A True Story
Hilda lived in Pennsylvania.
She had lots of friends in her hometown.
Then she moved to Maine.
When she left she took with her something special.
This post will tell you what and how and why.
Hilda Zeager loved Lancaster County farmland where she and her husband raised their family. But her daughter Carol, who lived in Maine, wanted her mother close by. After all, Hilda was getting up in years. Having mother close to daughter seemed like a great arrangement, but that meant Hilda had to make a big move, a very big move.
Aunt Ruthie, her Sunday School teacher at Bossler Mennonite Church, got a brilliant idea. “Write poetry, collect pretty pictures, and pages in a scrapbook will accrue,” she said. When the artifact was pronounced Done! Miss Ruthie penned a note to accompany the communal gift. Her rough draft is written on index cards.
Hilda, we know the time is fast approaching when you will not worry because you no longer have to sweep up Wenger’s Feed Mill dust or the stone quarry dust at Rheems.
And we know you have a daughter Carol and grandchildren living in and around Wales, Maine. And we know if today you want to talk to Carol, the telephone company would be counting every minute and at the end of the month your phone bill would include a charge for every minute you talked to Carol. Now all these problems and many more will be solved come October 1.
However, these is a big, new problem — Your large circle of friendship in this community is going to miss you – and we can’t say that some of us will visit you every Wednesday – that would be a 500 mile North and a 500-mile south trip and that’s impossible!
Our Senior Citizen Group knew some thing had to be done – and Marian Wenger had an excellent idea. Marian masterfully took over the entire project, which involved all of our Bossler congregation + a few extras for good measure.
It is a great pleasure to present to you Hilda’s special book of Forget – Me – Nots.
The Back Story
Aunt Ruthie’s home is as much a museum as it is a house. We are continuing the arduous task of clearing the contents. We find nuggets of gold in odd places. Of course, we found sheets and towels in the bathroom linen closet, but there was more, much more: antique photos, Ideals magazines, a vintage scrapbook, which you will find featured in a future blog post.
We are progressing in our sifting and sorting. My sister Jean found the notecards for Hilda’s story in a chest by the bay window in the kitchen.
Have you cleared out a house recently – or long ago?
What treasures have you found in odd places? Inquiring minds want to know. Let’s chat!
We cleaned my father’s shop before they moved to a retirement home in Goshen in 2004. We cleaned and cleaned and sorted and sold–at auction. I loved–but did not keep or have–the handmade “catalog” he made of his dollhouse designs; he named one for my oldest daughter Michelle because that was the one he made for her before any of our other daughters were born. The catalog was a piece of plywood with two bolts (and nuts on the ends) punching up through the plywood over which he pushed a small square pages (cut to the size of the plywood) with each design. When customers would be wooed off the main highway by his small roadside sign, “Toy dollhouses and barns for sale” he would show potential customers his catalog to help them choose a design. Marian, now you’ve set me on a journey to a new blog post, which I don’t think I’ve ever written about. 🙂 A neighbor man bought Dad’s “catalog” at the auction, who wanted to continue making Vernon’s dollhouses.
You absolutely MUST blog a post about the plywood catalog with nuts and bolts. You could add a sequel about the neighbor man. I can see it now! Wow!
How interesting that the details of that artifact have been lying in wait for 13-14 years. That’s the beauty of memory and recall.
Thanks for beginning our chat today, Melodie.
Good morning, Marian!
Hilda had such good friends–what a loving gesture. Do you know what happened to Hilda?
My parents (and their parents) moved so many times, there have not been houses to clean out. But when my dad died, we discovered he had kept many mementos–random drawings we had done as kids and such.
I think Hilda is still living and probably in her nineties. After Mother died and Aunt Ruthie went to a retirement home, I lost track of her, but I’m sure she’s still living with Carol. She would call Mom occasionally and chat. I don’t think either of them worried about cost for what they called a “toll call.”
Have you kept any of your childhood drawings?
I’m sure Hilda treasured that scrapbook of “forget-me-nots”. Her community of friends couldn’t have chosen a more thoughtful gift.
I never saw the scrapbook, but I do remember that such scrapbooks cheered the sick and contained poetry and floral cut-outs from women’s magazines.
