Through the lace curtains at my kitchen window, I watch the first snowflakes—as big as goose feathers—fall from the gray November sky. Scents of cinnamon and pumpkin waft through the room when I open the oven, and when my eyes catch sight of the oil lamp on the cherry farmhouse table, my thoughts follow the curving lane to the old farmhouse where Alice and Ed, my maternal grandparents, raised their children during the Great Depression.
Although my parents moved hundreds of miles away after their marriage, my mother’s thoughts frequently traveled to her childhood home. She loved nothing better than to gather my siblings and me next to her as she told us about her childhood on the farm near Muncy, Pennsylvania—stories I treasured and passed on to my own little ones.
Mother spoke of a life filled with an abundance of indoor and outdoor chores and of nearby relatives who frequently stopped by on Sunday afternoons to visit.
When harsh winds rattled the shuttered windows and blew swirling snow across the barren fields, it was the kitchen that was the center of Mother’s family’s life, mostly because it was the only room in the house that was heated. Family and guests gathered there, the old single-pane windows covered with condensation as much from conversation as from the heat of the wood burning cook stove where a chicken roasted in the oven.
The old farmhouse, which originally belonged to Ed’s parents, had no electricity, indoor plumbing, or central heat. Bathtubs, toilets, and even a kitchen sink were non-existent. Things weren’t any better outside. Three Belgian work horses—Fred, Maude, and Prince—pulled the plow and heavy wagons. Faith and a person’s own strength and determination kept the farm going when the economy and adverse weather interfered. Although parents and children worked hard from early morning to evening, my mother’s stories were never ones of complaining.
The day before Thanksgiving, Grandma Alice, bundled up against the raw wind, killed and dressed well-fed turkeys for customers from town who gave their orders weeks in advance. Once all of the poultry orders were filled, Alice killed the turkey she would cook for her own family. After Grandpa Ed finished the outdoor chores, he opened the old dovetailed chest in the guest bedroom and pulled out his hunting clothes. After dinner, he sharpened his knife on a stone and cleaned his gun. The days immediately after Thanksgiving were hunting days and Ed needed to hunt game to help supplement his family’s food supply.
The Great Depression was in full force and money was scarce for my mother’s family. Mother often said that while she and her siblings were growing up, they never realized how primitively they lived on the farm. A person can’t miss what they don’t know, she explained.
Something inside my heart was soothed when Mother spoke of the contentment that was felt at the end of each day when the family gathered at the dinner table and her father thanked the Lord for His generous provisions. Grandpa Ed and Grandma Alice made it clear to their children that, but for the Lord’s benevolence, their harvests would be small and their needs large.
My grandparents have long since gone to be with the Lord, and their farm has changed hands several times since they sold it. But my mother’s stories taught me that when a family realizes that they’re dependent upon the Lord to provide for all of their needs—as well as their blessings—every day is thanksgiving day.
May your Thanksgiving Day be joyous, may you be surrounded by your loved ones, and may you give thanks and praise to the One who provides for your every need.
When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land He has given you. Deuteronomy 8:10 (NIV)
To God be the Glory
Cynthia Howerter © 2011, 2012, 2013Read More
Through the years, my husband and I have acquired possessions that have both a function and a history. For example, the tall case clock in our dining room not only informs us of the time in fifteen minute intervals, but it also reminds us of my father-in-law’s love of wood and how he painstakingly built the clock in his workshop. Even small household items have a large capacity to resurrect special memories. That’s true of one of my favorite kitchen tools—a microplane grater. Each time I hold it in my hand to grate whole nutmegs or hard cheeses, treasured memories return to me.
As a highly curious ten-year-old, I wondered what country my mother’s family originally came from. Neither my mother nor her mother knew the answer. However, it was a question I couldn’t forget, and I knew that someday, somehow I would find the answer.
Nearly twenty-five years later, my husband, children, and I moved to a new city, and I had a lot of free time on my hands—time to begin searching for the answer to my long-held question. Although it wasn’t easy acquiring information about people who were no longer living, genealogy became my passion, and my inquisitiveness expanded from learning not only where my family originated, but when and why they immigrated to America.
On the internet, I came across a post on a historical society website from a man named Henry who had genealogical information on Philip and Sarah Snyder, my great-great-grandparents—whose information I couldn’t find. The only way to contact Henry was by writing to his home address, so I quickly mailed a letter to him explaining how I was related to Philip and Sarah, and offered to share my research with him if he was willing to share his with me.
