Monday, November 27, 2017

Letter from Harrisburg: Old Friends

Old friendships are life’s priceless gems

By Dorcas Smucker
Register-Guard columnist
NOV. 12, 2017

"I've made new friends, but there’s nothing quite like old friends who know you and your family and your past,” a friend of mine said wistfully on a recent visit to Oregon, at a lunch in her honor.

I agree. Most friendships are only for a season of our lives, it seems, but once in a while we are given a friend who was there early and never really leaves.

My cousin Kay is that sort of lifelong friend. From childhood family reunions to living in the far North as young moms to random events since, our paths keep diverging and then unexpectedly connecting again. Recently, we met once again, at a church women’s retreat in Colorado, where Kay lives with her family and I was invited to speak.

The event organizer, on finding out that we were cousins and longtime friends, asked Kay to talk briefly at the end of the weekend about our shared history. She told of living in Kansas and seeing these Minnesota cousins when we came to visit our grandparents, sharing a duplex and a private code with me years later, late-night ice cream, and much more.

“Who would ever have thought?” we said afterwards. Her sisters and mine have lost touch, for the most part, but she and I keep showing up at the same place and time, as though this gift is meant to continue.

My first memory of Kay is when I was 7 or 8 years old, at a family wedding or funeral in Kansas. She and her sister walked in wearing little pastel-colored plastic barrettes in their hair. Our family was too Amish for anything fancier than bobby pins, and I sat on the backless benches and envied Kay and Cheryl those gorgeous pink and yellow barrettes shaped like bows and flowers.

Kay was my sister Rebecca’s age, Cheryl and I were a year younger, and the four of us had a kinship that went beyond our common Yoder genes. We were all dreadfully poor, for one thing, unlike our comfortable relatives. We all attended public schools, when most of our Amish and Mennonite friends went to church schools, and we shared a sense of humor.

So we wrote each other letters, because all Amish and Mennonite girls had penpals back then, and we had wild slumber parties with cousins in Iowa. Dutiful visits to aged Amish relatives in Kansas were brightened by the prospect of seeing Kay and Cheryl’s family. When the sisters attended a short-term Bible school in Minnesota, Rebecca and I drove four hours through a snowstorm, at night, to spend a weekend with them. I slept in Cheryl’s bunk and whispered with her so much the dorm mom came and shushed me.

Our paths diverged, and I never saw Cheryl after my grandma’s funeral. Oddly, it was Kay, who had always been more my sister’s buddy, who formed a lasting friendship with me.

In her talk at the women’s retreat, Kay recalled the period that bonded us most — the year spent living in a duplex at a remote residential school for Native American students in Canada. Kay and her husband, Gaylord, and son Dallas were on one side of the house, and Paul and I and our son Matthew were on the other, with a shared basement. There were no phones to connect us to the outside world, but each building or apartment had an ancient crank phone and a specific pattern of long and short rings, like our own Morse code. Two longs and a short for the girls’ dorm, for example. Everyone heard every ring, and anyone could listen to the conversations.

Kay and I came up with a ring tone of our own: five short rings meant “Meet in the basement.” The whole campus was mystified about this strange ring tone that wasn’t on the list we all taped beside our phones. Our secret worked until someone caught on. One evening the phone clattered with five short rings, and she and I headed to the basement where we both waited, confused, for the other to say what they wanted.

It was a year not only of chats in the basement but also of tragedy. In January, someone set fire to the generator shed that supplied power to the campus. Not long after, the students erupted in anger one night, breaking windows and assaulting and seriously injuring dorm supervisors and other staff.

We were 125 miles from police, fire and medical services. Kay and I and our babies huddled and prayed, and ever after had that unique friendship that comes from surviving something terrifying together.

Those incidents made us question our roles in the North, the Native culture, and most of all in the school. It led Paul and me to move to a reservation even further north, at the chief’s request, to help them establish a school so the older kids wouldn’t have to move far away to get an education.

