FASHION: 1963

This picture of my husband and I standing in front of the Bloomington Reformed Church the year he was ordained shows a considerable change in clothing people wore to church.

We had lived in Bloomington (our first church) about three or four months when this was taken. Richard is still in his Genevan gown following service. I am wearing a suit I do not remember but would presume to be a neutral light brown, tan, or gray. My hat is red. In the 1960s a woman always wore a hat to church. I am not wearing gloves which were also demanded if you were to be “properly dressed.” I would guess this was taken after the congregation left, so they had been discarded. When I went to church I would also have carried a matching purse. Certainly a new minister’s wife was expected to be properly dressed.

A SALUTE TO MY DAD

I grew up on an upstate New York dairy farm in the 1940s. An only child, I have always been petite, a nice word for small. Dad certainly could have used a strapping young man to help him care for the herd of 50 to 60 large animals. He hired those men.
Still, no matter what I asked to do, Dad never said, “You can’t do that. You are a girl.” He did say on occasion, “You can try it, but I don’t think you can do that.” It was true, I couldn’t. I didn’t have the strength.
When I was about twelve, he taught me to drive the doodlebug, which was an old 1929 car, cut in half with no cab that he used for a tractor. Manufacturers who built tractors were turning out tanks during World War II. A standard shift and I had to learn to deal with the clutch and changing gears.
One day I asked to drive our pickup truck on the road. About a mile from home I went around a sharp right hand turn on two wheels. In a normal voice Dad said, “Next time, slow down before the corner.”
After the war, we acquired a tractor which was fun for me to drive. One day I was driving it with the hay wagon and hay loader attached, making it nearly the length of a semi. Twice the same day, I cut the corner in the hay field too short causing the hay loader to catch on the rigging of the wagon. The first time, he called, “Whoa.” The second time, Dad hollered, “Lord, girl, what in hell are you doing?” He fixed the problem and we finished loading the hay with me being more careful to swing wide on corners.
One day, the tractor was on the third story barn floor. I asked to back it out of the barn and down the stone ramp. I climbed on the tractor, started backwards. I had my foot on the clutch and it began rolling. Dad yelled, “Brake!” I slammed on the break just short of going over the side of the ramp. I think Dad took over at that point. But a short time later, we were back in the barn. Dad pointed to the tractor. “Get on.” He climbed up beside me. “Now, back up. Keep your foot off the clutch!”
I’ve driven many vehicles with a standard shift over the past years. Each time the words, “Keep your foot off the clutch!” have kept me from making dangerous moves.
When he had back surgery in 1952, the doctor told him he’d spend most of the remainder of his life in a wheelchair. His response, “To hell I will.” He was never without pain for the next 35 years of his life, and he almost never complained. He just kept moving.
Dad has always been my hero.

WINTER LUNCH AND A STORM AT COUNTRY SCHOOL

 

A picture of a little girl swinging in the wind on a storm door prompted this memory of the one-room Sanford Country School in the early 1940s.

When the weather turned cold, we started school with an additional ritual. Mrs. Parsons, our teacher, would ask if any of us had soup or something to be heated for lunch. A chorus of “I do” would respond. We’d open our lunch boxes to take out jars and hand them to Mrs. Parsons who put them on the top of the brown monster (a coal stove) in the back corner of the room. By lunch time the jars provided a hot lunch for us.

To make sure everyone had a hot lunch in the winter, Mrs. Parsons brought a sandwich toaster to school. At lunch time she sat in the back corner near the windows where there was one of the few place electric outlets in the room. All of us took our sandwiches to her. She cut them into quarters and laid them out on the shelf. She toasted a few quarters at a time and called us to collect them as each one was ready. They smelled so good whether they were peanut butter, tuna, bologna, along with steaming tomato or chicken soup. Now I know my thicker homemade bread was much better, but then I considered the kids who had square white store-bought bread for sandwiches and Campbell’s soup to be more fortunate.

On one particular winter day stands out in my memory. The snow started in the morning and built quickly into a blizzard. Snow piled up on the highway and was surely very slippery. I’m sure Mrs. Parsons must have been very concerned about getting all of us home. She had no way to call parents and close the school early. By the time school was finished, the unplowed roads were impassable.

