My guest this week is Marian Longenecker Beaman and after we have got to know her a little better, she will be sharing an excerpt from Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl, her recently released memoir.
About Marian Longenecker Beaman
Marian Longenecker Beaman is a former professor at Florida State College in Jacksonville, Florida. Her memoir records the charms and challenges of growing up in the strict culture of the Lancaster Mennonite Conference in the 1950s. Marian shares her story to preserve these memories and to leave a legacy for future generations.
She lives with her husband Cliff in Florida, where her grown children and grandchildren also reside
Welcome Marian and congratulations on the publication of your memoir and it must have been an exciting and busy few weeks. And looking forward to finding out more about your publishing process.
What key elements motivated you to write your memoir?
I grew up in rural Pennsylvania in the Mennonite culture in the 1950s. Mennonites at that time looked different from other folk because of their unusual dress and head covering. I wanted to record an experience of a time gone by and also express the universal elements that all readers can relate to. Finally, I wanted to leave a legacy to my children.
How long have you been an author?
After retiring from decades in academia (teaching college English literature and composition), I wanted to try something new. Thus, I began blogging in 2013 and six years later am now publishing my first book, a memoir, Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl this September 2019.
What did you find challenging as a memoir writer?
Much of my early life was happy. I had relatives who loved me, and a stable home life, never moving from my home on Anchor Road. Yet, my memoir, though set in rural Pennsylvania, was not a walk through a Mennonite meadow.
My father, my most complex character, required me to dig deep to examine motivations for his behavior and my reaction to his treatment. I had an adversarial relationship with my father. I was his foe. He beat me and locked me in the cellar as punishment for being mouthy. As memoirist, I knew I had to tell the truth for my story to be authentic.
Nevertheless, I went through phases as I struggled to describe my relationship with him: I moved from resisting the revelation of family secrets to full disclosure:
1. I’ll leave out the bad parts. Many readers like a “clean” read, no bad language, abuse, or torrid sex scenes.
2. “But your story won’t be authentic,” an inner voice chided.
3. I read other memoirs as I wrote my own; I noticed that other writers didn’t have to go on a rant to tell their stories, even the ugly parts.
4. As time progressed, I summoned the courage to reveal secrets. Fortunately, a fellow blogger and memoirist invited me to a retreat in her vacation home in Virginia. I wrote a draft of the most emotionally wrenching chapter in the presence of five other sympathetic writers who cheered me on.
5. Later, an editor observed, “You dad wasn’t all bad. Show some happy times with him.” To balance the harsh tone, I inserted some pleasant memories.
6. Thus, my story now illustrates a dawning awareness: What could have been a terrible rant about being physically abused turned into an acceptance of the past and recognition of my father’s limitations. Then came forgiveness, and appreciation for his gifts to me: a curious mind, love for music, and interest in politics and family history.
What are your favorite Books on how to Write Memoir?
1. Three by Annie Dillard
2, Handling the Truth, Beth Kephart
3. The Art of Slow Writing Louise deSalvo
4. Still Writing, Dani Shapiro
5. The Story Cure, Dinty W. Moore
What would be your advice to first-time authors?
Writing is a solitary activity, but even if you are an introvert, you should not try to publish a book alone. Make friends with other writers on social media, especially on blog sites. These connections will sustain you through the toil of writing, editing, and publishing. Join a writers group if possible.
As a newbie, my friends mentored me as I learned the craft of memoir, did beta readings of my book in embryonic form, and later wrote fine reviews before publication on Goodreads
Here are the details about Mennonite Daughter and an excerpt to enjoy.
About the book
What if the Mennonite life young Marian Longenecker chafed against offered the chance for a new beginning? What if her two Lancaster County homes with three generations of family were the perfect launch pad for a brighter future? Readers who long for a simpler life can smell the aroma of saffron-infused potpie in Grandma’s kitchen, hear the strains of four-part a capella music at church, and see the miracle of a divine healing.
Follow the author in pigtails as a child and later with a prayer cap, bucking a heavy-handed father and challenging church rules. Feel the terror of being locked behind a cellar door. Observe the horror of feeling defenseless before a conclave of bishops, an event propelling her into a different world.
Fans of coming-of-age stories will delight in one woman’s surprising path toward self-discovery, a self that lets her revel in shiny red shoes.
An excerpt from Mennonite Daughter
Introduction: My Two Homes
Two Longenecker houses sat on Anchor Road: One was the green-shuttered white frame house, where I lived with my parents, sisters, and brother. The other, a Victorian house surrounded by woods, situated about a half-mile away, down over a steep hill, where my Grandma Longenecker lived with her daughter, my Aunt Ruthie. My sisters and I bounced between the two houses, back and forth, up the hill and down. And up and down in another way, too, exploring each home from cellar to attic.
