Clean-living Mennonite faces a tobacco challenge: And two book giveaways
By Carol / October 23, 2013 /
Today 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.
# # #
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 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:
Shirley, I’ve just finished reading Blush and am about to review it. I can’t say enough good things, but you’ll have to read my review!
Carol and Shirley, love the blog swap idea! Carol, don’t enter me in the Blush giveaway — I have a copy.
Carol, I’ve seen your insightful comments on Shirley’s blog from time to time and your smiling face on her Facebook page. Now I am happy to get to know how many other connections we all have as farm girls. I was the daughter of a farm equipment dealer, who farmed 10 acres of tomatoes for the money and also to instill a strong work ethic in his children–hence, the nickname “Tomato Girl” on my blog.
Another connection, after I graduated from Eastern Mennonite College, my first teaching job was at Lancaster Mennonite School, situated right along the Lincoln Highway. As you say, there are many “ties that bind”!
I’m delighted to meet another farm girl, and not only that but also one who lived along the Lincoln Highway, Marian. Thanks for stopping in and commenting.
Afterthought: The swap idea is a clever twist on book giveaways, Carol. However, I have already read and reviewed BLUSH, so I’ll withdraw my name in this contest too.
Sherrey & Marian – Thanks for reading and reviewing BLUSH. I know the winner of the drawing will enjoy these stories, too.
I enjoy reading about the great lengths children will go in order to gain their parents admiration but the Quaker heritage that runs deep through my veins makes me feel sad for the worm.
As children we really do want to please our parents, don’t we Randy? I guess this is a good time NOT to share the story of my dad, sister and a mouse. Thanks for commenting!
I know I am strange I even carry bugs out of the house rather than killing them.
You have a wonderful heart for the universe, Randy. Wish there were more like you.
Sherrey, you have me on the edge of my seat ready to read your review! So glad for your interest and friendship. The swap idea is fun too! I have to give Carol credit for it.
See, now. I remember it as your idea, Shirley! I’m glad we came to the swap idea no matter how.
Seeing the two of you talking to each other is like pulling a new friend over to the cafeteria table in high school and saying, “You two were made to be friends.” Beaming.
I do that too sometimes now. And if I kill one inside the house, I apologize. I have nothing left in the entomology department to prove to my father. Hoping you can forgive me too. And wonderful to meet you here.
Dear Carol and Shirley, What a creative way to share your unique country stories through a blog swap! I’ve read and reviewed ( and loved) both memoirs so please withdraw my name from the drawing. I always wanted to live on a farm while growing up. Now I can experience country living through your delightful stories. Thank you both for sharing.
I’m glad we made country living a good experience for you, Kathy! Thanks for dropping in to chat.
I really enjoyed Shirley’s book. I read a borrowed copy so couldn’t mark it up the way I usually do. Now I have my own copy and need to read it again and mark my favorite passages. I do want to win a copy anyhow because I’d like to give one to someone for Christmas. Shirley’s book really is a winner!
That tobacco worm story was one of my favorites in Shirley’s book! It shows how gutsy she is and it also illustrates the relationship she and her father had. He challenged her, she rose to the challenge and he respected that.
I read a borrowed copy of Shirley’s book and couldn’t mark it up. Now I’ve got my own copy and will go through it again, marking it up. I still want to win a copy so I can give it to someone for Christmas. Shirley’s book is a winner in my opinion!
These stories do tell us so much about the author herself and about childhood in general. I love the tobacco worm story, too, just for that reason.
You’ve got the right spirit, Elfrieda. A book for yourself and others to give as gifts. And this giveaway comes at just the right time as we’re turning our thoughts toward the holidays. Thanks for persisting in getting your comment to post.
You remember the taste of the worm. What a “Gutsy” thing to do. What did you do with the $5.00 reward?
Hi, Sonia. It’s gutsy moves like Shirley’s that ensure we remember the story. The story was also memorable for me because she put the $5 in her bra!
