On the way east from Collegeville, Minnesota, the last stop we made before turning south was at Landis Homes,

the retirement community where my mother lives.

There 40 descendants of Richard and Barbara Ann Hess Hershey gathered to celebrate Christmas.

In the middle of our circle sat the grande dame, the matriarch, the dowager empress.

Or, as we know her, just plain Mother.

The shirt reads, "When you are an excellent grandma, you get promoted to Great Grandma.

Owen and Julia presented this gift to their great grandma Barbara Ann.

My sister, “Aunt Doris,” was in charge of our party this year.

As always, we sang Christmas carols and read the Christmas story. Oldest great grandson Seth played the piano and the guitar.

Mother-in-waiting Kate read the first half of the story.

And little Owen told the Christmas story from the place where Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem.

Watching great grandma open her presents.

Watching great grandma open her presents.

The Hersheys always enjoy getting together. We enjoy stories, music, and laughter.

We don’t all think exactly alike about politics or religion, but we respect and love each other.

In that way, we honor our father and mother.

If we quarreled, as children, Mother would start singing “Love at Home.”

“There is beauty all around
When there’s love at home;
There is joy in ev’ry sound
When there’s love at home.”

Then she would “invite” us to sing it with her.

As teenagers, we rolled our eyes, but it was hard to hang on to anger while singing these words.

Now we children have parented teenagers.

We may even have sung this song to our own children.

Our matriarch knew what she was doing.

Some day we will sing this song with tears in our eyes.

Grand daughter Joyous Snyder, photographer, encouraged us to ham it up last summer. We had a blast.

Grand daughter Joyous Snyder, photographer, encouraged us to ham it up. Were we singing?

Do you have a matriarch or patriarch still living? Do you remember three and four generational gatherings? Did your mother try to sing her values into you?

Shirley Showalter


  1. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on December 21, 2016 at 10:45 am

    How fortunate you are that you still have your wonderful mom and that she is still able to participate the way she does! How old is she? Hardy and I just returned from a funeral of a much beloved German preschool/kindergarten teacher. Everyone knew her as “Tante Sonja” and all the Mennonite kids in the area were immersed in her love, while they learned or continued to speak German in Tante Sonja’s classes. She was my mom’s age and her friend. She died just after her 95th birthday, but unfortunately had dementia for a number of years. Your mom’s friendly face reminded me of her.

    • Shirley Showalter on December 21, 2016 at 1:59 pm

      I am fortunate indeed, Elfrieda. Mother will turn 90 this February, and she’s really looking forward to her party.

      I’m sorry for your loss of “Tante Sonja.” One of the hardest things about aging is that we lose not only our loved ones but gradually all their loved ones also. Each person who dies takes one more tie that binds with them.

      Your story helps me hold this precious moments I now enjoy closer, and I hope warms you with memories of your own. Thank you.

  2. Marian Beaman on December 21, 2016 at 11:29 am

    Dowager empress is the perfect word to describe your mother, implying as it does a powerful presence, dignity, and noble heritage all of which you have in abundance.

    Not a day goes by that lines from my mother’s singing waft through the corridors of my mind. The fact that she couldn’t sing on key makes the memory even more affecting. Yes, I do remember the melody of “Love at Home” from the Ruth Brunk Stoltzfus radio program.

    Love is palpable in every line and photograph of this post. Merry Christmas to all!

    • Shirley Showalter on December 21, 2016 at 2:02 pm

      Had to sneak in a little combination of Maggie Smith and Queen Victoria, Marian. 🙂

      I am sure that this song came to be sung so much in our home because of Ruth Brunk Stoltzfus’s radio program. I wonder if she was aware of the many influences she had in family life, especially among Mennonites.

      Merry Christmas to you and yours also!

  3. Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on December 21, 2016 at 1:17 pm

    My mother sang the same song to us.
    But, I possibly never sang the song to my children.
    However, I still love to remember the song and what it meant to my childhood family.

    • Shirley Showalter on December 21, 2016 at 2:04 pm

      I don’t think I sang this song to my children very often, either, Dolores. I’ll have to ask them.

      But one of my secret motives for blogging all these years is to leave a heritage trail behind that connects children and grandchildren to the generations ahead of them.

      Merry Christmas!

      • Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on December 22, 2016 at 3:46 pm

        Merry Christmas to you and your whole family, Shirley.

  4. Laurie Buchanan on December 21, 2016 at 1:54 pm

    Shirley — I grinned when I read that when you and your siblings quarreled when you were little, your mom would break into song—Love at Home—and “invite” you to sing along. The photographs you shared are priceless!

