view of cover
read an excerpt
Tamar Myers will be signing books in conjunction with the Spoleto festival
in Charleston, SC. Come see her, and get your books signed, at the Tea
Room at Grace Church, 98 Wenworth St., Charleston.
May 29th, 2006.
The time: 11:00-2:30.
DARK SIDE OF HEAVEN
Author: Tamar Myers
Original Title from Bella Rosa Books
the dark side of Heaven the day Bishop Yoder pronounces me dead. He pokes
my shoulder with his index finger, which is as thick and soft as a cow's
teat. Such behavior is not the Amish way, but I have provoked the elderly
man beyond human endurance.
Hostetler," he says, "you leave me with no choice."
"You leave me with no choice,"
I say. I have been crying all morning and my throat is as rough as feed
sacks. It hurts even to swallow.
"The Elders agree with me, Anna. I must impose
the Meidung. Do you understand this?"
I nod, hoping this will keep the bishop from giving
me a long explanation. The Meidung means that I am now excommunicated,
banned from any sort of meaningful contact with my family, completely
cut off from my people. Until I confess my sinsomething I cannot
doit will be as if I am dead.
Unfortunately, a bob of the head is not going to stop Bishop Yoder. "Even
your parents may not speak to you now. If you remain at home, they will
make you eat by yourself, at one end of the table, on a special cloth.
If you are stubborn about this, and come to the Sunday service"
I turn my back on Bishop Yoder and walk toward
the Trailways bus station. It is just a stop really, the waiting room
nothing more than a row of blue plastic chairs in Miller's Laundromat.
My legs are as unsteady as those of a foal taking her first steps, and
I long to lie down on the warm asphalt of the parking lot and nap. But
I will not show any further weakness, and I will not turn around. If I
am dead to the others, am I not dead to the bishop as well? What good
does it do to have a dead woman stay and listen? Besides, what else can
Bishop Yoder and the Elders do to me? Burn me at the stake? That is what
the Catholics did to our ancestors in Switzerland, and it is one of the
reasons we are so committed to being a people apart.
The slap-slap of leather tells me that the bishop
is following me. Perhaps he thinks he has a right. After all, it is he
who has insisted on bringing me here in his summer buggy, for all the
world to see. It is just as well that he did so. Mamm and Daat were too
heartbroken to deliver their youngest child permanently into the hands
of the English. But I have to pay a price for the ride; a lecture that
will not end, and tears. Not just my tears either, but those of Bishop
Yoder. He is truly pained by what I am forcing him to do. Of that I have
"Remember, Anna Hostetler, that God always
welcomes a repentant sinner. This shunning is only so that you will find
your way back to us again."
I stop walking. "Remember Bishop," I
say, without turning, "that God is also the Creator. He gave me this
gift. It would be a sin for me not to use it."
"This giftit involves pride, yah?"
I take my time to think about that. "Not so much pride, as satisfaction.
When I paint, I am helping God to create."
"Ach, Anna, that is blasphemy."
I close my eyes, thankful that we are speaking
in dialect, known to most of the English as Pennsylvania Dutch. My mother
tongue has nothing to do with Holland, but was derived from Swiss German.
"Why else would God give me this talent?
And I do have talenteveryone says so."
"The English say so."
"Yah, and they buy my paintings. They would
not buy them if they were not good."
"But you compare yourself to God"
I look at the Bishop. "I did not compare
myself to God." Even a year ago, I would not have dared to interrupt
the bishop. "What I meant to say, Bishop, is that by using my talent
for painting, I am honoring God."
"Yah, a good quilt"
"My talent is not for quilting. It is for
"Then paint barns, Anna Hostetler."
Amish culture is based on something called Gelassenheitsubmission.
The individual must submit his or herself to the community and ultimately
to God. The ability to yield oneself comes more easily for some than it
does for others. For me it has always been next to impossible.
The bishop and I are both silent for a moment.
Perhaps he is waiting for me to have a change of heart. I certainly am
hoping the same for him.
Finally, he speaks. "You will go to your
"What good will that do? You just said he
is not allowed to talk to me, even if he wantedwhich he does not,
by the way."
"Ach, not your married brother, Elam. The
brother in Pittsburgh."
I turn. "What brother in Pittsburgh?"
Bishop Yoder leans back. It is as if my words
have slapped him.
"You have never heard?"
"Your brother, the oldest onewhat he
"Elam is my oldest brother," I shout.
Shouting at a bishop is surely a sin in itself. It is not just my art
that has been a stumbling block. There are a thousand other things for
which I deserve to be banished.
Bishop Yoder shakes his head. "I cannot believe
no one has told you this." He shakes his head again. "Surely
there were rumors."
"If there were, I missed them."
Neither the bishop nor I wear watches, but we
have battery-operated clocks in our homes, and we have agreed to arrive
at the bus stop early. Besides, like many other Amish sects, we set our
clocks a half hour early. Fast time, we call it. It is yet another way
we choose to separate ourselves from the world. At any rate, by my reckoning
we have another half hour to wait for the bus.
