Friday, November 18, 2016

How to Buy My Books

If you want to buy my books for Christmas gifts, here's how:

1. Choose.
2. Mail me your order and a check: Dorcas Smucker, 31148 Substation Drive, Harrisburg, OR 97446  I can take PayPal too.
3. Contact me at the above email if you have questions.
4. To order from out of the country, Amazon might be a better option, although I'm happy to work with you if you want to pay the crazy postage.

Postage is $2 per book in the U.S.
Feel free to contact me to negotiate book and postage prices if you're a bookstore or making a large order.

"A Chirp from the Grass Roots" is my dad's life story.  It's $8.

The other five are collections of my Letter from Harrisburg newspaper column.

Ordinary Days--$10
Upstairs the Peasants are Revolting--$10
Downstairs the Queen is Knitting--$10
Tea and Trouble Brewing--$12
Footprints on the Ceiling--$12

1 set of all 6 titles (mine and Dad's) AND postage in the U.S. for $60.
Outside the U.S.--1 set of 6 for $55 NOT including postage.

I'm not planning to do the book giveaway this year, although if you email me a heartbreaking story of a friend going through hard times, I doubt that I'll be able to say no.

Letter from Harrisburg: Steven's First Mom


Mom’s spirit lives on in adopted son

By Dorcas Smucker
For The Register-Guard
November 13, 2016

We have these things in common: We both liked to sew, and we are both Steven’s mom.

I don’t think of her that often, but when I do, she appears suddenly in my imagination, young and tall, calm and strong, a Luo woman from western Kenya. “Whatever happened, I’m so sorry,” I want to tell her. “But thank you for loving Steven like you did.”

No one knows her name.

My five biological children’s early lives were recorded in a thousand jotted notes, in stories endlessly recounted, in monthly letters to family, and in boxes full of photos, because I have a compulsion to document memories and details through telling, writing, pictures and objects. This little person, as he or she is now, must not be forgotten or obliterated.

Steven came to Into Africa’s home for street boys in Kisumu, Kenya, at maybe 5 years old. His story comes into focus then, with photos, reports, stories and documents. I long to reconstruct his life before that, but it is like reaching into a deep foggy emptiness for clues and clarity, for something to grasp and feel and see, and finding only an occasional cobweb.

A missionary told me that all the village women in that part of Kenya bathe their babies in plastic tubs, outside, and then they set the babies in the sun to dry and rub them all over with Vaseline until they simply shine. So I assume it was like this for Steven as well, bathed and oiled and then tied tightly onto his mother’s back with a piece of cloth called a leso.

He recalls a mom and a dad, vaguely. Playing with friends, fetching water — a job he didn’t like. The plastic jugs were heavy.

What happened next is unknown, but Steven remembers living on the streets, like so many other street children in Kisumu, eating leftovers at open-air restaurants and watching the rivalry and violence among the older boys.

Someone took him to Into Africa. Our family arrived a few years later for three months of volunteer work.

We loved all 25 boys, but Steven especially charmed us. All the other boys had at least one relative, the social worker told us, maybe an uncle or grandmother out in a village, but they couldn’t locate any family, anywhere, for Steven.

So we adopted him into ours.

Once in a while, unexpectedly, something triggered a memory from Steven’s mysterious past. One day he noted the woven-poly bags at our seed warehouse and said, “We used to sleep on bags like that when I lived on the street.”

I wrote it all down, documenting the precious details.

My favorite piece of information emerged when he was in my sewing room one evening, idly examining the dials on the sewing machine. The mists parted and he said, with dawning memory, “My mother had one like this.”

My eyes popped open. Your MOTHER did?

Yes. He paused, locating the elusive memory. “She went like this,” and he rocked his foot up and down.

So she had had a treadle machine. I had seen my mom make the same motion many times, sewing for her Amish family.

So his first mother also knew the feel of cotton cloth, the rhythm of the needle moving up and down, the accomplishment of a finished shirt or tablecloth.

I knew I would like her, and we would have something in common, if we ever met.

We have something much bigger in common, of course, and that is our love for our son. This bond with her grows only stronger as Steven moves into his adult life.

Whatever hardships his mother must have faced, I am certain that she loved him, that she birthed and nursed and held him with a fierce and genuine attachment, because at the center of his being is a capacity to love back and a solid trust that the world is safe and if he falls, someone will always be there to catch him.

So many things must have gone wrong — disruption and despair, illness and fear, everything out of control — and yet something at the core of his heart went right.

