Jolina Petersheim is the critically-acclaimed author of The Alliance, The Midwife, and The Outcast, which Library Journal called “outstanding . . . fresh and inspirational” in a starred review and named one of the best books of 2013. That book also became an ECPA, CBA, and Amazon bestseller and was featured in Huffington Post’s Fall Picks, USA Today, Publishers Weekly, and the Tennessean. CBA Retailers + Resources called her second book, The Midwife, “an excellent read [that] will be hard to put down,” and Booklist selected The Alliance as one of their Top 10 Inspirational Fiction Titles for 2016. Jolina’s nonfiction writing has been featured in Reader’s Digest, Writer’s Digest, and Today’s Christian Woman.
She and her husband share the same unique Amish and Mennonite heritage that originated in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but they now live in the mountains of Tennessee with their two young daughters.
I was born on a hot August day in the heart of Amish country. While my family moved to Tennessee when I was only three years old, my childhood was filled with stories of Pennsylvania Dutch ancestors hiding TVs from bishops and concealing permed hair beneath kapps. But this unique heritage did not interest me. Instead, I pouted as my mother divided my waist-length hair into plaits and then forced me to change from purple overalls into a jean skirt and sneakers in preparation to visit our Plain friends—knowing, even at the tender age of six, that this combination was a fashion faux pas. Playing Hide ‘n’ Seek or Kick the Can with my Old Order Mennonite peers, however, I soon became grateful for that skirt, which helped me transition from Southern Englischer to intimate friend.
Years passed. I knew my Mennonite playmates had traded braided pigtails for kapped buns, yet on a visit to the community, I rebelled against my mother’s instructions and arrived with unbound hair. During supper, which was eaten beneath a popping kerosene bulb, the hostess came and stood behind my portion of the bench. She slid out my blue satin ribbon and plaited my hair as I stared into my bowl of grummbeer supp accented with homemade brot.
The winter of my seventeenth year, I returned to the community to visit my once-raucous playmate whose ill health had transformed her into a soft-spoken friend. The whites of her deep brown eyes had yellowed from liver complications. Her family and my own gathered around her bed, which was heaped with spinning-star quilts, and sang hymns whose Pennsylvania Dutch words I did not know, but whose meaning struck my heart with such clarity, tears slid down my cheeks.
One week later, I stood beside her grave, wearing a thick black headband to hide my newly pierced ears with the fake diamond studs that stabbed the tender skin of my neck and gave me a migraine further magnified by jaw-clenching grief. I remember how the somber community huddled around her family as if their physical presence could shield them, not only from the slashing wind and sleet, but from the reality that their dochder and schweschder’