My parents grew up Amish in rural Kalona, Iowa, and then along with their families joined the Mennonites. In 1954, my dad was
drafted. But as a Mennonite, he was a conscientious objector and allowed to serve as a noncombatant in Pennsylvania. My
parents left for Pennsylvania soon after they married. Two older sisters and I were born in PA. When I was nearly a year old, we
moved back to the farm where Dad grew up.
My Elementary Years
As a youngster, my life revolved around farm life and going to church. We had a large sand pile behind the machine shed and
my brother, who was 2 years younger than me, (there were three sisters after him, so I had 5 sisters and one brother) and I used
to make homesteads and roads in the sand, and used a toy tractor, wagon, truck, and disk to pretend we had our own farms.
We also liked to play in the timber and make a fort by leaning sticks against a tree that had a large hole in its side and was
hollow on the inside. In the winter we often tussled in the living room or used our toy wooden fences to make farms. But since
we had very few toy animals, we used marbles to represent horses or cows. Sometimes I played paper dolls with my older
sisters. We’d cut out dolls from the Sears or the Pennies catalogs, set up houses by setting opened books on end, and then go
visit one another’s houses. One Christmas our parents gave one of my sisters or all of us a set of twelve cardboard dolls. Each
doll had her own paper wardrobe that could be fastened to her by folding a tab over the back of her shoulders, waist, and legs.
We all vied for the doll named Joan, a name I later chose to name my daughter.
As I grew older, I was responsible to feed the chickens, gather and wash the eggs and prepare them for market, and to help in
the dairy. At first we used bucket milkers and it was my job to carry milk to the milk house and pour it into the separator where
the cream was separated from the milk. I used to love drinking that warm frothy skim milk! When I was twelve, we converted to
pipeline and I didn’t need to carry milk anymore. Instead I learned to put milkers on the cows and when to take them off. I also
helped in our large garden, both planting, weeding and harvesting, and also with canning and freezing food.
Our family attended a Conservative Mennonite church until I was 14, when we left that group to join a more conservative
Mennonite group. I was baptized and became a member of this more conservative group when I was 15. (Mennonites practice
“believers baptism.” That is, they don’t baptize infants or children. Instead they baptize individuals who are old enough to
choose to follow Jesus.)
One of the things I like best about being a Mennonite is the a cappella music. We’d sing hymns in four-part harmony and without
instrumental accompaniment. The harmony is so wonderful, I feel I’m experiencing a little piece of Heaven.
The very conservative Mennonites consider their children “on age” at 21, not 18, and very few young adults move into their own
apartments. It is common for young adults to go into voluntary service, or to marry around age 20. Young adults who don’t
marry or go into voluntary service, usually continue to live with their parents. In my case, my parents needed my help with the
dairy, since the next sister was six years younger than me, and my brother did other chores. When I turned 21, I went to Oregon
to help my sister before and during the time of the birth of her first baby. At Christmas I went back to Iowa and then moved to PA
to help my 2nd sister over her baby time. From there I took training as a nurses aid, and then got a live in job with a woman who’
d had a stroke. Then I got news that a young woman from my home church needed help teaching eight grades in a Mennonite
School in Wisconsin, since teaching first graders to read took much of her time. So I moved to Wisconsin and taught grades 5-
8. I had eight students.
While in Wisconsin an event happened that started a big change in my life. My Iowa friend and co-teacher jokingly referring to
Wisconsin as Russia, saying Wisconsin was uncivilized—mostly because of their multitudes of outdoor toilets. Because of the
long cold winters and the expense that would be required to keep indoor plumbing from freezing, the church where we taught
school didn’t have indoor plumbing, either. So during the winter, we had to pull on coats and boots to go to the bathroom. Since
the youth bragged about their state, we’d tease them, saying how wonderfully civilized things were back in the United States—
One weekend we were urged to go with the youth to a church service about an hour away. One of the young women told me
they had remodeled that church and how wonderful it was, I should go see it. So, although I felt swamped with papers to grade
and lessons to prepare, I went. (Remember, even though I had few students, I had to prepare assignments, brush up on the
material, and put together a teaching plan for every subject for 4 different grades. Only a few could be taught to the group as a
whole.) When we arrived I needed to use the restroom and asked where it was, and was told it was outside. A friend and I went
outside, where a winter thaw was in progress. The graveled parking lot was soggy and muddy, so we walked in the only
remaining snow, a small row in a peak right under the eaves of the church building, touching the building to keep our balance.