"Come." Bishop Yoder pokes me again,
even more gently this time. "It is against the Ordnung,"
he says, referring to the church's rules of behavior, "for us to
have this air-conditioning in our homes, but in the English place of washing
clothes, it is permitted for us to sit."
Carrying only a sack made from one of Mamm's old
quilts and a cardboard tube, I follow the bishop into the Laundromat,
into a new world of sights and sounds. Clothes swishing in water, because
the English are too lazy, or too much in a hurry to wash them the old
way. Clothes spinning in hot machines because the English no longer value
the scent of sunshine. And the television. I have seen television, flickering
through windows of shops, but never close up. I cannot remember ever hearing
one. This television has a black woman in it. She stands on a platform
and addresses a large gathering of people. Behind the standing woman sits
a man in a comfortable English chair. The crowd is clapping.
There is only one other person in the Laundromat,
an English woman in a sleeveless blouse and pants like a man's, only short.
She is folding clothes at a table that wobbles, and when we enter, she
looks up briefly before continuing her task. No doubt she has seen many
of our kind before about town. Our town is very small, I hear, compared
to others, and there are many other plain folk living in the area.
The bishop and I sit on the blue plastic chairs.
His chair is cracked; mine has a wad of gum in one corner. I put the cloth
sack on the floor, but the cardboard tube I balance on my knees. Even
though the bishop is old enough to be my Grossdawdi, we are careful to
keep a chair between us. Grossdawdi Hostetler is fat, with a neck burned
red by the sun, and when he was younger, he had the blackest hair I had
ever seen on an Amish man. Bishop Yoder has white curls peeking from beneath
his black felt hat, and except for his prominent Yoder nose, he has the
face of a sheep. Even his teeth are long and yellow.
I am calmer now, and the bishop seems to sense
this. I am sitting with my body straight ahead, facing the television.
The bishop is sitting in the same position, but from the corner of my
left eye I see his torso turn so that now he is looking at me. The sheep
eyes, like all sheep eyes, appear baffled.
"No one has ever spoken to you about Nathaniel?"
The black woman in the television has just asked
the man in the chair a more interesting question. She calls him Dr. Phil,
but the question she asks is not about health. How long is too
long for a man to live at home with his parents, she wants to know. Dr.
Phil says something I cannot understand, but it makes the crowd laugh.
The English woman folding clothes on the wobbly table laughs along with
"Ach, Anna, you cannot pretend you do not
"I do not." At least I do not want to.
"But you remember the fire, yah?"
"Yah," I whisper.
shaped the history of my people, my family in particular, beginning with
the pillar of fire that led the ancient Israelites through the desert.
Through Christ we are spiritual descendants of those people, are we not?
Then there were the fires of persecution in sixteenth-century Switzerland,
although there were many ways in which both church and state persecuted
my people. We, the followers of Jakob Ammann, were Anabaptists. We did
not believe in infant baptism, and rebaptizedhence our name. We
were hunted like rabbits in the field, and had to worship in secret, sometimes
in caves. When they caught us they burned us, drowned us, and even pulled
us limb from limb on stretching devices. These persecutions are written
down in the Martyrs Mirror, a book that is found in every Amish
home, and we do not forget them. We sing about them in our hymns, we tell
them to our children as bedtime stories. They are seared into our memories
like the brand on a calf.
In the late seventh century William Penn offered
us sanctuary in the New World. There were fires in Pennsylvania as well,
but not sparked by religious persecution. On the night of September 19th,
1757, a band of Delaware Indians attacked the Hochstetlersas my
family was known thenin Northkill, Pennsylvania. We Amish are pacifists,
so although my ancestors possessed a gun, they would not turn it on another
human being. The Delaware set the cabin on fire and it burned to the ground.
There was, however, a storage cellar under the cabin, and as it was apple
harvest season, and cider had just been made, the family wet the ceiling.
They were spared the fire, but the next morning my female ancestor, whose
first name is not known, was stabbed in the back, and scalped, as she
tried to exit the cellar through a small side door.
My great-great-great-great grandfather, Jacob
Hochstetler, and two of his sons, Joseph and Christian, were captured
alive by the Delaware, and remained their prisoners for many years. From
this one ancestor, Jacob, virtually every Hochstetler and Hostetler descend.
This is also a story we tell the children. Do not forget our history,
we tell them. Remember that we are a people opposed to violence.
But the fire that occurred on my third birthday
is one that I have tried hard to forget. It is, in fact, my first memory.
In it I sit by the window that faces the barn and watch men shout encouragement
to each other as they try in vain to put out the flames. There are women
helping too, passing buckets of water down a line that leads from the
pump by the kitchen door, but there are no children. I am the only child,
and I am safe inside. Where are the others?
There is another pump closer to the barn, the
one Daat uses to fill the water troughs, but no one is using it. Even
here, I can feel the heat from the barn through the glass. The frost on
the pane has melted and there are rivulets of water running down onto
I trace the barn in the condensation. I trace
the flames leaping from the roof. I trace the men and women in the bucket
line. That is my first memory of drawing. Suddenly the barn collapses,
sending sparks all the way into the sky, burning the feet of angels. A
few of the women scream, a man shouts louder, and then everyone is inside.
