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Rum-Shpringa(Youth Gatherings)

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

Usually around 15 some as young as 14 boys and girls start hanging out with their friends on Sunday afternoons either playing volleyball, baseball, or other kinds of social activities. Volleyball and baseball are popular. In the winter time if the ice is fit the boys will play hockey and the girls may have stamping parties, play games or any other number of things besides practice "dancing" so they know how when they start the "rum-shpringa" stage. Here's a few pictures of cards that were sent to me. Some are fancy and some are not. More on the "dancing" later.

There were also other games that were played, such as Dutch blitz, Uno, and other card games.

I personally don't enjoy stamping. Yeah, I can be creative but it's not really my thing. My mom and some of my sisters are really into it but it can be an expensive hobby especially when you get into the die-cutting machines and certain other things. My one grandma is really into it and has a chest of drawers as tall as me full of all her supplies.

Some people who know me today wouldn't have known me as a teenager. I barely talked. Often I didn't go with my friends Sunday afternoons and my mom would sometimes have a fit that I didn't. I just didn't fit in. The things they did seemed so silly. And I would often be watching and just wonder "what is the purpose in all this? How is this even worth doing? It's just such frivolous stuff like they're just living it up as though they don't have a care in the world." I was and still am a very serious minded person. I find it hard to joke around unless I am in the mood. I felt like I was years older than I actually was. Like maybe a 60 year old person in a 16 year old body. That sounds weird but I guess it was because of all the years of pain and hurt and anger that I had stuffed inside of me which really has a way of affecting a person's outlook on life. My mom didn't understand. She was too busy to listen.

I got my personal bike at 17. It cost around $800 or more if I remember correctly. Before we just had old "clunkers" that had their issues. This one was specifically for "rum-shpringa". It was a gray-green Del-Sol I think. I really liked it.( I remember that one time in the course of one weekend I biked 50 miles because our community was spread narrow and wide between the Keuka and Seneca Lakes. We lived about a mile from the Keuka Lake and had roughly 15-20 miles to the most outlying church families.)

If I could've had my way I'd have totally eliminated the "rum-shpringa" part of my life. I did NOT want to go. My biggest fear was that the boys who had mocked me in school would do the same again(which by the way did not happen). The other thing was I was totally uncomfortable around men of any age. I still struggle to really look them in the eye when talking to them and it won't take much more to scare me off. I was terrified of my dad as a child and the only way I could cope was to make a game out of evading him which lead to gleaning tips out of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mystery books among others. (There's still a few things I sometimes instinctively use that I learned though it's been a while since I caught myself scanning new areas for hiding places whether it was at my job or some other places. I have also realized since that I feared losing my life at the hands of my dad because of the way he treated the animals and how he acted when in an anger fit.) So you can see why I was uncomfortable and often still am around men.

The times the youth got together was on Saturday nights and Sunday nights. It usually started around 8 PM. First there would be singing for about 2 hours. Usually the first half was out of one songbook and then the rest of the time we sang out of the second songbook.

The 2 main ones were these two.

Each evening we use one of these along with another one that had more modern songs in like the ones below.

I don't remember the which ones we had the first years that I went with the youth, but I also went with the youth in two different settlements over the years and each area has different books so these are just some of the ones I remember having. Usually the girls would decorate the inside of the front cover and put their name inside. Here's two of mine. I think my cousin did the "Trust" one for me.

As you can see in the picture above that some of the songs were not to be sung, but depending where we were they were sung anyway.

For the most part we only sang English songs but occasionally we'd sing a few German songs too.

This is a picture of Amish youth but it kinda depicts the way we did also. Our singings were usually held in people's houses, whoever was willing. In the area I grew up in the singings were usually held in the houses or if people had a big shop they would clean it out somewhat and set up a table with chairs around it. Whoever didn't sit at the table would usually stand behind. The boys would be on one side and the girls on the other. At either end of the table would be a couple that was dating or else cousins. Sometimes it was 2 girls or 2 boys who were bold enough to sit next to the boys.

Usually there was a dish of candy on either end of the table and when the singing was over they'd toss the candy back into the crowd behind them. Occasionally a tussle would pop out with somebody trying to stuff candy down the back of someone else's shirt or dress. Then everyone dispersed to put away their songbooks and the host would bring out the treat which usually consisted of 1 or 2 different kind of drinks like fruit punch, homemade rootbeer, lemonade along with coffee. Then there was also baked goods, often at least 6 different kinds if not more. When I first started going with the youth there were probably about 150-200 people. I don't remember much of that time but later on when I was in a different settlement there was often anywhere from 300-600 at one place.

After treat if the weather was nice volleyball nets would be set up in a nearby hay field or meadow. There were probably at least 10 or more nets according to the room people had. They would then play until about 11:00 when the "dancing" would start.

