The cold wind blew into the 1930 model Ford car windows. I shivered as I watched my Dad guide the car down the two lane highway. Hours before we played the usual game with Mom as she asked, “Kids, here is the Kansas state line. Do you see anything different?” Just miles and miles of space, but Mom was always excited as we drove toward Hillsboro. I just wished there was a bump or something to signify that we passed from one state to another.
And on and on the car traveled as Mom anticipated a reunion with her parents, Gerhard and Anna Suderman, siblings and with countless cousins. When we neared the home place, the red Oklahoma dirt gave way to rich black Kansas earth. I could hardly wait until we neared the turnoff signaled by the sign that pointed north to Hillsboro!
One dark night, Dad traveled in snowy tracks on the highway. We were on the way to Grandpa and Grandma Suderman’s for Christmas. As we turned off the highway the heavy snow and the darkness obliterated the dirt road. Soon Dad realized that he was driving in the ditch near the fence. We three kids in the back seat of the black Ford snuggled under the covers trying to keep our feet warm. Just as we gave up hope, here came our two Uncles – Uncle Jonas and Uncle Eli – our heroes — to take us home. I don’t remember whether it was a wagon or not, but soon Grandma’s loving arms welcomed us to a warm kitchen that smelled like soup and Zwieback.
There were many instances when we traveled to Hillsboro, looking for the dirt road lined with hedge apple bushes that hid field after field. Grandpa and Grandma’s farm was the place where we could ride Molly, gather eggs with Grandma, climb the stairs to the bedroom, sit on the back porch and watch Uncle Eli and Uncle Jonas churn homemade ice cream, explore the cellar filled with musty smells of stored eggs, apples, curing meat, potatoes and jars of canned fruits and vegetables.
Mom shared with me once that she chose a star outside of her bedroom window to talk to when she was a little girl. I looked out the same window – there were too many stars to find the large star Mom told me about. In the dining room I looked at the phone on the wall – and occasionally watch Grandma turn the crank and talk, leaning on the slanted wood front. I remembered Mom’s story when she pulled the phone down and carried bits of black near her eye forever after. Once I found a birthday card Grandma wrote to Mom, which added the tidbit – when you were born, we had to wait until the next day to announce your birth as the operator was off on July the 4th.
Ah, the weddings we witnessed in the Ebenfeld Mennonite Brethren Church. We always enjoyed attending Ebenfeld and see our Grandpa Suderman leading the singing. A wedding in Ebenfeld is a joy to behold. With my young romantic eyes, I saw the bride and groom coming down the aisle, and seated in elegant wooden chairs bound together with a huge satin bow. For a young girl, the length of the service was daunting. Besides the vows and the music, there were also two sermons – one in English and one in German.
After the wedding came the Faspa-like refreshments – Zwieback, cheese, coffee and perhaps some bologna. When Aunt Irene was married, I remember sitting on the old Loewen house’s front porch in the swing eating left over crunchy sweet sandwich cookies. Way, too many according to my tongue. Zwieback would have been better for me.
The Ebenfeld Cemetery provides a sense of family as I walk through remembering those I loved so dearly. I picture Jacob’s ladder leading to heaven and know our family is not there, but have climbed the ladder to Glory.
My grandparents and uncles and aunts spoke Plautt Deutch. Although I could understand the language my efforts to speak it were met with gales of laughter. I soon learned to answer the inevitable question of could I speak Plautt Deutch with a little bit….ein bißchen. Dad explained the German language to me with an English sentence, “I jump the window out and run the house around.”
My two brothers had other memories of hot summers in Hillsboro. When they were very young, Grandpa Suderman made the mistake of inviting them home to Hillsboro. after a visit. Jim and Gene immediately said yes. Finally Mom said yes, too. We heard little about the trip except the amount of watermelon they ingested along the way, arriving with red stiff-slicked union suits (one piece coveralls). Dad had purchased each of the boys a straw hat that must have cost at least a quarter each, plus high topped tennis shoes.
It was lonesome without the boys and I was a bit jealous of their visit to Hillsboro. Later we learned that Gene leaned over the pig fence and his straw hat toppled in. The pigs were happy with the addition to their diet of slop from the bucket under the sink – and gobbled up the straw hat. Jim went in the house and immediately asked Grandma Suderman if she could make another straw hat.
When that happened, I became aware that although things were exciting on the farm, they could be dangerous, too. The thought that my brothers could fall into the pig pen and be eaten crossed my young mind.
As I grew older, I was invited to stay all night with my cousin, Anna Helen. It seemed strange to get into their car and speed away from Mom in the dark. Soon I heard Aunt Alma talking to Uncle Alfred. Her voice sounded so much like Mom’s that as I closed my eyes, I was comforted by her soft voice.
