How Do You Know

Written Fall of 2009

An attempt at humorous sarcasm

How do you know that your life sucks?  Is it when you quit your medical editing job to teach at a Mennonite high school, only to have the students organize a petition to have you fired?  Or is it when you see your church of 16 years argue and disagree over whether a sex offender should attend our services?

Well, 2008 was a doosey of a year where I experienced both of these…and lived to tell about it.  For awhile I thought I might have to take my life, but then I decided to write.  I’d write about these awful experiences and perhaps show others that there is life after public humiliation and church dissension.

The public humiliation came in 2009 when I went to hear the seniors speak from the Mennonite high school where I had taught.  I listened to 11 speeches and 4 mentioned me.  That seemed like a high percentage when I was only there for 5 months out of their 4 years.  Well, I knew I was in trouble when one of them started sounding very angry about reading only one book during her high school career.  She had read the Great Gatsby and it had been in my class.  No need to get a puffed head though because she was “made to read the book out loud every day.”  And if that weren’t bad enough, the teacher (me) made her behave or threatened to call her parents.  Well, they showed this teacher.  They got a petition signed to have her fired!

OK, well how do you quietly get up from a speech such as this without being noticed?  Do you talk to a few persons afterwards, casually acting like it didn’t faze you that you were discussed as if you were a neurotic teacher from hell?  Or do you slink out of the room with your head down as if the shame may erase the forged memory from people’s brains?  And how do you face the many persons, some friends, that were in that room listening to the speech?  Do you mention the fact that you feel like a piece of refuse that might as well jump off a bridge …or do you ignore the subject totally, keeping your pasted smile placid?  Is it appropriate that for the next few weeks whenever someone asks you how you’re doing, you assume they are referring to how embarrassed you must be? Is there hope for the publically humiliated teachers of this world?  Or is it best to just quietly pretend it didn’t happen….and look for other employment?

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An Enos Adjustment

Enos and Emma Yoder on their 60th Wedding Anniversary

Written Fall of 2012

When I was younger, my dad had a remedy for most things that bothered me, “You need an adjustment.”  This meant lying on the couch with my dad’s hands spanning my back and jolting me up and down for as long as I could stand it. I was sure I felt worse rather than better after this therapy.  But none of my feelings deterred Daddy and his belief in “adjustments.”  Sometimes he even used a hand vibrator to massage my back muscles for particularly difficult ailments.

Daddy may have received lessons on how to give an “adjustment” from his Uncle Enos.  Dr. Enos Yoder was his mom’s brother, a chiropractor in Souderton. I remember him as a tall, lanky man in his 70’s with reddish-rimmed glasses.  As I followed my dad up a winding staircase, he said “Enos has to take care of Emma like a nursemaid because she is in failing health.” I heard the respect in my dad’s voice, but I never really knew my great uncle Enos.

Enos was born in Souderton to Jacob and Elizabeth (Moyer) Yoder in 1880.  He attended Souderton Mennonite Church where he once winked at the new girl that had been “farmed out” to a family that lived across the street from the church. Her name was Emma Bergey and she was intrigued with this Mennonite boy enough to start dating him and then later even marry him.  Perhaps she saw the Enos’ ingenuity and courage even then.  They were very happy together and Enos doted on Emma in a time when this was not done, telling her often how much he loved her.

Their oldest son, Earl, had an unfortunate accident when he was young, falling out of a tree and severely injuring himself.  Although he survived, he later had seizures that left his young parents desperate to know how to care for him.  They naturally did what most local parents did in those days: they took a train to Philadelphia to see if there were any doctors there that could help him.  Eventually, they found a chiropractor who not only worked on Earl but helped him experience some relief from the seizures. This discovery had a life-changing effect on Enos, who in 1917, with only a 6th grade education, decided to leave his wife and 7 children with his wife’s parents and take a train to Chicago to receive a degree from the National College of Chiropractic.

Enos asked Emma while he was gone, “Are you eating the chickens I left you?”

“No, we haven’t killed them yet,” Emma replied, reluctant to admit it felt like a luxury to kill the chickens and preferred eating radish sandwiches.

Enos wanted better for his family back in Pennsylvania, but when he remembered his former job at the cigar factory, he pressed on, determined to finish with a degree in chiropractory. Three months later, he returned and put out his shingle in Souderton, treating patients till his retirement in 1966.

I see now why my dad admired his uncle Enos.  I’m amazed that I am related to a person with such a pioneering spirit and enough belief in himself to achieve a goal that must have seemed impossible in that day. He had a desire to serve the community of Souderton through an education in chiropractory and wasn’t discouraged by his Mennonite roots. Despite my Grammy Benner’s desire that “none of her children do anything important…only that they become Christians,” I think my dad had unfulfilled aspirations.  I can definitely attest to the fact that he never wavered in his belief in the power of “the adjustment.”

Thanks to Phyllis Proctor of Peter Beck Community for her willingness to tell me about her beloved grandparents, whom she lived with as a young girl and heard their stories first-hand.   She helped me get to know my great uncle and great aunt, for which I am grateful.

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.