How Do You Know

Written Fall of 2009

An attempt at humorous sarcasm

How do you know that your life sucks?  Is it when you quit your medical editing job to teach at a Mennonite high school, only to have the students organize a petition to have you fired?  Or is it when you see your church of 16 years argue and disagree over whether a sex offender should attend our services?

Well, 2008 was a doosey of a year where I experienced both of these…and lived to tell about it.  For awhile I thought I might have to take my life, but then I decided to write.  I’d write about these awful experiences and perhaps show others that there is life after public humiliation and church dissension.

The public humiliation came in 2009 when I went to hear the seniors speak from the Mennonite high school where I had taught.  I listened to 11 speeches and 4 mentioned me.  That seemed like a high percentage when I was only there for 5 months out of their 4 years.  Well, I knew I was in trouble when one of them started sounding very angry about reading only one book during her high school career.  She had read the Great Gatsby and it had been in my class.  No need to get a puffed head though because she was “made to read the book out loud every day.”  And if that weren’t bad enough, the teacher (me) made her behave or threatened to call her parents.  Well, they showed this teacher.  They got a petition signed to have her fired!

OK, well how do you quietly get up from a speech such as this without being noticed?  Do you talk to a few persons afterwards, casually acting like it didn’t faze you that you were discussed as if you were a neurotic teacher from hell?  Or do you slink out of the room with your head down as if the shame may erase the forged memory from people’s brains?  And how do you face the many persons, some friends, that were in that room listening to the speech?  Do you mention the fact that you feel like a piece of refuse that might as well jump off a bridge …or do you ignore the subject totally, keeping your pasted smile placid?  Is it appropriate that for the next few weeks whenever someone asks you how you’re doing, you assume they are referring to how embarrassed you must be? Is there hope for the publically humiliated teachers of this world?  Or is it best to just quietly pretend it didn’t happen….and look for other employment?

Life is a Service Adventure

Written Fall of 2012

“I always liked to travel, like my dad, so I volunteered to go to Greece as a ‘sea-going cowboy.’”  After graduating from high school at 17, Gordon Beidler became a “cowboy” tending cattle aboard the Samuel H. Walker in March of 1946 as directed by the United Nations Relief Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA) and the Brethren Service Committee of the Church of the Brethren. In 1943, the BSC organized the ecumenical Heifer Project (today’s Heifer International) around the concept of “not a cup, but a cow.” Sending cows, rather than powdered milk to people devastated by the war would enable the victims of war to feed themselves.

But Gordon was just a 17-year-old looking for adventure and not sure what he wanted to do with his life, but soon found himself en route to Athens, Greece.  His parents drove him to the Brethren Relief Service headquarters in New Windsor, Maryland and from there he took a bus to Newport News, boarded the ship and was off with 20 young men, 330 cattle, a veterinarian and a Brethren minister named Loren Rapp.  At first Gordon was very seasick, but after 3 days he tried eating just soda crackers .“You couldn’t get me sick after that.”

Gordon remembers being awestruck by the coast of Africa and the Rock of Gibraltar, being lurched abruptly when the ship barely missed a floating mine left in the Mediterranean Sea, and giving boys in Greece some Hershey kisses.  The ship didn’t go to Athens as planned because violence increased in that area, so they docked instead at Patras.  There they had time after unloading the cattle to take in a tour of modern and ancient times.  They even enjoyed a meal at a private home, using sign language and similar Italian and German words to communicate.

Gordon wanted to go on another cattle ship trip but after his return to Bally, Pa, his mom and dad discouraged him from leaving again. He started working for Bally Case and Cooler, Co and resigned himself to less traveling. For some excitement, he sometimes commuted to Little Eden, a Christian camp and retreat center in Onekama, Michigan for young adult weekends.  One year he met a beautiful young woman named Velda who had travelled from her hometown of Archibold, Ohio.  Velda recalls “going for a ride and sitting on [Gordon’s] lap.”  That was in July and the following October, Gordon got up his nerve to call Velda.  They had a courtship of TWA rides till their marriage at Central Mennonite Church the following July of 1951. After their wedding,  Velda moved to Gordon’s home in Bally, living alongside his parents,  Warren and Elizabeth Beidler.

