Sunday, December 07, 2014

My Busy Day: Lutherans, Book Fair, and the Helpful Husband

I always like speaking to Lutherans.

Yesterday I went to the Advent breakfast at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church at the invitation of Nancy Fischer, who used to always invite me to come speak to her third graders at Spring Creek Elementary.

But then Nancy retired, so she asked me to come speak to the church ladies instead.

When I speak to Lutherans, I like to tell them that I feel at home among them, having gone to high school in Minnesota in a class of 1 Mennonite, 2 Baptists, 2 Catholics, and 25 Lutherans.  I think I could even pass the Lutheran test, I say, since I used to help the Lutheran kids with their confirmation-class homework during study hall in the 8th grade.

They are kind enough to laugh at this.

It was a terribly busy day, and Paul saved it by going to the fairgrounds and setting up my table at the annual Authors and Artists' Fair, while I was still at the Lutheran Advent breakfast, and then manning the table for an hour until I arrived.

I have known writer-ladies such as Maryana Vollstedt the cookbook author whose husbands, after they retired, came along to book events and helped haul boxes of books and count out change.

I told Paul I would be happy if he did this someday as well.

Last year the event was a flop, landing on the same day as a bunch of snow.  Other years, the economy was awful enough that no one bought books.

But this year--wow.  People wandered through in a steady stream all day, so much so that I got only two short breaks, when I got a volunteer to watch my table and I dashed next door to the Holiday Market for coffee or pizza, and both times I missed customers in my brief absence.

So the book sales were up and a general feeling of relief showed on the faces of the 50 authors present.

As always, meeting readers is interesting and the conversation has a strange way of grouping itself into themes.  And of course, a few conversations are always completely unexpected.

Three people told me I remind them of their Quaker grandmother.  I thought--were they all siblings, or are there that many Quaker grandmothers out there?

I met a lady named Linda Yoder whose grandfather was Shem Yoder who moved from Mississippi to Oklahoma back in the day, for the sake of his wife's health.  I would bet money that Dad knew the family.

My name was a topic of conversation.  These comments always have me scratching my head because when I was young I hated my name.  It would shackle me to failure and dowdiness and obscurity all my life, I was sure of it.

And then I found that in the parallel universe of writing, which is a very different world from junior high and unfortunate nicknames, an unusual name is considered a stroke of good fortune.

One guy came by, stopped short, stared at my name, and exclaimed, "Is that really your name??  That is an awesome name!"

Wow.  All right then, I'll take that.
My friend Deanna Hershiser took this shot.
The author next to me told me of a conversation with her daughter that went like this:
Mom: Dorcas Smucker's going to be at the Authors' Fair too.
Daughter: That's not a real name, you know.
Mom: Yes it is!
Daughter: It's got to be a pen name, Mom.  Don't be so gullible!

And then there was the older man who stopped by and said, "I had a friend long ago named Dorcas.  Actually that was her middle name, but that was what she went by."
I said, "I'm curious, what was her first name?"
He said, "It was Elaine."
I stared at him.  And then I said, "My name is Dorcas Elaine."

 And this was in a category of its own: A 60-ish man came by and said he reads my column and wants to buy a book.  He just retired from a long career in mechanical engineering, he said, and has written a book of poetry and is working on a book of short stories.

I looked at him with--I'm sure--complete disbelief on my face.  "An engineer.  Who writes poetry," I said.

He said yes.

I said, "I have trouble connecting the two.  I have two boys who either are or will be engineers, and I can't imagine them writing poetry."

"Well, I did," he said.  "Shall I quote you a verse?"  I said yes.  And he quoted probably 15 lines of an intense free-verse poem that I don't remember specifics of but I recall a sense of beauty and pressures and the sky.

The downside of the day was that I didn't have time to chat with other authors, beyond quick hugs and how-are-you-doing oh-wait-I-have-a-customer."

Paul showed up at 6 pm and helped me clear off the table and haul the remaining books and load up the car.  Then he took me out for Chinese food.

Every so often I talk with women in Eugene who seem worried that maybe my husband is a controlling Mennonite preacher who reluctantly lets me out of the house to go give a talk but then he insists that I bring him his slippers as soon as I get home and also make him a sandwich and I have to make sure it has just the right amount of mayonnaise or he will pound his fist on the recliner and yell at me.

Certainly my lifestyle of rural, conservative, religious, stay-at-home, and lots-of-children is very different from the often-single, definitely-careers, few-if-any-children women that make up the majority in Eugene.  So I often get the sense that they try not to assume that because my life is so different it means I'm oppressed, but they worry.

So they ask veiled and not-so-veiled questions about how ok Paul is with my coming to do this talk, and with writing for the paper.

Just this week it happened again.  "Make sure you tell him how amazing you are," this woman said after her rather pointed and worried questions.

I had to laugh.  It wasn't the time or place to explain to her, but just the day before, I'd gotten an email exploring the possibility of my teaching writing in a summer program in a Mennonite setting on a college level.  While I was still trying to get my head around the idea, Paul was all over it.  This is how we could make it work, he schemed, all excited.  And this is where I could stay and if it was that time of year he could go with me, and yes of course I have what it takes to do this.  And on and on.

I said, "Listen, this was my dream for YOU, to teach in that kind of setting! It was never my dream for myself!"

He just looked happy and kept planning, since the only thing he likes better than normal planning is planning for his wife or children's success.

So in case you were worried about it, that is the kind of man I have.


  1. Once someone I met at a Writer's Conference was surprised to learn the name I write by is my real name and not a pen name. Someone also asked where I got my name. What could I say? Ummm, "my mother gave it to me."

  2. Have you seen 7 Brides for 7 Brothers? I was always so jealous of Dorcas because she ended up with Benjamin (the most handsome brother, in my estimation), so much so that for years of my childhood I planned on naming a daughter Dorcas. Thus far, Nick isn't up for it. ;-)

  3. Heidi Stoltzfoos12/08/2014 6:47 AM

    Oh, Dorcas! I love this! Especially the ending! Heidi

  4. Love it all! And I recognize your sweater; I have a matching one. ;)

  5. Like. Love the bit about Uncle Paul getting excited. Faith Builders, by any chance?

  6. Teaching a summer course on writing? I'd love to join your class, except that I have far too many responsibilities that even my husband's planning couldn't find a way past it.

  7. I was there on Saturday -- I'm sorry I missed you, but I enjoyed meeting Paul. I'm enjoying your latest book, too!

  8. Yes, Dorcas, there are that many Quaker grandmothers in the Willamette Valley. They moved into the valley in the 1870's and reproduced rapidly... chuckle.

    From Wes, an Oregon Quaker turned Pennsylvania Mennonite.

  9. My husband is a mechanical engineer who is also quite poetic! It suits his personality--extremely personable and a great communicator. He proved that what I knew about engineers was lacking! I love the variety of people you know and meet.

  10. Romaine--at least I can say, "It's a Bible name and my parents liked it."
    Crystal--that is funny. And yes, 7B47B is a favorite.
    Byran--not FB but the Shenandoah Institute.
    Gina--give yourself about 15 years...
    Wes--enjoyed the info!
    Mary Anne--I guess I stand corrected!

  11. Dorcas, the "Lancaster County" or
    "Holmes County" of Oregon Quakerdom is Newberg with George Fox College which, if I'm not mistaken, you have visited with the children's school activities.