International adoption is not only the suspicious and dangerous process that the U.N. cautions against in all but the gravest circumstances, and it is more than the happy portraits of smiling multiethnic American families posing in a green backyard.

Adoption always has a story of loss behind it, of deep grief and of precious things taken away from an innocent and helpless child.

But, done well, adoption is also a story of redemption, of hope after hopelessness, of healing and of rebuilding a new and different and beautiful life. It’s a story of a lost child becoming part of a family and coming home.

People praised us for adopting Steven. “What a gift you are giving him,” they said. “How lucky he is.”

Maybe, but we know the greater gift is ours.

Last Sunday, we celebrated Steven’s 22nd birthday with our normal Sunday dinner of chicken and rice and corn, and with Steven’s choice of dessert — pumpkin pie. I gave him a book by his favorite author, Ted Dekker.

I also nagged him about keeping his hair oiled. His first mom, of the thoroughly applied Vaseline, would agree with me, I’m sure. He laughed, with a noncommittal “Hmmm. Yeah, I know.” And then he brought us up to date on more important things — his paramedic studies at Chemeketa Community College in Salem and his work as a firefighter and EMT in Aurora.

The rescued has become the rescuer, says Audrey McAninch, co-founder of Into Africa.

In giving, our family received, and in blessing, we were blessed. In Luke 6:38, the Bible says, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Last week, Steven sent me a text at 1:25 a.m. “Love you, Mom.”

“Love you too!” I texted back, happy to be awakened for such a message.

“Thank you!” I added, silently, to him, to God, and to the beautiful woman who first mothered this son of mine.


Sunday, November 13, 2016

Mrs. Smucker Evaluates, Regroups, Comes Back to Reality, and Has a Great Idea

I got sucked into the vortex this week. 

Not only did I post about race (what was I thinking?!) (right here) and have it go a bit crazy, but there was also a little event whose name I dare not say out loud, but it rhymes with "direction."

So I found myself pulled into at least reading, if not commenting on, lots of online conversations, about my post and about much bigger and broader things. Why is it so easy for the accumulating comments and shares and likes to seem REAL, and the real things of falling leaves and granola and the beautiful colors of crayons to seem far away and imaginary?

Also, it's funny how similar the responses were, those few days, on all subjects, in that we all seem to have a little plastic circle in our backs, and when you pull on it, out comes a foot-long string, and when you let go, we repeat what we seem pre-programmed to say as the string feeds back in, between our shoulder blades.  The nice logical people say nice logical things and the angry students spout full pages about harassment and misogyny, and the fierce Republicans sound exasperated, and the academics instruct about privilege and a system built on oppression, and the elitists just did not realize there were people like us in this world.

You can't stay in the cyber world too long or you'll go crazy.

I was glad for the people who just "got" what I was saying in the post, and if they didn't, were willing to have a conversation.

At least five people thought that I was unwilling to answer polite questions at Costco, which is so funny, because my children will testify that no one gets more questions at Costco than me, and no one answers as patiently and listens to their life story besides.

It's not the questions that annoy me, just to be clear, but the lectures. Right or wrong, that's how I feel. Which brings me to another discovery: Readers are not comfortable with a Mennonite woman being annoyed.  As I finally told one person: "Mennonites are allowed to feel strongly and to speak forcefully and even to be a bit cynical."

One of my favorite comments was from a woman I met on a Facebook group for women named Dorcas--yes there is such a thing.  Dorcas VanGilst told about how people would assume how it was for her, being part of a huge and well-known family.  She said: "Anytime we begin to assume we know what it's like from the inside while forever standing on the outside we need to just stop. As a psychotherapist I was taught over and over, "You are NOT an expert on your client!! They are an expert on themselves and you are there to learn!""

Then there was a young friend of a friend on a page I stumbled across who, talking about me and not to me, said, "No, just no. . . This article is everything that is wrong about religion and white privilege today [and] beyond egotistical and revolting.  I find it extremely disrespectful and uncaring toward those actually living as a minority in a racist world."

Well then.  I don't think I've ever sparked such emotion since Amy's diary entries at 12 years old when she was upset at me.

Later in this conversation--and believe me it is enlightening to read a Facebook conversation about you and something you wrote--another person said:

She believes she is choosing her religious beliefs because to do otherwise would lead to hell or at least - less of Gods favor. She believes all people should make her choice. 

