“When The Roll Is Called A Pyonder”–What Third Graders Want To Know

Adults who read my memoir, “When The Roll Is Called A Pyonder: Tales from a Mennonite Childhood,” often have questions:

Are you still Mennonite?  (click to read my answer) 
Do you attend church?
Do you consider yourself a Christian?
Are your sisters still Mennonite?
What was your purpose for writing this book?
What do your parents think about it?
Why did you change all the names?

Last week I had the opportunity to answer a different set of questions related to “When The Roll Is Called A Pyonder.” A friend of mine teaches 3rd grade at a local elementary school, and, skipping over unmentionables like the day I found out how Baby Michelle got into Mommy’s belly, and how it is that boys get to pee standing up, she has been reading my book to them out loud. On Thursday afternoon, we arranged for me pay a surprise visit to her class. She warned me that I should be prepared for lots of enthusiasm when I walk in the door, but I hadn’t exactly pictured getting mobbed by 23 bouncing, miniature people who are shouting out all of my secrets.

I knocked on the door, nervously, to be honest, and a little boy opened it to let me in. Mrs. Wytko looked up from their math lesson and smiled. “Look!” she said to them. “We have a special visitor today. Guess who this is…”

Somebody gasped, “Diana…??”

I said, “It’s me!”

They jumped out of their chairs and took two running steps toward me, then remembered that I’m actually sort of still a stranger, and stopped.

I sat down on one of the little desks, feeling entirely oversized, held out my arms, and said something like, “So I heard you guys like my book?”

That’s when I got mobbed—group-hugged by an entire 3rd grade class, everybody squealing, and jumping, and saying, “Remember when…?” and, “Why did you…?” then dashing to get their journals to show me the pictures they’ve drawn of my childhood escapades. They showed me their scars, and asked me if chocolate pudding still makes me throw up.

Eventually, Mrs. Wytko herded everyone back to their seats. I read a few pages from “When The Roll Is Called A Pyonder” to them, while they wrote in their little journals about what I was reading, or drew pictures of what it made them think of.

After that, we had Question Time. I sat in the front of the room, and each child had a turn to come to me to tell me something, or ask a question. There isn’t a Mennonite gene in one of their little bodies, but they didn’t seem to notice. Here in the Wild West, everyone is a recent decedent of an outlaw, an immigrant, or both. Forget whether or not I go to church, or what my mother thinks about it. This is what 3rd graders want to know:

Did you ever your mom about the money you took?
Why were the geese so mean?
Did you really kill all the ducks?
Why were the eggs rotten?
Why were you drowning the kitties?
How could you run faster than that truck?
Why is your dad scared of thunder?
Did you pet the snake?
Is there still a hole in your floor?
Why do you hate potato soup?
Remember that mean teacher you had?
Why did you want to kill your sister?
Why did you think you could fly?

I left with a pocket full of love notes, knowing that my book succeeded in communicating the innocence of childhood that hasn’t got anything at all to do with adult problems like religion. And I agree that whether or not chocolate pudding still makes me throw up is much more critical than whether or not I’m still Mennonite.

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Open Book Test: February (16 years ago), 1999

When: February (16 years ago), 1999
Where: Costa Rica
What: I’ve been married for 2 years, and every day I drive from my home, in Guaitil, to Tamarindo beach.  There, I  sett up a display table outside of a little restaurant, and sell the pottery that my husband makes.  On the weekends, I teach some English classes at the Universidad Latina.
Age:  28

The sky is so wildly blue and the ocean like a precious gem. No hour is too early or too late to be burned by the unspeakable sun. The moon by night es igual. It shines so close, so completely, that you can feel its pulse in the shadows it paints. Today is also a day of wind, so all of God’s children in the tropics are happy. All except the French people who have no customers in their restaurant. I went to the beach today, early, which was a good idea. Maybe my tan it terrible, but my soul feels good. G said he dreamed I left him for another man. See? That’s how I know he loves me. I dream that about him too.

I got SUN BURNT. Wow. God have mercy on my hide! And the nice boy in the restaurant gave me a huge free cup of boiling hot coffee. His employers always charge me for a lukewarm half-cup. I have been feeling this incredible urge to write, again. I think reading poetry for Lit. class is doing it. Praise God! And now my own adversary is myself and the schedule I have made for me. But I can keep being patient. O yes I can, and I will.

I have realized something that I will confess only because I will be dead by the time anyone else figures it out. If I were disgustingly wealthy, do you know what I would do? I am embarrassed to confess it, but I would go get this belly liposuctioned away. I would. I know, I know. What about children who never get vaccinated because their families and countries are too poor? What about cancer and AIDS? But I would do it anyway, because how can you enjoy gorgeous clothes if you have to pull them over a dumpy body? How can you enjoy good food if you’re already fat and don’t want to be? Huh? You can’t. So now I confess to myself that I am no better than the wretched people I complain about.