Henry answered my letter and asked me to phone him. I called and learned that not only were we distant cousins, but that Henry had known my maternal grandparents, Alice and Ed, whose farm was located close to his parents’ farm near Muncy, Pennsylvania. We’d only talked for several minutes when he paused and told me that my voice sounded like Alice’s.
“Yes. Your voice sounds just like hers.”
No one had ever told me that, and I realized that Henry had just given me a lovely gift. I had adored my grandmother, and now I learned that I’d inherited her endearing voice.
As we continued talking, Henry and I discovered that we each had genealogical information about numerous relatives that the other needed, and we agreed to share.
Henry confided a great concern of his. For over 40 years, he’d spent every vacation traveling to court houses, historical societies, churches, cemeteries, and libraries to locate important but hard-to-find genealogical information, and he had recorded all of it in meticulous, highly detailed, handwritten notes. But now Henry was in his eighties and in poor health, and his children had no interest in their father’s painstaking research—research that proved their family history back to the 1600s in Europe. Once he passed on, Henry believed his children would throw away all of his research papers because they saw no value in them.
Henry asked if I had any suggestions as to how his research could be preserved and enjoyed by others. Having recently compiled and printed several genealogical books, I offered to send a copy to Henry to see if a book format was what he envisioned for his research. Henry gladly accepted my offer, and after he’d read my book, he called and asked what I would charge him to compile his research into a book.
I told Henry that I usually charged $10.00 per hour. There was a pause as he thought over my price. “I’m not sure I can afford that.”
“I can work with you on the price.”
There was a long silence before he spoke again. “Well, all right. This is my life’s work, and I know if it’s not printed in a book, my kids will just throw out all of my research papers once I’m dead. The thought of that happening is more than I can bear.”
I told Henry that I’d keep track of the hours I spent typing his work into my computer program, and that we’d settle the bill when I finished the project. Henry was agreeable.
A week later, Henry mailed a box to me that contained a three-inch stack of his research papers. I assumed this was his entire collection. I shuffled through the papers like they were a long-awaited Christmas gift, squealing with delight as I perused the incredible information that Henry had uncovered. Even though he had never been educated above high school, Henry researched like an accomplished academician.
I began typing each word of Henry’s brilliant research into my computer’s genealogy program. After two days, the tips of my fingers were inflamed from long hours spent tapping the keyboard—and I’d only recorded twenty of the three hundred papers that he’d sent, each page with information printed on the front and back.
The following week, a second and larger box arrived from Henry. Believing the first box contained all of Henry’s research, I was shocked to discover a four-inch stack of additional information in this second box.
As I looked through this set of papers, I was overcome with emotion as I learned the answers to my questions. Henry had uncovered information about the lives of relatives who had lived before me—ancestors who, as young adults in their teens and early twenties, left their parents, siblings, homes, and all that was familiar to them in the Palatinate to escape the ravages of war.
They survived treacherous ocean crossings on small disease-ridden ships only to arrive in Philadelphia to discover that they were despised because they, being Germans, could not Englisch sprechen (speak English).
Being farmers, they discovered the only land available was on Pennsylvania’s dangerous frontier. There, they claimed and cleared forested land and built log homes. They married and had families—only to have their wives and children massacred by Indians or killed by wild animals. Some lost all of their children in less than a week to illnesses they could not treat.
But they persevered, thanks to their deep faith in God and the fact that they had no financial means to move elsewhere. These were my ancestors—people who, generation by generation, paved the way for my children and me to have a better life.
Thinking the two boxes contained the extent of Henry’s research, I almost cried when additional boxes, each containing hundreds of papers, arrived weekly for the next six weeks. Now I understood why Henry was so worried about what could happen to his life’s investigative research.
Because I wanted to be certain that I was accurately reading Henry’s handwriting, we spoke almost daily on the phone for many months. Each call gave me more glimpses into family members and ancestors.
Henry told me all about how he and his father used to visit my maternal grandparents’ farm. Henry had dearly loved both of my grandparents and shared many lovely stories about them.
I learned that my Grandpa Ed was a godly man who treated everyone respectfully and fairly. Ed was a man of his word, and always quick to help someone with a need.
And Grandma Alice made everyone who visited the farm feel welcome and special. “Come visit and stay long,” Henry said she would say.
Because I had grown up in another state and usually wasn’t able to spend more than one or two weeks a year with my grandparents, Henry opened windows and doors for me about Grandma Alice and Grandpa Ed from a perspective that was different from that of my mother’s relationship to her parents.
Each time we spoke, Henry asked if I was done putting the information into the computer. I couldn’t help but hear disappointment in his voice each time I told him the project required many more hours. However, as the weeks turned into months, I realized I was hearing something more than disappointment in Henry’s voice, but I wasn’t sure what it was.