In about 1946, my brothers hopped the doodlebug train at Kingfisher and rode all night to Aulne, Kansas, near Uncle Jonas’ house. They at 4:30 am in the dark., and walked two miles or more in the wrong direction. When they didn’t see Uncle Jonas’ house, they turned back. About that time, a cousin of Uncle Jonas came along and took them to Uncle Jonas’ house. Two tuckered Oklahoma boys spent the summer harvesting, plowing, shocking oats and doing chores for Uncle Jonas and Uncle Eli on the farm.
One time we came to Hillsboro after G. W. and Anna Suderman had moved from the farm into the Loewen house in Hillsboro to take care of Anna’s Mother and Father. It seemed strange to not stay in a bedroom on the farm, but in one of the endless bedrooms upstairs at Great Grandma Loewen’s house. Mother regaled me with stories of rooming upstairs while going to Tabor College. Toward the end of the week food supplies had dwindled, and when her Grandma Loewen stood at the bottom of the stairs and said, “Girls (Me’jal), would you like some soup?” Anna Suderman was always thankful.
Somehow Mom received the picture of my great-grandparents. They fascinate me and enjoyed the picture through the years hanging on my wall. I see them as dignified, ready to take whatever comes. I had heard many stories about Great Grandpa’s doctoring, but to be able to see into his large desk as he pulled out the white peppermints with XXX imprinted on each one was fascinating. The smell of the desk was both medicinal and pepperminty. I knew that all doctors’ offices I entered smelled medicinal without the sweet tang of peppermint!
Great Grandma Loewen once asked me if I would sit on her lap. Since I was a teenager at that time, I was skeptical as I eyeballed the 6 or 7 inches of available lap-space. No way would I be able to sit on Great Grandma’s lap without squashing her. Gently I declined. I often think of that and wondered if she knew why I declined. I couldn’t ‘read’ her. Later I read about her life and understood more about her. I would have loved to ask her questions about her life. What was it like to raise so many children, especially my beloved Grandma Anna.
During the years that I attended college, I learned the song, “Beside the Green Pastures.” Mom asked me to sing that song for Grandpa and Grandma Suderman’s 50th Wedding Anniversary celebration that took place in the old Loewen house. The afternoon before Mom said, “Let’s practice your song one more time.” As I sang, I was aware of Grandpa Suderman sitting in the corner listening quietly. When I finished, he said, “That is where I would like to be – beside the green pastures.” It sounded like a benediction. Shivers went through me, for I knew what he meant.
That day I watched as family and friends gathered to celebrate the 50th wedding anniversary. Grandma Anna had a beautifully silvery grey dress for the occasion that matched the irrepressible grey curls that surrounded her face. Grandpa was dressed in a suit, his hair properly combed. His eyes looked tired. The afternoon seemed longer than most with greetings, program of music, memories, prayers and a devotion. A week later his desire was realized, he made the transition and was sitting beside the still waters in the green pastures.
I often wonder what stories the Loewen house could tell.
Even though Grandma moved into the tiny house for a time, and then on to Parkside Homes, Hillsboro was home. After marriage, Ed, my husband, and I traveled to Hillsboro several times. The last time, we said goodbye to Grandma Suderman at Parkside Homes. No matter the difficult times she had through her life, her faith showed through her life as a testimony. The times I heard her pray at bedtime for her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren live in my thoughts. So many heartaches, and yet, I often think that she lived her life as her Poppa and Mama wanted her to live, always trusting in Him who is Able.
One Christmas when we drove to Hillsboro, Dad and Mom picked up Jim and me at college. We were united as a family in the current Ford vehicle. We were excited to go again to Hillsboro. As we hurtled down the highway as fast as you could go in 1949, one of the boys read Luke 2, we had family prayer and sang carols. I did wonder if Dad should have closed his eyes for prayer, but was sure God would forgive him since he was driving.
We came to the Oklahoma Kansas Stateline. Again Mom asked, do you see anything different in Kansas? Of course, we did. For Hillsboro is spelled Great Grandpa and Great Grandma Loewen, Grandpa and Grandma Superman, Aunts and Uncles and all our cousins.
No matter how old God allows me to be and to reside on this earth, whether I lived in Hillsboro or not, the black earth, the rows of hedge apple trees, the Ebenfeld Church, the weddings, new babies, funerals, all mean family to me. It provides an irresistible pull toward Hillsboro.
To me, Hillsboro is spelled F-A-M-I-L-Y!
As Mom, Anna Daisy, quoted in her book, “The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.” Psalm 16:6