A young mother, my mom had her little, black box camera handy to capture photos of me growing up.
From infant to teen, my image appears alone, with sisters, and sometimes with my daddy. This week, before Father’s Day, I’m reviewing photos encased in albums from long ago. My fingers flip through pictures of me as an infant in the play-pen, cooling off in an aluminum tub in the back yard.
In another deckled-edged picture, Daddy holds me on the silver swing in front of the budding peony bush out back.
Obviously my dad went along with his wife’s photo set-ups, “Ray, hold Marian on the swing so I can take a picture.” My dad complies here; the moment is frozen in time: me starring at the camera, Daddy with a neutral, perhaps cautious, face. I’m sure my dad was happy I was a healthy child although as a farmer and farm equipment dealer, he probably wanted a boy as firstborn.
Growing up in the Longenecker family, I was my father’s uneasy daughter. Early on, I bucked his authority. Through my teen years, our relationship became increasingly adversarial. In Chapter 9 of Mennonite Daughter, I recall:
When Mom said “Sca-doo” at home on the top of Anchor Road, my sisters and I knew we could chase fun down at Grandma’s house, the other generation of Longeneckers connected to ours with strong family ties. Two vegetable gardens skirted her home, one edged with two bee hives which Daddy kept. I can picture him now with his white protective hood moving gingerly around the hives. Is there such a thing as a bee gentler, a bee whisperer? If so, my father played the role to a tee. Before he “smoked” the colony with a horn-shaped apparatus to quiet the bees, the Queen and her attendants buzzed and darted in the June sun. They were contained now though, their white hive emitting a low hum.
I watched my dad proceed with slow, respectful movements, taming the wildness within the hive. Why couldn’t he do that within himself–control his anger, especially with me? The relationship between my father and me continued to be adversarial all through my teenage years. When I countered his will with my increasingly strong voice, he punished me. If I needed someone to push against, he was the one.
“Marian, you gotta do as I say, and right away,” he’d command, about resisting his order to clean the shop.
Cocking my head, I’d retort, “But why can’t Janice do it” It’s her turn to clean the toilet, anyway.”
The whipping stopped in high school, but I continued to be my father’s uneasy daughter.
In 1986, more than 40 years after this scene, I wrote in my journal:
March 1986: Mom and Dad Longenecker visit the families of my sister Janice and me in Jacksonville, Florida. We all enjoy Epcot in Disney World, Dad’s chance to see a faux version of the Switzerland he never actually visited but planned to some day. My super-charged Dad seems more mellow now, slower, even takes naps. “Hey, Dad, I see you’re getting a pooch here,” says son-in-law Cliff, commenting on my dad’s weight gain as he playfully pinches his waistline.
April 1986: We get a call from Pennsylvania, “Dad has been diagnosed with lymphoma. Blood cell tumors have developed in the lymphatic system. Stage 4 . . . it’s too advanced to operate . . . they can try chemotherapy, maybe radiation after that . . . .” Like an earthquake, the news sends shock-waves through our family. Why, we just saw him a month ago.
May 1986: My father is now dying of lymphoma. I leave my husband and children and fly up to Pennsylvania, alone, to see him alive for the very last time. He looks nothing like my image of him in March. His skin, now scorched red-brown from chemotherapy, reminds me of a starving Indian. He is wasting away. “I don’t want to live like this,” he says, calling a halt to the treatment. Too weak to climb to the upstairs bedroom, he reclines now almost motionless on the pull-out bed in the living room, a solitary pillow under his head. On May 17, his 71st birthday comes and goes.
My flight south leaves a few days later. This is probably the last time I will see my father in this life. I approach him to say goodbye, and I add: “I love you, Daddy.
June 18, 1986 Daddy breathes his last, less than three months after his cancer diagnosis. We get the dreaded call and make plans to drive north for the funeral. My mind flits around in reminiscence. And then leaps forward with prediction: Now Dad won’t be attending the ceremony where I receive my Master’s degree in December. He won’t stand up to be photographed at any of his grand-children’s weddings or get to play with his great-grandchildren any more. At age 71, he has reached his heavenly home.
Had he lived, he would have turned 108 years old this year.
On this Father’s Day in 2023, I pause to give thanks for the gifts my father has given me:
1. Love of nature He went on walks in the wide meadows and sun-dappled woods close to Rheems, Pennsylvania, on Sunday afternoons. Sometimes I went with him.
2. Love for music He played a banjo, guitar, and piano with gusto and bought me a violin. Music has formed the sound-scape of my mind since then.
3. Intellectual curiosity He perused US News and World Report and The Wall Street Journal, listened to Edward R. Murrow, Paul Harvey, and Lowell Thomas, engaged in conversation about world events.
4. Value of hard work There was the tomato field, the sweet potato plot, the shop . . . .
Original Cover by Cliff: Tomato Girl
My father’s deep faith in God included honoring his own parents, as an embroidered piece of embroidered above the kitchen door in Grandma’s kitchen exhorted.
Exodus 20:12 Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee. (King James Version)
Parts of this post were originally published here.
- Do you have a photo of your dad that tells a story?
- I speculate about my father’s emotion when my baby picture was taken, imagining his lack of affection for me. Perhaps, instead, he was worried about his business, or something else. Do you attach feelings to old photos?
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