One day, Henry shared with me how he and his father William owned the only threshing machine in the area during the 1930s. The local farmers paid Henry and his father to bring the machine to their farms to thresh their grain crops so they wouldn’t have to thresh by hand, a slow and labor-intensive process.
Henry told me about a summer during the Great Depression when Grandpa Ed didn’t have enough money to pay Henry and William for threshing, but Henry and his dad threshed for Grandpa Ed anyway, knowing that Ed and Alice risked losing the farm if they couldn’t thresh their crops.
As we got to know each other, Henry talked about himself and how, after serving in the Army in Europe during World War II, he’d worked as a laborer all his life, never earning much, but providing for his family the best he could. And always, always seeking answers to his burning questions of who had come before him and what kind of people were they.
Finally, after ten months, I completed recording Henry’s research and made arrangements to have several books printed.
Now it was time for Henry to pay me for my work and he asked what he owed me. Listening to his voice, I finally understood what I’d been hearing every time I’d told Henry I needed many more hours to complete his project: fear. Fear of not being able to pay me.
“Henry, you owe me nothing because you’ve already paid me.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Well, it’s really simple. Your research answered my questions and gave me the heritage that I never knew.
“I never had a chance to know Grandma Alice and Grandpa Ed well because I lived in another state. There’s a lot I never knew about them. That is, until you told me the stories of the times you spent with them. Without you, I would never have known my voice sounds just like Grandma Alice’s did.”
“It truly does, Cynthia.”
“And had it not been for you and your dad threshing for free that one summer, my grandparents may have lost their farm, their livelihood.
“I have a saying that I tell my children: ‘Be kind to others and that kindness will be returned to you.’ Henry, your kindness to my grandparents sixty-seven years ago just came back to you. I’m so happy I could help you finish your 40-year-old project—your life’s work. And I’m really glad I’ve gotten to know you.”
Henry said nothing, and I knew why—I could hear him crying.
A week later, a check for $14.00 arrived in the mail from Henry. The handwritten note said it was all he could afford, but he just wanted to pay me something for my work. I knew I would insult Henry by returning the money, so, because I love to cook, I went to the cooking store and bought a tool that I really needed—a microplane grater. And every time I use it, I like to think it helps make the food I’m preparing extra special. But, more than its function, it has a history—and it always makes me think of Henry and what he did for me.
Henry Snyder, 1918-2004
Henry, you are loved and greatly missed, and your life’s work has a special place in my heart and my bookcase.
A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity. Proverbs 17:17 (NIV)
I am in need of your help. As I write my first historical fiction novel, I have been informed that publishers want to see a large subscriber following on the author’s website in order for the publisher to even consider publishing a new novel for that author. If you enjoy my writing, please consider telling others about my articles on Soar With Eagles. Thank you so very much for your loyalty to my writing. Please know how much you and your encouraging comments mean to me. As always, I continue to work hard at improving my writing in order to touch your heart with uplifting articles.
Gratefully, Cynthia Howerter
To God be the Glory
What is your heart’s desire? Everyone has one. It’s something you would love to have, but it’s difficult, if not impossible, to obtain. Come find out how God fulfilled Grandma Alice’s heart’s desire one special Christmas.
For my mother’s family, Christmas during the Great Depression was non-existent. By the time my mother was six years old, she and her siblings had never received a Christmas gift nor had a Christmas tree stood in their house. It wasn’t that Mother’s parents didn’t believe in celebrating Christmas. Rather, a severe lack of finances prohibited it.
As Alice went about her chores in the days following Thanksgiving, the celebration of Christmas weighed on her. She knew all too well that there was no money to buy a Christmas tree at the lot in town, so she didn’t bother to speak with her husband about that. No sense making Ed feel worse than he already did that he couldn’t purchase a tree let alone gifts for his wife and children. But there was someone whom Alice could speak with and she earnestly confided in Him.
All she wanted was to buy a Christmas tree for her children to enjoy and maybe a small gift for her husband and her children. It was alright if there was no money for a gift for herself. It was her family that she wanted to bless in a small way.
For days, Alice prayed for a miracle – for extra money to come to her and Ed. But now it was the week before Christmas and her prayers were unanswered. She knew that God hears and answers all prayers, sometimes saying “yes,” other times ”no” and at times “wait.” She wiped a tear and resigned herself that the answer to her request was a no, and she asked God to give her the grace to accept His Will.