    And while I don’t recall mom ever trying to sing her values to us, if she caught Julie and I at the onset of what appeared to be a potential squabble, she’d challenge us to sing the following ditty in ONE breath. We’d always end up laughing!

    “Oh come with me for I long to go where the land of the mango apples grow. Oh come with me for if we stay storms may arise and love decay. We’ll chase the antelope over the plain, and the tiger’s cub we’ll bind with a chain, and the wild gazelle with the silvery mane I will give thee for a playmate sweet.”

    • Shirley Showalter on December 21, 2016 at 2:10 pm

      Ha! That ditty should stop any fight! Maybe we should share with a few heads of state.

      Thanks for sharing this story. I can see you and your sister falling into fits of laughter instead of fists of anger. Singing is a great way to break up entrenched positions and defuse anger.

      Where did this ditty of your mother’s come from?

      • Laurie Buchanan on December 21, 2016 at 2:26 pm

        Shirley — I don’t know the origins of that ditty; it’s been a thread in my life’s tapestry for as long as I can remember. My parents always sang, especially on road trips. Dad would belt his one and only tune—Hank Williams “Hey Good Lookin,'” while mom (much like Mary Poppin’s bag) had an bottomless well to draw from.

        • Shirley Showalter on December 21, 2016 at 8:13 pm

          I’m amazed that you knew the words to your mom’s song (and probably to many more). Fascinating. I think you have characteristics from both parents, good lookin’.

        • Merril Smith on December 22, 2016 at 1:30 pm

          Laurie, I Googled the song, and it goes back to at least the 1860s. I saw it included in a lesson for students in a Pennsylvania School Journal. 🙂

          • Shirley Showalter on December 22, 2016 at 1:56 pm

            Leave it to our resident historian to track this one down. Fascinating. Thanks, Merril.

          • Laurie Buchanan on December 22, 2016 at 2:15 pm

            Merril — I love that you dug for and found this information. THANK YOU so much!

  5. Susan Scott on December 22, 2016 at 11:45 am

    Happy birthday in February to your mother Shirley! She looked looks well and terrific! Clearly a loving and happy Christmas get-together! The singing was wonderful! I don’t recall songs our mother sang to us-I’ll ask my siblings when I see them. A blessed Christmas to you and family.

    • Shirley Showalter on December 22, 2016 at 2:20 pm

      Thank you, Susan. Blessings to you and yours as well. It will be interesting to hear what your siblings have to say. Sometimes they have very different memories, as many memoirists learn. Perhaps you’ll get into a discussion about discipline instead of singing. That can stir up a lively family dialogue. 🙂

  6. elaine on December 22, 2016 at 11:57 am

    what a BEAUTIFUL tribute to “Barbbran” as i remember her being called. She looks amazing! This song has special meaning to our family also. John’s father, Clayton, celebrated his 90th birthday on Labor Day Sunday. That morning, most of the family joined him and his wife Martha at their church, as a surprise, as one of several celebrations. This song we requested to be sung, as it is one of his favorites. Clayton has buried his first wife, as well as three of his four Children. He is certainly a patriarch and solid foundation for the Nissley family. (BTW., I love your mom’s new shirt!)

    • Shirley Showalter on December 22, 2016 at 12:07 pm

      Hi Elaine, thanks for offering this story of your own extended family. I have a feeling this song influenced many Mennonite homes in the fifties and sixties largely because of the Heart to Heart radio program. Happy birthday to Clayton a little late (or early — since seniors start counting half years again :-)).

      I found the shirt by googling “gifts for great grandmothers.” 🙂

      Merry Christmas to you and all your family.

  7. Shirley Showalter on December 22, 2016 at 11:58 am

    I’m hoping Mother will read this. She has an iPad and gets on Facebook every few days. I’ll be sure to pass along the greetings when I talk with her at my usual time on Sunday. Glad you enjoyed the singing.

    Blessed Christmas to you and yours also, Susan.

  8. Karen Owens on December 22, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    Greetings, Shirley. I brought my mother to your book talk at the Mennonite Heritage Center in Harleysville, PA, a couple of years ago. She lived at next door at Peter Becker Community. She loved to sing, and sang in school, community, and church choirs for many years. She sang “Getting to Know You” to me — her first born — and I can still hear her voice. A few nights before she died, I opened her old hymnal and just started singing through it. She could not show any sign that she heard, but I knew she was listening. I kept going until my voice gave out. What a comfort it was to me to be able to do that. Mom died in August and went to Heaven at the age of 88. Her name was Barbara. Christmas is coming. We will keep singing.

