“Are you still Mennonite?”

“So…are you still Mennonite?”

That’s a question I am asked almost as often as I reveal the truth of my roots and it is coming to me with a new frequency since the August launch of my book When The Roll Is Called a Pyonder: Tales From A Mennonite Childhood.

I can see that I am going to have to come up with an answer.

For most Mennonites where I come from, the fact you even have to ask would be the answer in and of itself. My light is evidently under a bushel and we all know what that means. Or at least Mennonites do.

But my last name is Zimmerman and I have a Mennonite pedigree that doesn’t stop, including surnames like Brubaker, Neff, Martin and Horning. I went to junior high at Manheim Christian Day School, high school at Lancaster Mennonite High School and college at Goshen College. When I was thirteen years old I was baptized on my knees by the bishop and for several successive years, pinned a round white doily to the top of my head every time I went to church or grandma’s house to symbolize my submission before God and men. And I was proud of it. I can sing 606 without the book and I know all three verses of “Heart With Loving Heart United,” the soprano line and the alto. I make pork and knepp on New Year’s Day like Grandma Brubaker did wearing an apron with blue rick-rack that Grandma Zimmerman wore over her cape dress. I wash my kitchen floor on my hands and knees with a bucket and a rag and my fail-proof recipe for pie crust comes from the Erisman Mennonite Church’s cookbook. So of course I’m Mennonite.

But I moved far away for a long time and I’ve fallen in love with dancing: salsa and merengue. Can you remain a Mennonite after you learn to move like that? I spent so many sunny years in a bikini on a surf board that I have lost all ability to feel the shame prescribed for immodesty. So I don’t know. Now what?

I consider myself a pacifist and like to believe I am non-violent. I believe in being nice to everybody; does that count? Military vehicles and anyone dressed in military clothing scare the crap out of me—I can’t help it. I’m down with the priesthood of believers and concur that the significance of infant baptism appears to be lost on the infants. So obviously I’m a Mennonite, right?

But I haven’t been a member of a Mennonite church in twenty years. I haven’t been a member of any church in twenty years. I’ve barely entered a church in the last twenty years until I recently started unfaithfully attending a United Methodist church. Why? My town doesn’t have a Mennonite church. Oh, you mean why have I gone back to church at all? I don’t really know. I just got in the mood. Is that my age showing?

I’ve been married twice (divorce, not widowed), both times to men who had never heard of Mennonites and didn’t believe I was serious until they saw with their own eyes. I’ve broken all of the 10 commandments except for the one about killing and I only feel repentant in a handful of instances. The fact that I would even make a statement like that—what does that make me?

I don’t pray before meals or before bed or at any other specific time of day. I pray spontaneously—almost accidentally—as if I have an invisible friend inside my head. I don’t read my Bible, really. When the mood strikes, I like Ecclesiastes and Matthew and Ester. But I know Psalm 23, Psalm 139, the Lord’s Prayer, I can almost recite Luke’s version of the Christmas Story from the King James Version and at one time during my teenaged years I committed to word-for-word memory the first 11 chapters of the Book of Acts. Does that mean anything?
I don’t think I believe in the traditional heaven and hell. I’m not sure what to make of the Holy Trinity, to tell the truth, because I suspect the church got poor Jesus all wrong as his toes were disappearing into the clouds.

Can you be a Mennonite if you question whether or not Christianity is a crock? If I say I am Mennonite, do I ruin the meaning of the word? If I say I am not Mennonite, does my blood laugh out loud in my veins? Is being Mennonite about espousing The Mennonite Confession of Faith? If you can start being one by espousing it, do you stop being one if you take issue? Even if you obediently wore skirts and dresses throughout the entire 4 years of high school? What about if you have a private moment of glee every time the clock says 6:06?

So tell me yourself: am I still Mennonite?  In one word you will define both of us.


April 23, 1980: Neil Hates Me

Straight from the red diary of the little girl who tells the tales in
When The Roll Is Called A Pyonder:  Tales From a Mennonite Childhood.
Click the title for the link to buy.

April 23, 1980
Today our class went in to the H.C Bergard school to hear a conserd. Now I am sure that Neil hates me. But I still like him. I mean it’s just written all over his face that he hates me. We have a unit about bike safety in school, it’s fun.  And tonight I was deid tired, but I still had to do some homework.

April 25, 1980
Yesterday we went to Uncle Earl’s house. We stayed over night so Daddy uncle Earl and Roger could go turkey hunting. My bike is just an itty-bitty little thing and way too small for me but I have to make do with it. Mitchell has a three speed and it’s just a little bit too small for me and it’s just a little bit too big for Mitchell. I had fun on that

May 1, 1980
Bobby L. went to the hostpittle so Karen stayed over night last ngiht. I had a party for Karen Wanda and Yvonne. Karen and Wanda liked the party so they threw dandielions all over me for it. It was a really nice and hot and sunny day then it had to rain. I was really mad! Daddy took us out for ice cream cones. They were good!


Daddy and his three girls on what was probably a Sunday afternoon: Yvonne on the top, me on the side, Wanda in front, mom behind the camera.

 Get When The Roll Is Called A Pyonder from Amazon.com or if you buy it directly from the publisher, eLectio Publishing, a free e-book comes with the purchase of the paperback.

April 17, 1980: It’s not fair!

Straight from the red diary of the little girl who tells the tales in
When The Roll Is Called A Pyonder:  Tales From a Mennonite Childhood.
Click the title for the link to buy.