I am going on four years of living here, now, and you know what? It didn’t turn out at all like I expected. I never expected to have a real “job.” I expected I’d have a little house with a red floor and a kitchen like Silma’s. I expected to marry J. I expected never to cut my hair. I expected to write volumes, write letters, make beautiful pottery, listen to the frogs and owls at night. I expected to make tortillas and learn to murder my own chickens. I expected to have girlfriends, any friends.

And this is still my dream: to wake warm in the morning, to greet the sun brushing back my long brown hair, eat with the songs of birds at my table, ponder the mountains, moments, days of my life. I still dream of dusk, those few yellow moments when the mountains hum the note that calls night, and all is hushed but the whish of wind and the conversation of birds. I still dream of this and will not cease.

 

Hunger Changes Everything

It begins with the sound of Jorge scraping
the bottom of the pot
metal on metal
at six AM.

I don’t need a clock.
By seven, Yolanda’s radio
will play louder than the rain.

From my thin bed, I
listen to him scraping:
the sound of nothing.

Hunger pangs, they say, dull
if you lie on your belly.
I have been sleeping face down for weeks
since the rains began in
earnest, and the buyer of our earthenware
stopped at the dangerous bridge.
It will rain until October.

He scrapes carefully, filling the morning
with echoes of emptiness.
Each grain of rice will be
gone and there will not be one
spoonful left for me.

Who will believe the hot fat
tears that slide around my
nose and onto the bed?
If I say I have wept for a
plate of rice, who will
not politely cough and look away?.

Watch me dry my eyes and pour
thin sweet coffee
from my cup into the hollow space
between these new hipbones.
Watch me look out
at the rain and not at Jorge
chewing.

I will lie on my back tonight
listening to the thunder.
I will be waiting
when Maria lights the cooking fire
in the morning dark.

It begins with the sound of Jorge scraping
the bottom of the pot
metal on metal
at six AM.
A spark ignites the slow-burning panic
of hunger that
changes everything.

Open Book Test: From a February 2 years ago

When: February 2013–2 years ago
Where: Northwest corner of USA
What: My husband is having trouble healing the way the doctor intended, after the third of what we never imagined would be nine reconstructive surgeries over 17 months
Age:  42

Well well well.  No thank you Mercury for your f*ing retrograde self.  We merrily drove to Seattle to see Dr. JR today and got slapped down.  Poor P. Poor me.  F* ing Dr. JR.  Some stitches on P’s right nostril didn’t hold—again, apparently—and he wasn’t all that nice about it.  Not like being nice is really required, but we’d gotten a little used to it.  He scolded us heartily and told P to come back next Friday, and we’ve added another surgery to this.

P is sorry he even started.  So am I, honestly.  And today, I think Dr. JR was too.  It’s long and hard and discouraging for him, too.  It was a very very bad day.  P is depressed and honestly so am I.  I feel like it will never end.  Now P has to be super calm and careful for a week, because if one more inside stitch goes, the rib cartilage will die and then… we start over.

Please God, don’t let that happen to us.  We’ve been stupid and wrong.  We’ve lied and made bad decisions about money and other things.  But please have mercy on us and don’t punish us anymore, just now.  Have mercy on us and let us heal.  I wish I could help his boredom/loneliness/desperation.  But I am out of ideas.

I am the one with nothing and no one, just a broken husband, beautiful as the sun but sliced and cut so many times he is unrecognizable.

Tell me what is the right thing to do.  Tell me clearly.  Write it on the wall.  I am so tired.

The Open Book Test

The Open Book Test is a n experiment.  You know me, by now. You know I’ve been a journal-keeper for 35 years.  Maybe you read some of the posts from my first diary, under the heading The Red Diary Project, a few months ago.

My intention, throughout 2015, is to post entries from my lifetime of journals, one every other Monday. I will choose an entry from the current month, written the number of years ago that corresponds to the calendar date of the post.  Today, on January 19, I have chosen something from January–19 years ago, in 1996.

My purpose is not to hurt or embarrass anyone—least of all myself—so, of course the entries are edited. Sometimes the whole truth is too much of a good thing. Names may or may not be real, or may appear as just initials.

What, then, is my purpose?