Oddly, there in that frozen village, the one food we almost never got was ice cream. So on a visit to the mission headquarters, where Gaylord and Kay now lived, I confided my ice cream cravings and Kay decided I must have some. Late in the evening we drove to town. Dairy Queen was closed and so was McDonalds. Finally we went to Safeway and bought a pint of ice cream, but we forgot completely about spoons. We tore up the lid into makeshift scoops and sat in the car in the snowy parking lot in our winter coats, in the dark, eating out of the same pint of ice cream, laughing and talking.

Eventually we lived on the same side of a lake in Canada, and our growing children played together. Mine got the most vicious case of chicken pox I’ve ever seen. Kay brought her kids over to expose them, then set up an infirmary just like mine in her living room. But instead of our crew’s week of blistered skin and high fevers, her children got about a dozen pox apiece and kept on playing outside.

When we hit a moose one night and our van burned up, Kay gave me support and courage, and Gaylord loaded up the shell of the van and hauled it away.

Then we parted ways again.

Years later, Kay mentored and mothered our daughter Emily when she moved to Colorado’s dry climate to fight depression and a long-term illness.

Last week, I stayed in Colorado an extra day after the retreat to have time to talk with Kay. As always, she was so busy with a stream of people coming to her house that we had to go away in the car to be alone.

We didn’t get ice cream, this time. Instead, we drove around the countryside and she showed me where her married children live and where a mutual friend died in a car accident five years ago.

As always, we talked fast and intensely. We discussed our children’s choices that make us either proud or worried. We talked of husbands and history, grief and growth, memories and milestones. We discussed our creative hobbies and extravagant hopes for the future.

When one of us said, “If I had the chance, I would do things differently,” the other assured her that we all did the best we could with what we knew.

In a world of transience and change, I am thankful for old friends. They understand, without long explanations, who you are and where you came from. They have read the entire story of your life and seen you at your youngest and your worst, but have stayed with you anyhow. They have invested deeply in your children.

Best of all, whenever you meet, they fill you up once again with grace and sympathy and laughter.

Kay and me

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

On Hosting: A Thanksgiving Poem

I make my sister's dressing every year
"Aunt Becky's Yummy Stuffing" it is called,
So full of melted butter that I think
On any other day I'd be appalled.

I find "Joe-Katherine's" make-ahead potato
Directions in the blue Grove City book.
And for the best pecan pie to be had
In Bonner's Ferry Recipes I look.

Carrie Gingerich gave the recipe
For butterhorns with lots of eggs and yeast.
I mix a double batch of it because
We're feeding many at tomorrow's feast.

I thaw the corn that, as my mother taught me,
I cut from off the cob with sweeping strokes.
And Mrs. Habedank in Home Ec said
The fork goes on the left for proper folks.

Each year I gather family, friends, and strangers
To crowd around our table, long and wide
We laugh and talk and learn to know each other
And eat too much and maybe more beside.

Today I'm thankful for the gifted women
Who taught me all I know of cooking's art.
And special thanks to Mom for showing me
That hospitality comes from the heart.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Final Week of Blog Tour

The home stretch begins! Here are the final blog reviews and giveaways for Fragrant Whiffs of Joy.

Monday--Kendra at The Days of My Life.

Tuesday--Luci at Properties of Light.

Wednesday--Su at Born to Know Him.

Thursday--we put aside blog tours and focus on people and food and blessings

Friday--Shari at Confessions.

A very happy Thanksgiving to each of you.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Blog Tour Schedule for the Week

Here's the schedule for all the stops on the Fragrant Whiffs of Joy blog tour.

Everyone is doing a giveaway, and most are open for a few days, so if you missed a post you can go back and enter the giveaway a few days late.

These bloggers are worth reading, giveaway or not!

Monday, November 13: Rosina at Arabah Rejoice.
Christine at Shall Run and Not Be Weary.

