Honduras with Patrick

Service Trip to Honduras
Written Summer of 2006

Early this year, my 17-year-old son, Patrick, decided that he wanted to go on a service project to San Pedro Sula, Honduras. I remember how excited he was, telling me he would help build a daycare center in Honduras’ second largest city. I was less than enamored by the prospect, but admired his sense of service and certainly didn’t want to discourage his humanitarian efforts. My husband, Ken, and I waited a few weeks to see if the idea would be fleeting, but whenever we mentioned it, Patrick would confidently say, “Yea, I’m going.” Finally, we stopped making plans for our trip out West and started to think about the realities of his decision. Would it be okay for him to go alone with the other MAMA team members from our church? And what if he got sick, as many of our church’s team members had on earlier service trips? Would others take care of him? And how would we pay for the airfare and expenses of such a trip? We told Patrick that if he was really serious about going, he would need to draft a letter asking family and friends for financial support for his endeavor. And he did.

Then a funny thing happened. Before I put too much thought into the decision (or the Spirit’s nudging, if you prefer), I found myself volunteering to accompany Patrick on the week-long service trip to Honduras. So, on July 15 of this year, Patrick and I flew to San Pedro Sula with eight other members of Ambler Mennonite Church. We struggled to remember the proper conjugation of Spanish verbs that teachers had drilled into us. We ate gourmet food, with every meal feeling like a savory feast prepared by knowledgeable Spanish cooks. We also experienced the polluted air, the energetic street vendors, and the vagabond boys of San Pedro Sula. Each morning we walked to the MAMA center, a few blocks from our hotel, to board a van for construction work and distribution of de-worming medicine in the village of El Progresso, but along the way we had to pass young boys, aged 10-to-18, living on the crowded streets, hoping against hope of providing an income for their families living in the village. It was a hard dose of reality for the 8 o’clock hour.

When we arrived in El Progresso, there was more reality. The school had not been started yet, and we needed to dig out the foundation walls before we could begin. This was the first day. On the second day, we learned what cement mixing is like in El Progresso. It meant using the street to mix 14 wheelbarrow loads of rocky sand with 4 bags of cement mix. Then we began the arduous process of hollowing out the center for water, filling it by bucketfuls from a neighbor’s cistern, and walking around the circle, gradually making the walls of the fortress higher.

At times the walls would spring a leak and then there would be a mad dash to blend the water and sand quickly. But on a good day, we gradually poured water from the center concave down the sides, till it all became a concrete mixture. By buckets this mixture was taken to the building site and poured by hand into the dug out dirt walls. Little by little we saw the foundation of the escuela emerge, till on the last day we put down the first two rows of cement blocks on the firm concrete foundation. It didn’t seem like we had accomplished much, but the community people were excited by the future prospects, and were so grateful for our efforts.

I’m still processing this trip to Honduras, but I know for sure that it was worthwhile—perhaps more for me than for the people of El Progresso. An extra benefit was watching my son interact with the Honduran kids, playing soccer at noontime when all of us were tired, and then later taking a leadership role among our team members. I had to wonder when he grew up and turned into such a terrific guy. It’s strange to see your son as a fellow team member with wisdom that you never noticed before. I felt like our roles were suddenly reversed, and he had more to teach me than I could ever teach him. That must have been the theme for the trip because I felt the same way about the Honduran people. Their graciousness and generosity, despite their lack of running water and adequate medical care, put all my “service efforts” to shame. So, I say thank you to the people of Honduras and the MAMA team in San Pedro Sula for teaching my son and I the true meaning of service and community. — BBM

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Summer Road Trips

Summer Road Trips
Written Summer of 2007

Summer traveling brings memories of sitting in the back of our white Ford Torino, looking out between Mom and Dad’s head at the new and interesting sites.  My dad usually wore his heavy, dark-framed sun glasses with the pointed corners.  He always had a special lilt to his voice when we were traveling, like we were exploring new frontiers together.  He could even get more excited than us as children. When he took us up in an airplane for the first time, he was the only one shouting, “Beverly, we’re going to fly high above the clouds!”  My mom always had a voice to assuage any fears, assuring and gentle.  She often had a bag of tricks and treats on road trips for those times when I might get bored.  Daddy concentrated on driving while my mom played alphabet game and if all else failed, she brought out “celery candy,” which was celery cut in pieces rather than stalks.