As she worked in her kitchen, a thought came to her. Their elderly neighbor, Mrs. Martin, had a grove of pine trees on her farm. Fresh pine trees! And some of those pine trees would make perfect Christmas trees. Alice spoke to the Lord about those pines and her heart’s desire.
The next morning, she hurried into the kitchen and after mixing some yeast dough, she set it aside to rise. By the time breakfast was over and the kitchen cleaned, Alice worked her magic with the risen dough. Before her marriage, she had been a cook at a local hotel and was known far and wide for her excellent culinary skills.
When the cinnamon rolls were cool, Alice covered them with a cloth and put them in her market basket along with several dozen sugar cookies shaped like stars and a hatchet. Alice quickly glanced out the window. It was beginning to snow. She filled the cookstove with wood so the kitchen would be warm for her little ones, then gave the children some books to look at with the admonition to stay inside and away from the stove while she was gone. Ed was working inside the barn and wouldn’t be able to see her leave.
Pulling her worn coat around her, Alice hurried down the lane to the dirt road. Lowering her head against the biting wind, she realized that she’d forgotten her gloves but she was too far in the journey to go back.
Mrs. Martin opened her door and invited a snow-covered Alice to step inside, happy for the company. Alice handed the cinnamon buns and cookies to Mrs. Martin and asked if they could serve as payment for a small pine in the grove. Her four little ones had never had a Christmas tree, she explained.
Mrs. Martin looked at Alice in amazement. A recent widow, she, too, was suffering the effects of the Depression and was out of flour and sugar. The rolls and cookies were an answer to her prayer for some baked goods for Christmas.
It wasn’t easy chopping down a fresh pine with a hatchet, especially with the snow making the ground slippery, but God gave Alice a determined spirit. By the time she arrived back in their lane, the heavy snow was deepening and weighing down the pine. Alice’s fingers were numb and her stockings were in shreds as she prayed for strength to finish her task. It came in the form of her husband who rushed to her and took over pulling the heavy tree as four little faces, pressed against the kitchen window, watched.
After Ed shook the snow from the tree and carried it into the kitchen, he and the children filled the air with squeals of excitement.
That afternoon, Alice and the children sat at the table and made paper ornaments and strings of popcorn. Ed joined in, too, once the chores were finished. As Ed lifted the children to the top of the tree so they could hang the last of the decorations, Alice realized that even though life was difficult, God could be counted on to provide for them. And even a little extra like a heart’s desire.
What heart’s desire have you had that the Lord provided? Share it with us!
“Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires.” Psalm 37:4.
TO GOD BE THE GLORY
Oh, Lord, my times are in your hands.
Cynthia Howerter © 2011Read More
Good stories serve a purpose. While the objective of some stories is met immediately, the lesson of other stories can be years in the making. Such is the case with this story about my grandmother, Alice. Come with me as we visit my grandparents’ farm near Muncy, Pennsylvania.
A nip in the September air caused Alice to reflect that her four children had grown out of their winter coats, leggings and boots at the end of the previous winter. If the truth be known, the children outgrew the coats just as they fell apart from years of use by previous owners. Alice opened a canning jar that she kept hidden in a kitchen cupboard and counted the bills and coins it contained. There wasn’t enough to purchase winter clothing for one child let alone four.
With the Great Depression in full force, Alice and her husband Ed were having a difficult time making ends meet. As she so often did when adversity confronted her, Alice lowered her head in silent prayer. If there was anything good coming from such troublesome times, it was that Alice was learning to depend on the Lord to meet her family’s needs.
That afternoon as she hung laundry on the clothesline in the backyard, Alice turned her head and looked across the cornfield to the woods where several hickory trees grew at its edge. Their golden leaves made them easy to spot. She felt a strong urge to walk over to them and when she saw that the trees and ground were covered with an abundance of hickory nuts, an idea came to her. After filling her apron to overflowing with the nuts, she hurried home.
Each day, Alice and the children returned to the hickory trees and gathered the nuts. At night, they sat at the kitchen table by the light of an oil lamp and picked the nuts out of their shells. After weighing the nuts on a scale, each pound was poured into a small paper bag. It occurred to Alice that had she not followed the strong urging to walk over to the trees, she would never have thought of harvesting the nuts.
That Saturday, Ed loaded his wife, the bags of hickory nuts and a small wagon into the car and they drove into town. Ed drove to a residential area and after he unloaded the wagon, he and Alice filled it with the bags of nuts. Ed left as he had errands to do in town and Alice had a mission.
She pulled the wagon behind her as she went door to door seeking customers. It was now November and not only did she know that women were starting their Thanksgiving and Christmas baking, she also knew that hickory nuts were scarce due to the Depression, as were many things. In no time at all, Alice sold all of the bags for 25 cents each and even had several orders for more nuts.