Dad came to get me with our team of horses and a bobsled. A farmer’s bobsled was made with the body of a wagon on two sets of large sled runners. Dad waited with the horses just outside the fence that surrounded the school yard. The fierce wind scared me. It felt like it could pick me up and blow me away. I grabbed onto the fence to pull myself along. Finally, Dad had to leave the horses and to come and carry me to the wagon where he tucked me, Eleanor, Ruthie, Doris, and Betty and Bobby, all who lived on our road, under heavy black wool horse blankets to keep us warm while he faced the driving snow and wind to guide the team of horses back home.

I don’t remember, but I don’t think Mr. Parsons was able to get to Sanford with his school bus. I know there was one night the bus got stuck in the snow and all the students and Mr. Parsons stayed the night in someone’s home. I think Mrs. Parsons stayed with the family next door to the school overnight.

WARSAW INTERNATIONAL CHURCH

A discussion at our monthly consistory (council) meeting at church last night prompted this memory.

My husband, Richard, served the Warsaw International Church in Poland from September 1989 to July 1993. At the time WIC was the only English speaking service offered regularly in the city. Communism had been defeated by ballot in the spring of 1989.Initially, going to church was not easy. The service was held in the secure part of the embassy. Our first Sunday we were guided through the procedure. First we entered the not-as-secure social wing where we had to identify ourselves to the Polish security guards. From there we walked out the back door of that building, down an outside stairway to a door under the guard of a US Marine. There we entered a short space to wait until the first door was secured before thimg116e second door was opened by another Marine. Church was held in the first meeting room off the hallway. Its amenities included chairs and a piano. The lectern normally there had disappeared, so Richard stacked up boxes which he covered with a cloth found in the nearby embassy kitchen.

As you might imagine, the congregation was not large and most people spoke English as their first language. When we first arrived the church primarily served members of the embassies of the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Canada, the International School of Warsaw, and other embassies.

We had only just arrived, but at this first service Richard was asked to baptize the newborn twins of Nigerian Ambassador George Ajone and his wife, Onyanta. They were a joy to know and were very kind to us during their tenure in Warsaw.

When we arrived little throughout the country had changed. But change came quickly in Warsaw and everywhere with the end of state control. Foreign businesses came in by droves. WIC changed its meeting place first to the Marine bar and then to the Lutheran Seminary in the Old Town, where it continues today.

 

 

REFLECTIONS ARE NOT EASY

I am in the process of finishing my memoir On Becoming a Minister’s Wife with writing a chapter on “Reflections.”

The body of the memoir takes me from not wanting to be a minister’s wife through the first nine years of living the role. Two years ago I wrote 50,000 words during the National November Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in a stream of consciousness style. This past year I’ve been reordering, editing, deleting, and adding to those words so they would make sense to someone other than myself. Now that part is readable, thanks to my writers’ group friends, who have listened to me read it twice. They are due much praise for endurance.

I am struggling with this last chapter. My husband, Richard, celebrated his fiftieth year of ordination in 2013. From 1963 to 1993 he served five churches, retired for health reasons, but continued to enjoy preaching as a supply for several years. Our lives were so intertwined, how do I sum up those years for myself?top-bmp

Questions I am seeking to answer include:

What did I like or didn’t like about my role?

How did it affect my life as a wife and mother?

What did it teach me about myself?

Would I do it again? Yes, I would, provided I was married to the same man. I think perhaps that is the key to all my answers.

Corinthians 13:13 “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

 

 

TAXI WARSAWA

 

 

I’ve been watching a TV show, TAXI  BROOKLYN. In it a taxi is a young woman detective’s driver because she has totaled her police car for the second time. In the process, the driver helps and cares about the detective.

This morning I thought about my taxi driver in Warszawa when we lived there between 1989 and1993. Why was I living there? My husband, Richard was serving as pastor of the Warsaw International Church (English language).

After getting a job as a teacher in the American School of Warsaw, my choices for getting to the school: making Richard take me and pick me up, interrupting his work; walking, which was quite unsafe on the heavy trafficked streets to say nothing of carrying a twenty or thirty pound basket of books back and forth; buying a car, which meant costs of the car, insurance and finding a place to keep an extra vehicle.

