Book Review: Blush, A Mennonite Girl Meets A Glittering World

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IMG_0804While away in London, I read and reviewed Aimee Wise’s, Of Human Clay. Having set the tone with her “spiritual” memoir, I was eager to continue my reading adventure with another: Blush, A Mennonite Girl Meets A Glittering World, by friend, Shirley Hershey Showalter. Having two women I know publish memoirs simultaneously is thrilling. And both authors have helped me to understand my own need for spiritual comfort and have left me wanting to know more about how spirituality and religion becomes part of our lives and how it effects those around us.

Though each of these women has a different story, a different religion, and culture to deal with, the frustrations and tensions apparent in both stories, are similar. Regardless of what church, synagogue, or temple one worships in, our struggle to be faithful to our God, while being human beings with wants and needs that may fall beyond what we are permitted, are universal.

While Aimee’s book brought back twinges of my early anger with the Catholic Church, I was charmed and delighted with Shirley’s memories of growing up in a conservative, Mennonite farm community in Pennsylvania. Her wish “to be big,” not in the sense of being tall, “but big as in important, successful, influential,” went against all that her church and family represented.  To be Mennonite was to be plain and simple: in dress, speech and in all behaviors.  To be female and wear a prayer covering on one’s head was to stick out like a sore thumb … part of a religious subculture that a good part of the rest of the world doesn’t notice or choose to explore. In large societies like our own, we’re all too quick to point fingers at and make sometimes cruel jokes about those who are different from the rest of us. Whether it’s our skin color, religion, political affiliation, or sexual orientation, there is always something to gossip and make nasty judgements about.

Reading through Shirley’s memories of her first eighteen years of life, I was struck by how “BIG” she was even when she was small. She seems to have had an intuitive side that brought her through difficult moments in a family and church that she went along with and believed in, despite having her own dreams and aspirations for something more. And though following most of the rules, she never became the expected Mennonite wife, wearing a prayer covering, raising a handful of kids, and helping her husband by doing whatever is necessary to run a sometimes not so profitable farm.  Shirley seemed to know, if only on an unconscious level, that she would be more, while still respecting and hanging on to the structural ideals of her church and family. She has done more than succeed as a past president of Goshen College and her work with the Fetzer Institute.

From the beginning, Shirley, named by her mother after the famous child star, Shirley Temple, loved to be with her dad, riding along with him on the tractor and helping out in the other innumerable daily farm chores. Later when her brother and sisters came along, she loved being their teacher, showing them the ways of the natural world, the church, their family and even perhaps the glittering world beyond her parent’s farm. She “blushed” her way through awkward moments when she could barely contain her urges to go beyond what was expected of her. Her parents seemed to understand her concerns and differences with the Bishops of the Mennonite community, allowing her to think for herself while guiding her with gentle kindness.

Of the many heart-warming stories in this memoir, one of my my favorites is when her brother, Henry, gets a “new” second-hand bicycle. Envious of her brother’s good fortune and frustrated by her own old and worn out  bike, Shirley, tries to paint hers in an effort to make it look better using odd cans of paint stashed in the barn. She never asked permission to do so and makes a huge mess that most parents would have a huge fit about. When Shirley tells her dad, about her misadventure, adding that “I think you must love Henry more than me,” he  purchases the proper paints, takes her bike apart, and repaints it to make it look almost like new. Though her mother reminds her about “envy,” her father doesn’t lecture her on what she has done wrong. This special love and Mennonite kindness, prevails throughout the book, making me wish at times that I had grown up as a member of her family.

Filled with interesting tidbits about the history of the Mennonite church, family stories, along with recipes, footnotes and a glossary of terms I had little to no clue about, Shirley’s book took me on a journey through her early life and who and what has influenced her to become the woman she is today. She says it all best in the final pages of her book in, “Why I Am (Still!) a Mennonite.”

In the complicated world we live in, reading Blush, was for me a calming and refreshing visit to a simpler, less thorny way of living.


  1. Dear Joan,

    I’m warmed this morning by discovering some parts of your story and life. Bless all you’ve lived through and are living into, and may your own memoir evolving offer gifts beyond measure.

