Shirley Showalter’s Memoir “Blush” – a Review & Book Giveaway

My Review

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

About Shirley

Shirley Hershey Showalter grew up on a family dairy farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. She went on to become a Goshen College (IN) professor, then president, and then a foundation executive at the Fetzer Institute (MI).

Her childhood memoir, Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World, has been published by Herald Press on September 19, 2013. Follow the journey of the book on her Facebook page and on her blog.


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!


54 thoughts on “Shirley Showalter’s Memoir “Blush” – a Review & Book Giveaway

  1. You penned a beautiful mosiac of Shirley’s “Blush” through the early beginnings of her Mennoninte heritage to her discovery of another world. A must read.


      1. Only by marriage Shirley. My husband’s paternal grandparents hailed from Waynesboro, PA. Just paid a visit there in August, love the area and returned with the recently published book, “Waynesboro As We Knew It” by T. A. Dorsett. John’s great grand father was Samuel Steiner, (Manchester Twp), a chosen minister of the reformed Mennonite church and subsequently ordanined a bishop. I have the original German Bible dated 1805 belonging to Samuel Bear, John’s great, great grandfather who lived near Carlisle, PA. Grandpa Stoner fell in love with Lu, a Presbyterian, and that was the end of the Mennonite lineage for this particular arm of the Stoner clan. I was privileged to meet two older cousins over 40 years ago who continued to maintain their dress and customs. Two of the most angelic souls I’ve ever met. Look forward to reading your book.


  2. Marian, I have not yet read the book but your review certainly gives me a big push to do so. (I’m waiting for my pre-ordered copy to arrive in the mail.) The excerpts that Shirley has shared along the way during the “100 days” were so enjoyable. Wish you could be here tonight or tomorrow!


  3. I enjoyed reading your vivid pictorial of Shirley Hershey Showalter’s Blush. I grew up knowing your favorite cousin, Janet. Interesting to meet her again on your blog.


  4. Marian, I am vibrating along with your review, and I looked up the word: “moxie.” My two pre-ordered copies came on Saturday of the release week, and I read all evening and finished Sunday before I went to church. I grew up ‘plain’ with some of your Longanecker and other ancestors, 500 miles west from Shirley’s and your homes (but still near Rt 30, the Lincoln Highway). I really love BLUSH, and I will post a review on Goodreads. I am sharing the second copy with a friend at church, and I’m thinking of ordering another copy to send my sister. Guess I’ll do that right now!


    1. Thanks for your visit to my blog, Dolores. I have seen your name appear from time to time in commentary on Shirley’s blog. I am happy to hear of all your connections to plain folks. By the way, moxie rhymes with foxy. There are some similarities–ha!


      1. Dear foxy Dolores,

        I’m so glad we found each other and have been able to share our memories and values. I’m deeply touched by your love for Blush, and by your generosity in sharing it with those you love. May that generosity come back to you 100 fold.


  5. Marian — I enjoyed the colorful threads you used to weave the tapestry of this review — engaging, compelling, captivating — I’ve added Shirley Hershey Showalter’s Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World to my must-read list.


  6. The usual rows and rows of quarts of fruits and vegetables? Or emergency rations, too? Did shirleyhs’s mother carry crackers and jars of water to her cellar during the Cuban missile crisis, like mine? I will have to read that book.

    (This is a comment.)


      1. No. I don’t remember crackers and water. But I do remember that when we had those “duck-and-cover” Cuban missile crisis practices in school (which I describe in the book), I thought about the arch cellar. Good to see you here, Shirley. Marian, Shirley is an author of her own Mennonite childhood memoir and many other stories.


        1. Shirley Kurtz discovered my blog early on this year when she recognized me as her teacher at LMS. Imagine! Then it was my turn to discover that she is a published author with a memoir Growing Up Plain and several children’s books, very impressive. Last week on my blog on comfort quilts I had the opportunity to promote her children’s book The Boy and the Quilt, which includes detailed instructions on quilt-making. Who knew?


  7. I just added a comment on Shirley Showalter’s blog about your book. I am very interested in it because even though I grew up in Indiana, both my mother’s father and mother came from Mennonite roots. My grandfather was a farmer and my grandmother was a great cook. We used to visit them in the summertime and I loved it.


    1. I love how people of similar interests and backgrounds even can gather in blog-world. Nice to meet you, Carol, and thanks for the comment. Shirley’s book contains several Pennsylvania Dutch recipes you are probably familiar with.


  8. I’ve enjoyed reading reviews and promotions of Blush. Growing up Mennonite in Ontario, Canada I know there will be similarities in our experiences when I get my hands on the book. Reminiscing is lots of fun. God bless!