As we got to the end of the building, we could see the outhouses, but there was a sea of mud between us and them. I tested the
mud with my black Sunday shoe and found it was at least an inch or two deep. I decided I’d have to wait until we got home, since
there were no facilities to clean mud off shoes and the snow we’d been walking in and had mostly dirtied was barely enough to
clean off the mud already on our shoes. It was one miserable evening!
When I got back in the classroom on Monday, I told my students the story, teasing them about their outhouses and uncivilized
conditions. The following evening both pastors came to confront me at the house where I was staying. Their faces were grave
as they referred to the story I’d told. “We thought it was inappropriate,” the lead pastor said. “You just don’t talk about
bathroom activities to a mixed audience. You know what I mean, don’t you?”
“Uh, yeah,” I said. I didn’t know what he meant, but assumed I must have said something indelicate, or something allowed in
Iowa, but not in Wisconsin, since he appeared embarrassed and they had already judged me indiscreet. Exactly what offensive
thing had I said? I didn’t dare ask.
“With a fourteen year old boy in the class, some things are better left unsaid, don’t you agree?” he persisted.
“Yeah, I suppose so,” I said. What else was I to say?
“Would you agree to apologize to the class?” he asked.
“Sure. I’ll do it tomorrow morning.” I just wanted them to end the horrible confrontation.
“If you don’t mind, I’ll be there to hear your apology and smooth things over.”
I did mind. A lot. But I couldn’t tell him that. When I told my co-teacher what had happened, she couldn’t understand what was
offensive about the story, either. But they were my employers and I had to do what they said, and it had to be good enough to
satisfy the pastor. Since I didn’t know what had offended them, I didn’t know what to say. So I ended up parroting the pastor’s
“Some things are better left unsaid.”
Several weeks later I was invited to dinner and both pastors were present. The 2nd pastor’s wife told about potty training her
son. Everyone, including both pastors, accepted her story without displeasure. It didn’t make sense to me. Why was my story
inappropriate, and hers acceptable? She had a mixed audience, too.
This started me thinking. My life was governed by rules made by men, many of them oppressive to women and children. For
example, why did women have to sew their own specialized clothes, but men could wear normal store-bought clothes? Why did
different Mennonite groups make some rules that were totally opposite of one another? Why was our group more right than the
Amish or the liberal Mennonites or the Baptists? Obviously, the Amish, Baptists and liberal Mennonites thought they were more
So I started prayerfully studying Bible passages, researching what various writers said about them, and deciding for myself which
thinking was most correct, and even arriving at conclusions that were totally my own. For example, most people interpret the
passage “Be ye angry and sin not, let not the sun go down on your wrath.” to indicate that people should forgive and not go to
bed angry, which to me suggests sweeping the violation-of-self under the rug. However, I believe it means a person should
shine a bright light on why they are angry and without being nasty try to bring about changes to stop the harmful behavior, like
one shines a light on a painful sliver and tries to dig it out. My belief has led me to try to make a positive difference by writing a
novel shining a light on what abuse looks like, rather than only forgive, try to forget, and in the long run my non-action could
indirectly “cause” abuse to continue generation after generation, harming multitudes of women and children.
When I came back to Iowa, my Grandma, who lived in a small house on the farm, was aging and needed help. So I lived in my
parents house, and went next door to cook and clean for Grandma. After she died, I cleaned houses in Iowa City.
Around this time, I decided less conservative Mennonite was more right (for me) and I began to move in that direction. When I
withdrew my membership from our church, my Dad’s heavy disapproval was hard for me to handle. I bought a mobile home from
my brother and his wife when I was 24. They had set it up in the back yard on the home place so my brother could more easily
help farm. But now that they had found a nearby house to rent, I moved into the mobile home, which allowed me to get away
from my dad’s oppressive presence without further angering him by moving off the farm.
During this time I met with two other families who had also withdrawn from that church. As a group we often traveled to meet with
other house-church groups, and eventually disbanded to join regular local congregations. That time in a smaller group was very
important to me to help me figure out what I believe, instead of feeling pressured to believe what some power-figure told me to
believe. I worshipped with the Conservative Mennonites for about a year, and eventually tried a Missionary Church in Iowa City.
Meeting my Husband
At the Missionary Church a kind, elderly woman invited me home for dinner. It was there that I met the man I later married…and
regretted having married. He wasn’t Mennonite, but his mother had been raised Mennonite. Before we married he told me
husbands and wives are equals, that he doesn’t believe it’s the wife’s job to do all the submitting. He never told me to submit.
But he used other means and behaviors to be hurtful and demeaning, to demand his way and to make decisions that benefited
him at my daughter’s and my expense. And he kept changing what he required of me.