For days, Alice and the children repeated the chores of gathering the hickory nuts, shelling, weighing and bagging them, and every Saturday, Alice walked through town and sold the nuts. When nature provided no more nuts, Alice counted her earnings. The harvest not only provided enough money to buy new coats, leggings and boots for all four of her children but much-needed winter coats and boots for Ed and her as well.
Because Alice faithfully turned to the Lord in the midst of her troubles, God always provided a way for Alice. He didn’t necessarily answer her prayers exactly the way she hoped or thought He would, but He answered in ways that were better than she could have imagined.
For as long as I can remember, my own mother relied on her faith and childhood memories to get her through the difficulties that visit a person’s life. And she loved to share these precious recollections with my siblings and me. Over 80 years later, when my own family and I found ourselves in the midst of severe misfortune, it was my mother’s stories about her parents’ faith and persevering spirit during hardships that provided examples for my husband and me.
When Christmas came and my husband and I had no money to buy presents for our own children or food for our usual feast, I thought of Grandma Alice and Grandpa Ed and I knew what I needed to do. I gathered our children close to me and explained that we already had the best presents – our love for each other and our faith that God would see us through our troubles. And just as He had done for my grandparents and parents, God faithfully provided for us.
What gifts are you giving your family? Are they tangible presents that are here today and gone tomorrow? Or will you pass on your faith which will last for generations?
“I will be glad and rejoice in Your love, because You saw my suffering; You knew my troubles.” Psalm 31:7.
TO GOD BE THE GLORY
Cynthia Howerter © 2011Read More
While I watch the wind blow the last of the colored leaves to the ground, my thoughts follow the dirt lane to the old farmhouse where my maternal grandparents raised their children during the Great Depression. It is a house I visited many times while I listened to my mother’s childhood stories. I toured it once recently when the present owner invited me inside.
Although my mother and father moved hundreds of miles away after their marriage, my mother’s thoughts frequently traveled to her childhood home. She loved nothing better than to scoop up my siblings and me and take us with her as she recalled her childhood on a farm near Muncy, Pennsylvania – stories I treasured and passed on to my own little ones.
Mother spoke of a life filled with an abundance of indoor and outdoor chores and of nearby relatives who frequently stopped by on Sunday afternoons for visits. On stifling summer days, the adults visited in the shade of the large front porch while the children took turns cranking the handle of an ice cream freezer on the grass under a shade tree.
When the harsh winter wind rattled the shuttered windows and forced snow to swirl across the bare fields, it was the kitchen that was the center of Mother’s family’s life, mostly because it was the only room in the house that was heated. Family and guests gathered there, the single-paned windows steamed from the conversations.
The old farmhouse, which originally belonged to Mother’s grandparents, had no electricity, indoor plumbing or central heat. Bathtubs, toilets and even a kitchen sink were non-existent. Things weren’t any better outside. There was no tractor or modern farm equipment. Keeping the farm going depended on horses and one’s own strength and determination. Parents and children worked hard from early morning to evening, but my mother’s stories were never ones of complaining.
The day before Thanksgiving, Grandma Alice killed and dressed turkeys for customers from town who gave their orders in advance. Once the poultry orders were filled, Alice killed the turkey she would cook for her own family. Grandpa Ed finished the outdoor chores, then got out his hunting clothes and sharpened his knife and cleaned his gun. The days immediately after Thanksgiving were hunting days and Ed needed to hunt game to help supplement his family’s food supply.
The Great Depression was in full force and money was scarce for my mother’s family. Mother often said that while she and her siblings were growing up, they never realized how primitively they lived on the farm. But a person can’t miss what they don’t know, she would explain.
Something inside my heart was soothed when Mother spoke of the contentment that was felt at the end of each day as the family gathered at the dinner table and her father thanked the Lord for His generous provisions. Grandpa Ed and Grandma Alice made it clear to their children that, but for the Lord’s benevolence, their harvests would be small and their needs large.
My grandparents have long since gone to be with the Lord, and their farm has changed hands several times since they sold it. But my mother’s stories taught me that when a family realizes that they are dependant upon the Lord to provide for all of their needs - as well as their blessings - every day is Thanksgiving Day.
May your Thanksgiving Day be joyous, may you be surrounded by your loved ones, and may you give thanks and praise to the One who provides for your every need.
“When you have all you want to eat, then praise the Lord your God for giving you a good land.” Deuteronomy 8:10.
TO GOD BE THE GLORY
Cynthia Howerter © 2011Read More