They seem saccharine to us now, but probably not to the girls and women who received them
The days of paying by the minute for a long distance phone call. I remember how my mother made sure every word counted; no meaningless babble. There was a focus on the person on the other end of the line and on the conversation–especially if we paid extra and made a person-to-person call. :). Thanks for the memories…nicely done, Marian.
Great to hear a manly voice in this column, Steve. And thank you for the affirmation here in all counts.
I can tell retirement (what’s that?) agrees with you – making presentations around the country and creating new teaching/learning tools. Come back again!
Person to person calls! I remember those. Hadn’t thought of those in ages. I bet my kids do not know what they are.
My grandkids look at an old telephone oddly – ha!
Marian — I love the story of Hilda’s Maine Send-off. And the photos (clearly cobalt blue is your color)!
To answer your question, I’m a clear-as-I-go sort of gal.
Though I read your book earlier this year, I forget the details about cobalt blue. Your book is in handy reach, so I’ll pull it off the shelf.
Marie Kondo’s “Tidy” book inspired me to off-load baggage, but I think you were the instigator: holding my feet to the fire about throwing out old teaching files and then giving me a time limit for their disposal. See what you started! 🙂
Hello, Marian. This is such a poignant story. Yet, how beautiful the response from her friends with their forget-me-nots in tangible form.
When my mom died from cancer at 88 years old, we had to clear our family home. It was built by my dad and numerous family members in northern Illinois around 1952. Thank you for sharing.
Surprisingly, a few brothers living out-of-state were distrustful. So those of us living nearby (mainly the women) decided that to keep good relations, we would prepare an inventory as we cleared or saved items for later distribution. When completed, it was 800 pages long; every large and small, precious or junky item was recorded. It was arduous and time-consuming. But, the process did lead to many precious items. We found my mother’s brother, Ernie’s, purple heart (he died and is buried in France in WWII). We also found many little notes my mother wrote after phone calls with many of us to remember some event or small news we shared with us.
We also had to clear all types of old papers, materials, etc., recycling or donating what we could. That aspect keeps me motivated to keep clearing away the unnecessary from my home.
I wonder whether you have referred to that 800-page inventory in your writing, Audrey. What a rich source for family history. And how touching that your mother wrote notes after phone calls.
Snippets from letters the matriarch’s in my family wrote trigger long-forgotten events, sometimes with an historical setting.
To your last paragraph – I say Amen, sister! Aunt Ruthie’s is the third house I’ve cleared in the last 2 1/2 years and believe me I have no urge to purge our current house anytime soon. Thank you for your affirmation here, Audrey.
Marian, spending so much time going through Aunt Ruthie’s things must have put you off balance–and not long after a major move. Hilda’s story reminds me of the power and joy of community. My NC son wants me to move to his area, but I haven’t wanted to leave my community or the land where I’ve lived since the early 1970s. I’ve waited to see how this would play out, assuming I’d find myself packing up for NC after my mother-in-law’s death. But she doesn’t look ready to die at 101, and I’m still sorting through things. Instead of packing, my younger son is moving back to this area with the idea of settling here. That changes everything–potentially. Best thing is I could stay in my community, so it’s worth seeing if we can make this work. I hope it worked for Hilda to move to Maine.
Off-balance is a mild expression for the turn of events in my life right now. My Teacher is giving me instructions in graceful living, but often I don’t feel like doing the assignments.
I am glad you have options, Elaine, even though you are not sure what you sons will do next. I will wish for you the best possible outcome. You have put down deep roots in the Ithaca area, and at least one son is hearing the homing call.
What a wonderful, exhausting, exhilarating task it must be to not only take care of your own parents’ things but also your aunt’s. Here’s where having a blog comes in handy. You can convert physical tasks into spiritual ones. So glad you have siblings to help too.
Your aunt Ruthie has touched so many lives, and in your case, clearly made a lifelong impression.
Your e-words nailed it, Shirley.
If I convert physical tasks into spiritual ones, I may have an out-of-body experience and not feel the aches and pains so much. 🙂
Of course, I am logging lots of “miles” on my health app, hefting big bags and going up and down stairs at Aunt Ruthie’s house.
