Scarvey column: Finding Frances after all these years
I had not seen Frances in 40 years.
She was one of my best friends from first to third grade. An old order (horse and buggy) Mennonite, she had shiny brown braids and wore long hand-sewn dresses and a prayer covering or a bonnet.
During recess, she’d take off her shoes (and socks or stockings, I guess) to run the 600-yard dash, her pigtails flying as she blew past everyone.
Frances sat behind me in the third grade, and we liked each other a lot.
When she left public school after that year and went to a Mennonite school, our lives diverged and our paths no longer crossed. I missed her. I missed her freckles, her easy laugh. I missed sleeping in the same bed like puppies with her and her sisters when I spent the night.
I did not see her again until a few weeks ago, when I went to visit her.
She lives in a beautiful old brick house that more than a century ago belonged to one of my ancestors. I was curious about the house itself, but mostly, I wanted to see Frances.
She still wears long dresses, although the pigtails are gone ó her hair is in a bun now, and it’s mostly white. She’s as petite as ever, with an impossibly tiny waist for someone who’s had five children.
She takes her turn milking 144 cows on her family’s farm, which also features chicken houses that nurture tens of thousands of baby peeps at a time. Although they use gas-powered vehicles on the farm, they don’t drive cars. She showed us the building that houses their four buggies of recent vintage ó one with an OBX sticker ó hinting at prosperity. She explained that locally, Mennonites are now mostly using enclosed buggies rather than the old-style open variety, which were more vulnerable to the elements and less safe in the case of a collision.
Walking around the farm made me think of my childhood and made me wistful about the kind of life I might have had if I’d married a farm boy.
Frances’ children were charming and made me wonder about her as a parent. I imagine she was kind and fun-loving but with high expectations, which is how I hope my own children see me.
I told Frances I remembered she was always having to go out into the hall to stop her nosebleeds.
She was so full of energy that I believed all that life coursing inside just had to burst right through her skin every now and then. But the reality, it turns out, was that she had a bonespur that was causing them.
It was fascinating to realize how we each remembered things the other didn’t. She remembered vividly a field trip to my parents’ sheep and cattle farm and even showed me a scrapbook with the picture she drew for class afterward ó “The Lonely Lamb.” She remembered eating Triscuits on our wraparound porch.
We both remembered reading boring old Dick and Jane in the first grade; we also recalled our somewhat crusty teacher correcting Frances when she said “chimley” instead of “chimney.”
She spoke of a sleepover at another one of our friends’ houses when we got into a discussion of evolution. I found it pretty astounding that we were debating creationism and evolution in second grade.
Frances remembers that she and I took a rather fundamentalist view, which gave me pause.
Did I really believe then that the world was created in 168 hours? Had I even heard of evolution or understood enough of what it meant to reject it? Maybe I took Frances’ side because she was my friend and I sensed she felt ganged up on. I can’t say for sure, but it made me feel good that Frances had never forgotten that I was on her side.
Frances had a newspaper clipping of me in high school she had saved. It touched me to know that even though we didn’t see each other in eight or nine years, she hadn’t forgotten me.
Frances’ husband Dwight wasn’t there when we visited, but after we got home, I got to talking to my dad and realized that Dwight was the same good-looking Mennonite who had, with his brother, built a machine shed for my father back in the 1970s, probably about five years or so before he married Frances. Yes, he was the same guy with whom I’d flirted as a teenager the summer he worked on that barn.
I probably wouldn’t have brought that part up with Frances, if I’d realized it during the visit, since I think Dwight was flirting back.
Then my dad told me something that really gave me pause.
Before they got married, Dwight had wanted Frances to join him in the ranks of the more progressive Mennonites, the ones who drove cars and didn’t have to adhere as strictly to the old ways of doing things.
Frances refused, or at least that’s what my dad heard.
So did Dwight go out and pick himself a more progressive Mennonite girl, one who wanted the kind of lifestyle he did? No. Frances was more important to him than any old car. Based on that decision, I think that Dwight may be more progressive than almost any man I know.
And I think he’s a very lucky man, too.
Contact Katie Scarvey at email@example.com.
John Morehead art The Wooden Stone invites the public to a reception welcoming the newest creations by artist John Morehead,... read more