Working Alongside Some Mennonite Women, Part 5

24 01 2008

May had come –and with it an abundant crop of strawberries.  One of the Mennonite families had a strawberry farm.  People from the community and other counties were lined  up in their cars to buy strawberries.  Rebecca had her own small patch of strawberries.  She was busy canning them.  There was no other way for them to enjoy this fruit for very long unless it was canned.  She did take a small amount to make homemade strawberry ice cream.  I was at their home the day she served the ice cream at the noon meal.  It had to be eaten up -as they had no refrigeration.  It was made with cream from the milk of her cow.  I’ve never tasted such wonderful ice cream. 

During that noon meal I talked with Rebecca about teaching me to can.  Canning was a skill that she had been doing since she was a young girl.  She didn’t seem very excited to teach me.  However, she agreed to get me started if I would help shell the green peas.  The pea crop needed harvesting.  The next week she was up early getting peas from her garden for me to shell.  I spent the entire morning breaking open the pods and putting the peas in a big bowl. 

After lunch we began canning.  Rebecca cut up onions to go with the peas. First, we washed the peas.  Then we began filling the jars up with peas.  She put a teaspoon of lemon juice, some salt  and a portion of  onion in each jar.  The final step was to pour boiling water into each jar. The canner held eight quart jars.  My job was to time them.  There was an initial timing that I had to wait for.  After that–the peas had to cook another twenty minutes.  We canned twenty four quarts that day.  I was allowed to take seven quarts of peas home.  I was extremely sore and couldn’t drive home.  I made it to Maria’s house–and begged her to drive me home.  My lower back hurt me so bad that I had to get a cortisone shot the next morning. 

By the end of May, the Mennonites had opened up their vegetable and fruit stand.  Each family had been responsbile for growing a different vegetable for the stand.  Jake and Rebecca were in charge of growing the sweet corn.  They also sold jams, different types of relish, honey, and  their own sorghum. 

I knew that May was my final month to help Rebecca and Leah.  With school out– their school house was used for their church meetings.  Each family took turns cleaning the school house.  It was Jake and Rebecca’s turn.  I helped Leah , their daughter, with the cleaning.  It was hard work and I got another back ache.

The very last of May, I helped another family with their laundry.  This woman had ten children.  He oldest daughters were away in Canada.  She was grateful for some help that morning. This lady used only her own homemade lye soap.  Again, I was amazed at how they kept using the same dirty water over and over.  This family, in particular, was having problems with their well.  They didn’t have a surplus of water in their cistern.  Thus, the clothes didn’t  get the kind of cleaning that a modern washing machine provides.

Throughout the summer, I made visits to some of the families.  I baked cakes for some of the children’s birthdays.  I kept taking food items that were luxuries to the women.  Always, if I happened to be at a home during the noon meal–I stayed to help wash dishes.  Jake and Rebecca’s school age daughters were home for the summer.  They didn’t want the children to be lazy.  Rebecca wanted her girls to help with the chores.  I understood her desires for her children.  I helped out during a tough winter and spring.  It was an experience that I will never forget.

Several weeks into the summer, I stopped by one Saturday as Rebecca was cooking the rabbit that had been their children’s pet.  She asked me if I wanted to stay for the noon meal and enjoy some fried rabbit.  I told her that I could not ever eat anything that had been someone’s pet.  She just laughed. 

I’ve taken my grandsons to visit with Jake and Rebecca’s family a couple of times.  They enjoyed getting to see the horses in the barns.  One time when we visited– their dog had given birth to puppies.  She had a nest in the barn.  The boys really enjoyed seeing the puppies.

Last summer I received a letter in the mail from Rebecca.  She sent me fifty dollars to buy their family some canned fruit.  The strawberry crop had not done well . They were out of their home made apple sauce.  I immediately went to Wal Mart and bought them gallon sized cans of fruit.  She had also wanted grape juice that she could make into jelly.  I bought them about eight gallons of concord grape juice.  The next day, I drove to their home to deliver the fruit and juice.  I was honored that they trusted me with their money.

Maria still eats a meal with  them occasionly.  She has been keeping Rebecca up on my breast cancer journey.  I know that someday soon–I will visit them again.  I would like to get a group of the women together and teach them about breast cancer prevention.  They seem to have so little understanding about cancer.  I know that I’m always welcome , but the days of helping them with their chores are over.  They have built friendships with other Mennonite communites and often get older girls to come live with them for awhile to help with the chores.

I hope that you’ve enjoyed my stories about working with the Mennonites women.  They are a special group of folks.  I respect them very much.  Today I value the earth more because of my experiences.  I’m very sensitive about not wasting resources. Skills like learning to can are precious to me.  I even cleared out my house to pattern their home.  I made my living room into one large dining and music room.  I made a smaller but cozy family room from one of my bedrooms.  However, I can’t have a wood burning stove in the city.  My home owner’s insurance would not allow it. 

May God bless each of you!




5 responses

25 01 2008

I finally read all of your stories on the Mennonite women. They are so beautifully written and so homespun. You really have a talent for telling stories. I am so proud of you. Love, Vera

27 01 2008
Brent WC

I agree with Vera that you do have a talent for spinning the tales of your experiences.

One of my favorite movies is Kingpin, starring Woody Harrelson. Have you and Jim ever seen it? It is hilarious and involves an Amish young man.

The Amish also have a saying: “Be careful livining amongst the English”, referring to life outside of their sheltered existence.

They certainly aren’t afraid of a little hard work, and seem to have a sense of community that is sorely missing out in the world in this day and age.

27 01 2008

We’ve never seen Kingpin. Yes, the Amish and the Mennonites have a wonderful appreciation for taking care of each. Thanks so much for commenting on each one of stories about the Mennonites.


20 05 2008

Again, you take me back to when I’d stay with my grandmother in Idaho. Late one summer there was a bad windstorm that blew several fruit and nut trees down. Well, the ladies of the town and I had to can all that fruit so it wouldn’t go to waste (much of it was bruised so it couldn’t be sold). I’ve never canned so many cherries and peaches! We all took turns but it still made for 2 long days. I’ve enjoyed this series of articles.

21 05 2008

Wow! That was a great deal of canning but what wonderful memories.

Thanks again for visiting me,

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