Book review: Gathering of Sisters

Mar 18, 2019 by

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Tuesdays. Not a standout on most calendars. But for Darla Weaver and her four sisters, her mother and 18 nieces and nephews, Tuesday is the pivot on which the week turns. It’s the day they leave behind the work to be done at their own houses and gather at the home place of their Old Order Mennonite family.

Gathering of Sisters

Gathering of Sisters

They come by horse and buggy, bikes or walking to the farm where they grew up in the hills of southern Ohio. They share a noon potluck meal and enjoy the hum of women’s conversation, crafting, crocheting, sewing, reading, sharing plant cuttings, working and walking outdoors and cuddling babies. The babble of children and the changing seasons on the farm form the backdrop to their communion.

The oldest sister, Darla Weaver, a mother of three, chronicles an insider’s view of Old Order Mennonite life in Gathering of Sisters, part of Herald Press’ Plainspoken series.

Her tone is one of gratitude that she is both a product and a propagator of her heritage, which values loyal families, sustaining farms and strong faith.

A tablecloth becomes a meta­phor for the lifelong bonds of a family: “It used to be a bright blue green, with a pattern of blocks that has flower designs in the center, but it has faded over the years to a smoky blue. The squares still tumble over its yards, though, in various shapes and sizes, and the flowers still bloom.

“I guess we sisters resemble the tablecloth a bit. Over the years we’ve faded too. We’ve all added some extra pounds and wrinkles. . . . But those are simply the outward signs. . . . The years have been kind for the most part, if relentless; and what we’ve lost of the right merriment of youth has been amply replaced by the settled contentment of these full, ripe, mellow years lived alongside the ones who grew up with us and whose lives are forever intertwined in the memories of yesterday.”

Weaver infuses routine Tuesday details with sacred wonder, honoring the holy embedded in the ordinary. She reminds us that a noon potluck scrounged from pantries is more exquisite than a restaurant lunch, that home-brewed coffee at Mom’s kitchen table is cheaper and more priceless than Starbucks, that an eye-to-eye chat is more captivating than Facebook.

Weaver’s Tuesdays are peppered with simple moments turned sacred. Several themes thread through the seasons.

Winter: cherishing babies and children. The mothers welcome their little ones as part of a seamless way of being together. Weaver describes an impromptu January song fest:

“Soon we were humming and singing snatches of songs, ‘Prayer Bells of Heaven,’ ‘Beautiful Home,’ and my favorite, ‘When We All Get to Heaven.’ We sang the chorus together: ‘When we all get to heaven, what a day of rejoicing that will be!’ . . .

“Soon another joyful noise drifted to our ears. An uneven line of children had congregated before the sink — KellyAnn, Melody, Matthan, Wesley, Corey, Makayla. Even Janessa and Luella had found places in the row. They each clutched a picture book — holding them right-side up, upside down and sideways — and they were singing in lovely clamor of voices, noises and sounds. There was nothing bashful about them, and their joyful noise sounded just as beautiful as ours.”

Spring: honoring of God’s creation. Nature finds its way into every nook of Weaver’s narrative: “The silver maples budded out into young leaves, and their towering limbs seemed to be wearing a misty green gauze that grazed the sky. Lilacs bloomed in every corner, and as I walked to the house, I sniffed the fragrance that perfumed the air. . . .

“I enjoyed the job [mowing the yard], the spring-fresh scent of newly mown grass, the warm sunshine. . . . Teams were working in the fields, with the horses’ harnesses jingling, as Christopher and Regina’s husband, Duane, readied the soil for planting. April was the prelude to summer’s hectic pace.”

Summer: appreciating the land’s bounty. Summer months are busting with all-hands-on-deck descriptions of hauling in the fruit of labor: “July brought heat and high summer and the beginning of harvest. It brought peaches and pickles, blueberries and raspberries, beans and tomatoes, all ready to pick and can. I headed to the packaging shed to look for zucchini. ‘To make zucchini relish,’ I told my sisters. ‘Four batches of it.’ They raised their eyebrows.”

Fall: working together on the farm. No book about a family farm would be complete without a description of multigenerational leaf-raking: “At last all properly clad and shod, we arrived at our destination — the front yard. Mom hauled four rakes from the cellar, a large plastic tube and a sheet. We set to work with energy and determination. On the right side of the house we raked huge piles of leaves downhill.”

Those from other branches of the Anabaptist family who read Weaver’s account of Old Order family life should be prepared: You will not only learn about her clan but may also find yourself taking a closer look at your own. That is the deepest value of Weaver’s stories: The solid values contained in a simple life may provoke examination of the complications inherent in other ways of living.

Weaver may inspire us to set aside a time for a regular gathering of our own family. Time devoted to those we love marks the calendar with meaning and stands the test of time.

Laurie Oswald Robinson is a freelance writer in Newton, Kan.


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