The KIT Newsletter, an Activity of the KIT Information Service, a Project of The Peregrine Foundation

P.O. Box 460141 / San Francisco, CA 94146-0141 /
telephone: (415) 821-2090 / (415) 282-2369
KIT Staff U.S.: Ramon Sender, Charles Lamar, Christina Bernard, Vince Lagano, Dave Ostrom;
U.K. : Susan Johnson Suleski, Ben Cavanna, Leonard Pavitt, Joanie Pavitt Taylor, Brother Witless (in an advisory capacity)
The KIT Newsletter is an open forum for fact and opinion. It encourages the expression of all views, both from within and from outside the Bruderhof. The opinions expressed in the letters we publish are those of the correspondents and do not necessarily reflects those of KIT editors or staff.

March 1995 Volume VII #3

-------------- "Keep In Touch" --------------

----- The Whole Kit And Caboodle -----

ITEM: Dateline Germany: Jorg Barth accuses the Michaelshof neighbors of "not helping refugees of the Nazi regime."
Susanna Ales Levy (formerly Fischli), 1/1/95: I have been reading KIT on and off at my father's and since July 1994 have been getting it on subscription. I find the idea of KIT attractive, especially for all those who have had a hard time finding their feet outside the Bruderhof. But there have been pretty unattractive outbursts in KIT in the past, and although I accept that people can only live and breathe more freely again once their hatred and pain and bitterness has been aired, it evokes reticence in me to declare my own hand. It was meeting Ben Cavanna last July that convinced me there was no need for anxiety. So I will give up my voyeurism and let my voice be heard.
I get uneasy, agitated and disquieted whenever I read KIT. It can be quite unsettling at times, even spooky, to realise that the Bruderhof world of yonder years still goes so strong and still unleashes so many different passions. There seems to be a kind of 'fatal attraction' about it all. Don't they just love being in control!
I find the Bruderhof itself quite unthreatening. For me, Christoph Arnold was always the Wasserkopf as we kids used to call him (how unkind, I know!) I have not an ounce of reverence for that guy, never had. But I do understand why people get so beside themselves. After all, leaving the Bruderhof can mean loss of one's close and extended family, loss of one's roots, of one's culture, tribe, herd. I guess I was lucky when I left Primavera of my own accord in March, 1960, just before that devastating wave of "spiritual cleansing" began. I have had a varied and colourful life. Things are going tough for me now (I am caring for a husband with Alzheimer's Disease), but one thing I never felt was a need or attraction to return to the Bruderhof life.
They still send me their Plough, probably their last delusion as to my interest in them. Anyhow, I'll probably be struck off their mailing list after they find me in KIT. I am much more worried about intrusion into my life by ex-Bruderhof people with whom I might not wish to liaise. I do understand some people's curiosity -- after all it has been 35 years since I went away. But just because I was someone's friend as a teenager doesn't necessarily mean anything anymore.
Andy Harries, if that seashell was white with a pink rim, then yes, I vaguely remember something. If not - sorry! Best of wishes to all and everyone,
Ruth Baer Lambach, 1/15/95: A plethora of proverbs or 'Ruth's truths' in response to January 1995 KIT. The comments by Staughton Lynd: "Why did it seem appropriate for men who had belonged to the community three or four years to exile persons who had put twenty or thirty years into building up the Bruderhof?." And paraphrasing, why did people like Mark Kurtz, Art Wiser, Jack Melancon and Doug Moody play such significant roles in the Bruderhof so soon after they arrived?"
I am reminded of my brother Elam's advice to my son: "Go into politics. That's where you can get to the top in the shortest amount of time. In your thirties you could be at the top of your career." About religion I think one could say the same thing. When I remember the aforementioned leaders in the Bruderhof in the mid -1950's, I think of them as being in the prime of their life, radiant with health, enthusiasm, having a superior education, healthy, intelligent, handsome, committed and burning with zeal to change the world. They entered our complacent life with lots of fresh ideas and they had us charmed. Perhaps the only thing lacking in them was wisdom and experience. I am afraid that this is often the case as l look around in the area of politics. Often I think of Yeat's 'Second Coming:' "The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity."