    1. Welcome to my blog, Ruthie. It would be nice to hear your impressions of the book from the perspective of a Canadian Mennonite.
      There are Umble families in Lancaster County too. I even dated one!

      By the way, one of the main characters in my blog is my Aunt Ruth, whom we affectionately call Ruthie. In fact, one of my early blog posts describes her craftiness in Ruthie the Cheater.


      1. I now happen to be an Umble living in Lancaster County. I’m curious about which of my husband’s cousins you dated. : ) Reading above that you were Shirley Kurtz’s teacher at LMH, I learned that you were also my husband’s teacher. I married Rick (Dick) after meeting him in VS in PR. In enjoy these “small world” happenings.


        1. After so many years, the 4-5 years age difference between student and teacher doesn’t seem that great. The Umble I dated in college, then EMC, was Dale. Thanks for stopping by, Ruthie.


  9. Marian, Shirley is blessed to have such a succulent review, and so are her readers. I’m waiting for my copy, and hope to finish it soon. I’m fascinated to read in the comments how strongly it brings back shared memories for those with Mennonite roots, and I’d like to add that it promises to be enlightening and build understanding and perspective among those of us from different backgrounds. I believe sharing stories like this will break down fences and ultimately make the world a stronger and more peaceful place.


    1. Thanks so much for the comment, Sharon. A “succulent review” — ummm. I appreciate that! Your last name evokes images of the inky book smells of reading texts from Lippincott Publishing. And I love the phrases you use in your reply: “break down fences” and make the world a “more peaceful place.” That’s the goal.


  10. I’ve enjoyed many trips to Lancaster County, Marian & Shirley, and look forward to learning the inside story when I read BLUSH (which I already have, so should my name be drawn, feel free to draw again). I, too, am a dairy farmer’s daughter, growing up in eastern Iowa in the 1950s. Many shared memories amongst us farm girls.


    1. Carol, thanks for your noticing and commenting. I just finished reading Kathleen Norris’ Spiritual Geography of her life in South Dakota. She mentions “listening to the voice of the sky.” I wonder if that has been your experience too growing up in Iowa. I picture wide open spaces and skies to match. As a “farm girl” you will relate easily to the fields and meadows of BLUSH.


  11. I love seeing the span of “farm girls who write” grow wider and wider. And Kathleen Norris’s Dakota is one of my favorite books too. I remember how beautiful I thought Iowa was when I visited friends there. It would be delightful to some day visit each others’ homes. Perhaps not practical, but delightful!


    1. Thank you for the visit to the land of plain and fancy, Kathleen. I appreciate your kind words. It is not hard to endorse a memoir written with “heart and class,” as another reviewer put it. You know Shirley through her blog and other writings. This memoir will add another dimension to your portrait of her.


      1. So glad the two of you have met. Marian, you will find Kathy to be a mentor in writing, social media, and friendship, as I have. You will also connect with her on a spiritual level and cheer her on her marathon journey toward memoir publication. Kathy, Marian shows “heart and class” with every post and has gathered a community around her work much more effectively and efficiently than I did. So much fun to see her building a platform for sharing faith and fun, memories and meditations.


    1. Traci, I agree. Marian knows how to pull the bow across the strings with just enough tremolo. Hope you enjoy the recipes in the book. I’ll be sharing a video of the chapter called “Seven Sweets and Seven Sours” on my blog sometime in the next few weeks. You’re welcome to come visit.


  12. A great review for Shirley’s new book, Blush. It chimes, it imagines, it charms, it tantalizes to be fed the reader with more stories.


  13. Marian, luscious review, especially the beginning using music as a metaphor to describe how Shirley’s writing impacted you as a reader. Now, I can’t wait to read my copy. You have beautifully shown us how, as a Mennonite, you experience memories when reading someone else’s life story. Engaging and lovely review.

    If you draw my name, please redraw as I have a copy of Blush.


  14. You are always so gracious, Sherrey. By the way, I used your previous contest format as a template for Shirley’s review and contest procedures. Many thanks!

    Obviously, I would be a terrible beta reader for Shirley’s book. The setting of her story is so familiar to me that I would fill in the gaps automatically and unintentionally. You, Shirley, and many others have inspired me and informed me so well in my first steps as a memoir writer. So, so grateful!


  15. Betty Mumma on October 2,2013 at 11:30pm said
    Marian what gifted writer you are. I truly enjoyed reading your review of Shirley’s book.
    I would enjoy reading her life story. Blessings to you and your friend Shirley.


    1. Betty, how wonderful to find you commenting on my blog. You would just love Shirley’s book. She lived a life in many ways parallel to my experiences at just about the same time in Lancaster County. Readers: Betty is party of my story too in that she is part of the couple that introduced me to my husband Cliff one Christmas-time. You can find the full story here – How We Met: CareBear Cliff


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