None of those seemed like a good idea. Instead I hired Krzysztof*, a licensed taxi driver who chose to mostly provide private services. He drove students to and from the school and was called by a host of people who counted on him to take them where they wanted to go.

Every morning between 7:30 and 7:45, I’d look out of my third story window and see a white Mercedes was waiting for me. As he drove me to school, I learned to speak a little Polish and he learned more English. After three years, I was totally conversant on the weather, whether it was sunny, rainy, snowy, windy, cold or warm.

But Krzysztof did so much more for me. He always had a smile when he greeted me each morning. After the fall of Communism in Poland, open markets abounded. I asked him to stop one fall evening on my way home. He could have done just that—let me get out of the car and wait while I shopped. Instead Krzysztof went with me.

“Kilo gruszka, prosze,” I said to the man behind his fruit and vegetable stand.

The man put several pears on the scale and started to put them in my bag when Krzysztof, who had been standing beside me, said something to the man, who added a pear to my bag. He had watched the man carefully. Whether weighed his thumb or the scale was short, Krzysztof made sure I was not cheated.

I was given two pieces of semi-precious stone by the South African ambassador to Poland. One morning I gave Krzysztof one of the pieces with a silver chain I had and explained I’d like the stone attached to the chain. About a week later he handed me my new piece of jewelry.  It remains one of my favorite necklaces.

My husband, who did most of the shopping while I was working, had heart surgery in August 1992. I needed to return to Warsaw before he was healed.  Company was coming for dinner. When could I buy the needed groceries. Krzysztof took my list that morning and returned to pick me up from school with everything I requested.

Often when Krzysztof drove us to the airport early in the morning, there was a bread line at the people’s favorite bakery.

Early in the fall of Communism , there were pictures of bread lines in US newspapers. What I learned is that Poles bought bread first thing in the morning and then again in the afternoon. The bread did not have preservatives and didn’t last but a day or so. The bread stores could only fit three or four people in them at a time because they were only a bit larger than a walk-in closet. Twenty people wanting to buy bread at about the same time made a line out the door.

 

Shortly before we left Poland in 1993, Richard and I wanted to visit the Teutonic Malbork Castle built in the thirteenth century. Constructed of red brick, it is one of the largest castles in Europe. We didn’t want to drive. Krzysztof drove us, but also acted as our personal guide by interpreting signs in Polish.

Twenty-odd years later, the postman brings me a greeting card postmarked “WARSAWA” at least once a year. I treasure each one. Krzysztof is a true friend.

*Krzysztof, pronounced “Crshish-tof”, is equivalent to Christopher in English.

MY ITCH IS SCRATCHED

Granpa Levi Miles Jr.

After dedicating four das to finding gravestones around eastern part and the southern tier New York State, I think my genealogy itch has been scratched.

My daughter and I scrambled up and down the hilly cemeteries in McClure, Deposit, Hambletville, and New York City reservoir land.

The last to me was the most interesting simply because it contains all the graves had been disinterred and reburied to allow the dams and reservoirs to be built to take water to New York City. Two dams were built in the southern tier to back up the water from the east and west branches of the Delaware River.

Land, where people lived, loved, married, had children, went to school and church, farmed, milked cows, ran tractors, sold groceries, medicines, and ice cream, is now under water. In years of drought, foundations of building can be seen in the low water levels.

The newest of the dams is Cannonsville. When I was in high school, many students came from there. If a snow storm which looked like it was going to pile up quickly came, the Cannonsville students would be the first ones dismissed and put on buses to go home. It was the longest of the school bus runs.

In each of the cemeteries we found stones of my grandparents. One pair of stones mark the graves of my third great grandparents( born in 1789 and 1790) and fifth generation great grandparents for my young grandsons.

So for now, I’ve scratched that itch—until the next time.

Pictures: top, Levi Miles Jr., greatgrandfather; middle, Obadiah M. & Mary Ann Culver Neff, greatgrandparents; Ernest C. & Nancy Annette Miles Neff, grandparents.

 

Ernest C. & Nancy Annette Miles Neffm