Beginnings of a Memoir

Written at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival, July 2012

I come from the people of the Martyr’s Mirror, the defenseless Christians who baptized only upon confession of faith and who suffered and died for the testimony of Jesus, their Savior, from the time of Christ to the year 1660 AD. That’s my heritage.

But that was only a subconscious awareness in my world when I was 23 and full of hopes and dreams. Why else would I take a teaching job that was 1000 miles away from my home?

I left for Iowa Mennonite School with my college roommate and close confidant, Peggy.  We admitted on the way out I-80 that we weren’t sure which state came first, Iowa or Illinois but repeated the mantra after every McDonald’s stop, “Go West Young Man” so we remembered which direction to go.

It didn’t take long to realize this portion of the Midwest was not like our hometown in Pennsylvania.  I think it may have occurred to me soon after doing some window shopping in the quilt-laden center of Kalona.  I walked happily, anonymously into Unto Others, a religious gift store and after fingering the finely sewed pot holders near the register, asked how much the pot holders were. I looked up at the middle-aged woman expecting a polite smile and an answer only to hear, “Who are you?” A little surprised but assuming she wanted to get to know me, I smiled and said,

“Beverly Benner,”

“Yes, but who are you?”  Ok, now I really didn’t know what to say and why was her voice so insistent?

“Um, well, uh, I came here a few weeks ago and I am going to teach at Iowa Mennonite School…?”

“Oh, you’re an IMS teacher…oh.  The potholders are each $2.50.

I left dazed.

Teaching was tolerable when my name, BEEEEVVVVV (the students at IMS call their teachers by their first names) wasn’t being yelled from one end of the hallway to another. I really can’t tell you why a few of the sophomore boys did that…probably just to irritate me.  I had reasonable control over my classes with the normal seniors that weren’t sure I was up to the task. I was off and running.

Actually it was only October of my first year when I had a major setback. I had a late night call from the president of the school board of IMS.

“Yes, it’s come to our attention that an elderly neighbor of yours is spreading rumors around the community that you are a prostitute.  Our constituency is hearing these rumors and questioning our decision to hire you and even though we don’t believe the rumors, we feel that it would be in your best interest to move to another location.”

I listened and politely responded, too stunned to say much.  I had earlier invited our neighbor, Lester over for dinner because our neighbors had encouraged us to get on the good side of this vocal, elderly citizen.  The night didn’t go well though when he trapped me in the bathroom, but I didn’t think anything of it as I escaped under his 84 year old wrinkled arm.  After all, he knew I had a boyfriend.

I hung up the phone and did the only thing I knew to do when it feels like the world turns against you and you’re 23…I called my parents.  In between breathless sobs, I relayed the entire story to my dad.

“Daddy….they ….think…I’m …a…prostitute.”

And Daddy actually heard me.  For the only time I remember in my life, he went to bat for me and defended his daughter’s virtues to the IMS principal.

“Look here now, we sent our daughter out to you there in Kalona, Iowa, to a good Mennonite community.  We entrusted her into your care. She’s a good girl. These rumors are false.”

It brought out a heart-warming courage even I didn’t know he could muster.  Perhaps he remembered the false accusations that had been hurled at him on the workplace and knew he didn’t want this for his daughter.

My dad had some 17 jobs in his lifetime but never seemed to find his professional niche.  He was an intelligent man that a few years before he died said he wished that when he came out of Civilian Public Service at the age of 26, he had relocated his new wife and baby daughter and gone to college somewhere.  “They do that today you know,” he said.

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