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
There are times when we all need to reflect, if only for a few minutes. It’s not that difficult to manage, even in the midst of a great whirlpool of busyness. I like to settle into our comfy sofa with a mug of coffee while I gaze through the windows into our woods and let my mind wander.
I’ve found that as I sip my coffee and take in God’s creation, my mind usually lights on things that need contemplation.
When God moved us to Virginia, we purchased a home in a neighborhood that was just being built. Only one other house was occupied on our street when we moved in.
I yearned for a neighbor who could be my friend. Ideally, I wanted a woman about my age who shared at least some of my interests. And so, I waited patiently for this unknown woman and her family to buy a house on my street.
After 15 months, the sound of a chain saw roused me one morning. I was thrilled to see that the lot next to ours was finally being prepared for a new house because I just knew the friend I longed for was going to buy that house and my happily ever after would soon come to fruition.
So when the realtor told me that a young couple with two little ones and a newborn purchased the house that I thought my unknown woman friend should buy, I was not happy. Not at all.
You see, I am a writer and writers need quiet so they can concentrate and create stories. Visions of loud plastic wheels scraping on the pavement outside my office window made me close my eyes and shudder. Noisy children have the potential to interrupt a creative streak. I did the math and I was not happy.
I should know by now that God’s plans are not our plans.
So I turned to prayer. I asked God to give me a loving heart toward my new neighbors (who I knew would be yelling at their very loud children!).
But God could see a much bigger picture and He did so much more than what I asked.
It turns out that the three little children are beautifully behaved. And quiet. Their parents are a delight. The family of five are the smiling-est people I’ve ever encountered, and they never fail to say hello.
Whenever the older children see my husband and me, they run straight to us and jump into our arms. The baby looks at us and smiles. Memories of our own children when they were little ones ignite and glow in our hearts each time we see the three little treasures next door.
The parents nearly always take a minute or more to chat with hubby and me when we’re outside. I often wonder if they realize how much joy they and their beauties bring into our lives.
Isn’t that just like God? He took my prayer request and answered it better than I could have imagined. But I might have not been aware of His blessing had I not taken time to be still and ponder.
My empty mug signals the end of my reflection time and I walk back to my computer to create. You see, I am a writer and I need to be surrounded by joy.
Take a few minutes to reflect on your life, especially if you feel frustrated or trapped. What hidden blessings are revealed to you as you relax and let your mind contemplate?
You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11 (ESV)
TO GOD BE THE GLORYRead More
I’ve returned to bed this morning, lingering, because two mugs of coffee have not given me their usual jolt. Lying here, I study the old, faded quilt that I’ve thrown over me. Although I’ve used it as an extra cover all winter, it’s been years since I really looked at it.
My Grandma Anna made it. I no longer remember the name of the quilt pattern, but I’m struck at how cheerful the colors are. While a neutral brown creates the border and surrounds each of the flowers, it’s the palette of colors that Grandma Anna selected that catch my eye.
Hexagonal pieces of plain lavender fabric surrounded by pieces of printed lavender.
Pale pink enveloped by cheerful pink roses with green stems and leaves on a white background.
Yellow ringed by yellow and blue. This is art produced by a creative mind.
My mind drifts to the dresses Grandma Anna sewed for me when I was a wee lass. Dresses that I now realize were expertly sewn and fitted, looking more like an expensive store-bought dress than one that was sewn at home. The wool mittens she knit, made of primary red, yellow, and blue-colored yarn, fit my toddler hands perfectly.
A gifted student of color and design created numerous works of love-infused art just for me.
Although I knew Grandma Anna to be a godly woman who read and studied her Bible and never missed church, I never realized until now what a highly creative person she was. She lived in a different state when I grew up, and, because of the great distance between our homes, I saw her briefly once or twice a year. She passed on when I was in my twenties.
Now, so many years later, God is giving me an opportunity this morning to see Grandma Anna through different eyes. And I realize how alike we are.
Who in your life do you need to see from a different vantage point? Your spouse? Your child? Your parent or a sibling? A friend? A foe? What precious and unique gifts do they possess that have been there all along, obscured by their very presence, in front of your eyes?
The wise woman builds her house, but the foolish pulls it down with her hands. Proverbs 14: 1 (NKJV)
TO GOD BE THE GLORY
Photographs by Cynthia Howerter 2013Read More
Thanksgiving is just a couple of days away.
Is your camera ready? Batteries charged? Space on the card?
Great!! Now let’s go through the basics of how to take better photos for your family get togethers.
You may not think this is a biggy. But it is. We’ve all had someone with a camera, getting in our face, snapping away while we chew food. Not cool! As a professional, I want my subjects to feel at ease. If they think I’ll post an unattractive shot, they won’t relax for me.
So, how do you do this? Promise them you’ll delete bad shots. Take a couple of good shots, then let them view them. They’ll relax when they can trust you.
2) Simplify your background!
Crop out unnecessary parts of the picture.
It does involve some effort. But it’s worth it!
a) Find the timer button on your camera.
b) Get your tripod out, or use a stack of books on a chair.
c) Pick a location that can fit all your subjects. Outside in the yard, on a porch, in the family room. Decide beforehand.
d) Give clear directions to the group to meet at a certain time and have your camera ready. Hit the timer button and run to get in the shot!
These are the kind of pictures that show the whole room or whole table. Maybe a driveway full of cars.
Does grandma make homemade cranberry sauce? Take a picture.
Does she bake a certain cake? Take a picture.
Try the picture from a higher perspective. Or on a table.
Is someone dancing on the Wii? Take a shot from in front of them and from behind. See which works better.
The list could go on. These suggestions should get you thinking.
But what about you? Do you have a favorite Thanksgiving memory? Can you share it with us?
Or what about an idea that might be neat for a picture? Share your thoughts and let’s make this Thanksgiving a year to remember!