But still no children. This memory starts to fade, when a woman, whose
face I can not remember, snatches me away from the window and carries
me upstairs to bed.
well do you remember the fire?" the bishop asks.
"Very well. It was Daat's barn that burned,
"Yah." The bishop sounds so sad I want to
reach across the plastic chair between us and touch him, maybe put my
hand on his. Of course that is impossible. Only a misfit like myself would
think of such a thing.
Neither of us says anything for a moment. In the
meantime the lady with no sleeves stops folding to watch the black woman
in the television. The black woman is waving her arms and saying that
if anyone ever did that to her, well, she'd never invite them into
her home again. The man in the chair agrees and the crowd claps.
"That is the day I started drawing,"
I say. How stupid of me. I only say this because I know the bishop is
trying hard not to watch the television.
Bishop Yoder winces. "Anna, soon the bus
will come, but first there are things I must tell you."
I nod to signify that I am listening.
He sucks in his breath, like he is slurping hot
soup. Before he can speak, the woman without sleeves shuts down the television
and approaches. She stops when she is so close that I can see that her
legs are entirely without hair.
"Youse two waiting for the bus?" she
asks in a voice as high and sharp as a bluejay's.
"Yah, me," I say. "I go to Pittsburgh."
"Got a ticket?"
"No. I can buy one on the bus, yah?"
"Used to be," she chirps. "But
now ya gotta buy it from me. I'm the local agent. Ya wanna leave Heaven,
ya gotta do it by me." She laughs. Heaven is the name of the town.
I am told it is the only Heaven in Pennsylvania. English tourists love
this name, and our sign is many times stolen.
"How much?" I have lots of money. In
fact, in the quilt sack at my feet I have almost a thousand dollarsexactly
nine hundred eightythat I got for one of my paintings to an English
tourist. It was the painting I called The Wedding. In it all the
women wear black, including the bride, but she wears a white apron as
well. Everyone is smiling, except for the bride.
Faces. Painting faces was on my list of sins.
A picture with a face is like a statue, which in turn is like an idol.
Even our dolls do not have faces.
"Pittsburgh is fifty-nine dollars plus tax."
"So much?' The bishop asks. He looks alarmed.
"Ya can fly from Harrisburg," she says.
"But it won't be any cheaper. Youse allowed to fly?"
Bishop Yoder rises to his feet. "It is better
to take the bus."
Amish people are allowed to fly, but only under
special circumstances, usually health related. It is the last choice.
Although my people are not allowed to own cars, it is permissible to accept
rides from Mennonites, our worldly cousins. Sometimes we even hire them
to take us places that are too far to reach by a buggy in a day's drive.
Of course now that I am dead, what difference does it make how I leave
Heaven? Although I know there are those who think I have already fallen
from Heaven, like Lucifer. Catherine Beiler, our neighbor, is one of those.
"Than ya better fork it over," the bird
woman says, "because I hear the bus coming now."
I jump to my feet. Bishop Yoder has yet to tell
me about this Nathaniel, the one who is supposed to be my brother. The
bus stops in Heaven every day but Sunday, and today is Wednesday. There
is a small hotel just down the street. Surely I have enough money to stay
there one night.
"Well, ya going, or not?"
"I am going," I say. But I have never
been so frightened. Excited too. I have never ridden in a bus. I have
never ridden in a Mennonite car. In fact, I have never ridden in anything
that was not pulled by a horse.
"It won't wait, ya know."
I grab my quilt sack from the floor and open it,
looking for the money. Before I can find it, the bus pulls beside the
Laundromat. I have seen buses before, but none so large. This one also
makes the most noise, more noise even than the generator Jonathan Berkey
bought for his dairy, and which the bishop made him return.
"Ya better hurry," the agent says. "He
only stops a minute. If there aren't any passengers, I'm to wave him on."
I find the money and give her three twenty dollar
I give her another twenty. She searches in the
pockets of her man's shorts for the change.
In the meantime the bus door opens and three people
get off. Two of them are men, and they immediately light cigarettes. They
light them as they climb down the steps. The third person to get off is
a young woman about my age. She heads straight inside.
"Where's the john?" she yells. She acts
like she is talking to no one in particular, but I know she has seen us.
Her eyes are as big as buggy wheels.
"That way," the agent grunts, and using
the back of her head, points to a corner.
The young woman runs to the rear of the Laundromat.
I am still putting my change into the quilt sack when she runs past us
again. She is out of breath, but she can speak.
"When you gotta go, you gotta go, and I ain't
peeing on no damn bus, that's for sure." The words trail behind her
like smoke from a chimney.
Bishop Yoder's pale face turns deep pink. "Anna,"
he says, "you can"
The bus honks so loud I drop the quilt sack, but
not the cardboard tube.
"Go," the bishop says.
This time I obey.
© 2006 Tamar Myers