Last week, my great aunt Marietta Moershel died at the incredible age of 97. She was a beloved elder on my father’s side of the family, all of whom were part of the utopian Amana Colonies (communal from 1856-1932) in Iowa. Marietta was a nearly lifelong resident of the Amana Colonies, and a devoted member of the Amana Church. She taught German and social studies at Amana High School, and was a keeper of many family stories that will be up to the rest of us to continue to tell one another.
She will be buried in an Amana Cemetery, which buries its members simply by order of death (no ‘family’ plots) and with simple, matching headstones. The cemeteries, wrapped in pine trees, are very peaceful and seemingly the only place in the Amanas that the tourists have not found, or taken an interest in.
Marietta was Oma to my cousin, Ellie Gordon-Moershel, who has written here about Amana: “My Mom Grew Up in a Utopian Colony in Iowa.”
I used to feel some embarrassment about my family roots in a former utopian community that most people either associate with microwaves, or mistake for the Amish. Now I’m grateful for the simplicity of Amana. My favorite Amana meal is called matte (pronounced “mahda”) which uses four ingredients: boiled potatoes, butter, cottage cheese, and sour cream. And, if you’re not going on a date later, says my Oma, you can put onions on top.
I won’t be able to make it to the services this week, so today, I lit a candle, added these photos of Marietta to my special shelf, and spent time reading from my copy of Amana That Was and Amana That Is, by Bertha Shambaugh. When my Opa (Marietta’s brother) died in 2014, I became more aware of a desire to capture family stories. My Opa told the same stories (and jokes) so many times that I thought there was no way I would ever forget them. It’s more that they fade. May we all keep living in such a way that there are more stories to tell. As we approach the darkest day of the year, my thoughts are with my family gathering in Iowa to remember Marietta Moershel.
Under the Harvest Moon
by Carl Sandburg, 1878-1967
Under the harvest moon, When the soft silver Drips shimmering Over the garden nights, Death, the gray mocker, Comes and whispers to you As a beautiful friend Who remembers. Under the summer roses When the flagrant crimson Lurks in the dusk Of the wild red leaves, Love, with little hands, Comes and touches you With a thousand memories, And asks you Beautiful, unanswerable questions.
Here are a couple of photos that cousin Angela Bendorf Jamison sent along to remember Marietta by:
from A child said, what is the grass?
by Walt Whitman, 1819-1892
What do you think has become of the young and old men? What do you think has become of the women and children? They are alive and well somewhere; The smallest sprouts show there is really no death, And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it, And ceased the moment life appeared. All goes onward and outward. . . .and nothing collapses, And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.