That made me snicker, and then the prizewinning comment for the day that made me laugh and laugh:

I wonder if the author secretly or not so secretly yearns to discover her true self and her own voice and personhood. 

Well, Sweetheart, the author is learning to show it in print if she's irritated.  It's a new experience.

At that point I was starting to lie awake at night, logically explaining things to ignorant people, and I knew I had to deliberately step out of the barnyard, so I did, with the muck making sucking sounds as I lifted my rubber boots SCHLOOOK. SCHLOOOK. SCHLOOOK. over to the fence and through the gate.

However.  I had an idea.

So I had said that I don't like to discuss race with white people, and that I like to hear firsthand from the people actually affected by it.

Why not practice what I preach, and use my blog as a platform for a few ethnic-minority guests to answer some questions and say what they don't usually have a chance to say?

I'd name the series something like You Talk, I Listen.

I thought I'd start with Steven.

Me: [texting] Would you like to use my blog as a platform to tell your story and talk about racial issues and stuff?
Steven: Lol no.

Well. Ok then.  I poked around and found a few other fascinating people and contacted them.  They were interested.  So stay tuned the next few weeks. I am very excited about this.

In other news, over in the real world, away from the bizarre whirlpool of online spouting and discussing, I made a dress and sent it to my adorable little great-niece, and it fits.

The chickens are happy.  They are always happy to see me and follow me across the yard with their plump hindquarters rocking back and forth, and they make no effort to be proper and ladylike, and this always makes me so happy.  [I use the word happy a lot with chickens.  They do not get into online discussions.  There is a connection here.]

It's like they've found their true self and personhood.

There are ferns growing out of a tree by the bridge.  Surely this is possible only in Oregon.

I taught a young lady how to sew zippers.  She made a zippered pocket for a bag and peeked through it. I am glad to know that because of me, she will be able to make things with zippers from now on.

I have not lived in vain, and so on.

 And best of all, we got the final final permit to build my Sparrow Nest!!

Quote of the Day:
Jenny: Today I went to the Students For Life Club meeting.
Me: Did they appoint you president?
Jenny: Mom, not everyone thinks I'm as amazing as you think I am.

[Honest, I'm not a self-esteem special-snowflake trophy-for-everyone mom.  I just have amazing kids.]

Monday, November 07, 2016

On Steven's Birthday

To His Mom

I think of you today
Although we’ve never met
And no one knows 
Your name
Or where you are
Or if you’re still alive.
And yet
Your eyes are here
I’m sure
Your love, your smile
Your work
Your labor and giving birth
Your milk that fed him
And dribbled down his cheek
When, satisfied, he slept.
He’s 22 today,
This son of yours and mine.
Strong and full of faith
Honor, humor, trust.
You would be proud.
He is so fully loved
So much a part of us.
It was your tragedy,
Your gift.
We take what you began
And carry on
The son, the love,
The prayers.
Please know
That I will not forget
And though we’ve never met
I think of you.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

Mennonites, Minorities, and Conversations at Costco

I call it the “You People” conversation.

It happened again just recently at a secondhand store.  An elderly man stopped me and said, “I know why you people wear those things on your head.  But you don’t need to, you know.  The Bible says the long hair is the covering, and you don’t need a piece of cloth.”

He actually wagged a finger at me. “Study it for yourself!”

Before I could say anything, he turned and left with the elderly woman who had just come briskly by with a shopping cart.  Like me, she wore a long skirt and conservative blouse, with her hair in a bun.  She looked like a Mennonite lady who forgot her head covering.

But of course, she knows she doesn’t need to wear one.  Since she’s studied the Bible for herself.

The You People conversation has also happened many times at book sales and events where I’ve spoken.  “Oooh, I know all about you people because I’ve read all of Beverly Lewis’s books, and Wanda Brunsetter’s too!”

I know they are nice people, and they mean well, but you will notice I show my teeth at such times but my eyes are not really smiling.

Worst by far are the garrulous people who light up when they see me, because they have a tiny drop of experience with Mennonites in their past, maybe ten parts per million, like E Coli in a reservoir, just enough to pollute the whole thing, and then they see me and YES! A Mennonite!  They must connect with me!!  And they are sure I will be so happy to talk with them because they know all about us people!!!

Such as the guy who stopped to talk to me and my daughters at Costco last summer.  He knew all about Us People because he had a friend at the church at Estacada, and he used to go up there on his motorcycle, and you know how we people always wear white shirts and black pants to church? Well, he set this little kid on his motorcycle, just for fun, and the kid’s dad in his white shirt was like, Whoa.  And he knows how we ladies have to stay home and dress real plain and stuff but Oh, man, how we can cook! Oh it is unbelievable.  And he also knows how we can’t go to school past high school, even if we want to, because they won’t let us.