Our daughter, Joan, (the artist for Behind the Hedge,) was born nine months after we married. What a treasure! Because our
marriage produced her, I can’t totally regret it. She’s the beautiful fragrant rose from the thorn bush of our marriage.
Dealing with Abuse
During those first years, my husband’s verbal and emotional abuse was hard to bear, and I dreaded being around him at times,
but I was not afraid of him. But after one physical encounter, I became afraid of him, and would leave the room or even the
house if he acted threatening in any way. And if our daughter was at home, I’d take her with me. I read about domestic violence
and verbal/emotional abuse, and knew I needed to take more classes per semester in order to finish college before our marriage
failed. But then both our dads got sick. His died in March of 1992, and mine had emergency surgery a month later. My dad
died October of 1992. My husband was kind and caring for a week or two after these deaths. This was his pattern after
someone he knew died. Death reminded him that he too would meet his maker and be held accountable, so he shaped up for a
brief time. But that made his getting nasty again that much harder to bear. At the end of 1993 I was so exhausted from school
and dealing with the abuse, I got a bad cold which turned to bronchitis. Then I started getting anxiety symptoms which made
school too difficult to handle. I called the women's shelter, and a counselor there told me it is very common for women who are
abused to develop anxiety because of the constant 24/7 effort to be alert and on the watch for danger from their abusive
husbands. On September 8, 1994 I left my husband and didn’t take Joan with me because the continual anxiety made me
believe I was not able to care for her. I also assumed—wrongly—that I’d be better in 2 weeks, and that my husband would
improve his behavior and we’d get back together, so it would be stupid to put Joan into a different school.
Divorce and Custody
Our divorce became final in 1997, and although my anxiety had diminished by that time and I fought for primary physical care of
our daughter, the court awarded primary physical care to my ex-husband, and visitation with me every other weekend, plus some
holidays and two weeks in the summer. Both my daughter and I were distressed by this news. Because my ex often didn't allow
us to see each other during the week, and often blocked all contact between visitations, I started visiting her at school during my
lunch break when I worked near the school. She treasured that. Eventually I started cleaning houses again to make better
money, (I had quit when I was pregnant with Joan) which also meant I couldn’t visit Joan at school as much. By that time, I
understood my ex well enough to know if I resumed going to college, he would allow Joan to be with me more. He would not want
me to succeed at college and start a good-paying career while he “baby sat.” Indeed, when I figured out how to work one class
at a time into my schedule and still leave room for Joan, I registered for school and told Joan to inform her dad. He immediately
allowed us to be together two evenings a week.
In October of 2002 I legally dropped my husband’s last name since I was reminded of the abuse every time I wrote my name. I
decided not to retake my father’s last name since he had also been abusive, and instead took my middle name as my last
name. I felt so free, I shared with my daughter how wonderful it felt. A month later, November of 2002, she came to live with me
when she was 14. I suspect there is a connection.
Making Lemonade out of Lemons
That time of my life was so painful, I looked for something to redeem it, to make it at least somewhat worth it. Although I was
unable to stop the abuse in my own and my daughter's case, perhaps I could be instrumental in stopping it for others. But how?
A little voice inside my head kept answering, "You can write." I had wanted to write ever since I was a teen and had taken a
number of writing classes, so writing about abuse seemed the solution. I took an independent writing course in the fall of 2001,
and a discussion with my instructor helped me narrow my focus and get started. I also workshopped with Margaret Horn every
other week. She was writing a novel about domestic violence, too, so it was a good fit. (Check out her novel You Know I Don’t
Love You on Amazon.com.) We decided the advice to write a set number of hours every day often doesn’t work for women.
What worked for me was to write eight hours a day every other weekend, and perhaps four hours one to three evenings a week,
depending on what my other responsibilities were. It took 18 months to write the first draft, and then for three years I sometimes
let it set, and sometimes waited for a response from an agent or publisher. I found Xulon Press in early 2006, and then spent
months revising. The book was released in April 2008.
Since Joan moved with me, I helped her figure out how to succeed in school, to be selective instead of impulsive in how she
spends her time and money. So instead of wasting money and time on video games, she buys art supplies, and follows her
drive to draw, paint, write comics, and generally be creative, all of which she loves and will likely help her establish a career. She
has changed from being a C to D student to being an A to B student. She is registered to enter the University of Iowa as a junior
this fall (2008) and plans to major in art and minor in computer science. She’s the one who made this website look professional.
And me? I absolutely love the creative writing process! I started a sequel and am eager to spend less time marketing and more
time writing fiction.