Each chapter in Marian L. Beaman’s memoir provides a moving snapshot of her coming of age and moving into a wider community beginning in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Taken as a whole, her book evolves from a life of extreme simplicity in a Mennonite community to finding release as a young adult who enters a professional world and begins to focus on matters of importance to the broader world through teaching. After being admonished for her shoes and manner of dress in a Mennonite school, she takes a second teaching job away from Pennsylvania, where she can live without the burden and stresses of a past that felt oppressive at every turn. A difficult relationship with her father, caused in part by his following the dictates of discipline sanctioned by the church, is coupled with feelings of isolation that dissipate with a quick trip down the hill to her grandmother Longenecker’s house. Grandma Longenecker is a woman who led a “fancy” life at one time and so understands the longings of a young girl who doesn’t wish to be so plain.
Upon securing a job in Charlotte, North Carolina, Marian says, “But after all, I was twenty-five years old and knew I was ready for a new path of my own invention.” As much as her mother hated to see her move so far away, she admitted, “I’d rather have you be a happy Christian than a sad Mennonite.” It is in Charlotte that many of Marian’s dreams come true. She becomes engaged and wears an engagement ring—a behavior that could betray her family heritage and flies in the face of the values of Mennonite simplicity at the time. She cuts her long braided hair. She wears shoes and clothing of color instead of muted tones of grey and black enveloped in a cape of similar bleakness. When asked how she conjured the courage to leave the Mennonite way of life, Marian quotes the writer Anais Nin:
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.”
And blossom Marian does, in perhaps unexpected ways. A reader may be left wondering how Marian will reconcile her early environment with no protection from her mother at the hands of an overbearing and abusive father. She comes to understand that “Scars expose the existence of old wounds, wounds that time and forgiveness can begin to heal. From soul scars can come wisdom and, eventually, healing of the spirit.”
It is this abiding spirit that shines through the conclusion of the book by Ms. Beamon, making it a hopeful as well as an educational read. The written snapshots in this album of life provide a legacy of understanding and love that she can feel proud to leave to her family. I recommend it for anyone interested in Mennonite theology as well as college-aged individuals, especially females, who are probably studying alongside people of all faiths.
Note: The book includes a glossary of sayings, recipes, book group discussion questions, and some incredible sketches and photos. (I made Aunt Verna’s potato salad tonight and it was delicious!)