Mennonite Mirth: Prop 'em up on the leanin' side!
by Jep Hostetler
Dad and Mother thought a farm would give their seven children,
several foster children, and a recovering alcoholic or two the
space they needed. I do not imagine we had more than 100 acres
on any of the farms where we lived. The idea behind the "farm
life" was to give us five boys something constructive to
do. So we spent our growing-up years on the rented Miller farm,
the Hooley farm, and Yoder farms. We did the best we could to
try to farm, milk ten or twelve cows every morning and evening,
sow and harvest crops, and maintain a very large garden. Large
gardens meant that there would be a very busy time during the
summer, canning vegetables and fruit.
The fruits of our labor were to be shared, particularly with
folks who came to dinner. The meal was usually a Sunday noon
meal, right after church. We invited a variety of folks to join
us for stew, fresh sweet corn, tomatoes, squash, and a few vegetables
that I still have a hard time identifying.
The tradition has been carried on into my own adult life.
We believe that hospitality is one of the best gifts one can
give to strangers and friends alike.
Our interaction with prison persons, especially incarcerated
men, grew out of our interest in those for whom life was not
so fortunate. One such person was Henry. Henry was a tall, slender
man who had been in jail for eight years by the time we met him.
He was the first African-American man our daughters had ever
met. Often Henry's mother, Annie, would come to our house for
the evening meal, now appropriately called "dinner."
We enjoyed her company, and we enjoyed her sweet-potato pie.
Over dinner one evening, Annie asked if she could say the
blessing. Of course! Annie began, "Dear Lord, when we all
get to heaven it will be all howdy howdies, and no good-byes.
Thank you Jesus!" Her prayer went on, as she gently rocked
forward and backward, blessing the food, the relatives, the President,
world leaders, the local churches and their pastors and especially
her sick friends, for whom she requested, "And dear Lord,
be with all my sick friends, just prop 'em up on the leanin'
side." I smiled inside, delighting in the beauty of this
These words will forever be in my memory bank: "just
prop 'em up on the leanin' side." Sometimes we tend to want
the world at our disposal and our pleas and supplications to
God are grand and complete. We want everything fixed, cured,
better, and just plain well. Annie's humble request says it best:
"I'm not asking a whole lot here Lord, and I don't really
want to be presumptuous, so a 'prop up' would do just fine for
now, thank you."
Jep Hostetler, Ph.D., Columbus, Ohio, uses humor and medicine
to "prop people up on the leanin' side." He is an associate
professor emeritus at the Ohio State University College of Medicine.
He and his wife Joyce serve as staff persons for the Mennonite