    • Shirley Showalter on December 22, 2016 at 4:20 pm

      Karen, I’m so glad you took the time to write this message. I remember the delightful conversation we had at the Mennonite Heritage Center. And I am so glad you could give your own voice in singing hymns to her as she gave her voice to you. “Getting to Know You” is a wonderful song to sing to a newborn.

      Christmas can be so hard, especially the first Christmas without your mother. My heart aches for you, and I love your ending sentence. “We will keep singing.” Yes!

  9. Audrey Denecke on December 22, 2016 at 12:26 pm

    While my grandmothers and mother are no longer physically present, their memory is sweet. My paternal grandmother was a great lover of celebrations, acted in amateur theatrical events (usually for church or school fundraisers)too. She had so much love for her grandchildren every gathering was joyous. My slightly younger sister, Terry and her husband Joe, are often the ones to break out in song at any occasion. At first, the response from those around them may be “oh no” or embarrassment, but they sing on and soon most will join in. Great fun!

    • Shirley Showalter on December 22, 2016 at 4:30 pm

      Audrey, your family parties sound like a rollicking good time. You were blessed to have a grandmother who both had a love of drama and a love of her grandchildren.

      You describe perfectly what happens when someone in a group takes the lead in singing and persists past the natural reluctance of others until everyone joins in.

      Wishing you lots of laughter and singing in one form or another, even if it is mostly in memory. Merry Christmas.

  10. Melodie Davis on December 22, 2016 at 12:40 pm

    The “Love at Home” reference makes me think of the year I lived in one of EMU’s early intentional communities and one of our guys was a WEMC announcer/dj. His eyes always rolled when talking about Heart to Heart (with Ella May Miller at that time) but still using the “Love at Home” theme song. Now I always have to think of Steve and his mock scorn, rather than the truth of the lines. They became a cliche. But my mother was a big time whistler of hymns (and more) such that our neighbor going by our home back a long lane (where he farmed) claims to have been able to hear Bertha whistling as she worked near her kitchen window.

    • Shirley Showalter on December 22, 2016 at 4:35 pm

      Ha, Melodie. You were living right next to the source of that theme music — WEMC/ Mennonite Broadcasts. The 1960’s were not a great time for young people to embrace these kind of family sentiments without irony. And maybe most people would still think them corny. Especially in the wrong setting. As we age, however, we generally see wisdom in places that we didn’t recognize as such.

      Love the whistling story. Makes me feel a real kinship with you. Mother whistles often even now. 🙂

  11. Merril Smith on December 22, 2016 at 1:39 pm

    Such a lovely post, Shirley. Your mother sounds wise and wonderful–qualities that it seems she’s passed along through the generations with love, laughter, and music. I love the photos of your happy faces.

    We do have multi-generational gatherings. My mom is 94, and my niece, her granddaughter, has three children. We will be together this weekend. I don’t remember my mom ever singing very much, certainly not as a disciplinary tactic. My sisters and I were discussing differences in parenting styles–our parents were much more “hands-off” than we are.

    • Shirley Showalter on December 22, 2016 at 4:41 pm

      I have enjoyed “meeting” your family through your blog posts, Merril. So glad you can enjoy multiple generational gatherings also. Being together naturally puts smiles on our faces.

      I’m intrigued by your parenting comments. Hands-off and hands-on seem to operate like a pendulum. It’s easy for one generation to think that it’s time for a new style.

      Hope your holidays are wonderful. I think I saw a picture of some great Challah bread. Mmm.

  12. Tina Barbour on December 22, 2016 at 2:05 pm

    Merry Christmas to you and your beautiful family, Shirley!

    • Shirley Showalter on December 22, 2016 at 4:47 pm

      You too, Tina, including all your furry family members. 🙂

  13. Linda Gartz on December 22, 2016 at 2:28 pm

    Your mom is still adorable and exudes happiness. Singing values — that didn’t happen in our house, but we daily saw the values of duty, hard work, and optimism — giving us all the resilience to continue on despite trouble or set-backs. A lesson well-learned. Merry Christmas!

    • Shirley Showalter on December 22, 2016 at 5:01 pm

      Thanks for enjoying Mother along with our family, Linda. I know that your parents taught you so much also in their own ways. What deep impressions they left on you, giving you a vocation now that both honors them and uses a lifetime of skills you’ve developed in story telling. Merry Christmas to you and yours also!