“With two women in the house, I needed to work, “Velda recalls. “ I worked for Bally Ribbon Mills in the office, doing payroll. Then in 1953, Gordon was drafted for the Korean War and the couple went into IW service at Samuel G. Dixon State Hospital (tuberculosis sanitarium) in Mt. Alto, Pa.  They worked in dietary on the third floor cafeteria, setting food on the dumbwaiter, serving food to patients and utilizing the dishwasher.  “Many a day, many a night,” was a favorite expression of another IW worker concerning their duties.

Bishop John Lapp visited the sanitarium during their service year and the Bishop heard that Gordon had served on the cattle ships, he suggested Gordon write to General Lewis B. Hershey at the Pentagon about his service in 1946 and that the General may give him credit toward his current assignment. Gordon wasn’t so sure, but he sent a letter to the General anyway.  A few months later, Gordon received a letter from General Hershey informing him of 25 days credit.  The director of the sanitarium said, I’d like you to stay, but you’re free to go if you chose.”  They left the next day and returned to Bally after serving almost 2 years at the sanitarium.

While they were in I-W, Gordon became interested in flying and took lessons at the local Hagerstown, Maryland airport, receiving his pilot’s license in 1954. After they returned to Bally and their local jobs as truck driver and Bally Ribbon Mills employee, Velda also became interested in flying and took lessons at the Allentown Airport, receiving her pilot’s license in 1959.  Together they became instrument-rated pilots and joined the International Flying Farmers. In 1972, Gordon was president of the PA chapter of the IFF and as convention chairman greeted over 1000 members at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia.

Gordon and Velda certainly enjoyed the new-found freedom of their pilot’s licenses, often splitting the journey with Gordon taking one leg and Velda taking the other. If they had a yen for salt water taffy, they could fly into Atlantic City, go for a walk, get the taffy and fly home again. They traveled all around the world, making almost a complete circuit. They flew through alarming fog and risky snowstorms, yet Velda, with her instrument-rated license, would provide a safe landing and an unexpected surprise to the men in the control tower and ground crew.  They enjoyed this lifestyle for almost 40 years, till Velda experienced some vision problems and eventually in 1991, they both retired their wings.

But together they had plenty of fun-loving enthusiasm left, enough for Gordon to conduct the Philadelphia Orchestra in 1995. He was asked to donate to the Orchestra, but only consented if he would be allowed to conduct a song at the next New Year’s Eve concert. So, believe it or not, the caller agreed and on Sunday, Dec 31, 1995, Gordon, in rented black tie and tails, conducted Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtomusik” (from Serenade No. 13 for strings in G major) to an enthusiastic audience at the Academy of Music.

Gordon and Velda Beidler have lived a life of service and adventure, dedicated to their local Bally Mennonite Church, but also their worldwide friends in IFF.  Today, they are well-known for the Valentine’s celebration they finance and produce for all Souderton Mennonite Home residents.  At 81 and 84, they are an extremely active and generous couple… and a gift to the community.

An Enos Adjustment

Enos and Emma Yoder on their 60th Wedding Anniversary

Written Fall of 2012

When I was younger, my dad had a remedy for most things that bothered me, “You need an adjustment.”  This meant lying on the couch with my dad’s hands spanning my back and jolting me up and down for as long as I could stand it. I was sure I felt worse rather than better after this therapy.  But none of my feelings deterred Daddy and his belief in “adjustments.”  Sometimes he even used a hand vibrator to massage my back muscles for particularly difficult ailments.

Daddy may have received lessons on how to give an “adjustment” from his Uncle Enos.  Dr. Enos Yoder was his mom’s brother, a chiropractor in Souderton. I remember him as a tall, lanky man in his 70’s with reddish-rimmed glasses.  As I followed my dad up a winding staircase, he said “Enos has to take care of Emma like a nursemaid because she is in failing health.” I heard the respect in my dad’s voice, but I never really knew my great uncle Enos.

