Sunday, July 24, 2016

Picking Blackberries on a Summer Sunday Evening.

On the way home this evening, I had Ben drop me off at the edge of McCormicks' field because I wanted to pick some blackberries and walk home.  "Are you sure that's wise, in a white skirt?" he said.  I said it'll be ok, the picking is so easy and good there.

I was right.  The field is dry and harvested, and the blackberry vines arch out obligingly over the flat edge of the field and hang heavy with glossy berries, so I didn't have to go wading into the vines at all.

It is a really good year for blackberries.

We went to a hymn sing this afternoon, three churches coming together at the pavilion at the Rock of Ages .... oh dear, what is the current term for a home for older people who need care?  Not "Old People's Home", certainly, which is what they called it back in my mom's day when she did a year of voluntary service at such a facility and then entitled her scrapbook "O.P.H. Memories."

When I pick blackberries, I feel like Mom is with me in spirit. She was always happiest when picking berries, straw hat on her head, hauling us to the best patches on the backside of the farm, despite the threat of black snakes lurking under the bushes.

She would have loved to go berry picking in McCormicks' field.

So I talked to Mom about grace, because there are just so many blackberries in that patch, many more than I can ever pick or use.  Kind of like the vast supplies of God's love and grace, really, which she now understands better than I can begin to comprehend.
I thought, "But it's not fair, here I have more berries than I can begin to use, and so many people don't have any."

"But they all have access to God's grace, which is even better."


It was very hot at that hymn sing but, as Ben said later as we sat in the living room with the doors open and the cool breezes wafting through, he has a renewed appreciation for Oregon, having just been to a wedding in the East where things do not cool down so much at night, in summer.

Speaking of weddings.  I was going to tell you about one.  In fact, I pretty much promised it, a couple of posts back. But then I had a column to write and also went full-steam-ahead with Dad's book, which barely left time for showers and paying garbage bills, and certainly not for posting about weddings.

Yesterday I was at a funeral.  Esther Boss was the kind of friend that I saw maybe once or twice a year, but we always sat down and had an intense conversation in Pennsylvania Dutch, cutting to the heart of things from the second paragraph on.

She was getting treated for rheumatoid arthritis, and then they discovered she actually had bone cancer, and in five days she was gone.

So I went to her funeral, along with everyone else who felt like she was their friend. Hundreds of us.

In the food line [Mennonite funeral= a good meal] Vivian Turner said that at the end of that one post hadn't I kind of promised...? a post the next day...? about a wedding....?

Well, yes.  I had.  But I kind of hoped no one had noticed, because I'd never followed up.

"Was there something extra special about this wedding?" said Vivian.

Well...YES!  There was!!  I mean, what wedding isn't special, but this was a YODER wedding.

I didn't tell her all this, but I'll tell you.

Dad was 37 when he got married; Mom was almost 34.  Just for perspective, Dad's sister Edna got married at 17, which was a lot more typical in that day and the Amish culture than marrying in your 30s.

So this sort of started a trend of not being in a hurry to get married.  Of the six of us siblings, Marcus and I were the youngest at about 22.  Fred was in his 40s.

Then came the grandchildren.  Annette got married in 2005, and then after long years her sister Janet married in 2012.

Then, as they say, "crickets."

And then Rebecca's youngest son, Derek, announced his engagement to the amazing Grace, and they invited us to their wedding in Indiana in May.
Yoders talking, inspecting shoes, drinking tea, etc.
A bunch of happy Yoders gathered there, including we three sisters and our children.  To my complete delight, our six kids gathered from the earth's corners and our sub-family was all there.

The pastor talked about the sheer unlikelihood of these two people existing, meeting, marrying.  Rebecca the Amish girl meeting and marrying Rod from Seattle.  Grace's dad escaping the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia as a child and eventually meeting his wife.  Derek meeting Grace from Indiana even though he grew up in Yemen.

Statistically and logically, these threads couldn't and shouldn't have come together like this, on this day.  But they did.

So the day was infused with great joy.

