Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, likes to call itself the Garden Spot of the World.  If you travel to Lancaster in the springtime, you understand.  The greens penetrate deeper than the human eye can see, and the earth, well, it’s as soft and receptive as any coquette and more fertile than a hutch full of rabbits.

leaves of grass

Leaves of grass

almost open

Almost open



I love going back to the land, walking along the creek where I used to play as a child, and thinking about all the ancestors who are buried on the hill behind my mother’s house.

the Snyder Hill Cemetary

The Snyder Hill Cemetery

Last Tuesday Stuart and I went home to celebrate Easter with my mother and three of my siblings, and two of my neices and nephews who live there.  If you have been reading this blog, you know that I planned to read the essay I wrote called “My Mother’s Pulpit” to my mother.  I hoped that she would be honored, but I wasn’t sure how she would react.

Would she be upset, offended that I had not consulted with her before sending in the essay?

The Look

The Look

Or would she be delighted to find my story about her voice in print?

ready to read

Ready to read



It wasn’t easy to read about my embarrassment when Mother prayed at my inauguration in 1997 or about how I distanced myself as a teenager and young adult from my mother’s powerful example as a woman leader.  But it was the truth as I lived it, and truth is strong medicine for fear.

Mother interrupted the beginning several times to deny that she had ever said those things in her prayer.  I just smiled and nodded and my sister affirmed my memory, and we plunged on, laughing. I relaxed after that, hoping that Mother would be able to hear the love in the essay even when it was mixed up with my insecurities and judgments.

I have always trusted my mother’s love, and, one more time, she came through with love rather than resentment or pique.

Happily ever after.

Happily ever after.

The first hearing of an essay is never enough–especially when it is about you!  So the next day, Mother and I talked about it again.  She wondered what it was about the writing that won the contest.  I loved that question because it shows how eager my mother is to learn, even at age 82.  We talked about phrases and metaphors, and she picked out lines she thought were strong.  I read the essay again into a recorder at the request of my niece Joy, who wants to make a CD.  Mother clapped.

She also wore her Goshen College Mom sweatshirt and Stuart took our pictures.

Mother-daughter essay

Mother-daughter essay

I’m so glad that Mother forgave me for sharing my impious thoughts.  And I rejoice that she welcomed me home as always–and that she wants me to return.

What makes Lancaster County soil so extraordinarily fertile, my father once told me, is limestone.  My mother’s house is made from stones taken from the barn on our farm, built in the 1720’s, and built to last. The picture above taken of Mother and me on her front porch illustrates how limestone combines beauty and strength in construction.  The front yard contains another great and uncut lime stone salvaged from the ancestral land.

upon this rock

Upon this rock

Limestones, flowers, oaks, sycamores, willows, creek–these were forces that forged my imagination as a child.  The wind that blew strongest through me, from the beginning to this very moment, is my mother’s voice.  She would want you to know that the voice that blows through both of us is a Voice without beginning and without end, the voice beyond language that we nevertheless call Holy Spirit.

Shirley Showalter


  1. ginger on April 14, 2009 at 7:32 pm

    I read Mother's Pulpit. Wonderful. Great memoir. It touched me deeply. The angst, the fear, the acceptance and embrace. I hope my own children will someday have that same experience of working it out with me!

  2. shirleyhs on April 14, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    Thank you, Ginger. I imagine that I might get that opportunity also, since my own daughter is 25. Your comment captured the mixture of emotions very well. Thanks.

  3. Betty on April 16, 2009 at 4:50 am

    Very beautiful memoir of your relationship to your mother. Something I miss. It is a lovely piece of earth where you grew up and I loved the photos!

  4. Shirley on April 16, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    Thank you, Betty. Someone else told me she would give anything to have her mother back again. I tried to remember that when I was visiting.Thanks for the feedback on the photos. I am enjoying taking pictures again.

  5. […] enter the last third of our lives. I’ve described my own childhood home in Lititz, PA, when I wrote about my mother and the farm where I grew up. We will be closer to our children, my mother and all my siblings when our move to VA is completed […]

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