Enos was born in Souderton to Jacob and Elizabeth (Moyer) Yoder in 1880.  He attended Souderton Mennonite Church where he once winked at the new girl that had been “farmed out” to a family that lived across the street from the church. Her name was Emma Bergey and she was intrigued with this Mennonite boy enough to start dating him and then later even marry him.  Perhaps she saw the Enos’ ingenuity and courage even then.  They were very happy together and Enos doted on Emma in a time when this was not done, telling her often how much he loved her.

Their oldest son, Earl, had an unfortunate accident when he was young, falling out of a tree and severely injuring himself.  Although he survived, he later had seizures that left his young parents desperate to know how to care for him.  They naturally did what most local parents did in those days: they took a train to Philadelphia to see if there were any doctors there that could help him.  Eventually, they found a chiropractor who not only worked on Earl but helped him experience some relief from the seizures. This discovery had a life-changing effect on Enos, who in 1917, with only a 6th grade education, decided to leave his wife and 7 children with his wife’s parents and take a train to Chicago to receive a degree from the National College of Chiropractic.

Enos asked Emma while he was gone, “Are you eating the chickens I left you?”

“No, we haven’t killed them yet,” Emma replied, reluctant to admit it felt like a luxury to kill the chickens and preferred eating radish sandwiches.

Enos wanted better for his family back in Pennsylvania, but when he remembered his former job at the cigar factory, he pressed on, determined to finish with a degree in chiropractory. Three months later, he returned and put out his shingle in Souderton, treating patients till his retirement in 1966.

I see now why my dad admired his uncle Enos.  I’m amazed that I am related to a person with such a pioneering spirit and enough belief in himself to achieve a goal that must have seemed impossible in that day. He had a desire to serve the community of Souderton through an education in chiropractory and wasn’t discouraged by his Mennonite roots. Despite my Grammy Benner’s desire that “none of her children do anything important…only that they become Christians,” I think my dad had unfulfilled aspirations.  I can definitely attest to the fact that he never wavered in his belief in the power of “the adjustment.”

Thanks to Phyllis Proctor of Peter Beck Community for her willingness to tell me about her beloved grandparents, whom she lived with as a young girl and heard their stories first-hand.   She helped me get to know my great uncle and great aunt, for which I am grateful.


Written Fall of 2012

“Mom, I think someone hacked your email account” was my son Jordan’s text.  I had just finished working for the day with no problems so it took me by surprise.  I signed in again to find I could not connect to the internet.  That was only the beginning of many issues that day and the next.   I called Dell to have one of their outside contracted Safecart personnel to look at my computer.  The native to India told me it would take 45 minutes, but after 3 hours he seemed still unsure of what my problem was.  He said I should delete Norton after my subscription was up and that I had space issues on my laptop.  Well, the next day everything came to a sudden halt when my laptop stopped working completely.

I had been praying for and encouraging the Laverty family about Emilee’s recent admission to the hospital and subsequent surgeries at the young age of 19 for dedifferentiated chordoma.  But I can’t tell you how distracted I was by my laptop issues and the obsession with getting my computer up and running again.  Suddenly, I couldn’t think of anything but finding a way to access my pictures, writings and be able to work for my freelance medical editing job.  It turned my life upside down and all I could do was worry that I had lost everything.  Finally, after several days, I ordered a new laptop with the help of my oldest son, Patrick.

I’m not someone who likes to think of Satan and how he intersects with my life because I prefer concentrating on God and his goodness.  But I can’t tell you how much this computer virus or worm felt like an attack on my own system.  I felt attacked with a new paranoia about some unknown violator taking away my laptop and my life. I know it’s a sign of how much we rely on computers to make our world go round, but it also felt like a breach of my personal safety and privacy.

It is almost 3 weeks since the initial incident and I am just now starting to feel any kind of confidence that my email is not being secretly viewed and sending out venom to others.  I still do not know how the initial computer-rape occurred and that alone degrades my confidence that it won’t happen again. The only thing that gives me some sense of peace is repeating the new passwords that I started using, such as “Be still and know that I am God!”  It seems to keep the powers of Satan or my own paranoia at bay.