Even now when I remember those times, I’m filled with an incredible feeling of security. All was well when we were on the road.  We left our troubles far behind and experienced new domains, talking and laughing raucously till it made our stomachs hurt.

Good summer time memories… that I still carry with me even though my dad is no longer around.  It’s fun to reminisce about the golden days of my childhood, but I can’t go back to those magical days any more than you can. Yet I believe God is patiently waiting for us, loving us, ready to laugh with us, ready to fill us with that same youthful wonder and anticipation. He not only loves us but is excited about all that we do and participate in. I can only imagine how wonderful heaven will be—like one unending road trip.

Iowa Roots Run Deep

Iowa Roots Run Deep
Written Summer of 2010

As another one of my sons prepares to leave the nest, I again grow weepy about his life so far and whether we taught him the things that we should have.   If I reflect back on Jordan’s life, I remember a delightful, funny, engaging toddler with an attentive smile for everyone.   He was never quick to talk, but when he did, his words carried weight.

Jordan most closely resembles my husband’s father in appearance and in demeanor.  They both have a slender build with a short stature; both slow to speak but full of wit.  They’re deep thinkers and rarely take offense. And just like Grandpa, Jordan loves golf and a good debate.

But some of the likenesses end there since Jordan’s grandfather grew up in Kokomo, Indiana as a part of the Old Order Amish church.  Since Grandpa was the oldest son, he had a lot of responsibility as the oldest to keep his brothers in line and do his share of the farm work. He enjoyed school but had to quit school after 8th grade to help out on the farm.  When Grandpa was 12, his family moved to Kalona, Iowa and a few years later, left the Amish church for the Conservative Mennonite Conference.

Jordan, on the other hand, grew up in Harleysville, Pennsylvania, far from the Midwestern corn fields. He went to a Mennonite church all of his life, but rules and regulations were probably not stressed as much as in the Amish church.  Jordan is the middle child and grew up akin to compromise and smoothing out differences.  He thrived in school, although perhaps not as motivated as he might have liked.

When Grandpa died last year, he left a legacy of honesty and integrity, frugalness and loyalty.  Jordan and Grandpa grew up so differently and in two different parts of the country, yet I’ve learned that character comes from within and it seems as if it can be born into a person.  Jordan loves the Midwest and feels most at home in the open countryside, golfing the quiet holes of Kalona, Iowa.  And just like his grandpa, he is frugal to a fault, never wanting to buy new clothes even when it’s obvious he needs them.  He is someone that does not spread gossip and can be entrusted with secrets aplenty.  These are things that I doubt I taught him, but that he was blessed with.  Best wishes, Jordan…may you make your grandpa proud.  -BBM

Daddy in the Fall

Fall’s Marvelous Craftsmanship
Written Fall of 2006

My dad loved the fall. Somehow, no matter how old I get, when the air starts smelling of burnt leaves and evergreens, I can’t help but remember my dad. I see my dad in gleeful anticipation of the upcoming deer hunt, enjoying every moment of meticulous preparation and hopeful expectation. And I remember Saturday mornings when he allowed me to experience the beauty of the hunt.

Since I was the youngest and the only child at home by age 12, I sometimes felt like my parents played tug-of-war with my time on a Saturday morning. Mom wanted me to dust and vacuum the living room and dining room, while Daddy needed me as a hunting companion, stomping through the fields to chase out pheasants and walking around the perimeter of the woods to rustle up inquisitive squirrels. On the days that I actually did accompany my dad, I remember the crispness of the air, how hard it was to keep up with my dad’s long stride, and above all, the quiet and peace of the woods. Being in the woods with Daddy was all about quiet expectation. Although a very talkative young girl, I quickly learned that Daddy expected complete silence and unless he specified otherwise, no movement whatsoever. But I began to find comfort and encouragement in the quiet, tranquil setting of the forest, listening to the voice of nature, the voice of an amazing Creator. And He faithfully spoke words of calm and steadfastness as the colorful leaves blew in the breeze, the honking geese flew overhead, and the bright sun danced with the shade.