I caught a glimpse of the fancy life at Grandma’s house. My Grandma Fannie Longenecker was fancy before she became plain. Evidence of her fancy days hung on hooks along her attic stairs — an otter hat and a fur-trimmed coat, Victorian-era fashion flair. In her bedroom, an oval-framed photograph showed Grandma as a young woman wearing a fashionable dress, brooch, and ornate buckle.
My own styles evolved in reverse order, plain to fancy. Plain in my childhood and teens meant lack of adornment: a prayer covering and simple dress patterns in subdued colors. No jewelry, no makeup, no cutting hair, and definitely no shiny shoes in red, my favorite color.
Each of my family homes provided me with two ways of living to choose from. This memoir tells of the push and pull of both Longenecker houses, the tensions and strife, countered by harmony and love in each. It reveals the lessons and blessings of each house and the strong characters within them that both shaped my personality and character and set a course for my life choices. It describes my father, who didn’t champion me because I was a daughter, not a son; the aunt and grandmother who served as my role models but who I knew I never wanted to be, although I loved them dearly; and my mother, a woman of the times who valued the home arts but lacked the courage to defend her daughter.
All of them have forged this story: their touch, their lives, and their voices echo forever in my mind and in my heart and soul. Now, as an adult in the autumn of life, I look back at the beauty and the promise of a fragile and fleeting way of life that was — and still is — being Mennonite.
My story begins, to a certain degree, at an ending: the realization brought on by men in authority that I needed to find another way. I faced a crisis in my first teaching job in a Mennonite school, an encounter with the Supervising Committee, men who judged my outward appearance, not my academic competency. This frightful event forced me to realize I had to find a new way of life, one that allowed me to express my personality freely while still holding true to the tenets of faith and love.
It’s true, what Emily Dickinson says: “Remembrance has a Rear and Front — ’Tis something like a House — ”
Come with me as I explore both houses with a key, a key to each front door and the halls of memory and enlightenment within.
One of the recent reviews for the memoir
One might say that Marian Longenecker Beaman’s memoir, Mennonite Daughter: The Story of a Plain Girl, serves as a template for woman finding voice through writing. Written half a century after the events depicted, the author was charged with the painstaking work of going back in time―a time fraught with memories requiring a careful analysis of her main characters and her reactions and responses to them as a young girl, growing up in the 1950s as a Mennonite in Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County. She admits that her memories, especially as they pertain to her abusive father, are “more malleable with the passage of time and has left the door of hope wide open.”
This observation that memories become more malleable with time and lead to forgiveness is crucial to the memoir writer’s journey. Her story of growing up in a patriarchal culture where women mostly remained voiceless, is not a rant, rather a meditative reflection on how a religious culture impacts every aspect of life, especially that of a woman’s life. For Marian’s Aunt Ruthie, it meant never marrying and carving out a professional life as school principal; for her father, the culture forged an authoritarian mindset imbued with the toxicity of growing up in a household where he received no nurturing as a male child, handicapping him as father of a strong-willed daughter.
What the author has done here is create the quintessential family legacy of parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents. There are light moments…Great Grandpa Sam’s glass eyeball popping out of its socket and rolling across the “slick linoleum floor where it picked up speed.”
Her childhood memories are lyrical and literary: “In a small garden behind our house, Mother planted beans, sugar peas and cucumbers, the vegetables bordered by a row of peach-colored roses. Peony bushes, ruby red and ivory-hued, clustered on the other side of the double clothesline strung along the concrete pavement that separated her garden from lawn grass. Mother’s clothesline billowed with towels in summer and hung low with sheets frozen in winter. Her wooden fold-up stand dried small items inside on rainy days, summer or winter.”
Images like this fill the pages of Mennonite Daughter. Particularly powerful are the chapters where her mother’s life-threatening asthma is healed by what her mother believes is the divine power of God, a dramatic event which grips the reader and which the author attributes to her own lifelong devotion to God.
Another powerful chapter is the author’s confrontation with Mennonite Bishops when, as a young teacher, she dares to embellish her plain dress with “a collar and elaborate buttons” and finds herself as a woman alone confronting a tribunal of male privilege and misogyny.
The memory of the child hiding in terror under her bed from a raging father speaks for itself.
Mennonite Daughter is, in the end, the story of a young girl coming into her own, staking a claim to her voice and individuality in a unique place and time, albeit one where women were expected to conform and tow the line. For the author, reconciling herself to her past, parsing it, remembering it and reflecting on it, becomes her salvation and her triumph.
Read the early reviews and buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07XL5FPW6
And Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B07XL5FPW6
Read more reviews and follow Marian on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/19169570.Marian_Longenecker_Beaman
Connect to Marian
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Marian-Longenecker-Beaman/e/B07X7JK2S3
Thank you for dropping in today and I know Marian would love to have your feedback and questions..Thanks Sally.