It’s “I Grew Up Country Day” – How will you celebrate?

We expect you celebrated St. Patrick’s Day. Hopefully with enough restraint to leave room to celebrate a far newer day.

What country stories could you tell?

Have country roots? Let’s celebrate.

Since Iowa Governor Branstad signed a Proclamation declaring March 18, 2015, “I Grew Up Country Day,” 50+ folks have joined our Facebook page where we encourage, collect and celebrate stories of growing up country. If you have a story to tell or would like to hear from other country folks, please join us.

We don’t have enough folks all in one place this year to stage a parade – maybe next year. Which doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate. My fellow country girl memoirist Shirley Showalter and I offer a few suggestions:

1. Do something you did growing up country:

  • Bake cookies or bread,
  • Invite a neighbor over for coffee,
  • Take a walk in the Back 40 or a nearby park,
  • Visit someone in the hospital.
  • Spring is almost here so get out in the yard or garden – reconnect with the land.

2. Pull out the old photo albums, trigger some memories, and share them with someone – a family member, friend, neighbor.

3. Jot down a memory or two about your country life.

4. Join us at I Grew Up Country, our new Facebook page, and share those memories with others who have country roots.

5. Take a walk down Main St. in a small town. Enjoy the fact that you can smile and say ‘Hi’ to everyone you meet and not feel in the least strange.

6. If you have older relatives – parents, aunts, uncles, cousins – who grew up country, ask them to tell you a story.

Shirley's sugar cookies - appropriate for St. Patrick's Day and I Grew Up Country Day.

Shirley’s sugar cookies – appropriate for St. Patrick’s Day and I Grew Up Country Day.

7. Spread the word about I Grew Up Country. Here are a few ways we’re doing that.

I will spend much of today caring for a friend who recently had surgery. Shirley is baking cookies to share with neighbors, using the sugar cookie (“cakes”) recipe in her book.

Please do celebrate I Grew Up Country Day and tell us what you did. We’re eager to hear.

I Grew Up Country – New initiative encourages storytelling

On Monday, March 9, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad signed a Proclamation declaring March 18, 2015, “I Grew Up Country Day” – in Iowa and wherever food is produced.

Governor Branstad lent his support to "I Grew Up Country"

Governor Branstad lent his support to “I Grew Up Country”

Haven’t heard of “I Grew Up Country”? Let alone a day to celebrate it? Not surprising. The day and the concept are brand new, the brainchild of fellow author Shirley Hershey Showalter and myself.

Last fall, Shirley and I shared the podium for a reading from our memoirs at Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City.  Afterwards, over a latte, we discussed the fact that every time we shared our own stories about growing up on farms in the 1950s, people were eager to step up and tell us their stories.

Prairie Lights Bookstore - where "I Grew Up Country" began.

Prairie Lights Bookstore – where “I Grew Up Country” began.

Readers of my memoir Growing Up Country told me the stories made them think of their own growing up years; they also told me reading these simple stories made their own lives and their memories more important somehow. Shirley heard from people who read her memoir Blush and remembered butchering day, baling hay, milking cows, swimming in farm ponds, and downing food from tables loaded with fresh produce, meats, and homemade desserts.

We agreed we needed a place for all these people to find each other, to share their stories, to take pride in their collective appreciation for the country way of life.

The seed of an idea began to germinate. Over the weeks it took root, and this month, Shirley and I are kicking off “I Grew Up Country,” an initiative to encourage, collect, and celebrate stories of growing up country.

Here’s how we’re spreading the news:

We’d like to hear from you.

Our collaborator Millie had a great idea. She encourages any one who grew up country, to tell us how you’d complete the sentence:

“I know I Grew Up Country because …”

She even suggested a few answers, which brought smiles of recognition from Shirley and me. Here’s Millie’s contribution to start us off.

“You know you grew up country: If you bring home more stuff from the dump than you went with … Or you know you grew up country if you can sew on a button or hem a skirt … Or, You know you grew up country if you have ever stood barefoot in a garden eating a sun-ripened tomato — the juice dripping down your arm and off your elbow.”

Leave a message here and click on over to Facebook to meet other country folks and share your stories there. And, please, spread this news to anyone you know who grew up country.

The big questions: Memoir or fiction? Is the Past ever Past?

Life is full of so many questions. What’s for dinner? White wine or red? Is it time to turn on the furnace?

The writing life is no different. Three events coming up in the next several days let me join other authors in discussing some of the big questions writers face. I expect those discussions to both fun and challenging. Equally fun is that you can join in on some of those discussions even if you’re not in Iowa.

The Big Decision – Memoir or Fiction? – On Thursday, October 15, at 6:00 p.m. CDT, my long-time writing buddy author Mary Gottschalk and I are the featured guests in a free teleseminar hosted by the National Association of Memoir Writers. If you’re interested in exploring The Big Decision with us, there’s still time to sign up. Click here.

Celebrate Writing PosterCelebrate Writing at MPL On Saturday, October 18, at the Marion Public Library in Marion, Iowa, I’ll join other fiction writers in a panel discussion on “The Art of Fiction.” Other panels will explore the Perks & Perils of Self-Publishing, Writing Memoirs, and Selling Your Book: Marketing. After lunch, Mary and I will reprise the Fiction or Memoir discussion in a small group workshop. If you’re in the area, seats are still available for the morning panels and a noontime Lunch with the Authors. The afternoon workshop is already wait-listed. For event details, click here.

