The Saloma Furlong interview on ‘Bonnet Strings’

CLICK on the book cover to visit its Amazon page.

CLICK on the book cover to visit its Amazon page.

Millions of Americans, once again, are thinking of driving through “Amish country” this year. We’re smiling at the nostalgic sights we’ll see, already tasting the traditional foods—and many are reading Amish novels (romances and mysteries, too) or tuning in made-for-TV Amish movies.

This is a perfect time to get a copy of Bonnet Strings: An Amish Woman’s Ties to Two Worlds, the latest memoir by Saloma Furlong who was featured on two very popular documentaries about the Amish on PBS: American Experience: The Amish and American Experience: Amish—Shunned.

As Editor of ReadTheSpirit online magazine, in preparing for this week’s Cover Story with Saloma Furlong—I had to wait in line to read Bonnet Strings. The book vanished the moment it arrived at my home office. My wife had grabbed it! She had enjoyed seeing Saloma on PBS, had read Saloma’s first book Why I Left the Amish: A Memoir, and was eager to read this more romantic second volume about the twists and turns as Saloma fell in love with a young toymaker.

Want further confirmation that you’ll enjoy this book? Mennonite author Shirley Showalter (who we featured in an earlier author interview) writes about Bonnet Strings: “This story includes all the elements of a good romance—attraction, danger, secrets, beautiful scenery, obstacles, culture clashes and old-fashioned chivalry. You will cheer for Saloma and the sense of self God placed in her heart.”

Also: Don’t miss the moving dedication page at the front of this book. This time, both David and Saloma wrote chapters (Saloma wrote most of them, but David contributed a handful of key chapters from his perspective). So, the book opens with two real-life love letters—a single sentence from Saloma to David: “It is because of your understanding and quiet perseverance that our love not only survived but also thrived.” And from David to Saloma: “Your truth shines a light on the path to eternal love.” Now, come on: Who can resist a real-life story like this?

Saloma Furlong recipe for Mems white bread and for Sticky BunsAND, THE BEST PART!

If you have seen Saloma in the PBS films, then you know that she’s a marvelous baker. You’ve seen her preparing those delicious “Sticky Buns” that look so good—you’re hungry when the film ends. Well, Saloma closes her new book with some classic family recipes: Today, she has given us permission to republish her Sticky Buns recipe (which includes her recipe for Mem‘s White Bread). In her book, the full recipe section includes her Pie Crust Made Simple, Olin Clara’s Peach Pie, My Favorite Apple Pie—and a link to find even more recipes. You’ll also be passing around her favorite foods for years to come!

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH SALOMA FURLONG
ON ‘BONNET STRINGS’

DAVID: Amish or not, many people will be drawn into your story by the first paragraph of your new memoir. You write:

It was a mismatch from the start—being born with a nature that just did not fit into my Amish culture. For as long as I can remember, questions had bubbled up from within. I tried to emulate other girls who were quiet and submissive. I’d practice folding my arms in the demure way of Amish girls, looking down in front of me instead of looking directly at others and not talking. That never lasted more than five minutes before I’d forget and become myself again.”

A lot of people today feel they don’t fit in. They want to “become themselves,” to borrow your phrase. As millions of Americans know from seeing your story in two different, feature-length PBS documentaries: You finally left the Amish community. But, I’m wondering: Today, do you consider yourself Amish? Or “formerly Amish”?

Photo of Saloma Furlong by Kerstin Martin. Used with the author's permission.

Photo of Saloma Furlong by Kerstin Martin. Used with the author’s permission.

SALOMA: I’m not sure I can be definitive in answering that. I am more of “a formerly Amish writer.” I don’t think of myself as “an Amish writer” because I’m not a practicing Amish. But, I’m still very Amish in my being.

I find myself serving as an accidental interpreter of the culture from which I emerged. There are so many misunderstandings about the Amish! I constantly find myself trying to clear those up. I get so many questions from my readers and from audiences when I go out and speak about this. I feel like I am constantly trying to right misrepresentations.

