Sunday, January 31, 2010

My Great Uncle Amos.

Because I often write about my Mennonite roots in Lancaster, PA, I hope you'll indulge me in marking the death last week of my great-uncle. He was the oldest remaining member of my grandfather's generation and only his brother, Parke, and his sister, Esther, remain.

Numerous times when we were children, my sister and I were packed into the back of my grandparent's modest Chrysler and driven to visit Uncle Ame and Aunt Mim. He was a pastor his whole life and he and his wife had traveled on several missions. They were warm and fun, light and loving. Uncle Ames always said the prayer when our family gathered; he had a pastor's delivery and carriage. On one such trip to visit them, we all stopped at a well-known "plain" restaurant where my sister and I worked the rest of the drive to memorize a poem, "Der Distelfink," about a mythological bird that is often depicted on Amish hex signs hung on barns, so that we could earn the free dessert that reciting the poem would get us on the way home.

The memory is not exact but what I remember most about Uncle Ames was his free laugh. And of Aunt Mim, her beautiful brown, curled hair; when older I realized that it was a wig. During that particular sweet visit my sister and I performed a number of brief skits for the elders. I believe that one part of one of the skits required I dive, while holding a wooden spoon, into a giant cardboard box. I think I was a magical chef or something. Today, I still remember my young self standing at the edge of their black driveway by the trailer they lived in while serving a church (in Wilkes-Bare?) and saying our goodbyes. Mim's hair in the sun; Ames' laugh. I remember the color of the trailer, crawling back into the car and it's particular smell, and tormenting my grandparents with repetition of "Der Distelfink" all the way home. I remember looking at the back of my grandfather's head and recognizing the shape as similar to Ames'.

The loss of yet another member of that generation pains me, not solely because they were my people but because they connected me to a rich family history. The last generation to be raised on the farm, the generation that saw so much change and upheaval in American society. They witnessed modernization, the invention of the radio and car, countless wars, civil rights, they lived near one-another, stayed close with their kin, and lived a life very different from my own. In some ways, I suppose the loss of Uncle Amos triggers a nostalgia in me - and I realize that nostalgia is a false representation of the past. Yet, watching my grandparent's generation dwindle, remembering the moments that were so special and warm to my young mind, having witnessed their simple convictions directly, I revere their wholesomeness, their patience, their willingness to eschew deception or greed or malice or cynicism. They believed in working and loving and taking care. And in most all things they were guided by their faith.

Their incremental deaths reminds me of what a great loss of my own knowledge of self and connection to personal history I lose with them.

Rev. Amos K. Harnish, 97, of Calvary Fellowship Homes, Lancaster, PA passed into the loving arms of his Lord, whom he served all the 60 years of his pastoral ministry on Friday, January 22, 2010. The son of the late Enos C. Harnish and Ella Kreider Harnish, Amos grew up in southern Lancaster County, where he met and married Miriam Witmer, to whom he was wed for 72 years. In addition to his wife, he is survived by one sister, Esther Dagen and one brother, Parke K. Harnish. He is preceded in death by Elizabeth Weaver, Aaron K. Harnish, Anna Mary Peifer, Clayton K. Harnish, Enos K. Harnish and Lloyd K. Harnish.

Charter members of Calvary Independent Church, now Calvary Church, they felt called to the ministry. After graduating from Practical Bible Training School, now Davis College, Amos was ordained in 1942 and served as pastor in various churches in New York State andPennsylvania.

After retiring from the formal ministry! and moving to New Holland, Amos continued as a volunteer in the pastoral services of Calvary Fellowship Homes, as well as volunteering with the Red Cross. The parent of two sons, Jay Vernon Harnish, married to Rhonda and Edward Harnish, both live in Texas. He had three grandchildren, Tammy Townsend, Jay Erickson and Shawn Harnish, and nine great-grandchildren. Amos always loved to volunteer, read, ride bicycle and spend time visiting and reminiscing with friends and relatives.

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