[There’s always that mysterious They in these conversations.  Sometimes it’s the Bishops, but usually just They, a vague authority that forces us to put up our hair and have lots of children, and we are oppressed and helpless before them.]

By this time, the girls and I had tried walking slowly down the aisle. He followed us.  We tried saying we have to go.  He didn’t let us finish the sentence.

We were showing teeth but not smiling. I should no doubt have been more assertive, but I don't do assertive well, being both Mennonite and Minnesotan.

Finally after another volley of information about how we aren’t allowed to get an education, Emily roused her inner Smucker, raised her voice, and interrupted him. “Actually, I’m going to college.  At OSU.”

He was flabbergasted.  “What?  Really?  They let you go to college?!”

The conversation did not improve after this.

Finally we were able to escape.

The You People assumptions are always:
1. You People are all essentially the same. One individual fully represents the whole group.
2. I know a little bit about You People, therefore I know pretty much everything about you.
3. You will welcome me sharing my knowledge.  It will be a happy point of connection between us.
4. You need me to define your culture for you.
5. If you tell me something, you are speaking for your whole culture.

 I am actually going somewhere else with this: This is why I don’t like to engage in conversations with white people about racial issues.

Of course I try to be informed about racial history and current issues.  I assume that both personally and culturally, we always have more to learn, and we need to make the Christlike choices.  I am not minimizing the appalling sins in our nation’s past and present.

What bothers me is that so much of the talking is being done by white people.  Good-hearted white people, I’ll grant, well-meaning and smart and determined to speak up and right wrongs.

Like the Diversity Seminar at OSU a while back that Emily stuck her nose into, just out of curiosity, and yep, every single person there was white.

And then we have this prizewinning situation unfolding practically next door. From the Oregonian: "The law professor who wore blackface at a Halloween party is a distinguished member of the University of Oregon faculty who's taught at the school since 1982 and once served as chair of the law school's diversity committee. . .”

This is why all this bothers me: The talking always sounds like a You People conversation.

Nothing makes the internet whirl like another police shooting of a young black man or a protest on an Indian reservation.

Most of the time, it’s white people defining the problem, doing the explaining, saying what’s been done and what it means and how it feels and how it affects Those People and what we must do now. Talking talking talking.  Earnestly spreading the word, raising awareness, rallying support, fanning guilt, proposing answers.  Talking talking talking while, in my imagination, the black or Native or Hispanic folks are standing by their shopping carts unable to get a word in edgewise and glancing at their watches.

As though Those People need us to speak for them, and they won’t be heard unless we interpret for them.

And I think: Surely the Black experience is as diverse as the Mennonite experience.  An inner-city St. Louis teenager will not have the same view on life and current happenings as the farmer in Georgia or the professor in St. Paul or the housewife in Los Angeles, even if they’re all black.

Would they define the problems the same, or react the same, or propose the same solutions?

Does it annoy the LA housewife to have a white analyst from New York comment earnestly about a shooting in Ferguson?

Are we all assuming that because an incident affects a black person on TV a certain way, it must therefore affect the black lady that works at WinCo in Eugene the same way?

I have my guesses, but I’m not going to say them out loud. Because I DON’T KNOW.

So, you are asking, what should we white people do about the systemic racism, economic disparity, and injustice in our nation?

As I said, I really don't know.  But here are some cautious guesses, based on my religious-minority experiences:
1. Do the right thing as a person. If you have the opportunity to treat people fairly and to right wrongs and to assist and hire, do so.
2. Read minority authors’ work and listen to the non-white people in your life. Do so as though they are individuals, first of all, and not samples or specimens. Be extremely cautious about assuming they represent a whole group.
3. Assume you don’t know much at all about another culture, even if you had an Indian friend in fourth grade.
4. Trying to make every white person feel personally guilty for what happened in Ferguson or Baltimore is no more productive than blaming me, just because I’m Mennonite, for how the deacon in Holmes County treated you back in 1968 when you wanted to hang out with his daughter.
5. If you want to spread the word and raise awareness, then cultivate opportunities for minorities to tell their own stories and define their own struggles and solutions.
6. Ask good questions and listen listen listen.
7. But maybe somewhere besides Costco.

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