After the wedding we had part of two days with just Paul and I and our six.  Maybe I'll tell you about that and maybe I won't.

As Mom used to say: "Ich vill nix promisa," which meant "I don't want to promise anything" and was the equivalent of "We'll see."

The first shipment of books made it to Oklahoma ok, and Dad had a book signing yesterday at the Yoder reunion.  People kept texting me pictures throughout the day.

That was also a happy and impossible occasion.

Uncle Johnny and my dad.  My cousin Laverta took this prize shot.

Quote of the Day:
"Do you ever wonder if you're just a joke in someone else's family and you don't know it?"
--someone in this family

Monday, July 18, 2016

My Dad's Memoirs

My dad, Amos Yoder, was with us the past two summers and spent much of his time sitting on the couch and writing his life story, longhand, on notebook paper and the backs of old advertisements for urine-odor removers.

I couldn't find any shots of him writing his book, but here are two photos of him doing other things. We writers go a bit crazier if we don't do anything but write, you know.

He wrote about life as an Amish boy on an Oklahoma farm and how he was called away when World War II came.  What he thought would be a year of Civilian Public Service turned into five.  After that came two years in Paraguay, teaching, college, marriage, a family, and more teaching and farming.

I told Dad I’d take care of getting his writing into a book.

Emily spent many hours typing it all up, then I spent many more hours formatting, proofreading, finding a printer, and taking all the steps on the path from handwritten pages to finished book.

That path is a lot longer and steeper than it looks, starting off, but if it’s the right route for you, you will find people and websites to hold your hand and help you over the rough places and through the blackberry vines.

This week, I finished that project.

I was tempted at times to make the book into my image instead of Dad’s, or to make it more interesting, or to shape the events into how I would tell them, or what I wished they would have been at the time.  But I knew that would destroy the integrity of the telling and the authenticity of the book, so the only edits I made were to standardize the spellings and clarify the date of one event.

The title is Dad’s as well—A Chirp From the Grass Roots--and the cover was based on his ideas.  My friend Ellen Gerig supplied the photo. It's about 200 pages long.

So these are his words, about his life, told in his way.

Dad will be 100 years old in November, God willing.  Later this week he’ll be in Oklahoma at a reunion for his sister’s family.  The book will be available there and he’ll see it for the first time.

In August—God willing, again—Dad will be in Oregon.  I’d like to have a book signing event for anyone who’s interested in meeting him and getting a book.  Not a big splash, since if you read his book you’ll see his horror of making too big a fuss about things, but just an opportunity for people to stop by and get a glimpse of history.

Because really, he is a piece of history.  Think of everything that’s happened and been invented in the last 100 years, from the Korean War to the Depression to Elvis and Scotch tape and floppy disks—he watched it all.  He was ten years old when Charles Lindbergh flew across the Atlantic.

If you’d like a physical copy of A Chirp From the Grass Roots, they will be $8 each and available from me.  Email me at for details.

You can also get an ebook on Amazon.  Right here.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Letter from Harrisburg: A Small-town Fourth of July

On the Fourth of July, the feeling is mutual
By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard

JULY 10, 2016

The harvest smell woke me on the Fourth of July, the vibrant dry scent blowing on my face from the windrowed ryegrass field to the north and the open window by our heads.

It was a good day to be from Harrisburg.

“The breakfast crowd is strolling in,” informed the Harrisburg July 4th Celebration Facebook page at 7:34 a.m. “No long lines yet so hurry down to avoid a wait. Mike is at the 1st station selling raffle tickets, ... Hubert & Caroline are at the 3rd station selling breakfast. Volunteer firefighters are making breakfast, bussing tables, selling petunias.”

In Harrisburg, the day is about community, celebration, first names and investing in your own. It’s also about adding new ideas while keeping the traditions that everyone counts on, such as the Knox Brothers singing in the gazebo by the river at 6 p.m. as they have done for more than 30 years.