I am not suggesting that they had evil intentions, only that because of their lack of wisdom and direct experience in communal living, they moved into positions of power and authority for which they were not prepared. We don't give degrees in wisdom. It's not really validated out here and therefore with the help of good looks, money, education and connections, people can move into positions of power and do a great deal of harm if they lack the necessary wisdom. To quote another hackneyed phrase: "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." From what I know about the people who came to Forest River, their intentions were honorable and so were those at Forest River who sought to be engaged in the world rather than 'hide our light under a bushel'. My experiences in communal living and on the outside with expert consultants has left me forever suspicious of outside experts who come along to 'fix' something. They frequently destroy whatever good there was before they are finished. Real change is slow, gradual and at times almost imperceptible and according to the Hutterites "the wisdom of God is the best education."
I also want to comment on A. Allen Butcher's thoughtful, wise and provocative letter to the Bruderhof. My favorite passage from his letter is his quote from Kristin Anundsen's book Creating Community Anywhere: "The best way to keep your community from becoming a cult is to continually expose its processes and dynamics to the light. Cults cannot withstand scrutiny." Indeed, and of course I thought of a phrase that I've memorized: "Sunshine is the best disinfectant." I think this was said by a well- known supreme court justice. I'd add to that, "and exercise is the best antidote." If each member of the commune would have to share equally in the dirty housekeeping duties, everyone would be a lot healthier.
It's probably not possible for human beings to avoid categorizing and stereotyping because that is one of the most fundamental ways in which we begin to sort out the world. We heap experiences upon experiences and then certain patterns emerge. In reflecting on the comments by Nadine who states: "Our family did everything to be in good graces, but it was all to no avail. Once you get labeled, you are labeled! One never gets rid of the stigma... we had to be sent away to get rid of it." It is precisely these labels that inform people where they belong. Every family and every human system that I know of does this and I have to say that it is this capacity to label, to judge, to form categories and to maintain a judgmental mind set that saved me in the world when I first emerged. It is precisely this mindset that also gets me into trouble. We move between the twin desires of wanting to belong and wanting to be unique; of wanting to be accepted as one of the group and wanting to stand out and be exceptional. I'm not sure that one can have both. The Japanese have a proverb about how the nail that sticks out above the rest gets hit on the head. Those of us who are "out" chose to follow the unique path, and so here we are with a sense of loss. But there are compensations. Freedom is not cheap. Freedom is not easy.
To Miriam Arnold Holmes: Your father's dream is a jewel. I think we should get it printed up by some calligrapher and have it framed. I think it would sell like hotcakes.
To Hilarion Braun: Not all spankings are equal. Some are more beneficial than others. The ritualized spankings I got in the Hutterite colony were simply reminders to each of us that we were in this thing together and that we were responsible to each other. In other words the whole was more than the sum of its parts. We needed to take care of the whole, not just our narrow little part. The most memorable spanking I got was when all eight of us oldest girls whose job it was to sweep the school at the end of the day, got into a fight and left two rows unswept. Since we had strewn oiled, red sawdust on the floor to minimize flying dust, the unswept rows were very obvious during the evening church service held in the same building. The next morning all eight of us were hauled up in front of the boys our age and told to hold out our hands. The German school teacher, Paul Maendel, gave us each several perfunctory taps on our outstretched hands and told us that next time we were to consider the effects of our actions. Being shamed in front of the boys our age was more painful than the leather strap. Quite frankly, from what I see in the public schools and colleges in our country, I think we could do with a little more simple, direct Hutterite style discipline. Thousands of people would be saved from really serious harm and they would be better at managing things in their personal lives and in the public arena.
A. Allen Butcher to Martin Johnson 2/8/95: Thank you for responding to my earlier letter, and please pardon me for taking so long to answer your letter of 12/27/94. ...One of the main issues in our discussion... is whether or not the Bruderhof may be characterized as having an authoritarian government. This is an important point, I think, because being clear on this would help clarify what I believe is the primary issue, which you phrase as, "the main leader and financial supporter of Peregrine has said that he will oppose us as long as we believe in Jesus."
First of all, I must say that I don't know who you are referring to in that last sentence, but I assume that it is Ramon Sender. I have no idea whether or not he has actually said this, or if he indeed is Peregrine's main organizer, but I will ask him. What comes to mind about this is that there could be a great deal of misunderstanding here, and that it could be cleared up if both parties would talk directly with each other rather than through a third person like myself. I encourage you and others in the Bruderhof to contact Ramon and other ex-Bruderhof members. (Their address: Keep In Touch, P.O. Box 460141, San Francisco, CA 94146-0141.) Reconciliation may not be difficult once people feel safe to express their honest feelings, and as they honestly listen to the other's concerns.
