Welcome to my website!
I am the author of:
Bonnet Strings: An Amish
Woman's Ties to Two Worlds
Bonnet Strings is about leaving the Amish and my subsequent struggle to find my way in the outside world. I first left my community when I was twenty years old, and I landed at the YWCA in Burlington, Vermont. I reveled in my newfound freedom, established a social life, and began dating. I met a Yankee toymaker and peddler, David, who was eager to learn everything he could about the Amish, and he was willing to help me sort out the complexities of my new world.
The Yankee Peddler on Church Street in Burlington, Vermont
My freedom came to an abrupt end when a vanload of Amish people showed up at my front door to bring me back into the fold. I could not resist the overwhelming presence of the bishop and others, and so I returned to Ohio with them. Thus began a long struggle of feeling torn between two worlds: should I remain Amish and embrace the sense of belonging and community my Amish life offered, or should I return to the freedom I had experienced in Vermont?
Upon my return, I settled into teaching in an Amish school and did my best to fit back into Amish ways, but a legacy of childhood abuse and questions of identity plagued me. My ties to the outside world remained, especially through the quiet perseverance of the toymaker from Vermont. I kept telling him that a romance is impossible because “I’m Amish and you’re not.” Yet he kept sending me cards, never giving up hope that our love could survive the strain of living in two different worlds.
Bonnet Strings offers a rare look inside an Amish community, and yet it is a universal story of leaving home and overcoming adversity. Readers of Amish fiction, viewers of the PBS documentaries “The Amish” and “The Amish: Shunned,” and others will find in it a true Amish story: of hurt and healing, of doubt and faith, of longing and love, of leaving the Amish, returning, and then leaving again, and of the often competing desires for freedom and belonging.
Bonnet Strings: A Woman's Ties to Two Worlds will be launched simultaneously with the PBS documentary The Amish: Shunned airing on American Experience on February 4, 2014. I will be featured in it, as I was in The Amish, which also aired on American Experience in February 2012.
I also wrote:
Why I Left the Amish
Which was a finalist for the 2011
Why I Left the Amish, begins with an unanticipated break in my studies during my first semester at Smith College in 2004 when my father died and I traveled back to Ohio to my childhood community for his funeral. Finding myself back in the horse and buggy world I had left twenty-four years before, and then suddenly back on Smith College campus in a matter of forty-eight hours left me reflecting on the two separate and distinct lives I have lived.
I use the narrative present to tell the story of my childhood and young adulthood in my Amish community in northeastern Ohio. Mine was not the idyllic childhood that many people think of when they think "Amish." I had a father with mental illness, a mother who did not always protect me, and a brutal older brother.
In addition to the adversities I faced in my childhood, I also found that my inquisitive nature was a mismatch with the culture that I was taught I could never leave. I questioned the Amish ways, even after I joined the church and was baptized.
The last part of Why I Left the Amish chronicles my journey out of the only community I had known, to a place where I knew no one. Bonnet Strings: An Amish Woman's Ties to Two Worlds continues the story of being torn between two worlds. My Amish world offered community and tradition, my Vermont world offered freedom. I grappled with whether you can have a foot in both worlds or whether you just have to choose between one and the other.
Why this picture exists and
The day I smiled into my future
Me at seven years old
Many people have asked who took this picture or what occasioned it because they know that the Amish are not keen on having their pictures taken. Here is my response to them:
The picture -- you are quite right, it shouldn't have happened. This was when I was still attending public school, and on the morning of "picture day" my mother said, "Now if they insist that you need to be in the class picture, that's okay." When I got to school, and the other children were lining up to go to the gym for pictures, the teacher said, "Saloma, since you aren’t having your picture taken, you can stay in the classroom." I popped up out of my seat and said, "But my mother said I could be in the class picture!" I got in line with the other children, and when it was my turn, I climbed up on that stool and grinned my toothless smile into the lights and the camera. I didn’t know it then, but I was smiling into my future.
Years later, after I'd left the Amish I went back to the school I had attended and asked if they had any pictures left from those days. I was directed to where the records were being kept. Someone pulled out my second-grade record, and there in the top left-hand corner was this picture of me -- only 1 inch by 2 inches big. I explained to the keeper of the records that I had no other pictures of myself and asked that I be allowed to borrow it. She did allow it, so I had a photographer reproduce and enlarge it. My publisher decided to use the image for the cover of my book.