April 17, 1980

Today I was sad and mad because in line I was behind Neil and Karen and I were pretending to fight about who was behind him. And Neil said to us, “One thing, just stay off my back.” And that did it and so from now on I’ll just act normal so Neil doesn’t hate me, and maby some day he’ll change his mind about me. And who says I don’t like him? Well I do like him. I went fishing today. In the evening we played Rook. Daddy won. I don’t think it’s fair that Wanda, Yvonne and Roger can mouth off to mommy and daddy all day and neighthor of them bother to say any thing about it. And after the Roock game I asked If I could have a cookie mommy said “No”.  I asked again if I could have a cookie and I got mommy after me yelling.  I went on my way to the lundry and I said, “Come on you guys!” Then I had mommy and daddy yelling at me. Karen can’t stand to be pushed around a little bit, but she can be yelled at all day, Well I can stand to be pushed around all day, but I can’t stand to be talked mean to or yelled at even just a little bit.

April 21, 1980

Today I got a letter from my penpal on the out side it said Do Not Bend. Inside where 2 post cards from the Neil (drawing of heart) Armstrong museum. Wanda’s cat, Cinnimin had kittens and so did another wild cat. I tried to make a wheel barrel today, but I didn’t get very far.


Celebrating my 9th birthday about 4 months before I started keeping this diary.  Around the table clockwise are:  Yvonne, Wanda, Grandma Zimmerman, Mom, Grandpa  Zimmerman, Great Grandpa Horning, Great Grandma Horning and me.  Dad is taking the picture.  You can’t see it all that well, but I am wearing an infamous coloutte skirt with flaps, explained in When the Roll Is Called A Pyonder.

Get When The Roll Is Called A Pyonder from Amazon.com or if you buy it directly from the publisher, eLectio Publishing, a free e-book comes with the purchase of the paperback.

First Soup

From The Riotous Walls, work in progress

I do not know how to eat the soup.

There is an enormous bowl on the table in front of me with fist-sized potatoes, gristly chunks of meat, yucca, whole carrots, halved ears of corn. And a spoon. My mamá named Hilda smiles at me because she is pleased to have made me something special and “Coma,” she says. “No le gusta la sopa?”

I like soup and I am hungry but I don’t know what to do. The soups I know have small-cut meat and vegetables, not these ingredients boiled whole. I look again but she has not given me a knife. She stands there smiling at me in confused expectation as I look helplessly at my plate.

I must look for words in this language and I have so few.

“No entiendo,” I say. “Como?”

“Ai mamita,” she says through an accidental giggle and asks me if I’ve never eaten soup before. “Asi,” she says, and taking my spoon, she slices off a piece of potato and offers it to me as if I were a giant 20-year-old baby.

“Ah,” I say. “Gracias.” I take the spoon.

Mama Hilda disappears into the kitchen and then joins me with a steaming bowl for herself. The delicious broth is scalding hot and I spill it onto the table as I chop clumsily at the carrot and then at the corn.

“No no,” she interrupts me. “El maiz, no. Ai mamita. No sabe tomar la sopa,” and she giggles again. “Mire,” she commands. She dips her fingers into the boiling broth, fishes out the ear of corn and bites the kernels from it in the way of every summer.

“Ya?” she asks me, meaning do I need more help or do I finally get it.

“Si,” I say. “Ya.”


“Gracias. Igual.”

I know nothing, not how to eat, not now to speak. All my life I have heard people talk of being born again and although this is not what they meant I see that this is its truer meaning.

When we are finished our faces shine with sweat and soup.

April 13, 1980: Worm Hunting

Straight from the red diary of the little girl who tells the tales in
When The Roll Is Called A Pyonder:  Tales From a Mennonite Childhood
Get it now by clicking on the title.

April 11, 1980
Today Roger and I got up early and went fishing. It was really good. I moved my pigoens from the top rabbit pen to the empty fox pen  Its alot bigger and  I can sit inside it with them.

April 13, 1980
Today after church and dinner Velda’s came to our house. We had fun! Then Wendall, Reagena, Mell Martains and Carl Zisets came over after supper. Larry, Jeff, John, Sharen and me went to hunt night crallers. They are giant worms that come up out of the dirt and you need a flashlight.  We got a bunch!

April 15, 1980
Today in school we had a substitute her name was Miss Barthold. She wasn’t that mean but she was weard!

Making Christmas cookies with mom and Wanda in the old kitchen.  Looks like peanut blossoms which are still my favorite.

Get When The Roll Is Called A Pyonder from Amazon.com or if you buy it directly from the publisher, eLectio Publishing, you get a free e-book with the purchase of the paperback!

Mary Katheryn’s Silver

I would like to apologize to
Mary Kathryn about the silver.
I am sorry. I saw it sitting there on
the table at your son’s garage sale
beside some ugly lamps and a
mantle clock.

The girls standing guard hawked,
“It was our great grandma’s!
It’s never been used!”
when they heard me gasp and saw
my hand shoot out to touch the
tiny flowers.

I am a good woman, I promise you,
with a clean house and
a clear conscience. Your son
is kind; he feeds our cats when we are gone
and brought us a cheddar cheese ball
at Christmas.

He told me it’s your wedding
anniversary silver. I am sorry
I bought it for 40$ at his garage sale.
I am sorry for your great granddaughters’
pimply skin and that no one made them
get braces.

I am sorry for your grandchildren outside
on the porch grumbling loudly to their dad about
a dog and a guy named Fred.
I am sorry not one of them
slapped the box shut saying, “Sorry. This is not
for sale.”

“What was your mother’s name?”
I asked him as I handed him two twenties for
your silver. He looked at me in plain
surprise that I would want to know and
then replied, “Her name was
Mary Katheryn.”


Mary Katheryn's silver