  14. Marlene Kropf on December 22, 2016 at 3:08 pm

    Your post today brings back memories of hearing “Love at Home” on our kitchen radio when my mother listened to Ella May Miller or Ruth Brunk Stoltzfus. Though I don’t recall hearing her sing that particular hymn (we did sing it at our church), she sang many other hymns as well as popular songs of her youth as she worked. One of those songs, “There’ll be bluebirds over the White Cliffs of Dover,” prompted me to go see the white cliffs for myself on my first trip to England.

    After she died at age 84, I missed her terribly. You’re so fortunate to still be able to enjoy your mother this Christmas season.

    A bright and merry Christmas to you and your family — making memories for another generation!

    • Shirley Showalter on December 22, 2016 at 5:04 pm

      What a lovely memory, Marlene. I’m sure my mother knows that song from her own youth during WWII. Glad you have seen those white cliffs, probably many times by now.

      As you probably guessed, I am trying to enjoy every moment we have together, for Mother, for myself, and for our children and grandchildren. Merry Christmas to you also!

  15. Kathleen Pooler on December 22, 2016 at 4:50 pm

    Your mother/matriarch is beautiful, Shirley and what a wise woman to divert her kids with this song. Yes, I too am blessed with my own 94-year-old matriarch who holds court for us at her Assisted Living facility (where she has been named an “Ambassador” to welcome newcomers and befriend the lonely). We revel in storytelling, often the same ones , and much love and laughter. Indeed, we are all blessed to still have our beautiful mothers reign supreme at family gatherings. Merry Christmas and much happiness and health in the New Year to you and yours!

    • Shirley Showalter on December 22, 2016 at 5:07 pm

      Your mother looks so regal and yet fun-loving and down to earth in the pictures you post, Kathy. I enjoy seeing her beautiful face on line. Love the name “Ambassador.” She plays her part beautifully, I’m sure.

      Wishing you happiness and health this Christmas and in the New Year also, Kathy.

  16. Elaine Mansfield on December 22, 2016 at 8:54 pm

    Your mom is beautiful and regal, Shirley, and you take after her. (You know we still have our almost 101-year-old matriarch. She’s a fading queen. Slowly, slowly fading and srweetening as she goes.

    Your gathering reminds me of holidays at my Missouri Grandparent’s farm with my dad and his only brother Uncle Jim, the brother’s wives, 5 grandkids and a few dogs. Grandma cooked lavishly. We always played cards (no gambling allowed, just for points, and definitely no alcohol). We always had music of all kinds, with Grandma leading the way on the piano with her huge operatic contralto and Grandpa playing his harmonica. It’s wonderful to remember. Have a peaceful and joyful Christmas season.

    • Shirley Hershey Showalter on December 29, 2016 at 12:16 pm

      Thanks, Elaine, for sharing those vivid memories of Christmases long ago with your grandparents on the farm. Maybe farm families have much in common with each other regardless of place and religious denomination. So many stories in the culture reinforce the warm feelings.

      I continue to be amazed, both at your mother-in-law’s longevity and at your patience and commitment to her. Many, many blessings. I am sure Vic is grateful.

  17. June Alspaugh on December 27, 2016 at 11:58 pm

    Like Mother, like daughter. The resemblance between you and the dowager empress is strong. As you may remember, my Mom that raised me, just passed. And there is sorrow there. But I have another Mother, an Mother who did not raise me, she birthed me, couldn’t keep me, and gave me to my Mom. There is a strong resemblance between my birth-mother and myself. I was at a wedding this year in August, and when I looked at the pictures that were taken, I thought, Oh my, I am my Mother! She has imparted wisdom and the gift of friendship, of a Mother found. She was a teacher, and they called her, The Lady of the Dance.
    May you enjoy the time you have with your nonagenarian.

    • Shirley Showalter on December 29, 2016 at 9:57 pm

      Thank you, June, for responding to this story even in the midst of your own recent loss. I know that many friends have lost or are losing their own parents in their 80’s and 90’s. Even when there is joy, there is sorrow. The older we ourselves become, the more we are aware of mortality.

      It sounds like your two mothers both contributed to your life. I love the name The Lady of the Dance.

  18. Lisa Enqvist on December 29, 2016 at 6:49 am

    I love your beautiful story about your mother and the wonderful pictures plus the song. They all bring back many memories to me too. My mom used real life stories and the Bible to “Train us in the way we ought to go.” It wasn’t easy for her, often alone with five kids (born within six years), and with dad away on mission trips more than he was at home.
    She’s been long gone, but her story is very much alive.

    • Shirley Showalter on December 29, 2016 at 10:01 pm

      Her story is alive in you, Lisa. Our mothers have much in common, though my father was much more present. Blessings as you continue to write your stories.

  19. cs on February 23, 2017 at 10:52 am

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