Part 7: “If You Promise You Won’t Tell: A Memoir”

Continued from Chapter 3: Mem Buys and Baby and a House

Susan Sakura from next door spent a lot of time that summer “teaching school” in the barn across the yard from our house. My siblings and I were her students. She was ten years old, and I was five. There at the picnic table, with my bare feet dangling above the dirt floor, she taught me how to write my name, how to color pictures, and how to say my first words in English. I thought I was all ready for school.

I eagerly waited for the bus to arrive on my first morning of school with Joey and Lizzie and with Susan and Brian from across the lane. Mrs. Sakura came out with her camera to take a picture of us. She lined us up near the mailbox, which was just out of sight of our kitchen window. She knew Mem couldn’t say yes to taking the picture if she asked permission, so she took it while Mem wasn’t looking.

L-R: Susan, Lizzie, Brian, Joey, me

When the bus arrived, Lizzie took my hand and helped me up the bus steps. I sat on one of the brown seats next to Lizzie, and we waved to Mem standing just inside the kitchen window, holding Baby Simon and waving back to us. Then with a roar, the bus took off up Hale Road. When I looked back and couldn’t see Mem anymore, I felt like an arrow had pierced my chest. As the bus kept going, taking me farther and farther away from Mem, a lump formed in my throat. I tried to hold back my tears, but I couldn’t. Lizzie told me there wasn’t anything to be afraid of, but the tears wouldn’t stop running down my cheeks.

Stepping inside the school was even scarier. There were children moving fast in all directions. Lizzie took my hand and led me to a room, and said this is where the Kindergarten class was. And then she was suddenly gone and children I didn’t know were moving all around me. I stood in the hallway outside the kindergarten classroom and felt all alone. I put my face in my elbow and cried. A woman came and talked to me in English. I couldn’t be sure of what she was saying, though I thought she was telling me to come into the room with desks and sit down. I just kept on crying. Then Lizzie was there saying, “Du muscht annah hukka.” I shook my head, indicating I didn’t want to sit down, and I said, “Ich vill de Mem — I want Mem.” I longed to be with her in the familiar kitchen, making bread with Sylvia and Sadie playing together on the floor.

Lizzie and Mrs. Maloney kept urging me, and finally I went into the classroom and sat at the desk with my name taped on the top left side. I put my head down in my arms on the desk and kept on crying. Then I heard someone next to me say, “Hi.”

When I stopped crying, the voice said, “What’s your name?”

I lifted my head and looked at a girl standing by my desk. I wiped my tears with my hands and whispered, “Saloma.”

“Mine’s Linda,” she said. She smiled at me. Through my tears I saw that she had dark hair and brown eyes, like me. Except she wore a blue print dress and a ribbon in her hair that hung down her back. I could never wear such fancy clothes.

Just then the bell rang and all the children sat down at their desks. I couldn’t understand what the teacher was saying as she passed out papers. Everyone else opened their desks and took out a box of crayons. I opened my desk and found in it a brand new box of crayons. I took them out and colored a picture of a little girl picking flowers.

I followed the example of the other children for the rest of the morning. During recess, I played on the swings with my new friend, Linda. I loved the feeling of the wind rushing past my ears and the butterflies in my tummy.

When the children in my class started lining up to get on the bus to go home, I wondered how the bus driver knew where my home was, and I wondered what would happen if she dropped me off at the wrong house. Then when I saw her driving down the dirt road toward our home, I knew it was going to be okay.

I’m sure I must have burst in the door, breathless with excitement, talking in a blue streak. But I didn’t say a word about having cried. Only when Lizzie came home later that afternoon, did Mem find out. I promised her that I wouldn’t cry again.

The next morning at school, I did cry as I stood in that busy hallway outside the kindergarten room. Mem seemed so far away. Lizzie came and told me, hastily, that I had to sit down. I tried following her, but she said, “You can’t come with me, that is the first-grade room!” She disappeared into the crowd of children. Mrs. Maloney caught up to me and gently led me to my desk. She told me, in her kindly manner, to sit down.

The third morning when I started to cry, the teacher just led me to my desk, and asked me to sit down. By then I was getting more used to school. I was learning English quickly. With no other Amish children in my class, it was English immersion.

I think now that my kindergarten experience of going into a class with no other Amish children and having to learn a whole new language and culture prepared me for leaving the Amish fifteen years later. Kindergarten was not yet mandatory even in the public school, so it was a choice Mem made to enroll me that year. I am so grateful for that now. Had I ever told Mem that this experience had prepared me to leave home, she would likely have regretted sending me to kindergarten.