Tuesday, Nov. 14: Jolynn at Then We Danced
Gina at Home Joys

Wednesday, Nov. 15: Tina at her author website, Author Tina Fehr.
Aurelia at Gravel Road Musings

Thursday, Nov. 16: Emily at EmilyMiller85
(Just one today!)

Friday, Nov. 17: Lydia Jo at Lydia Jo, the Blog
Bethany at About My Father's Business

Saturday, Nov. 18--Ruthie at The Blonde Bookworm
Dorcas at The Delightful Cottage

That's all for this week, but there are still more coming next week!

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Two New Stops on the Blog Tour

Today we visit Anita Yoder at Tis a Gift to Receive. She recalls the one time we met and had tea together, and made me wish we could do it again.

The second stop of the day is Mary Ann Kinsinger's A Joyful Chaos, in which my book has the honor of finding a home in her special cupboard.

Both of these women are authors and bloggers, so be sure to check out the good things they have to offer.

And don't forget the giveaways!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Friday's Blog Tour Stops

The Fragrant Whiffs of Joy blog tour and giveaways continue: 
We have two reviewers for Friday: Rosalyn Schlabach at All of a Kind Mom.

And Gertrude Slabach at My Windowsill.
Rosalyn does lots of book reviews, from the looks of her previous posts.
Gert is a fellow author and a mom of six young adults.
And a sneak peek at Saturday’s reviewers: Anita Yoder at Tis a Gift to Receive and Mary Ann Kinsinger from A Joyful Chaos.

Thursday, November 09, 2017

FWOJ Blog Tour: Rachel at Wildflower Days

The Fragrant Whiffs of Joy blog tour begins with Rachel at Wildflower Days.

I love how she gets exactly what I was trying to say.

Join in for the giveaway!

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Blog Tour and Giveaways

Fourteen years ago, when I self-published the first version of Ordinary Days, the part of the process that nearly did me in was marketing.

Buying ads, calling radio stations, eagerly offering my book to innocent acquaintances--it was all completely nauseating for this still-half-Amish girl, so I did very little of any of those.

In case you didn't know: If you're Amish, you draw as little attention to yourself as possible. You do not brag.

"What's this I hear about a book of yours?" your neighbor might say. You shrug. "Aach, vell, I put a few of my letters together, just because the children wanted me to. It's nothing much."

So that was why I was happy to hand things off to Good Books. THEY could place the ads and call the bookstores, and I could be quiet and humble.

I am publishing my own book once again, but in a very happy turn of events, I don't have to say a lot about it. A couple of weeks ago, I put out a simple call for help, and a whole bunch of very "hilflich" [helpful] ladies came pouring out of the interwebs, and they are going to do all the talking about my new book on their blogs.

I just love them, and I think you will too, because not only do they have interesting things to read when you poke around on their websites, but they are each going to give away a book as well!

The blog tour starts on Thursday the 9th and continues until after Thanksgiving! Didn't I say that I had lots of volunteers?

Watch for Rachel Miller at Wildflower Days on Thursday. Rachel writes about her "hundred kids" and has a wonderful perspective on life and ministry.

On Friday, we'll meet Rosalyn and Gert.

Please come along. This will be fun!

Quote of the Day:
Me: Um, the books haven't arrived yet. Do you have any idea...?
Guy at printers: Whoa, Oregon must be a long way away! If they're not there by Monday, we'll track it down!
Me:Ok, thanks.
Guy: Who did your cover? I never seen a purdier cover!
Me: [warm fuzzy thoughts] It was an artist I found, from London.
Guy: How much did it cost, if I may ask?
Me: xxx dollars.
Guy: OH ho ho! That's cheap!
Me: [more warm fuzzy thoughts]
Guy: Ya, we go through a lotta books here. We just sent out ten cases of Linda Byler's new book. She's really doin' good with her new publisher!
Me: [cold and very un-fuzzy thoughts]

The books arrived Monday, but they were seven miles away, at Smucker Manufacturing. Someone from there called, and we picked them up. So I have even more cases of books than Linda Byler has, I think.