By Shirley Hershey Showalter
My cousin Mary Ann, nine months my senior, was also my best friend. She and I together were the two oldest cousins of what would later become a sea of twenty but was already a little pond of about ten.
Mary Ann and I had a great time exploring my new bedroom in the southwest corner of the old Home Place farmhouse, after my parents bought the place from my grandparents.
I had a room to myself, as did my younger brother Henry, and so did our parents. Sisters Sue and Doris had twin beds in the fourth bedroom. Sister Linda had not yet been born. Mary Ann and I could explore space together unhindered by younger children, which is exactly what teenage girls want.
We investigated the familiar, yet strangely new, house. Our eyes were opened because now, instead of being at Grandpa’s house, we were at “my” house, and what a house it was! The walls of colonial-era houses, especially stone houses like ours, bore the weight of the whole structure. This meant that every windowsill was two feet thick—a great place to curl up with a book and an amplifier of summer breezes.
Mary Ann and I took the tour of the house that our family would give often, pointing out the framed original sheepskin deed on the wall – and the signatures of William Penn’s three sons.
Outside, the four stately trees stood like sentries, two oaks in the back and two sycamores in the front. Not only did they provide a canopy of shade, the oaks also rained down acorns in the fall, when the sycamores also gave up their bark.
Mary Ann loved to go for walks along country roads, so she suggested the two of us explore the territory surrounding the farm that was now my home. Even though Mary Ann knew the Home Place almost as well as I did, my rediscovery of it with her led to a shivery sense of adventure. I now had a second pair of eyes, a new sensibility, to magnify the thrill of mutual reinvention of familiar places.
We walked out the Dutch doors and past the sycamore trees, going by the horse heads made of lead and painted silver to match the fence, the very same horse heads used as hitching posts when the Home Place was Jacob Hoober’s Tavern in the 1700s.
Both of us knew that Count Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf had preached in that tavern in 1742. Both of us had heard stories about him. The Hershey family was proud of the fact that this house predated the Revolutionary War and was the site of a religious conversion that led to the establishment of the town of Lititz as a Moravian community. As Mary Ann and I headed across the porch to the road, we paused to read again the historical bronze plaque on the front of the house.
We started on Newport Road and then meandered up Snyder Hill Road, named for our Snyder ancestors, talking about our usual girl subjects: which boys were cute and what was happening in school.
We were on our way home when my father came roaring up the road in the car, slammed on the brakes, and shouted to us to get inside. Stunned and confused, heads bowed, we crawled in.
“I never want you to go out on these roads again without getting permission,” he yelled. “You’re lucky no one else tried to pick you up before I did.” I was sorry Mary Ann had to witness his anger; I was sure that her own mild-mannered father would never talk the way mine just did.
I never knew why Daddy was so furious—I had yet to learn the ways of the world—but at least I had a cousin who could share my fear and indignation. I had a friend for life.
Shirley Hershey Showalter, author of Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World, grew up on a Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, dairy farm and went on to become a professor and then college president and foundation executive. Find her at her website, her Facebook page, and on Twitter.