Chapter 3 to be continued.

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6 thoughts on “Part 7: “If You Promise You Won’t Tell: A Memoir””

  1. kindergarten was not mandatory where I grew up either but unlike your Mem my Mum chose not to send us. Because twins are not aloud to be in the same classroom my Mum had to fight to keep my brother and I in the some room for first grade. So my first day of school was not so scary. From our home we could see the elementary school we attended and so we were “walkers”. I can still remember walking into that building for the first time holding my brothers hand. I remember holding my head up as we walked down the hall looking at the fluorescent lights lining the ceiling. What i remember most was the yellow paper with lines going across it with space at the top to draw a picture. And being given a box of fat crayons (I think they came in a box of five or six), The last day of school when we were told the crayons were ours to keep and take home I was so excited. The other thing I remember very well was the first time I drank out of the water fountain. I spit it back out! I told Mum that the water at school must be bad because it tasted awful. I remember she was standing at the sink peeling potatoes and with out even looking down at me she said,” that’s because its city water.” I was use to our spring water. My Mum also stood at the kitchen window and watched us walk to school. In my younger years I found it comforting, but in my middle and High school years I hated it because I knew she was doing it for a totally different reason. Then it was to make sure we came start home and didn’t go to the little general store like the other children. We were to come straight home. Reading you chapters has brought so many memories to mind, some I had completely forgotten.
    How scary it must have been for you, learning a whole new language! I like your last paragraph,it would be interesting to know what your Mem would have though about that statement! Question, did the other children tease you because of your Amish language or because of your manor of dress? or were they use to seeing Amish children within the school and outside of the school? Did you question why the English girls could dress the way they did and wear their hair the way they did?

    1. Pamela, it is so gratifying to know that reading this has evoked your own memories. Thank you for sharing your stories. Yes, we had the fat crayons, too.

      No, the children didn’t tease me for being Amish. Yes, there were Amish children in nearly every class in our school… most of them had more than one.

      I remember making a gaff with a word or phrase that was half German/half English, and the whole class burst out laughing. I wasn’t devastated. I realized that wasn’t the right way to say it, and asked Mem for the right way to say it later that day. I don’t remember what it was that I was trying to say.

      I remember once when I was standing in line at the water fountain feeling very thirsty after playing on the playground. I said, “I am very Thursday.” The child behind me corrected me.

      I think I did ask Mem once why I couldn’t wear nice dresses like the other girls in school. She would have replied, “Because we are Amish.” If I asked why the Amish didn’t allow pretty dresses, she would have answered her stock answer: “It’s just the way it is.” No satisfactory answer there.

      Thank you again for sharing your stories. If my stories evoke childhood memories in others, then my writing serves a good purpose.

  2. My story is about when I was in 4th and 5th grade. In the 4th grade the children were given an hour music lesson. We would go to the band room and there we would get an instrument and learn to play it. I was given a block flute. I really enjoyed that hour. One day I told my mother how much I enjoyed it. She was not at all pleased and went to the school and said I wouldn´t be allowed to go anymore. From that day on I had to stay in the classroom by myself. Her reasoning was that it sounded like a military band. My father had no idea of this and if he would have it wouldn´t have helped. Another event in the school year was the junior and senior plays. The grade school kids could go listen to the last practice before it would be presented to the parents and the rest of the school. Once again I said how much I enjoyed going to the plays. Once again my mother went to the school and said I wouldn´t be allowed to go. I don´t remember why. I would have to stay in the classroom. The teachers would feel sorry for me so they would let me in after the play was started. This time I didn´t say a word of course. My siblings had a much easier time in their school times and I think my mother was a bit more tolorant later. I was the oldest and I did have a hard time sometimes. I went to public school in the grade school. In the 6th grade a Mennonite School was started in our community and I had to attend it until the 10th grade. My first 2 yrs of High School were worthless. The quality of the school really wasn´t as good as it could or should have been. I know my parents did the best they could and I can´t change it. My last yr of high school was also at a Mennonite School in Virginia. Here however the quality of the education we had was so much better.

    1. I can very much relate to what you wrote here, Marye. Especially the part about your parents being harder on you than your siblings. The older ones are usually the trailblazers in my home community. I was for my younger sisters, I know that.

      Thank you for sharing your stories. You and I have a lot in common.

      Have a Happy Christmas!

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