It is this kind of communication process, this kind of open and regular discussion within a particular community and between members and those outside, that I believe marks one difference between a community with a participatory government as opposed to one with an authoritarian government. I think of this political issue as a continuum ranging from participatory process (consensus decision-making) to authoritarian (strong leadership), with democratic process (majority-rule) in the middle. An important note to make is that merely open discussion alone does not qualify a community as having a participatory government. Leaders can encourage and listen to feedback, and still refuse to respond to what they hear. This was a problem in the Emissary Communities for many years, until they came around to recognizing the need to incorporate all of their members' concerns into the community decisions that were made. The difference may be hard to grasp, but the change in the community is transformational (or so they are reporting). Exactly how various communities have developed participatory governmental processes is information available through the Fellowship for Intentional Community (FIC), if you or others are interested, so I will not get into those details here. I encourage you to look into this if you like. You can contact the FIC by writing to Laird Sandhill (at: Sandhill Farm, Rte. 1, Box 155, Rutledge, MO 63563; tel: 816 883- 5543).
It is this concern for how your community and your movement in general governs itself that I believe is the primary issue that you have with the Peregrine Foundation, not the issue that you identified of whether or not you believe in Jesus. What a person or a community BELIEVES and what they DO can be two different things. It is possible for two people (or two communities) to both believe in Jesus, while one practices authoritarianism and the other practices a participatory form of governance. Such ambivalence can even be seen in the Bible, as for example, one can read the dictum that humans have "dominion over the earth" to mean either that we are free to exploit its resources, or that we are responsible for stewarding and protecting our common heritage. I find the same to be true in the passages that you referred to me: Book of Acts, chapters 2 and 4.
As you point out, these chapters give evidence of the "brotherhood and unity" of the Early Christian Church, but it is not explained what type of unity we have here, whether it is to be an authoritarian unity or more participatory. One would assume the latter, but the problem with all established churches is the trend toward authoritarianism. The classic example is the rise of the Roman Catholic Church. Such a growth toward authoritarianism inevitably results in an eventual rise of reform movements, of which the Catholic Church has experienced many. Now it appears there is need to reevaluate the state of the Bruderhof movement, as has been done before (an earlier experience of renewal I understand is presented in Torches Rekindled). Just where do you fall today on the continuum between authoritarianism and participatory governance? And what trends exist indicating what the future will be?
You wrote that you want to be "more open and responsible to the true spirit of brotherhood and unity," suggesting to me that you want as participatory a governmental process as possible. Yet I read from your ex-members that you are going in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, I am not close enough to the Bruderhof to have any real idea about what is going on in your communities.
In closing I would like to share with you a Biblical passage that I have found which is closest to what I am trying to say:
"But this is the new agreement I will make with the people of Israel, says the Lord: I will write my laws in their minds so that they will know what I want them to do without my even telling them, and these laws will be in their hearts so that they will want to obey them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people." Hebrews 8:11.
Of course, this also sounds rather authoritarian, as though we have been programmed to act a certain way and to believe certain things, without explaining what those actions and beliefs are. (One must keep in mind that this was written at least a thousand years ago, and translated and rewritten a few times since.) However, there is also a participatory message here. To me it says that any person who wants to become, or who finds that they are a leader in their community, must listen to the people ("... these laws will be in their hearts ..."), or better yet ASK the people what is in their hearts. Leaders must find out what is in the hearts and minds of the people through setting up a form of government in which the people can see that what they say has an impact upon their government, their community, and their lives. The processes of participation must be set up and maintained such that everyone with something to say is included, and such that even those who tend to silence are encouraged to speak. Leaders must get beyond feeling that they can lead by simply listening to what God tells them, and realize that it is equally important to understand what is in the hearts and minds of everyone in the community (that can be the best place to find God). I believe that good leadership requires balancing one's own consciousness with the expressed ideas of others.
Once everyone is listened to, and their concerns affect the decisions made, then conflicts are resolved and true unity can be found. In the case of the Bruderhof, I feel that you have not just your current members to include in this process (although this is a good place to begin), but also many ex-members as well. How you might do all this would be another long discussion, and again, I am not close enough to your communities to be of much guidance, but there are others who are. I do hope that you have an interest in pursuing this. It is this kind of change in your governmental processes that I believe the Peregrine Foundation, and many of the rest of us in the intentional communities movement, wants to see in the Bruderhof's future. Sincerely,
Bette Bohlken-Zumpe, 2/10/95: Thank you everyone for your contribution in the January KIT letter, which was a little late arriving here in Holland (February 2nd) so I am eagerly awaiting the next issue of February soon. I do realize, that you people in San Francisco do an awful lot for us and hereby want to give you a great big THANK YOU!!
