Marian Longenecker Beaman’s memoir shares heartwarming vignettes of life in Lancaster County, PA. The author paints images with words of the joys and frustrations of growing up as a Mennonite. I visited Lancaster County several years ago. But I was not as aware of the Mennonites and their restrictions as I was of the Amish. So, some of Beaman’s revelations were surprising to me.
The author’s use of detail in descriptions of people and places brought them to life. Thus, the reader feels an actual part of what and where Beaman was describing. The inclusion of family photographs allowed the reader to “see” the life Beaman described.
Beaman’s family’s devotion to their Mennonite faith was unmistakable in all they did. I have known Beaman from her blog, Plain and Fancy, for several years. I was not surprised at the faith commitment. Yet, reading about Beaman’s baptism at age 10 took me quite by surprise. Everything changed for this young girl. The church’s rigid rules about dress, everyday activities, and schooling controlled her life. The little girl who wore frills and ruffles her Mennonite mother sewed had to put those dresses away. How conflicting this must have felt to her.
Beaman also writes of her father’s punishments and abuses. It is not uncommon for an abusive parent to declare his/her faith and to use Scripture as a basis for the punishment. I felt Beaman’s pain and heartbreak as I read her emotional words and desire to know why. Beaman was a strong young woman who stood up to the leaders in the church and to her father. Although she mentioned a fear of her father’s actions, she overcame that fear. What courage this took.
Beaman has taken the opportunity to tell her true story. While telling of punishments and abuse, she reflects on the loving nature of her home life. The author shows respect and admiration for her mother. Yet, she questions the lack of intervention on her mother’s part at times.
She also expresses the love felt for her grandmother and Aunt Ruthie. In fact, one might say Beaman had two homes. There was a home filled with parents and siblings. And the home maintained by her grandmother and Aunt Ruthie. This second home was a place of escape where restrictions were a bit looser. Beaman enjoyed many happy days with their grandmother and Aunt Ruthie.
I enjoyed reading Beaman’s memoir and taking a trip back in time to Lancaster County, PA. The story is rich in family and one woman’s history with traditions and culture. Her shining moment is in her courage to take a step away to build her own life.
Beaman is a master storyteller and wordsmith. Her writing is fluid, detailed, expressive, and strong. I highly recommend this memoir not only to those who enjoy reading a memoir. But also to those who want to write or are writing a memoir. Beaman does it just right.
Mother had always said we could go to school if we wanted. We just had to ask Dad, she said. Then we could go. But I didn’t ask. There was something in the hard line of my father’s face, in the quiet sigh of supplication he made every morning before he began family prayer, that made me think my curiosity was an obscenity, an affront to all he’d sacrificed to raise me.
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover is a difficult and emotional story to read. Yet I could not put it down. Westover has a determination and grit about her that made me want to read her story. Many of us have lived a childhood of abuse in varying degrees. I suppose my own experience draws me to the stories of others who have suffered abuse as well.
Westover’s family lives off the grid in Idaho. Husband and father believes the government is out to get them. They must protect themselves. He keeps his family so isolated no one could get to them. It is how he ensures the children never learn the truth about their country.
Most of the seven children didn’t have birth certificates because they were born at home. There were no medical records for any of the family because they had never seen a doctor or been in a hospital. The children weren’t allowed to attend public school. Instead, they were “homeschooled” by their mother. They were taught to make survivalist kits and canned many jars of fruits. Exercises were practiced in case of an unexpected siege. Not the kind of education considered normal according to our country’s standards.
Westover learned midwifery and herbalism at her mother’s side. She also worked with her siblings in her father’s junkyard salvaging scrap metal. Often she dealt with various injuries resulting from the labor in the junkyard. Her parents didn’t believe in doctors and hospitals. Instead, they believed the power to heal rested in herbal tinctures and the Lord’s power.
One of Westover’s brothers leaves to attend Brigham Young University. She begins to see possibilities away from home. She begins to mentally question her father’s preaching against education, healthcare, and more. Despite her lack of education, Westover begins to study for the ACT exam. She also teaches herself math, grammar, and science. Westover hoped to get a score that would qualify her for admittance to BYU.
At age 17, Tara Westover begins her education. She has waited a lifetime for this experience. One example that sticks with me is a class in which the lecturer touches on the Holocaust. Westover had no idea what the Holocaust was. No one had ever mentioned it; no one in her family likely knew too much about it. This seems impossible in a country where an education is free for all.
Many have questioned the validity of Westover’s story. I believe we shouldn’t question another’s telling of their story. We each have a story to tell, and it is ours to tell as we remember it.
Tara Westover has done that. She has told her story of her childhood which left her uneducated and abused. Then she tells of passing the ACT and gaining admittance to BYU, on to Harvard, Cambridge, and beyond. It has taken determination and grit to do what Westover has accomplished.
If you enjoy memoir and/or autobiographical works, Educated may be a book you’d enjoy. Be prepared for the difficult portions. Throughout it all, Tara Westover has prepared herself for the woman she has become today.
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