I don’t have a good answer for that, yet.  I just like the idea.  Maybe, the answer will come to me as I go along.   For the life of me, I can’t think of one single reason why I shouldn’t at least begin…

* * * * *

When: January, 1996–19 years ago
Where: Guaitil, Cost Rica
What: I’ve been in Costa Rica for 6 months. The town’s water pump broke, and, for days, we have only had hand-drawn water from old wells.
Age: 25

They say that the ditch is dug, and the pipes are nearly laid, and tomorrow we should have water from the new well. This morning Lorena and I went and washed at Irma’s, because she has a well right by the wash sink. I drew buckets of water until my hands were red. We were using the washing machine and there were 2 of us – imagine what it must be like to wash alone, by hand, drawing water from a well.

As I have thought 100 times before, I thought again: it is the poor who understand the rhythm and mysteries of life. I have sat in the laundromat while my clothes spun, closed-up in a machine that sits in a row of machines. When the machines stops, the clothes are assumed to be clean, and into the dryer they go. Cleaning itself becomes a mystery. It is done in the dark washer that you must not open while you wait. Today I knew each bucket of water, and I already know which clothes have which stains where. Then Irma gave us lunch and Lorena and I went to Santa Cruz.

Ok. Now. Yesterday I had a life-changing revelation in the shower, where I have a history of finding life-changing revelations. I was taking a shower at Dona Daisy’s, because she has her own water pump. I was thinking this: I am a great writer. I am great and brilliant. Just because I haven’t had anything published, does not mean a thing. There are tons and tons of published books and poems and magazine articles and plays that I would die of humiliation to have written. I write better and see more clearly and interestingly than half the people who make their money writing. I always think to myself, “Well, if I become a writer and am well-known and loved, then it will all have been worth it. If my loans go into default, and I’m starving and miserable, it will be worth it–if I become a great writer.”  Everyone thinks it’s charming that Emily Dickenson was off her rocker, Einstein got bad grades in school and Vincent Van Gogh cut off his ear.  But they didn’t think it was one bit funny, I’m sure.  They didn’t know that everyone would end up loving them.  So it’s wrong to think, “This will be worth it if I become a great writer.” I AM a great writer. If I never make a dime, that’s on a different chart than my ability. Right. I shouldn’t think, “maybe I will be a writer” because I already AM one. A good one. Anyway, even if I don’t have millions to inspire, I have my sisters. I have my friends. I have my family and loved ones to write for, and that’s probably better than writing for millions, anyway. Right? So what does this mean for me? Well, I’m scared. But I will proceed, because I’m a young brilliant writer and it’s all worth it. The loan companies can’t lay a finger on my soul.

The Liebster Award

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I am honored to have been nominated for the Liebster award by my friend Anna Nolan who writes the clever blog, Flaming English.  Anna was nominated by Sean at http://theplight2write.com.

The purpose of this award, as I understand it is, to permit bloggers to draw attention to other blogs which they, themselves, enjoy. I freely confess that I am not a model citizen of the blog world, but here is a short list of blogs that I appreciate, and am delighted to nominate for the Liebster Award.

Tiny Cat Pants
Fueled By Vegetbles
Secondhand Surfer
Red lips and city lights

What the nominees do if they accept the Liebster Award
* Acknowledge and accept the Liebster Award by leaving a comment on the blog where you were nominated
*Copy the Liebster logo and paste it onto your own blog
*Inform your nominees by leaving a comment on their respective blogs
*In your blog post about the Liebster Award:
1.  Link back to the blogger who nominated you
2.  Answer the 11 questions put to you by the person who nominated you
3.  List 11 random facts about yourself
4.  Nominate, and link to, 3–11 other blogs which you enjoy and which have fewer than 3,000 followers
5.  List 11 questions for your nominees.

The answers to the 11 questions I was asked:

1.  What would you like to get out of blogging?
I blog because it’s way for me to share my writing with friends and anyone else who is interested, without requiring them to purchase anything.

2.  What is your claim to fame?
My claim to fame is that I’ve kept a diary since I was 9.

3.  What matters to you most?
Windows.  Preferably open windows, but windows of any kind.  Fresh air.

4.  What is your guilty pleasure?
Summer sunbathing.

5.  If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?
Costa Rica.  I used to live there and I have every intention of going back—there or to Nicaragua.

6.  How do you like spending your free time?
Warm weather free time: Doing outside things like walking, gardening, basking, brushing the cats
Cold weather free time:  Writing, baking, knitting, crocheting, brushing the cats

7.  What is your most abiding memory?
I have volumes of them.

Maybe the time, in Nicaragua, that I had to get into a small fishing boat with 3 men that I don’t know, or starve to death in the jungle.  Then, instead of tying me up in the plastic hose that was coiled there and hacking me up with their machetes, they hopped out of the boat (plastic tube = breathing tube!), clawed up a few lobsters, and used the machetes to slice open a lemon.

8.  Who is your favourite writer?
Today:  Miriam Toews
In general:  Gabriel Garcia Marquez

9.  What type of music do you like?
I like happy music of any genre except country or heavy metal (ps. They are never happy anyway).  I dislike whiney/sad music in any genre.