By now we all know that the Bruderhof people have separated themselves once more from the Old Hutterian Order and maybe this will have to go on and on -- every 30 years a change. I think it was not good and not wise for the Bruderhof to write the letter they did in the last Plough: " ...... The young people today no longer have the clear guidance and direction from their ministers, teachers and parents. Many young people are baptized with burdened consciences. Many young couples enter marriage with burdened consciences. There are illegitimate children. Premarital sex is rampant. In other words, the Hutterian Church has lost its salt and has become as shallow and superficial as any other world church."
This summarizes the Bruderhof's arrogant spirit, not only towards the old Hutterites (500 years) but toward ALL Churches in the world! This is the Pharisee in our time! People that think they have caught up God the Almighty in their little church -- this is what made the Bruderhof a cult!! I still believe that my father was right when he said in 1936: "Let us learn from the Hutterites, let us respect them as they are, let us be inspired by their life and teaching, but let us not try to be a copy of the Hutterites! There would be too many misunderstandings if we tried to go back to the 16th Century. We would lose our identity and also our respect for them in trying to mold them into our own pattern! ... Let them be as they are and let us try and be open for God's guidance and live a pure and Christian life. Then we will find that we have a lot in common, and unity in many spiritual areas will be given ..."
I believe that from the very beginning my grandfather was really gripped by the testimony of Jakob Hutter, Andreas Ehrenpreis, Claus Felbinger and Peter Riedemann, but he also saw that the Hutterite Communities in 1930 lived in traditional unity and he felt that a new spiritual awakening to their own teachings would be needed to let them reawaken to the life of their forefathers. Being so inspired and spiritually alert to a complete surrender to Jesus Christ himself, he hoped that God would use him as a new link towards finding the way back to the roots of the Old Hutterite Belief. The Bruderhof today took this longing from my Grandfather (to be a tool of the Holy Spirit) as an arrogant task "to change and convert the Hutterites". This cannot be and will always lead to disaster. I do hope with all my heart that the Bruderhof and the Hutterites will remain true to their own original calling and then they will find a basis, a common root, to build on in the future with love and without hatred and false accusations toward each other (as in the Bruderhof letter from January 7th).With all my heart I hope that some of the original spirit and love will guide both groups to a better and more loving approach!! 2/16/95: We have just lived through two days and nights without electricity, which is an incredible experience. No light, no TV, no typing -none of all the kitchen and household machines that make our life so easy. Seems that because of the high ground waters, a lot of damage was done to the current system that is all underground. 30 minutes ago the lights went on again, and I hasten to get this letter off in time for the next KIT issue.
The February KIT letter was a good but sad issue! The Bruderhof is going from bad to worse and all our families seem to be in line! I find the whole matter pretty depressing, although I have known for a long time that it would have to come to such a step!! The Open Letter in The Plough reflects the attitude they have had for many years: "The whole world lives in darkness BUT we have the light!" For many years, we-- the KIT folks -- were the sinners and evil in God's eye! What struck me in the letter is that they dare to show their loveless arrogance in this manner to the Old Hutterian Order of people who have actually lived in peace and without the many and destructive crises that the Bruderhof has had in its short time span of some 70 years ... I quote: "Members withhold money and other foods for themselves" (is this not what the Bruderhof did with special bank accounts for Heini and for Christoph?) ... "Communal Work Departments have become independent kingdoms..." (is not the Elder of the Bruderhof the king of kings?) "There is little or no spiritual leadership ... ministers are no longer servants of the flocks, but lord over them..." (seems as if they are looking in their mirror!) The whole letter is evil, arrogant and so very self-serving! I get quite sick when the name of Jesus or God is misused in the way they do and feel I want NOTHING more to do with these self-righteous people. The whole letter gives the witness of what they are today. If only our mothers and brothers and sisters were not still there, and so much under the influence of this evil that their eyes do not see, their ears do not hear and their mouth is used to give false witness.