I could not do this without the help of my sisters and Mark. His pastor’s wife brought us supper one evening, surveyed the size of the job, and promptly volunteered help from the church. Glorious!
How fun to uncover these treasures, Marian. That’s a cute photo of you, looking so happy. 🙂
When my grandmother passed away, my mother and her sisters went through her home. My Mamaw liked to stock up on items on sale. She had hundreds of rolls of paper towels. LOL! Now I know where I get it from.
Well, Jill, I may look happy and I am. But I’m also weary. Do you see the haze in the photo about my head? Ha!
Besides the rolls of paper towels, you’ll probably find other treasures . . . maybe create a character who likes to hoard. Thanks for making me smile.
This post brought so many fond memories to me! My dad was a chef when I was born, but gave it up when he felt God calling him to the ministry. How surprised I was when they were moving into an apartment in independent living, and we were having a sale. My dad brought a box out and asked what he should do with these old knives! Oh, my goodness… his old knives from when he was a chef!!! Carving knives, a butcher knife, a cleaver, …! I had never seen them before! I asked if I could have them, he was very surprised that I would want them! But they were part of who he was! Many more memories are crowding into my mind! Thanks!
As far as I can tell, knives are a chef’s most prized possession following them from restaurant to restaurant. How fortunate that you saw the value of them, the essence of your father’s identity at one time. Maybe you’ll feel inspired to write about them sometime.
We are watching a fascinating series on Netflix called The Chef’s Table, featuring internationally known chefs from around the world. Many of them come from humble beginnings. All of them struggled. I’m glad this post sparked some pleasant memories, Anita.
Yes, some wonderful memories!
Precious memories, how they linger . . . !
What an exhausting , yet exhilarating sentimental journey you are on, recapturing snippets of Aunt Ruthie’s well-lived life, Marian. Beautiful story which tells us so much about Aunt Ruthie’s compassion and zest for life. I’m sure you have many other treasures in store for us and I look forward to them all!😊
Shirley used the same words to describe our experience now. You both know me well!
Yes, I have more treasures, some of them from a scrapbook Grandma Longenecker saved. It’s nice to have you alongside in this unique adventure. Thank you, Kathy!
I cleaned out mom’s place when she moved into a care home and we had to sell it. I found many treasures most of which I gave to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I kept a few things for myself and my brothers of course. It was a lot of work but also a trip down memory lane as I am sure clearing out Aunt Ruthie’s place has been.
You summarized it well with your blurb ” a lot of work but also a trip down memory lane.” It’s nice to spark joy by sharing the bounty with others, we both agree.
When Aunt Ruthie moved into health care, I took pictures of many of her treasures. At first, our children said they didn’t want anything, but now they are changing their tune. Thanks for joining our conversation here, Darlene.
It was surprising what items the grandchildren and great-grandchildren wanted. Things that I thought had little value and would probably have discarded but had special meaning for them. Taking pictures was a good idea.
As always, a wonderful post, Marian. Your life and those of your family and friends is all right here in your blog scrapbook. You keep delighting your readers with Love and family life so beautifully portrayed here. Thank you so much for sharing.
Thanks for dropping by with encouragement, Joan. I just arrived back from PA after a 3 1/2 hour delay at the airport, so I’m not feeling too frisky.
I have not thought about my blog as a family scrapbook but it’s getting to be more so because of clearing out Aunt Ruthie’s house. There are some virtues to hoarding, but after our move last summer, I’m becoming more minimalistic.
Welcome back from PA Marian! Hope you find time for R & R. Whew, that was some enormous but necessary task. This is a lovely story about the scrap book of forget-me-nots made for Hilda and for Aunt Ruthie’s charming note attached! Thank you for sharing it.
When my sons have to do clearing out, I wonder what they will find – my father’s school and university reports, letters from my parents, a strange looking black hood trimmed with white fur (my late father’s from his Oxford days), maybe even some money hidden so well that even I can’t find it – I’m sure it’s in one of my books. Thousands of photos …
About my trip to PA: I will be returning in April, again in May. In June we sell the house and all must be sorted by then. We do find tidbits of time to share meals with friends, but then it’s back to work.