Often, I’ve felt like a lone voice in the wilderness until these two films came out. Callie Wiser was the producer of the first film that was shown on PBS and the director-producer-writer of the second film. She’s an amazing filmmaker because she’s such a careful observer and she understands things that many others miss. Thanks to Callie, those two films clear up a lot of misunderstandings, I think.

DAVID: Your first book’s title makes it clear that you left the Amish and, when people read that book, they realize that you grew up in a household with some tragically unresolved issues involving two men in your family. Eventually, we learn, some outside assistance helped with that situation—but you already had decided to leave. You left partly because of those men and primarily because your personality was in conflict with Amish ways.

Now, in the latest PBS film, viewers nationwide saw you helping another young woman struggle with her decision on whether to finally leave the Amish—or return to her traditional family. I suspect a lot of our readers are wondering: So, do you like and admire the Amish? Or, are you more of a critic of the Amish?

SALOMA: I am both. I like a lot of things about the Amish and I often find myself defending them, if I hear people wanting to demonize them. However, when people are trying to romanticize them, I point out some of the reality that doesn’t fit with the stereotypes. You could say: I complicate people’s idea of the Amish.

The Amish are people—they are human and they have their faults—but they also have some very important things to offer to the world, things like being more mindful about the technology we so easily adopt. They place a very high value on community.

DAVID: But you would change a few things about Amish culture if you could, right?

SALOMA: If I could change one thing about the Amish, it would be to allow the education of children beyond the 8th grade. When Amish young people graduate at 13 or 14 years old, they’re just too young to make it on their own in today’s world. Even if they got just a couple more years of schooling, then they’d have a prayer to make it on their own. But the Amish don’t want to talk about it. They say: God will take care of us.

A REAL-LIFE AMISH LOVE STORY

DAVID: Well, let’s turn to the strong appeal of this second memoir: It’s got good food and real romance. At this point, publishers understand that those millions of American tourists who love to drive through “Amish country” every summer also are grabbing Amish romances and mysteries to read, when they get back home. In book publishing, it’s often said: “Put a bonnet on it, and it’ll sell.”

While a lot of books have bonnets on the cover, these days—most are fiction. Your book? It’s the real deal. It all happened.

SALOMA: We hear a lot of feedback from readers of this new memoir that they would like to see this made into a movie. David and I would love to see that, although we haven’t heard from any filmmakers, yet.

DAVID: As Shirley Showalter says in recommending your book, this is a compelling love story because it involves dramatic clashes and obstacles along the way. In real life, love isn’t easy—and your love story certainly was a roller coaster.

First, you left the Amish and fell in love with this toymaker—the young man who is now your husband David. But that love took a painful turn! You wound up almost breaking David’s heart by going back to the Amish and leaving him behind. He was so loyal that he kept pursuing you, despite some huge barriers you threw in front of him.

There’s a scene in this new book, on a day when David actually showed up and tried to reconnect with you. You had decided to go out in a canoe for the day with a sister and some friends. As you’re going out onto this reservoir in the canoe, he shows up and hands you a piece of paper that he thinks will be very meaningful to you. I won’t reveal to our readers what was on the paper. But, instead, you drop the paper into the water. Now, that’s a scene from a movie. I can see that fragile white paper sinking into the dark waters of the reservoir.

SALOMA: When we started talking about movie scenes, I knew you were going to bring up that moment in the book! And, of course, I can still see that in my memory. Memories, like that day when I dropped David’s paper into the water and tried to reject him again—those memories become so vivid because they’re the experiences that shape who we are as people.

DAVID: I hope that many readers buy your book, enjoy your story, make some wonderful baked goods from the recipes in the back of your book—and we wind up seeing your story on the big screen. Do you have a third book in this series of memoirs in the works?

SALOMA: Well, it all depends on how successful these first two books are. Right now, my husband is bringing in the bread and butter to keep our household going. In this book, the publisher has included a few chapters written by David, but I’d like to write more with him. The problem is that his work is so time consuming that, right now, he doesn’t have time to write.

DAVID: Meanwhile, keep baking! We’re going to share your recipe for bread and sticky buns. They’re so good!

Care to read more?

(Originally published at readthespirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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