Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Stepping into Yesteryear: A Favorite Memory

Have you ever literally stepped into yesteryear? 

Ancestor, Hans Herr's House

I did when I was ten years old. It was quite unexpected, but I was delighted beyond words. Now, that memory holds a treasured spot in my heart forever.

My great grandmother, Annie Martin Newswanger, died at age 93. I'd never met her, but my mother decided I'd at least learn to know a bit about her when she took me along to the funeral in 1977. I was squished into a four door sedan with four adults, three of whom were old and one who smelled like moth balls and wore old lady coke bottle-thick glasses. And I had to wear dresses the whole week--ick! We drove straight through to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I was less than excited.

Great Grandma Annie Martin Newswanger Sensenig

I've mentioned before that I'm of Mennonite faith. Now, you'll have to understand that Mennonites come in a wide variety, and my particular variety is that I dress like the rest of the world--no bonnet, no plain dresses. However, my grandparents were more conservative. My mother and her mother would have driven cars, but worn plainer clothing, long hair, and coverings. But the previous generation, like Great Grandma Annie, had horse drawn buggies, no electricity, and they spoke Dutch. This wasn't foreign to me, as I've had Amish neighbors and friends.

After the twelve hour drive to Lancaster, we arrived on a dark cold night in November. I was sleepily pulled from the car, given my suitcase and followed my mother through the door of my great Aunt Mattie's house. She was a spinster, with a long narrow face that had smooth wrinkles, like the wrinkled skin of an apple that had sat past its prime--yet she was lovely. She wore a long black dress, a covering, and old fashioned wire-rimmed glasses. She carried an oil lamp and led us through the dark house past the cast iron stove, and to the stairway. The stairway was narrow, as were the steps that wound to the left where at the top and on the left was our room. She set the oil lamp on a plain bed stand for us and bid us good night. My eyes widened when I looked at the bed, covered in a handmade quilt softened by the cast of the yellow lamp light that lit the plain room. We slipped on our nightgowns and climbed beneath the quilt.

The quilt wasn't the novelty for me, as I'd grown up sleeping beneath the one my grandmother made for my mother's wedding. My delight swelled when was realized it was a straw tick bed--a mattress filled with straw--that was the novelty! It crunched beneath our weight, but was quite comfortable, especially when our feet touched the foot warmer under the sheets at our feet. Aunt Mattie had wrapped bricks with flannel and after warming them by the fire, slipped them to foot of our bed. Now I was certain I had nearly turned into "Half-pint" of the Little House on the Prairie.

The next morning, I followed my mother to the kitchen where Aunt Mattie had made us oatmeal. The kitchen was filled with warmth radiating from a monstrous black cast iron stove that must have been a hundred years old it seemed to me. I watched in wonder as she used a handle and hot pad, opened the door and put in some wood. Then she lifted a round cover and added water to the tank my mother explained was the reservoir that heated water next to the firebox. When she inquired what I'd like for breakfast, I asked for toast--my usual fare. She set a metal tower with wire guides over the burner that opened to the fire, sliced homemade wheat bread and set it on the "toaster".  It actually tasted different, a little odd to a young girl used to Nickel's white bread popped into the toaster every morning. Yet, it was worth the oddity to me.

That was only the first day of wonders on that visit. Perhaps I'll post my memories of the funeral next time.

I treasure those moments at my grandfather's sister's home. That was thirty some years ago, yet I remember it like yesterday--and as if it were a hundred years ago.

What memories inspire you? 
What memories are most treasured?
Have you ever stepped into yesteryear? 
Or a wardrobe of imagination?

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