I enjoy how you speculate about what your sons may find. On our first day in Aunt Ruthie’s bedroom, we found a stash of cash. Since then we’ve been on the lookout for more but have found only coins.
You also mentioned Oxford. Was your father there as a don or a student? I remember a lovely week there making a presentation and felt awed by the spires. It felt like being on sacred ground.
My favorite part of this post is the opening, with the picture of Hilda. It gives me that same delicious sense I get when I read a well-written children’s book–simple and beautiful.
Thank you, Luci. I fell in love with reading as a young child and have always felt enchanted with the “Once upon a time” -type beginning.
I’ve had all my mother, Anna’s old letters since 1983, written from various addresses around the world 1928-1977. I’ve used them to write her story, MISSIONARY MOTHER.
When my last maternal aunt, Linnea, died 2003, my sister gave me all the documents, death announcements, obituaries, even tiny scraps of paper, notebooks and rental receipts to go through. The value of those bits and pieces was more than if I had inherited jewels. I found family history, additions to my genealogy research, even a part of my mother’s childhood history she never understood.
She was brought up by her maternal grandparents. A tiny scrap of paper gave dates, a political uprising causing her mother to take the girls, Ellen and Anna, away from Helsinki to safety to their grandparents. Anna was left behind and joined the rest of her family when she was sixteen. The WHY in her life became her strength in life’s hardest decisions.
I even found my aunt Ellen’s school essay notebook, telling stories from her childhood and teen years 1904-1920. She had died before she turned 21. Talk about hidden treasures! I’ll never be able to use everything in my lifetime.
I sense accomplishment and humility as you reflect on your life’s adventures. The words “even a part of my mother’s childhood history she never understood” stood out in your comment. I sense there’s a story behind the story.
You mention that you’ll never be able to use all the memorabilia in your lifetime. I feel the same way. We keep finding things in our own home and of course in Ruthie’s. Yesterday Cliff found a receipt for flowers in our 1967 wedding. When I commented on your post about frugality just minutes ago, I sent a link to a post which parallels your own wedding in some ways.
I enjoy getting to know you better, Lisa. Do stop by again soon.
Ah, the treasures we leave behind. I don’t know which is more daunting – going through those ‘treasures’ of a treasured parent or aunt/uncle, or leaving behind a bunch of ‘treasures’ for our own family to find and do-with-what-they-want.
My brother and I spent hours together helping our mom ‘clean out’ before she moved to a facility. The good news is that my bro and I got even closer, at times giggling like 3-year-olds as we dealt with great fatigue and emotion, figuring out what to throw away (behind mom’s back) and what to convince our children to take: china, silver, great-grandmom’s painting. It’s an arduous task fraught with memories, feelings of mortality, and ‘what’s the meaning of our life, and what we leave behind?’. I use my grandmother’s china regularly now, thanks to my mom’s insistence, and my great-uncle’s collection of silver spoons and crystal glasses. But the stuff that really matters? Letters to my dad when he was in the war, wedding pictures from 1945, 50-year-old portraits of my brother and me? Priceless.
You pose interesting questions. My children have made it clear they don’t want a bunch of our stuff to go through as they see the enormous tasks of sifting through the contents of two houses, Mother’s and Aunt Ruthie’s. And you mention the fatigue and emotion of the shared task. My sisters and brother have worked shoulder to shoulder since 2014 when we began with our mother’s house. It has been a bonding experience though a few times sparks fly.
This week before my Florida sister and I flew south, my PA sib broke down in tears saying she will miss us. We were all bone-tired and sick of the project, but the task has definitely drawn us closer. The most important find this time around was Ruthie’s hand-written autobiography written in 2001, when she was 83.
Your words are so true: “It’s an arduous task fraught with memories, feelings of mortality, and ‘what’s the meaning of our life, and what we leave behind’?” I admire you for using heirloom china, silver, and crystal. What’s the point of waiting! Thanks, Pam.
What a beautiful story, Marian. Thank you!
Thank you for reading and commenting here. I wonder if you were in my graduating class at EAHS. I had a classmate named Conrad Weiser with a first initial “J.”
