I have known I really doubt it bothers her.  And look at those arms.  She looks like she could do a hard day's work by lunchtime and throw a full meal together for supper for unexpected company and if the situation required could probably smack a mouthy teenager into the middle of next week as well.

As for Mr. Lighter-Green Shirt a little to the left, I don't think you want to give him any trouble either, despite the gray in his beard and the slight paunch.

Oh wait.  Never mind.  The Amish are Gentle People who would only be Kind and Loving to Everyone.  Sorry, I forgot.

Oh yes, as I was saying--maybe we could learn from the Amish here, that it ought to be about being healthy and hard-working rather than achieving a certain Look.

6. If I offend you on the Shoe, please send me a note and say, "I know you didn't mean to but this ("_______") hurt me because ______.  If you would say it like this "_________" instead, it would not sound as bad."

Instead of unsubscribing in a huff.  ("The reason is: 02: Offensive, strongly disagree or disapprove")

I would like to know, and I won't know if you don't tell me.

7. But it was still fun and funny to put three of us into one skirt and we were not making fun of you by doing that, I promise. *

*see QOTD

Meanwhile, on to more cheerful subjects, like this guy who lives in Siberia and makes these creative machines to drive on snow.  And who takes breaks to make tea.

Good for him.

And then there's this guy:

I don't read many basketball stories online, but my observant son Ben sent me this link, about a basketball player from Cameroon, and Ben told me to note the date and time when this young man came to America from Africa.

Close to midnight, Christmas Eve, 2004.

The same day and almost the exact time that Steven was arriving from Kenya.

God bless them both.

Quote of the Day:
Jenny: Mom, tell Steven to stop making fun of me!
Steven: I'm not making fun of you.  I'm just, you know, LAUGHING.


  1. " 4. We will lose weight when the pain of change is less than the pain of staying the same. What keeps me from losing weight is that I don't like to think about food. I like to toss something in my mouth when I'm hungry. Losing weight will require a mindfulness that I haven't been willing to expend."

    This my friend, is exactly what I knew in my head but never knew how to verbalize it!!! Thank u.. this is what makes weightloss such a HARD MENTAL thing.

  2. I honestly can't imagine getting offended at your writing. Generally I'm doubled over laughing, yes, but offended, no.

  3. First things first--that's a lovely picture of your family! :)

    As someone working on her third English degree (with a secondary area in women's & gender studies), I'm reduced to a facepalm when I read about Emily's lit class. It sounds as though her professor may not have ever encountered post-colonial theory (among other perspectives) that point out how individuals still have agency even in the midst of institutionalized oppression (however mild or extreme it might be). As I think most of us have experienced in life, agency is complex and fluctuates from one set of circumstances to another; it's not an all-or-nothing quality. Please don't think this prof speaks for all lit teachers or all feminists!

  4. Thank you, Naomi. That is reassuring to hear that the prof doesn't speak for all lit teachers because I was frankly appalled. Emily tried to get her to verify her statements a few times and got nowhere. It kind of freaked Emily out. For her final paper she purposely wrote pure effusive nonsense and the teacher raved at its brilliant wonderfulness. Sigh. I trust she'll have a better experience in the future.

  5. The 'Haiti' diet struck a chord with me. Dan and I are going to Haiti for two years with CAM. But, I doubt that I will be carrying water that far.:) Ruthie S

  6. I think I need you to describe my photos.

  7. Wait a second, Emily wrote nonsense for her final paper?

    Sort of like this?


  8. Byran--yes, like that, only on a much smaller scale. :-)

  9. Your last two post were defintely written by someone who has to much time to think and possibly not enough to do. Good thing your"Amish" relatives don't have computers. The picture and comments could be offensive to them.

  10. Very interesting reading. On weight - My aunt, who was born in 1906 or thereabouts, once told me that in her day young girls wanted to have some weight on them. It was better to be fat than skin and bones. Another time she told me that all young girls had at least one RED dress. This was in a very plain old order Mennonite setting. Times change I guess.

    Mary H

  11. I want to see that paper! That took guts, and let's hope her teacher never happens upon this blog post.

  12. To clarify, Byran, the paper probably makes enough sense that you can tell her main point. But she made it as wordy and wandering as possible, and threw in all these phrases the teacher liked. Sadly, she got worse grades on her other papers in the class that she wrote in her best journalistic style--clear, concise, logical, etc.

  13. I have not found your writing offensive. Trenchant, yes, and when you have a critical opinion, I sit up and notice! I recall you taking an online course on writing from Stanford University, where I had once taken a course and found it enjoyable but my course was Poetry. You described with force and conviction the general negative and unhappy endings of many short stories you were assigned and I realized how true that is with much writing these days(fiction) and that you were right -- it is very unpleasant and purposeless to read, which, believe it or not, gave me permission to STOP READING that type of literature if I feel it going in that direction. This, for me is rare -- to leave something unfinished. But it makes for a happier me, and I do not have to be submerged in woefulness. So go ahead I love these days when you "float random thoughts". You never know where they are going to land.

  14. I'm Caucasian,American, and my husband is Cambodian. I have always kept myself slim, even after four children, by consciously exercising and being aware of what and when I eat(not that I don't enjoy a double dutch chocolate pie once in a while). My husband, however, would prefer that I weigh at least ten of 15 pounds more. In his culture a plump wife is a sign of prosperity. In the Asian culture, if a person puts on weight (not muscle) he is greeted with compliments. I'm not vain. I watch my weight for health reasons. I have a family history of heart disease, stroke and cancer.

  15. I wrote my reasons for the way I dress...not nearly as concise as your post, but its @

    I think if everyone had a 2 yo (adopted so as not to add baby fat) at 46 they would not gain weight as fast...I totally agree on the Haiti diet...beans and rice for 30 days would do it too.

    I def think the lit prof should've met some of my female ancestors.

    As to Walmart, I pray that the items I need are actually on the shelf that day.

  16. I agree that Mrs. Green Dress looks like a capable lady. I'd be willing to bet she could also hold her own into the middle of next week with Mr. Lighter-Green Shirt if necessary. I do have a fashion question though; who decided those dark tinted glasses look nice? You see them a lot among plain people. They would look fine on dark-skinned people but they make pale-face people look pallid.

  17. Nancy-what a nice comment. Thank you.
    Anonymous-Interesting cultural clash there.
    Chris--I enjoyed your post. And laughed at your Walmart prayers. I can relate.
    Merle--I wonder if plain people like the photo-gray lenses that are tinted outdoors and untinted indoors?? Practical, if unflattering.

  18. Melva Anne (Schrock) Zook3/30/2013 4:27 AM

    "....also Paul's aunts Nadine and Allene, who among many other virtues tell great stories." Oh, the memories that flooded back when I read that sentence! I knew them both growing up. Nadine and I were the same age and good friends. We were classmates in '56-'57 in ninth grade, the first year that Lake Creek Mennonite School offered grades 9 and 10. What word would best describe them? Maybe fun & funny! And yes, they could tell stories, and in a way that made you hold your sides. How I would love to meet up with them again after all these years!

  19. I seem to have the knack for offending women. This time it was my wife Mary who took offense at my comments about "Mrs. Green Dress". She said it is unfair stereotyping to assume that because Mrs. Green is tall and strong she would be bossy and controlling. She's right, of course. Tall, strong women don't have a monopoly on those traits. Little scrawny women sometimes can outdo the tall, strong ones in this department. Now that I've offended the tall,the strong, the little and the scrawny ones, I think I'll stop while I'm ahead. And I will think twice before I "weigh in" on this subject again!