At 10 a.m., my daughter Jenny and her friends, dressed in carefully coordinated red, white, and blue outfits, went to the annual library book sale, as always overseen by Cheryl, the friendly librarian. They stayed for the parade, which included, Jenny says, “Gigantic farm tractors, dancing horses and a little Amish-style carriage pulled by four huskies!

“There were lots of little kids around us, so I didn’t get much candy,” Jenny added.

The day’s schedule filled a full page. Face painting by Calvary Chapel, a 5K run, a classic car show — “Smith St., between 2nd and 3rd St., Free!” — kids’ races, craft and food booths, and much more, all of it the result of long tradition, community enthusiasm and a lot of hard work from people willing to be anonymous.

Like many rural folks, I couldn’t join the festivities until evening.

Some farmers took a break from harvesting for the holiday, which is why our middle daughter, Emily, had the day off from driving a Massey Ferguson combine and also from cranking the plugged header backwards by propping her feet on the side of the combine and hanging her full weight on the wrench. We celebrated her birthday over dinner, two days early, with a pie adorned with stripes of raspberries and blueberries, dotted with whipped cream stars.

My husband, Paul, left the table to go back to the warehouse, as more seed was arriving. He said he’d join us for the fireworks.

Steven, our youngest son, gallantly carried my woven-webbing lawn chair and helped me find a place to set it, near the gazebo. Steven got his start as a firefighter volunteering with the Harrisburg department. This experience, and his captain’s encouragement, propelled him toward the firefighter/EMT program at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, where he is now in his second year. He wandered over to the firetrucks on Moore Street and talked with a few old buddies. “There’s a lot of new volunteers I don’t know,” he told me.

Hundreds of others already had arrived at the riverbank park: retired farmers in billed caps, children on blankets, neighbors and relatives. The Willamette River flowed and the sun shone on our left. Food booths and strolling teenagers filled the street to the right. And in front of us, in the gazebo, the Knox Brothers sang the songs they always sing, “Amazing Grace,” “Ghost Riders in the Sky” and “There's Peace in Knowing.”

Over on Kesling Street, Yvonne Bender displayed her baked goods on tables under a canopy and was “pretty much sold out in an hour and a half,” her son Nate reported.

The Knox Brothers left the stage and were replaced by Cornerstone, also a local family singing group. We stood to join them in singing “God Bless America,” and we meant it.

When my friends Gina and Sharon arrived, I sat with them and learned which sons were working at which warehouse or hay business, who was attending Life Bible, and who moved out of that house and into this one.

Our teenagers asked for money, disappeared and returned, wading through blankets and lawn chairs, with cinnamon-y elephant ears and paper dishes of curly fries, the smells of hot grease drifting behind them. Sharon’s little grandson ate sweet shaved ice and shivered miserably, but kept eating.

In an era of rampant suicide bombings and violence around the world, I couldn’t help but look around the pleasant crowd and think, God forbid, could it happen here?

But everyone within sight looked like they not only belonged there, but knew someone. Two policemen walked by, purposeful but smiling. One drank lemonade.

Safety is not so much in numbers as in people who are mutually invested.

The singing ended and everyone turned their lawn chairs around to the south, strategically avoiding the trees, in preparation for the fireworks to come. A fireman walked by, collecting donations in a tall yellow-trimmed boot.

Paul sent me a text: “Truck had problems unloading. I guess I can’t make it.”

In this community, harvest comes before fireworks.

Glowing plastic wands waved from children’s hands as the dusk and chill grew. And then the sky above the bridge burst out in the first starry cascade.

Just like always.

Afterwards, we groped for our lawn chairs in the dark, walked with the crowd headed north, and admired a friend’s new baby while waiting at Harrisburg’s only stoplight.

The rest of the country could learn from this town, I thought. We are not as homogeneous in politics, beliefs, backgrounds or opinions as it might appear, but here is one day a year when hundreds of people appreciate the place they’re from, celebrate together, offer what they have, and make an enormous daylong project run smoothly.

The Fourth of July is a good day to be from Harrisburg.

Dorcas Smucker is a homemaker and mother of six. She can be reached at