10.What tends to annoy you?
I hate being treated like I’m stupid.  I hate even suspecting that I’m being treated like I’m stupid.

11.  What quality do you most admire in people?
I admire people who can be honest without being unkind.

Eleven Random Facts About Me

  1. I grew up in a Mennonite family on a farm in Pennsylvania.  I had braids and looked exactly like Laura from Little House on the Prairie (which is the only tv show we were allowed to watch) until I was about 13.
  2. I have a college degree in Theatre with a minor in Womens’ Studies.
  3. I lived in Costa Rica for 15 years and learned to surf. One day at Avellanas, Robert August lent me his longboard. It’s a great story…
  4. I’m allergic to mangos
  5. Sometimes I dream things and then they happen.  Never ceases to freak me out.
  6. I have 2 step-kids, 3 ex-step-kids and 1 god-daughter, spread over 3 countries. And 4 cats, and 0 kids.
  7. When I’m really mad, I burst into tears.  I hate that.
  8. I don’t get warm enough to take off my sweater until it’s 80 degrees F.
  9. I alternate reading books in English, Spanish and Italian.  The Spanish ones take me a long time and the Italian ones take me forever, but I don’t care.  Almost everybody I know has read more books than I have, for that reason.
  10. I’ve always wished I could raise one eyebrow.  I can wiggle my ears, and even wiggle them one at a time, but I cannot raise one eyebrow.
  11. I like every food I’ve ever eaten except potato soup. Nasty.

The 11 questions to my nominees

  1. If you could do anything, what would you do first?
  2. What makes you the maddest?
  3. What will always make you laugh?
  4. Is it alright to wear pink and red together?
  5. To which animal do you think you are most similar?
  6. What’s your favorite quote?
  7. What did you get for your last birthday?
  8. If you had to give up caffeine or alcohol, which would it be?
  9. How old were you when you realized that other people were not like you?
  10. What, if any, religion do you subscribe to?
  11. What’s your motto/mantra/anthem?

 

Remember Barbara: Afterward

Now, you have suffered with me through the disappearance of my friend, Barbara Struncova.  During the month of December, as I shared her story, I heard from many of you who knew Barbara, and I wove as many of your words as I could into the tale.  I would like to share the following things that I was unable to include:

Barbara may have inherited, or have been set to inherit, money from the sale of a house that belonged to her grandmother, or some other family member, in Europe. “Jim” may have known about this.

As I understand it, Barbara’s family has stated that they do not wish to pursue the case any further.

I contacted one of the investigators that Barbara’s uncle hired, and expressed my interest in this case. He read my message, but he has not replied.

A friend who was having coffee with “Jim” and Barbara one afternoon near the time Barbara went missing, remembers ”Jim” making the comment that Barbara’s uncle would support them. Barbara rolled her eyes and smiled.

Barbara’s sister did not tell their mother about Barbara’s disappearance. Their mother learned about it by reading it in the newspaper.

“Ivan” still lives in Costa Rica. I contacted him, requesting help to understand Barbara’s family’s wishes in regards to her disappearance. He politely declined to correspond with me.

No one is able to tell me whether or not the blood on “Jim’s” flip-flop was ever determined to be a match with Barbara’s family.

“Jim” was deported from Costa Rica in 2008.

While “Jim” was in the USA, he stole his brother’s passport, and used it to return to Costa Rica. He used it again to leave in 2010. There is no immigration record indicating that he was even in Costa Rica at the time Barbara disappeared.

“Jim” may have been unable to get his own passport because of criminal offenses in the USA, which may include the failure to pay child support and the writing of fraudulent checks.

“Jim” never suffered a heart attack, did not nearly die, and has not ever been a smoker.

After their investigation in Costa Rica, the Czech investigators hired by Barbara’s uncle flew to the USA, where they watched “Jim”’s house for a short time.

The FBI cannot become involved unless the Costa Rican OIJ specifically requests help from the USA. No such request has been made by the Costa Rican government.

Stories that ”Jim” has used over the years to explain Barbara’s disappearance:
She went to travel in the Caribbean with an ex-boyfriend.
She went to Panama.
She returned to Czech Republic.
Her family quietly shuffled her into rehab.
She had a secret life dealing in/smuggling drugs. The drug dealers are responsible for her disappearance.

 ***

I dream of justice, but my personal quest is for the truth.
Justice will come in one form or another, born from the belly of Karma.
While we wait, we must live patiently and well, telling true stories to each other.

Namaste.

***

Read “Remember Barbara”

Request PDF of “Remember Barbara”

Rest in peace.

Rest in peace.