Homecoming: Old Friends, New Friend

“Going Home, going home, I’m just going home . . . .”  William Arms Fisher wrote a spiritual tune with nostalgic lyrics adapted from the famous largo in Dvorak’s 9th Symphony that hints of going home “through an open door.”

Last Saturday I walked through the open door back home to my college reunion during Homecoming weekend at Eastern Mennonite University. Nestled among the purple mountains of Virginia in the lush Shenandoah Valley, EMU‘s banner proclaims itself “A Chritian University Like No Other.”

OutdoorBanner

EMU was just a college when I attended. Now the campus seems twice as large and current students way younger than I remember. I kept having to adjust to the sensation of flipping between decades as I viewed the campus and my classmates in a time warp.

There were other adjustments too. College girls now were sporting blue jeans and serious jewelry; my female classmates, like me, all wore braids or buns with prayer coverings.

MarianCollege

Our class gift was the donation of the campus’ first piano. Now there was a magnificent pipe organ in the sanctuary, string ensembles playing folksy tunes, and (gasp!) a theatre department.

“Scatter seeds of loving deeds . . . till we are gathered home at last.” Walking Roots Band

Old Friends

My college room-mate Verna Mohler Colliver and me
My college room-mate Verna Mohler Colliver and me
Other room-mates and friends: Our name tags imprinted with college yearbook photos.
Other room-mates and friends: Our name tags imprinted with college yearbook photos.
Raymond Martin, motorcycle ridin' class-mate
Raymond Martin, motorcycle ridin’ class-mate

Yes, we have all changed. The institution has changed too, outwardly at least, but the mission of the university has remained the same: commitment to rigorous academics with an invitation “to follow Christ’s call, to bear witness to faith, serve with compassion, and walk boldly in the way of nonviolence and peace” in true Anabaptist Mennonite tradition. The motto that was displayed front and center in the sanctuary of the chapel when I was a student still remains: Thy Word is Truth John 17:17.

New Friend

Shirley Hershey Showalter and I have been getting acquainted in the blog world by visiting each other’s websites since March 2013. In September of this year her memoir, Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets and Glittering World was published and she has been on a whirlwind book tour, yet she made time for us to meet and visit over breakfast at her home in Harrisonburg, VA on the edge of the EMU campus.

SHSandME

Her breakfast room and office space overlook the gorgeous Massanutten Mountains. The office space includes what you would expect from a college English professor, turned college president and now author–tons of books and orderly files. However, I discovered that there is a special chair where she weaves the magic: a red upholstered swivel chair facing the mountain view. No wonder her book sings!

magic chair
magic chair

“I promise: you will be transported,” says Bill Moyers of her memoir. Part Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, part Growing Up Amish, and part Little House on the Prairie, this book evokes a lost time in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, when a sheltered little girl with big dreams entered a family and church caught up in the midst of the cultural changes of the 1950s and `60s.

Her website and blog: http://www.shirleyhersheyshowalter.com

Carolyn Stoner, winner of BLUSH book giveaway contest
Carolyn Stoner, winner of BLUSH book giveaway contest

Carolyn reports that she loves, loves, loves the book and has underlined certain passages and even inserted little pink sticky notes to earmark special pages. (Stickies concealed for photo!) Carolyn’s name was chosen in a drawing by commenting on my review of Shirley new book: Book review and Contest

Your comments welcome! I will always reply.

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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.

THE CONTEST

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!

Book Giveaway Contest & Taste of Shirley’s Memoir “Blush”

News Flash!

Upcoming Review and Book Giveaway of Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets the Glittering World by Shirley Hershey Showalter

On Wednesday, September 25, I will be reviewing Shirley Hershey Showalter’s new memoir – Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets the Glittering World.

WHO IS SHIRLEY HERSHEY SHOWALTER?

Though Shirley and I both grew up Mennonite in the same county and in the same decade, our paths did not cross until I saw her website http://www.shirleyshowalter.com/ flashing across the screen in a class entitled What the Heck is a Blog? at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville. I immediately recognized her name as Swiss Mennonite and probably of Lancaster County, PA origin. And sure enough, right on both counts. Since March 2013 we have become blogging pals, and I am thrilled to promote her book as the story of a life surprisingly parallel to mine, a story of derring-do!

DETAILS OF THE CONTEST:

 WHAT:  My review of Shirley Hershey Showalter’s memoir –  Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets the Glittering World.

 PLUS:   One lucky commenter will win a copy of BLUSH.

 WHEN:  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 lucky winner here and by email.

I invite you to come by and enter. Feel free to invite all your reading friends!

Shirley Hershey Showalter  Shirley Hershey Showalter, author of BLUSH: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World

I promise: you will be transported, says Bill Moyers of this memoir. Part Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, part Growing Up Amish, and part Little House on the Prairie, this book evokes a lost time, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, when a sheltered little girl with big dreams entered a family and church caught up in the midst of the cultural changes of the 1950s and `60s.
With gentle humor and clear-eyed affection the author, who grew up to become a college president, tells the story of her first encounters with the glittering world and her desire for fancy forbidden things she could see but not touch. The reader enters a plain Mennonite Church building, walks through the meadow, makes sweet and sour feasts in the kitchen and watches the little girl grow up. Along the way, five other children enter the family, one baby sister dies, the family moves to the home place. The major decisions, whether to join the church, and whether to leave home and become the first person in her family to attend college, will have the reader rooting for the girl to break a new path.  (Amazon Books)