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
Through the years, my grandparents and their children encountered many difficult and sometimes overwhelming situations, but God never failed to provide for their family’s basic needs. It’s an eternal promise that God makes to all believers.
Perhaps you’re in the midst of a tough time and unable to see anything good in your life. Maybe you’re wondering what you have to be thankful for. If you’re reading this, I can immediately think of one thing God is blessing you with this very moment: you are breathing. Sometimes our thankfulness has to begin with something as basic as recognizing that we are alive. And as long as we’re alive, there is always hope for better times.
Television, newspapers, and social media try hard to convince us that Thanksgiving is a time set aside for parades, football games, and shopping. May you and your family gather together on Thanksgiving Day, remembering the real reason for celebrating this special holiday: Give thanks to the Lord for all of the innumerable blessings He has bestowed upon each of us during this past year.
Come, join my family and me as we remember and celebrate the true meaning of Thanksgiving.
With Thanksgiving just days away, I’d love to share several of my family’s favorite recipes with you:
After dining at one of Colonial Williamsburg’s taverns many years ago, my mother arrived home with a new turkey dressing recipe. It’s been a family favorite ever since.
Williamsburg Oyster Dressing
1 cup butter
1½ cups onion, chopped
1½ cups celery, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons poultry seasoning
16 cups stale white bread cubes, lightly toasted
1 quart oysters
Melt the butter in a large, heavy skillet. Add onion, celery, and parsley; sauté over medium heat until vegetables are tender. Do not brown. Add salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Place the bread cubes in a large bowl. Add the sautéed vegetables, and mix well. Drain the oysters, reserving the liquid. Chop the oysters coarsely, and add to the bread cube mixture, tossing gently to mix well. Add a little of the reserved oyster liquid if the dressing seems dry. Taste for seasoning. Stuff and truss the turkey. Place any leftover dressing in a buttered casserole. Bake in the oven during the last 30 minutes of the turkey’s roasting time.
Yield: makes about 12 cups – enough for a 20-25 pound turkey.
Ever since our children were little, our family has enjoyed drinking a special beverage along with our holiday meals. At Christmas, it’s Wassail. For Thanksgiving, this colonial recipe is a proven winner!
King’s Arms Tavern Berry Shrub Beverage
3 cups cranberry juice
¾ cup apple juice
1 pint raspberry sherbet
8 sprigs fresh mint, for garnish
In a large pitcher, combine the cranberry and apple juices; chill thoroughly. Serve in tall glasses and top each drink with a scoop of sherbet. Garnish each glass with a sprig of mint. Serves 8.
Nearly ninety years ago, my Grandma Alice began a family tradition when she prepared several Thanksgiving desserts for her large family on their Pennsylvania farm. Grandma Alice’s tradition continues three generations later! Along with pecan and pumpkin pies, we sometimes serve this swirled pumpkin bread.
Pumpkin Swirl Bread
¼ cup sugar
1 cup sour cream
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 large egg
2 2/3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup water
1 16-ounce can pumpkin
4 large eggs
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9×5-inch loaf pans and set aside.
In a small mixing bowl, combine all filling ingredients. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until well mixed (1 to 2 minutes); set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine sugar, oil, water, pumpkin, and eggs. Beat at low speed, scrapping bowl often, until mixture is smooth (1 to 2 minutes). Continue beating at medium speed, gradually adding all remaining bread ingredients and scraping bowl often, until well mixed (1 to 2 minutes). Place about 1 cup of the pumpkin batter into the bottom of each of the two greased and floured loaf pans. Carefully spread half of the filling mixture over the batter in each pan; top each pan with half of the remaining pumpkin batter. Pull knife or spatula through the batter and filling to create a swirl effect. Bake for 65 to 70 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool bread for 10 minutes before removing from the pans. Cool completely.
Then we Your people, the sheep of Your pasture, will thank You forever and ever, praising Your greatness from generation to generation. Psalm 79:13 (NLT)
To God be the Glory
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