Shirley Hershey Showalter’s Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World sings the song of her early life as a Mennonite girl in 250 pitch-perfect pages. Born into a family of Lancaster County Swiss Mennonite parents, the author recounts the story of the first 18 years of her girlhood on an 100-acre dairy farm in the 1950s and early ‘60s. The book delivers in its promise to play out her memories of school, church, and home, “the three legs of my childhood stool,” as she puts it. “Each carried both sweet and sour memories” of ways this plain girl fit in and ways she stood out as different.
Her melody line bravely hits the sharps and flats of her experiences. She grabs her reader by the hand to walk into their farm meadow as she and her brother Henry play amid the Holstein cows and fragrant bluebells by the creek on a cloudless, spring day. We learn secrets of good Pennsylvania Dutch cookery in her mother’s kitchen and are privy to recipes of delicious dishes in an appendix to the book. She lets us hear the congregation joyously singing hymns of the faith a cappella in 4-part harmony though in a sex-segregated sanctuary. But her song turns to a minor key as she vividly describes the sudden death of her infant sister, her by turns affectionate and adversarial relationship with her conflicted father, and later in a brush with a rigid Mennonite bishop.
This memoir abounds in artful motifs. In the preface the author is sitting on the sandstone steps on the way down to the arch cellar of The Home Place, now known as Forgotten Seasons Bed & Breakfast. She describes the arch in this cellar as the entrance to a storehouse of provision for her parents and grandparents against the want of the Great Depression and a bunker of bounty during the Cold War. Indeed, the book succeeds as documentation of major political currents and cultural icons of the era: Eisenhower and later Kennedy, the Studebaker Lark, the Phillies, Elvis. Other visuals include a map of the Lititz environs, her family tree, along with beloved family portraits and snapshots.
For me as a reader, the most endearing arch in her story is the rainbow in her mother’s invented story of “The Magic Elevator,” which she, a diarist and aspiring writer herself, wrote at age fifteen and has adapted for her children and grand-children through the years. Her mother, Shirley’s first mentor, challenged the norm in a story she recounts early in the book: Although the Rules and Discipline of the Lancaster County Mennonite Conference condemned worldly weddings, including carrying a bridal bouquet, Shirley’s mother Barbara Ann craftily transformed the family’s plain living room into a fancy bower of flowers and palms for the ceremony. After all, at church we sing fervently of beauty in “This is My Father’s World,” she must have reasoned. Evidently, Shirley was not the first Mennonite in her family with moxie.
Shirley’s story sings because it rings true. And, yes, Shirley, you did go home again. The Oh! at the center of her story leads readers to a fresh discovery of home, where one’s heart is nourished and where, as T. S. Eliot puts it, we can all “arrive where we started / And know the place for the very first time.”
“There are many ways to arrive at a place, many of them unimaginable at the beginning of the journey.” BLUSH
Meet the Author:
|Her Memoir – Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World|
You can enter to win a copy of this book right now!
Here are the details:
WHAT: Read my review of Shirley Hershey Showalter’s memoir: Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World and comment.
PRIZE: One lucky commenter will win a copy of BLUSH
WHEN: Review posted Wednesday, September 25, 2013
WHERE: Right here on Plain and Fancy Girl
And all you have to do is show up, read my review and leave a comment.
The giveaway will close one week later on Wednesday, October 2, 2013 at 12:00 midnight. I will announce the winner here and by email. Only comments posted on this blog will count as an entry.
I invite you to come by and enter the contest by commenting on the review. Feel free to invite your reading friends!