Sometimes there would be this thing called "walk-a-mile" probably mostly on Sunday nights where whoever wanted to would go along, boys on the outside and girls on the inside. The girls would string out first and then the boys would couple up with a girl and they would hold hands. After nearly everyone was paired up boys and girls would switch up partners by telling someone where to go. I didn't do that very often because I didn't like it. It was too close quarters with a man.

Maybe you would've thought that Mennonites don't dance? Surprise! They do. Usually it was just the common square dance. There was also line dance and a red wing that was really intricate or fast paced, I forget, but those weren't very common. I will share a link below of one I found on YouTube tube that's basically the same.

For the music there was often someone playing a mouth organ or if the host had an accordion someone was usually playing that. There would be the circle of dancers in the middle of the room usually were the table had been for singing earlier in the evening which had been pushed out of the way. The girls would fill the one side of the room to watch and the boys on the other side. If you watched the video above, perhaps you noticed where the ladies and men wove around in a circle. That was the time if a boy or girl wanted to go "shtomping" they would cut in that person's place so that when the time came to swing your partner you would switch to the new person who was taking your partner's place. Sometimes it gave some shoving on the boy's part.

Usually the girls would start out and after a while the boys showed up and would "cut" out the girls who were playing the boys part. I never wanted to let a boy touch me but I was forced to by friends who didn't know and understand my past. That was horrible. I just had to "shut down" so I don't panic. I grew calloused to it later by mentally "blocking" my feelings and therefore was a le to do it on a regular basis.

I remember one time one of my friends sewed me a dress and I liked it so much because the sleeves were fancier than I was allowed to make on mine. For some reason I guess I was proud of it and wanted to show it off and I "cut" in so many times that apparently the boys were talking about it and one of my friends(the very one who forced me to "shtomp" with the boys) pulled me aside and told me that it was making the boys talk which quickly shut me down because that was totally not what I wanted.

On Saturday nights usually most of the dating couples were there and stayed till 11PM when the dancing started and then they would leave. On Sunday nights it was basically the same thing all over again only this time it was just the singles.

If the weather was not fit to be outside the girls would often use the bedrooms as their partying place with their friends and talk or play card games. The boys would sometimes use the kitchen and pair up with girls to play games or then hang out in the barn playing Rook which was basically the main game. Almost everyone had their own set of cards. Games that girls and boys would play together was often Rook or Dutch blitz.

Occasionally if the weather was nice we'd play outside games with the boys though I don't remember doing much of that.

The main transportation was bikes and horse and buggies and of course sometimes horses act up and cause damage. My mom just told me the other day how that my 18 year old brother went to play hockey with his friends and somehow the horse got loose and ran away causing injury to itself and almost demolishing the buggy. Nobody saw what happened but sure saw the results. Mom said the horse had several deep gashes on its legs and there was blood splattered all over the buggy with the front bashed in and I don't remember what else. I'm just thankful that my brother was not involved. My brothers have had so many close calls already though not necessarily involving horse and buggies.

During the summer when school was out we would have singing school. Some of the men or song leaders from church, about 3 or 4, would teach the music scale and four part harmony amongst other exercises and things to do with music. The book we used was called the Music Reader if I remember right. I don't have mine anymore so I'll see if one of my sisters still has their's and can send me a picture.

These short songs were called rounds.👇 Often the group would be split up into 2 or 3 parts depending on how many people were there. Then the first group would start off and sing the first phrase or line and then as they started on the next part the second group would start on the first line. It sounded beautiful with the varying levels all at the same time unless the notes didn't blend then it sounded harsh to one's ears.

Here's a different song.

Another one we used was called Singing As We Go.

Singing school was usually just on Saturday nights and then someone usually hosted the youth on Sunday nights. If nobody did which was very rare then we had a party at singing school. I can only remember one time that happened though and then we had a bonfire and had hotdogs and marshmallows. We would still spend the first 1.5-2 hours singing like we did on Saturday nights. But then we also played volleyball and did walk-a-mile and "danced".

During late summer while instruction classes were in session (mentioned in my former article Baptism) the Sunday evenings we would have supper crowds. Usually instruction classes started at 2 pm and ended around 4 pm. From there couples and singles would all head to the hosting place. Usually the neighbors would come together to help out with the food preparation. Around 5:30-6 people would start gathering together and the man of the place would announce the meal was ready and everyone bowed their heads in silent prayer. The food was spread out on long tables, and after prayer the boys usually filed along one side and the girls on the other. Or else there were 2 tables, one for the girls and one for the boys. It all depended how many people were expected and the room the hosts had. At the head of the table was a sign up sheet and everyone wrote their names down so that there was a count of how many people ate and also because it was fun to see who all showed up. I remember in my parent's community the most was between 200-300 but in the community I moved to later there was often 600-700 as there often visitors from out of state depending what the occasion was or who's place it was at.