Add me to the list of people who have already a copy and have reviewed Blush. I have both the paper and Kindle versions, and each is equally stunning in layout. Blush raises the bar for elegant design.
That worm scene is one of the most compelling, perhaps because it evokes such a strong emotional reaction (OH YUCK! GAG!) and yet at the same time pure admiration for Shirley’s gutsiness. I’m pretty sure I would have done the same thing, spitting (maybe even gagging) as quickly as she did.
That story also evokes personal experience: when I was four or five we had a family reunion on my great-grandfather’s farm in Farmington, NM. Most of that property was apple orchard, but he had a large field of tomatoes, and several cousins were tasked with picking not tomatoes, but the worms eating them. We each had a quart jar to collect those worms. My mother’s youngest cousin was about 12 and he chased us little girls around with the worms, trying to put them down our necks.
He may have succeeded. That night I slept on a palette with my grandmother. She reached over in the middle of the night to make sure I was covered and felt something cold. When it wiggled, she realized it wasn’t my ear. She shrieked loud enough to wake everyone in the house as she grabbed whatever it was and flung it as hard as she could. When my grandfather arrived with a flashlight (the house lacked electricity — and plumbing), he found a tomato worm splattered on the wall, near the ceiling. As I wrote just now, I realized that worm must have come into the house on clothing. Perhaps it had been lurking down my neck all day… Eeek!
Would I bite a tomato worm in two as Shirley bit the tobacco worm? I’m glad I was never put to the test!
What a great story, Sharon! You shared so many details, I could see the place and the people. Tomato worms are both beautiful and scary with horns. I doubt I could have made myself bite into one. Five dollars or no!
I wonder if every child has a “creepy-crawly worm” story? We kids were sent out to collect potato bugs in coffee cans. Dad paid us a penny for ten bugs and ten cents for a leaf of eggs before they hatched. Getting rid of them once we collected and counted was the yucky part.
Kathy, I’m so glad you get to live with your “farmer boy” now and can experience the excitement of the earth’s abundance as an adult. It would be fun to hear more about your experience of encountering farm/garden life later in life. I’m sure there has been more than one surprise along the way. Fortunately, biting worms is not a required rite of passage!
Elfrieda, best wishes in the contest. I still have “Rosy Cheeks” inside me, and that girl always likes to throw her hat in the ring. In fact, that’s how I became a memoirist in the first place. A contest!
Glad you liked the story.
I have no idea what happened to the $5. I probably spent it on some clothing item. I may have added it to my college savings account, but I doubt it, since I was only 13 and hadn’t yet started saving in a serious way.
And Carol, when you don’t wear jeans, you don’t have pockets! What’s a poor country girl to do but get creative. 🙂
Sharon, I loved this story! And added with Carol’s story it makes me think.
Perhaps children were the original pesticides!
It was a losing battle in many cases, but a battle nonetheless. It may have produced some screams but was less destructive to the environment.
“Perhaps children were the original pesticides!” – Sounds like an interesting article for any number of publications. Or at the very least a blog post.
Shirley, you’ve made me think about whether I had pockets. I couldn’t tell you. No one ever gave me cash when I was out in the fields working. Putting it in your bra sounds so sophisticated!
Great post. Great writing. The very talented and impressive Shirley Showalter’s memoir is on my TBR list which is rapidly growing from all your wonderful recommendations. Paulette
There are so many talented writers. It’s been a pleasure to find folks like Shirley and you, Paulette, through social media. I know you would enjoy her stories. Thanks for stopping in and good luck in the drawing.
Thanks, Mary. I appreciate your ongoing support, my friend.
No forgiveness needed I don’t judge anyone God knows I have done much that needs forgiven. I really enjoyed reading your excerpt and look forward to reading “Blush” and “Growing Up Country.”
Paulette, thanks so much for your interest in my book. And now I’m off to see what you are doing online. Nice to meet you!
How nice of you to congratulate our winner, Randy! Thanks again for joining the discussion.