Christmas in Pennsylvania - Go East Young Man!
Here come the Hoosiers! We roll into David Zook’s driveway in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in two vans loaded with twenty of us, ages twenty to twenty-seven, slightly shy of eight o’clock, Christmas Day 2010. Pennsylvania folk are waiting for us. Young people are there along with some older, married brethren. This “singing” is held in the loft of a barn which is nicely fixed for such doings with a kitchen, bathroom, and a large open area. They welcome us cordially and before long the singing is under way. They sing some German songs, along with some English. It is quite interesting to note the similarities and differences in their songs and ours. Singing in four-part harmony seems to be much more prevalent in their community than in ours. They are skilled at it.
After the singing and some snacks, we have opportunity to chat with some of the folks that are present. Then it’s game time. A big game of Ships Ahoy gets under way. Ships Ahoy is played on the floor and involves oversized cards, fast thinking, and quite a bit of physical action. It is like a giant version of Dutch Blitz. Calvin and I team up, but we need two more players to make a team of four.
Now, scientific studies have shown girls to be better parallel thinkers than boys. We have seen this evidenced in games like this in which we played against girls and got smoked. Calvin and I are not completely dense. We complete our team with two girls, Sadie Mae and Miriam. They are both locals here in Pennsylvania. It wouldn’t hurt to have a little home-state advantage too, would it?
The rules of play here in PA are slightly different from back home and the game is quite enjoyable. It becomes a marathon, going to 1,000 points. With these quick-thinking, fast-moving, local ladies on our side, we end up winning it. Calvin and I soon get cut down to size though. We play a game of Rook against Miriam and Becky, another Pennsylvania girl. Pennsylvania’s rules of Rook are also somewhat different from back home, and Calvin and I get trounced in the process of learning them.
We have a late breakfast Sunday morning. Last summer, I had the privilege of attending church here in Lancaster County and would have liked to see my mates have the same opportunity on this visit. The Pennsylvania Amish church services were virtually all held yesterday, Christmas day, though, so we miss the chance to attend church this time.
Around noon we, along with some Pennsylvania folk, load up the vans and leave for a gathering near Strasburg. It is held at John Fisher’s neat, tidy place. Even the barns here in Pennsylvania are spic and span. Sixty or seventy young folks gather here at the Fishers. Of course, many come with their dachvegglin (buggies). We enjoy lunch and supper here. We play games throughout the afternoon and at about 2:30, we sing for an hour. We are awed by the sophistication of the singing. It is beautiful.
It is snowing and blowing when we leave in the evening. Storm warnings are out and the road conditions are deteriorating as we go back to the Zooks near Christiana. We hope the road conditions improve by tomorrow morning. We have plans and a strong desire to go visit some Pennsylvania schools.
Monday morning the snow has ceased coming down, but it’s still being blown around some by the wind. Road conditions are far from ideal, but we throw a few shovels in the van and get started on our route. Bill and Sandi Miller do an excellent job of driving throughout the day and we have no accidents. Thank God. Around half a dozen PA friends accompany us on our round of visiting schools, including Sarah Esh, a local teacher who planned our route and is our guide. Anyone who is interested in schools would enjoy the day we have today.
It is fascinating to watch the PA schools operate. Some of the teachers have helpers, but we see only one school that has two independent teachers. Many have only one teacher that has twenty to thirty pupils in eight grades. Consequently, these teachers stay hopping. They move quickly and seem to be sharp and on the ball. One difference we note between the Pennsylvania schools and ours is the lack of a class table. If they have a reading class in PA, pupils simply line up standing at the front of the classroom. With no class table in front of the blackboard, it also leaves an open space where pupils gather to sing. Almost all the schools gather for us at the front to sing a few songs. Many of these schoolchildren are trained to sing four-part harmony.
Much of this country is strange to us of course, but around noon then, we head for Nickel Mines. While traveling east on White Oak Rad, suddenly the countryside looks familiar. Hauntingly familiar. On the left is the site where the tragic Nickel Mines shooting took place. The schoolhouse is gone and little is left to distinguish this field from any other farmer’s pasture in the area. It was the pictures we saw in media that made it look familiar to us. One of the few things that provide any clue as to what happened here are the five young trees growing on the west side of the fence. Five young trees for five young girls…
Only a few hundred feet up the knob to the east is the tiny village of Nickel Mines. We take a left at the square and soon arrive at Wolf Rock School where Emma Mae Zook teaches. She was the teacher at Nickel Mines when the tragedy occurred. She has a bright, cheery classroom there at Wolf Rock and seems to be on top of things.
When we leave Wolf Rock we go back south into the town of Nickel Mines and stop at New Hope School, which replaced Nickel Mines School. This is a new schoolhouse, has a brick exterior, and a dry erase board instead of the usual blackboard. There are some mementos here of the old Nickel Mines school and there are scholars attending that suffered through the tragedy, including some that lost family members. That was such a tragic event and still God can bring positives out if it, like the lesson of forgiveness we learned from those affected. That is inspiring.
After visiting schools and New Holland Sales Stables in New Holland, we gather for supper at Dutch Way Market’s restaurant in Gap. We have one more chance to visit with our gracious Pennsylvania hosts here at supper, then we pack up for the two-hour dive to Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. More about that next time.