This is a photograph of my mother, Ruth Longenecker, in the tobacco field located in our family’s acreage in Bainbridge, Pennsylvania seven miles from our home. Until the photo was restored, I did not realize the presence of a figure in middle distance, who I’m guessing is my father.
Thus, I can assume my Aunt Ruthie Longenecker took the snapshot sometime in the mid- to late-1940 s. My father, mother, and aunt were invested in agriculture even though none of them lived on a farm with a barn and livestock.
I saw this photo many times as I shuffled through old pictures stored under our piano bench lid in the living room. After Mother died and I began more purposefully writing my memoir, I scrutinized the picture for detail. I also connected it to the stance of the Lancaster Conference of the Mennonite Church on farming tobacco crops in those days.
Commentary in my WIP memoir sets this photograph in an historical/religious context:
It was early June and Mother and Daddy and I were in the tomato patch. Actually, it was not a tomato patch; it was a 9.1-acre field in Bainbridge, where my mother and I were about to push new tomato plants into the ground. Years earlier, my parents had planted tobacco, a high-cash crop, but a Mennonite revivalist came through the county, preached powerfully against making a profit from plants that could be turned into deadly cigars and cigarettes, and so like many other Mennonites they switched their crops to tomatoes or corn.
Shortly thereafter, the Lancaster Mennonite Conference Rules and Restrictions devoted several lines to the prohibition of tobacco farming by members using scripture verses to justify the rule which stated that “Since the production and use of tobacco seriously affects our Christian witness and has harmful effects on the body, members are asked to abstain from the use, distribution, and production of tobacco.” *
After the early years of their marriage, Daddy never planted tobacco in the Bainbridge field again. Bushy tomato plants replaced the upward sweep of tobacco fronds.
* Article V—Restrictions
Section 3. Since the production and use of tobacco seriously affects our Christian witness and has harmful effects on the body, members are asked to abstain from the use, distribution, and production of tobacco. Isaiah 55:2, I Corinthians 10:31 (1968)
* * *
At least one of my Metzler uncles persisted in raising tobacco, and my dad and his brothers-in-law would gather in the barn’s stripping room to smoke cigars.
Now, in 21st-century America, smoking is largely taboo. Smoking is no longer thought to be cool, and smokers are generally ostracized. In most public places smoking is forbidden, except for designated sections in airports or restaurant patios.
When on tour, my husband finds still smoking allowed in small towns in Alabama and Georgia.
In fact, he does not smoke!
But he did publish a children’s book encouraging non-smoking.
Click here for more information
Note: I’ve explored this topic in an earlier post, Mennonites and the Marlboro Man, before it made an appearance in my memoir text, now a work in progress.
Did your family participate in any activity now considered taboo?
Society’s norms often dictate behavior in a culture. What other practices, once accepted, are now forbidden, or at least frowned upon?
The reverse is also true: Some practices, once discouraged, are permitted or even encouraged these days.
Your thoughts do count . . . Thank you!