Again, thanks and welcome, Jack.
Good morning, Marian. Here I am, representing your second wave of readers. 🙂
I got such a strong sense of the power and beauty of community from this list. What a lovely send off. My students in Kazakhstan also gave me such a memento when Woody and I left. More of an autographed scrapbook, it was also handmade. Your post has left me feeling rather nostalgic. Good job.
I’m not surprised that you were revered in Kazakhstan. From my read of your memoir-in-progress, I sense that students responded to your caring spirit and competency.
About the second wave: I have an appointment with my web guy on Tuesday to work out wrinkles in notifications plus other items. Wish me luck – and thanks for bearing with me. 🙂
Marian, My initial impression in reading this was the power of women supporting other women both in friendship and legacy.
That’s the perfect way to express these women’s actions. Thank you for your own initiative to ensure women’s voices are heard. A clear clarion call!
Marian, your sharing of Hilda’s story took me back to December 2000. That’s the month we moved my mother from Tennessee to Oregon to live closer to us. Emptying the home I’d grown up in was a hard task. So many memories, good and bad, surfacing. And surprises I’d never dreamed existed! There’ll be a post some day and a chapter in my memoir but for now, a simple thank you to you for giving my impetus to write that chapter and post.
I am always thrilled when author/bloggers tell me a post inspired them to explore something new. Thank you, Sherrey!
We may be more than halfway through, but it still feels like a mountain of stuff yet to sort.
I’ll await your surprise finds – all in good time!
What a treasure trove of things you must be finding. I’ve done a few ‘housecleanings’ myself of loved ones and it’s truly amazing at what we find, not only for our own interest, but to learn what they considered valuable enough to hold on to for so long too. 🙂
Aunt Ruthie didn’t do any “editing,” She held on to it all. Because she never moved, she probably didn’t see the need. Her museum/house is my store, and I always come back with something: this time her 3-page autobiography, a photo of birds on a wire my son framed when he lived with her for a year, an egg-slicer that works like a charm. Nothing I bring back will take up much space: I’m into minimalism now – remember! 🙂
Oops I think I have said in past posts how much I need too sort my loft . When we start our B&B (‘ when’ is the operative word) this will be our No. 2 room ( there will only be two rooms it will be a very small B&B 😊) Do I have your email Marian if you send it me I’ll sent you a photo ( that is the only way I know how to send photos , I’m a rubbish computer person ) So interesting reading about your family.
I would be thrilled to visit sometime and stay in your B & B. Small sounds like just the right size for me. Here is my email: email@example.com
Thank you for dropping by here often and always posting a sly reply – love all of them! 🙂
You’d be very welcome to stay if ever we finish it . Wales is a very beautiful place to visit …I will keep you posted .
I will send a photo today …I should be utterly ashamed of it . 😂😀 I still haven’t forgotten the poem about the patchwork quilt …I’ve lost it probably in the bloomin loft xx
Ha! You speak your mind and express the harem-scarem condition of my workspace right now. Yesterday I found a journal with an iridescent cover that I have been searching for these last 8 months since the move. (I found it when I was looking for something else I’ve misplaced. – Isn’t that just like life!)
On our trip to the British Isles last time, we hit England, Scotland, Ireland but missed your lovely country. In the next few years, we want to rectify that. All in good time, Cherry. Thanks!
I hope Hilda was happy after her move. You’ve found so many treasures at Aunt Ruthie’s!
I’m guessing Hilda was happy after her move although I have no way to verify that now. At least she has a doting daughter and numerous friends who keep in contact.
Yes, so many treasures, so little time! Thanks, Fiona, for keeping in touch. 🙂
I enjoyed reading about the scrapbook. A friend at church asked everyone at church to write a page with photos of their family so that I could get to know the church members again when I returned from 13 years of missionary work in Africa.
What a heart-warming story and kind gesture, Jane. Thirteen years would make a huge difference in your church family.
I’m so happy to see your name in this column too. This time around we found more treasures. I’ll be posting some more next week. Stay tuned!
And thanks again for the delicious meal. My sisters and I really enjoyed reminiscing around your table. 🙂