I still stand in awe of the beauty of fall, remembering my dad and his innate ability to show me what an extraordinary world we live in.

Benner women

Honoring the Living
Written Spring 2009

I’ve always been fascinated with graveyards.  When I was young I spent a lot of my spare time in the Franconia Mennonite Church graveyard.  From the time I was 6, I lived on the nearby Halteman Road, so my neighbor Lori and I would often ride bike to “the church,” drink from the cold, satisfying water at the hand pump, and then go play in the back portion of the property.  We first sat in the enclosed basement entrance on the cement and played clapping games like “When Billy was one, he learned to suck his thumb” and then later we walked around the tombstones, looking at the old brown ones with illegible letters  and the newer ones with pictures of young children.

But recently, I realized at a gathering of my aunts and cousins that death is something to be honored while we’re still alive.  My cousins Mary and Lois began our time with an explanation of why we were gathered together –in honor of their mother and our aunt, Edna Styer.  It had begun as a belated birthday celebration, but as Edna made decisions about her health, it also had become a time to pay tribute to Edna’s life among us. As we ate soup and salads, my aunts, Dorothy, Irene, and Edna entertained us with stories of life at 240 Chestnut Street with Grammy and Grandpop Benner.  We discussed recipes and traditions but also past failures were mentioned and even the Rapture.  We sang songs that were Edna’s favorites.  While I listened to my aunts’ strong alto voices, I remembered Lois’ words about the funerals of Uncle Merrill, Uncle Marvin, and Aunt Kathryn that made her realize how nice it would be for the person to hear their tributes before they died.  So we took some time to tell Edna how much she had blessed our lives…

In the memories shared, we celebrated our lives together and our heritage as Benner women.  Lois even called us the “Sisterhood of the Benner women.” Of course we as cousins were sad at times to think we might lose some of the sisterhood charter members, our aunts, but we chose to dispel the fears with prayers and words of encouragement –a hope for the future. Graveyards will probably always hold their fascination, but I’ve been blessed with a new way to honor my predecessors. –BBM

Sunday Afternoon Drives

Sunday Afternoon Drives
Written Fall 2010

What ever happened to the Sunday afternoon drive? As a young girl, I recall my dad saying after the beef roast, after the dishes, and after an afternoon nap, “Let’s go for a ride!” Mom always looked excited at the unknown adventure that lie ahead and quickly reminded me to take my sweater.  So the two of us made a habit of grabbing our cable knit sweaters, mine just a smaller version of Mom’s.  We never knew where Daddy was going to drive, although his vehicles always seemed fond of “the Ridge” and the Morwood area.  Daddy liked to scout out game for his fall hunting and loved seeing the open countryside.

It often seemed like we ended up at someone’s house for a visit, but we never planned or called ahead.  Daddy would just say, “Let’s see who is home and maybe if they’re home we’ll stop in for a visit.”  If they weren’t home, we usually got out and did an obligatory walk around their garden, checking out their beans or their corn to see if they “had come up” better than ours.

Wellington Cassel’s, Harvey Freed’s, Bill Meyers’s or Uncle Marvin’s were all possibilities. But for some reason, I remember most vividly stopping in on Paul and Betty Clemmer. They were always gracious and invited us in as if they were expecting our visit.

Mom and Daddy would settle in the living room after a walk around the outside of the Clemmer homestead.  Daddy and Paul were usually laughing their way through a greeting while Mom and Betty were issuing warm words of encouragement.  Paul and Daddy had traveled together as young men and loved to recount a fabled trip to Eastern Mennonite School when the car was stricken with vapor lock.  Paul loved to hear Daddy recount deer hunting stories from the Benner men’s escapades in Tioga County and Paul in turn would tell a peculiar story or two that ended up sounding more like a joke than a story.  They seemed to feed off of each other’s zest for life.