It was always cafeteria style as it would have been impossible to provide seating for everyone. People just sat wherever; in the yard, in the house, on the porch, wherever they could find a place to sit.

After the meal was over people sat around talking, went on walks, or played volleyball. Occasionally if the weather was really warm it might give a few water fights either amongst the girls or the boys. I don't ever remember that boys and girls did together unless they wanted to tease the girls. Or if there was a creek close by we would go wading. Around 8 the couples would leave to go to the girl's house for a date till midnight. Around 10 there was usually walk-a-mile or some would go to "scout" (visit) dating couples or weak havoc on those places where the couples weren't around when their friends came to visit. Some pretty crazy stuff happened sometimes, literally, where the rooms(parlor) where the couple had their date, if it was empty everything would get rearranged and turned upside down or they might do something to the carriage or even hide it so he had to go find it before going home at midnight. Or if he had biked, they would take the bike apart and hang it in the tree, etc. just to give you an idea of some of the things that would happen at times depending how mischievous your friends were or if someone had spite against you it could get quite nasty. On a side note, maybe I can get some of my siblings to share their stories...

Then usually at 11 or soon after the "shtomping" started. Sometimes if people thought that there was the beginnings of a couple they would cheer when the certain person would "cut" in to the other. Sometimes they would throw candy.

Perhaps you are wondering by now if I ever had a boy after me... I did. But I wasn't interested. He would often go "shtomping" with me. One time on walk-a-mile something happened and he made some remark and the tone of his voice completely turned me off. Maybe I'm too sensitive but because of the way my parents were, I am very sensitive to the underlying tones of people's voices and just the way he talked it made me think that perhaps he was somewhat like my dad in having a hard time controlling his anger. After that I wanted nothing to do with him. I don't remember if it was before that or after that people threw candy at us when we were "shtomping" because they thought we were going to be a couple. He seemed to be after me but I was so not interested that I actually walked out of the "shtomping" ring one time partly because I wanted out of there and partly because there was another girl nearby that I thought was cutting in. I saw it hurt him but somehow I knew I had to show him that I was not interested. I knew I couldn't handle a dating relationship. He ended up marrying one of my other friends later on.

My "rum-shpringa" years were cut in half by my parents finding out I was suicidal. I was 18 and teaching school. School was an escape from the atmosphere at home. I had taken my journal to school one day and left on my desk thinking that its probably safe because who's going to come to school for any reason? Wrong. My 4th grade girl was sent up with supplies after we had already been gone and read it. The content bothered her so much that she told her parents. It was not fit for young girls to read. They in turn asked one of my friends to finish the term because they didn't want me there anymore. I was sent for help and almost ended up in the hospital. But that's when God started intervening and really working on my heart. I knew I needed help but I didn't know how to get help. Well, God made a way. Not the way I'd have picked but that was the way God chose to work. Sometimes I think about that young lady and I wonder how it affected her life.

I was at that place for help for 10 weeks and then I lived with relatives for a few months till I got so homesick for the atmosphere I was used to that I moved back home. I didn't know how to live in a loving, for the most part drama-free environment. A few months later I moved to another place for help of my own will because I knew I needed help but after 4 months I again moved home because I was so homesick. I spent the next year and a half helping my aunt through the week and being at home on the weekends. I went for another 2 week intensive counseling session which was done by my grandma's brother, a bishop in the church, but in another state. In the next month or two I realized that I needed to get away from home and the only way I could find to leave was go teach school in a new community. I only did one term because I knew I couldn't emotionally handle it so from there I moved to another state where I started my second phase of "rum-shpringa", this time with my cousin and her friends who were 5 or more years younger than me.

They included me and it was easier to blend in whereas in my parent's community, I felt as though there was a stigma attached, like I was just someone crazy to be pitied. I even felt it from my next younger sister of which she seemed to see me as not quite of normal mental capacity like she is.(To this day she is the one sibling I have the least to do with, sad as it is. In leaving the Mennonites though it has seemed to connect me on a deeper level with most of my other siblings, despite one who refuses to look at the pain but says forgive and forget.)

The singles keep going with youth as long as they want. I've seen some that were in their 30's or 40's who were still going. When I first started "rum-shpringa" it was custom to wear your Sunday clothes on Saturday nights and on Sunday but near the end people were wearing their second best and sneakers which were much more comfortable than Sunday shoes...

Ok I need stop rambling and get to bed...I hope though this article has painted a good enough picture for you to envision somewhat how it is for the "rum-shpringa" stage of an Old Order Mennonite person. Also I did ask two of my sisters if they would want to write an article, the one about dating and the other about her wedding day, to which they thought they could so maybe in a few weeks if things go as hoped, you may be able to enjoy those articles too.

As always feel free to contact me with any questions or comments you may have. Perhaps you may be wondering about something that I didn't touch on so feel free to contact me either through my website or on social media...

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