    I, too, highly enjoyed Shirley’s memoir Blush. I applaud you, Joan, for capturing the essence of her book in this valuable, beautiful review. Thank you.

    Many blessings,
    Joy Resor

    • Joan Rough says:

      Thank you, Joy, for your kind words. This memoir writing stuff is not for the faint of heart and all encouragement is appreciated. I hope you’ll come back again to visit.

    • Joy, thanks so much for this comment. Your spirit is touchingly sweet. And I think you will love Joan’s blog. She’s another courageous, joyful, sojourner in life.

  2. Hello, Joan. I found your comment on Laurie Buchanan’s this morning and followed you over to your blog. Then I was amazed to find a review of Shirley Showalter’s BLUSH. A few weeks ago I met Shirley for breakfast during my class reunion at Eastern Mennonite University where she now teaches a memoir class. We have similar backgrounds and grew up about 15 miles from each other in Lancaster County, PA, each unaware of the other. I too have reviewed her book on Amazon:

    I have enjoyed reading your review and the anecdotes it includes. Also, your description of your life now parallels mine, except for the dog–ha! You are invited to check out my blog cited above.

    • Exciting connections. I know you two will become great friends. Yippee!

    • Joan Rough says:

      Marion, So many connections! I love it. I’m glad you found me and I’ve taken a brief look at your blog and will be following along. Do come back and visit. I’m excited that my review has brought me a new friend! Thanks!

  3. Joan, I love the way you focus on the spirituality that exists in religion as you came with me on a journey to my spirituality through my religion. Sometimes today we think we can only have spirituality if we reject religion. I respect those who have taken that route, but I’m grateful to you for recognizing my life’s “testimony.” It is possible to have both. Not easy, mind you, 🙂 but possible.

    • Joan Rough says:

      Shirley, I’m glad you like my approach. There is no question in mind that you can have both and your right, it isn’t easy. You just need to be a bit independent in thought and practice. Looking forward to catching up in person soon.

  4. Oh my gosh, I just loved reading through the comments — it’s like Old Home Week 🙂

    • It is! Some of our online friends become offline ones too. Joan and I are lucky to be able to visit each other since we live less than 50 miles apart. I am so honored that many friends and friends-of-friends have read and reviewed Blush. Now I’m off to check in on you, Laurie. It’s been too long . . . .

    • Joan Rough says:

      Laurie, I love how one post has brought us all together. I hope one day to get to meet you all in person. As Shirley says below, she and I live quite near to each other, so visiting is possible. If you ever come to Virginia, please let me know. My door is always open!

  5. Thanks for picking up on the bike story, Joan. I felt the unfairness, and then the quiet comfort as her dad helped to remedy the situation without, as most parents would today, going out and just getting the poor kid a new bike. I never painted a bike to catch up but I remember how cheated I felt when mom and dad talked up a truck delivering a surprise for the WHOLE family and it turned out to be a bedroom suite for my sisters, and my brother and I searched in vain through the items being delivered for something for us… Eventually I got my turn using the “new” bedroom suite after my sisters went to college. Poor me. Brother was left out altogether. Good memories though.

    • Joan Rough says:

      Stories like these are the disappointments we seem to keep with us, but there are always good memories too. That’s what life is all about. Thanks for stopping by and hope you’ll visit another time.

    • Melodie, children are great score keepers, aren’t they? I’m sure my own children have stories to tell also. I’m sorry they don’t have their own memories of Grandpa Hershey. He died before my daughter was born and when Anthony was only four. But they have heard the story about the kind of love that takes action, and I hope that love will go on forever. I know the same is true for you. You too are a family story teller.

  6. Theo Yoder says:

    I loved Joan Roughs review. I had some of the same feeling, but I’m not a writer and find it hard to put into words what I feel. Shirley’s BLUSH was a very fun book to read. I could relate to part of her upbringing and it brought memories to me of my childhood.
    Thanks to both of you for your inspiration.

    • Joan Rough says:

      Theo, Thank you so much for coming by to read my review of Shirley’s book. Blush is a great reminder of memories for everyone, I think. Please come back for another visit.


    • Theo, so good to see you here! And thanks for these kind words about Joan’s review. I’m grateful for both of you today. Blessings.