Live from Prairie LightsIs the Past Ever Past? – On Sunday, October 19, from 2-3 p.m., I’ll be in Iowa City for a book talk and reading at Iowa’s iconic indie bookstore – Prairie Lights. Reading at Prairie Lights is an honor in itself, but this event is even more special because I’ll be joined by author Shirley Showalter, author of Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets A Glittering World. Shirley and I have more than a little in common even though we grew up 1,000 miles apart. Just one tidbit: we’re both dairy farmers’ daughters who grew up to be authors. We’ve only met online, so it will be great fun to meet in person and share the podium.

Since our three books are all set in the past, Shirley recalled William Faulkner’s quote “The Past Isn’t Dead. It isn’t Even Past,” which we adapted for our talk title. If you’re in the area, join us. If you can’t be there in person but you’d still like to hear what we talk about, you can tune in as Prairie Lights streams readings live.

These events offer a unique ability for in person or live interaction over the airwaves. I hope you’ll join in for one or more.

Since I’m still preparing for these presentations, I’d appreciate your thoughts. What do you consider the major factors in whether to to write about a topic as memoir or fiction? What comes into play for you in considering fiction “art”? How do you react to Faulkner’s quote? Is the past dead? If not, why not? How can it be that the past isn’t even past?

Clean-living Mennonite faces a tobacco challenge: And two book giveaways

Blush_frontcover-copy-optimized-194x300Today I’m over at Shirley Showalter’s blog talking about how good memoirs include themes that connect with readers. Meanwhile, Shirley is here sharing a story from her new memoir  BLUSH: A Mennonite Girl Meets the Glittering World,

As part of our blog swap, we’re both doing book giveaways. Leave a comment below for a chance to win a copy of  BLUSH. Comment on her blog for a chance to win a copy of my memoir, GROWING UP COUNTRY. Now, on to Shirley’s story.

Most people who know Mennonites might be surprised to learn that in the 1960’s, many Mennonite farmers in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, grew tobacco. Since Mennonites were and are advocates of “clean living,” this seems a surprising crop choice.

Shirley disliked the crop, both for ethical reasons and personal reasons. But at least her years of toil in the tobacco fields gave her one good story.

The Tobacco Worm

Then there was that day in July when Mother, Daddy, Henry, and I were hoeing. We grew about ten acres of tobacco as our only cash crop. Since we had purchased the farm, cash was more important than ever. We were beginning in the middle state of the elaborate tobacco planting and harvesting process, whacking out weeds that might otherwise overtake a young tobacco plant or sap its growth. In addition to weeding, we loosened the soil around each plant, helping it to absorb whatever rainfall would come.

Now, however, the sun was frying all living things. I could actually see heat waves forming a mirage in front of me. I began to visualize a tall glass of sweetened tea, made with mint picked from the meadow by my little sisters. Ice cubes were clinking in my imagination. The glass was covered in the kind of cold sweat that was the perfect antidote to the hot sweat on my cheeks.

“Look at this big fella!” my father said. We all turned to see him take off his Eby’s Feeds cap, exposing his white forehead in contrast to the dark red of his cheeks. Dangling from his other hand was the plumpest neon-green tobacco worm I had ever seen. It was about three inches long and half an inch wide. As it writhed in Daddy’s hand, I felt the little hairs on the back of my neck stand up. We all made faces.

I could tell that Daddy was expecting more reaction, so I briefly considered letting out my best scream but instead decided to try another tack. I pretended to take a scientific interest in the little black tentacles under the accordian-like sections of the bright green body. Daddy looked at me observing the worm, so cool and calm. Then he did something rare. He spoke spontaneously, recklessly.

“I’ll give you five dollars if you bite this worm in two,” he said.

The worm dangling from his outstretched hand that afternoon suddenly became as treacherous and tantalizing as a snake in the garden. Daddy did not go around doling out five dollar bills and seldom said anything without thinking about the consequences. He must have been pretty sure I would never bite a worm.

Why was he taking this risk? Daddy’s motives confused me as I stared at the worm, but my decision came swiftly. My ten-year-old brother’s mouth hung open and my mother clutched her hoe. Then I looked into the hazel eyes of my father, sustaining the tension as long as possible. It was time to be the eldest daughter of an eldest son. The hot earth below and the blazing sun overhead merged into one. Like Daddy when he was under pressure, I would not waste any words.

I took the worm from Daddy’s hand. I held it up to the sun as if blessing it; then I took it into my mouth, biting down hard and fast, spitting almost before the green hit my teeth. I gagged and spit more than necessary, jumping all around my brother, trying to give everyone enough entertainment for such a high price of admission. Daddy’s eyes twinkled and his smile was wide. He said nothing but reached in his pocket and pulled out his dilapidated wallet. He extracted his one and only five-dollar bill and gave it to me. I discretely tucked it into my bra.

I knew I had risen to the task. I knew I was worth the salt in my soup. The taste in my mouth was sour. The taste in my heart was sweet.

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Shirley’s memoir is a treat to read. I highly recommend it. Leave a comment here for a chance to win a copy of BLUSH. Then hop on over to Shirley’s blog and leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of my book. We’ll choose the winners on Nov. 1.  *** Nov. 4 – I‘m pleased to announce that Elfrieda Schroeder is the winner of the drawing for the copy of BLUSH. Thanks to everyone for participating. 

Shirley H. ShowalterAbout the author:

Shirley Hershey Showalter grew up in a Mennonite farm family and went on to become the president of Goshen College and a foundation executive at The Fetzer Institute. She is now a writer, speaker, blogger, and consultant living in Harrisonburg, VA.

Find Shirley at:
Twitter: @shirleyhs