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.