Betty never forgot about the fact that no other children were around and would bring out a box of games and toys that I might enjoy.  I always appreciated her thoughtfulness.  I also looked forward to her bringing around a tray of refreshments after an hour or two. First, were the drinks and then the tray of snacks. For some reason their food and drinks always tasted so much better than what we had at home.  They seemed to have the latest crackers or snacks that my mom would never buy.

I also remember going for outings with Paul and Betty like a picnic supper to Audubon or Valley Forge to see the dogwoods.  Betty and Paul not only enjoyed my parents but would engage me in conversations, wanting to hear about school or things that interested me.  At times, Betty would also bring along extra bread for me to feed the geese or ducks along the way.

I have fond memories of these Sunday afternoon traditions and wish we still went out for relaxing, aimless drives around the countryside.  These times instilled in me the joy in the spontaneity of life and the thrill in finding friends along the way to share it with.

A Summer to Remember

Loss and Laughter, a Summer to Remember
Written Fall 2009

When I was eleven my dad lost his job.  He had been working for Teleflex in Colmar for many years and was suddenly laid off in the spring of 1972 during a cutback in the labor force.  It was the summer of Hurricane Agnes, the Munich Olympics, and my sister going to Goshen College’s Study Service Team (SST) in Germany. 

Daddy was resourceful and found a job at Haeberly Orchard along with my brother, Steve, picking produce in season, mainly cantaloupes and watermelons.  Since my mom worked at a terry mill in Souderton and I was too young to be left alone at home, my dad and brother took me along and I learned to know the youngest Haeberly girl. She was quite an adventuresome individual who even had a pet raccoon.  We usually went for a bike ride to a nearby school playground and she entertained me with her stories of boyfriends and other antics.  Then we came back to her home, watched a little TV and visited with her cats, dogs and raccoon.  I think we both were so bored by the dog days of summer that we didn’t mind spending time with a complete stranger.

Steve and Daddy worked till noon and then we went home for lunch.  Daddy did his usual check in the garden for what he called our “daily manna.”  Daddy found great pleasure in our zucchini plants that had once again provided us with a meal.  Daddy used a little bit of butter, chopped onions, and the zucchini to mix up a tasty noon meal.  To break the monotony, sometimes he added a few eggs.  That was our lunch day after day.  It was the only time I remember my dad cooking and it’s been an image that has stayed with me.

Daddy had a way of making us kids feel like we were lucky to get any food at all and that we didn’t have enough money to pinch two pennies together.  “Things are tight this summer,” he’d say, “we’re going to have to learn to live on less.”  Now sometimes Daddy said things like this even when he did have a job, but there was something in his calm determination that summer that had a powerful effect on us.  We really felt the uncertainty of the situation, of waiting for our lunch from someone who had never cooked before and his excitement on finding yet another zucchini.  It was the unexpected goodness of God during an unsteady future. 

My sister Linda planned to go back to college at Goshen in the fall.  When my dad filled out the financial aid forms that summer, he looked at the space provided for his occupation, and wrote “migrant worker.”   He didn’t know what to call the work he and Steve had done that summer to provide for the family. My sister did receive more financial aid that year and as a family we laughed about my dad’s new found title. To be honest, even though I’m sure my dad felt totally deflated by life, his sense of humor carried us through that time.

On one night we laughed so hard that we even shook our Ford Torino with our spasms of laughter.  We were at the Neshaminy service plaza on the PA turnpike meeting a bus for my sister Linda to take to the NY airport and then on to Germany for SST. The bus was very late, in fact 3–4 hours late, because it had broken down and the director had to get another bus in order to make the connecting flights.  It could have been a very unpleasant experience, but for some reason we laughed our way through it. Daddy was in rare form that night, talking in a dutchified voice and recalling silly family stories …and I don’t remember ever laughing so hard, before or since. It was a summer filled with many pleasant experiences, despite my dad being out of work, and one that shaped my values and surrounded them with humor. -BBM