When Mom Was My Age is an interview series between daughters and mothers. New interviews appear on random Mondays. If you would like to participate, contact Jane.
The following interview is with Barbara Ann Hess Hershey Becker (age 84), reflecting on her life at age 63, interviewed by daughter Shirley Ann Hershey Showalter. Shirley has been a college professor and college president (Goshen College, 1997–2004). Now she blogs at 100memoirs.com, lives in Brooklyn, and writes her memoir from 6-8 a.m. “Farmer’s hours,” she calls them.
I’m very fortunate. Most friends my age can no longer call or visit their mothers. I talk to mine at least once a week. My mother is only 21 years older than I am and still active mentally and physically at age 84. She drives her red Taurus around town and to her children’s homes. She enjoys reminiscing and has been helping me with material for the memoir I am writing, Rosy Cheeks: A Mennonite Childhood. We sat down at my sister’s kitchen table as Hurricane Irene barreled up the East Coast and reconstructed some of the highlights of the year 1990—the year mother was 63.
Where were you living in 1990?
I lived in a very old farm house near Lititz, Pennsylvania. It was built about 1740 as a tavern on the toll road to the “western frontier” of Pennsylvania during the colonial era. The house was the home of five generations of my husband’s ancestors—Snyders and Hersheys. It has the distinction of having been the place where the Moravian missionary Count Nicolaus Zinzendorf preached in 1742. A local farmer converted by Count Zinzendorf’s stirring sermons gave the land that became the Moravian settlement of Lititz. A deed for that farm signed by the three sons of William Penn still hangs on my wall in the retirement community I live in now.
What was your work then?
Although I had been a widow for ten years in 1990, I still did a lot of work I had done as a farm wife—cooking, cleaning, gardening, and baking. I was active in the church and went to singles events with two of my friends who were also widows. I had weekly appointments with my prayer group and with my hairdresser. Four of my five children lived nearby (all of them except you!), and one of them, Sue, lived on a dairy farm. I would help with intensive day-long projects—canning and freezing corn, peaches, applesauce, Christmas cookies. We would spend all day working together and then divide up the fruits of our labors. Working together was fun. The last two of my 13 grandchildren were born in 1990 also, so I was busy even though I was retired.
I traveled to Winnipeg, Canada in 1990, and I also gave talks to many church groups along with my friend Earla. The name of the program was “Love Is Something Special.” I spoke, and my friend played the piano. I guess you could say that was my work.
What did you worry about then?
I’m not a very good worrier, I guess. Or am I? I like to take each day as it comes and pray when I’m worried. Of course, the welfare of my children and grandchildren was always on my mind. I also thought about whether I would ever get married again. I might have had a few dates. Nothing exciting—those singles events were pretty pathetic. I didn’t worry too much about money. I was blessed to have a good farmer renting my farm.
What did you think the future would hold?
With five children and thirteen grandchildren, I knew my future would always be tied to their joys, sorrows, interests, and accomplishments.
How do you look back on that age now?
I would call it a good time in my life. I was healthy and energetic. After ten years of widowhood, I lived alone but I wasn’t usually lonely. I missed my husband deeply. I missed male companionship. I missed the identity of being part of a married couple. I used my gift of speaking in the church. I had a lot of love in my life.
Mother had 13 grandchildren at age 63, and I have one—Owen William. My husband and I are living in Brooklyn for a year to take care of Owen. Though Brooklyn and Lititz are worlds apart in many ways, the love of my mother for her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren is a constant presence in our lives. I talk to mother on the phone every Sunday and try to visit her as often as possible.
Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.
In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.
Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.