The evil thing about the Bruderhof today is that "They are always right and on God's path, the rest of the world is wrong and evil!" As long as it just concerned me and all of you, I laughed about their spiritual arrogance. But what they do now is, they BLAME the Hutterites, and even the neighbors in Germany. They have to leave Germany because the Hutterites no longer pay for a "joint venture," but they blame the neighboring people for not welcoming the poor Nazi victims back home after they had been kicked out of Germany by the Nazis. It's all bad -- inside- out -- upside-down! I wonder if we could not just march in on them sometime and just tell them as friends how very misled they are. This is not what my Grandfather wanted and it is what my father tried to prevent, namely, a community driven by an emotionally unstable person into self-destruction and into a human kind of loyalty to a person rather than to our God!" I feel sad about the whole matter.
We have had their book on Heini, May They All Be One, on loan from a friend. First I thought it was OK, or shall we say at least better than Torches Rekindled, but it's not!!! It is just as evil as the rest. Why? Because in it all things are twisted into Heini's sickly vision. Even the smallest event of his childhood and Bruderhof history, makes Heini "the special child of Eberhard Arnold" who was blessed with the vision in dreams and all kinds of things. He was the light in the darkness, the sufferer in silence, the spirit of God on this poor earth of ours. I think it is a dangerous book because it sort of tells in a nice way a very twisted and untrue story. I still believe that in our poorest time in history -- in Paraguay -- we were the closest to living the life that our God wants from us.
Miriam Arnold Holmes to Emmy Zumpe, Woodcrest Bruderhof, 12/28/94: I just got off the phone with Don Noble and he suggested I write to you about the concern I shared with him. It is my understanding that you returned a letter Monika Trumpi-Arnold wrote to your mother (Emi-Margaret Zumpe - ed] with a note to Monika saying that you and your mother no longer wish to communicate with Monika. This is extremely painful for Monika who is also getting sick and frail. Don explained to me that it is painful for your mother to hear from Monika because she is unfaithful to the life. He also assured me that this was your decision and not the decision of the servants or Brotherhood.
What I don't understand is why this after over 30 years? Monika has visited your mother and also my father, Heini and Hans Herman while they were still living, and it is my understanding that those visits were very much enjoyed by all, and that everyone had a gemutlich, harmonious time. I have a real hard time believing that this is your mother's wish. I know my father Hardi would not have wanted such a restriction of communication. Monika and your mother are the only living children of Eberhard and Emi, and they shared a tremendous childhood and youth, and later a great deal of joy and pain together as adults.
I think it is so important that they be allowed to communicate when there is not much time left in their lives. It is very distressing to me that they might need to share something important with each other and are prevented from doing so.
God is so much bigger than the Bruderhof, and this restriction is in direct opposition to the love Jesus commanded us to have for one another. I just can't imagine that Emi-Ma, who has such a loving heart would want this. You know, Emmy, we all make mistakes, I have sure made plenty of them myself. The important thing is that we recognize them and make amends. Will you please reconsider and drop Monika a line. I wish you all a very good New Year, your cousin, P.S. Balz and Monika know nothing of my phone-call or this letter. 1/11/95 : Dear Emmy, Klaus and Heidi (Woodcrest B'hof): Thank you, dear Emmy for your letter. Let me tell you a true story. Over 30 years ago, my brother Gabi was sent away from Oak Lake. We barely had any contact with him until about a year later when I looked out of the window of the hotel and saw my brother outside talking to a servant. I was so happy that he came to visit. I loved my brother very much. A few minutes later the servant called me to his office and said that Gabi came to visit but that he does not think I really want to talk to him, but I should tell him myself; he would be calling from Farmington. I knew that if I protested or contradicted the servant I would be in trouble, so when the phone rang and I answered it, and Gabi said he would like to talk to me, I told him "I can't". He said he understood and he hung up.
The next time I saw him he was dead.
Years later that servant and Heini told me how unloving it was of them not to let me talk to my brother, and they asked me for forgiveness. I did forgive, but believe me, this was a bitter pill to swallow, and something one never forgets. Who knows what Gabi needed to tell me, and he never had the chance again? I want to tell you something I learned from our dear Moni, who had such a loving, big heart."Never push someone away who wants to show you love, no matter whether they are "in" or "out". I feel so priviliged that I was allowed to help take care of Moni after she had her stroke.
I greet you with hope,
------ A Conversation ------
The following is an edited transcript of a conversation between two women, whom we shall call 'Ruth' and 'Anne', that took place during December, 1994.
Ruth: We are walking through the woods in North Carolina, and Anne, you really have a community here.
Anne: I have a very nice support group.
R: How many years have you been here?
A: Two and a half.
R: Before that you were out of the Bruderhof for how many years?
A: I left in 1987. I graduated from Long Island University in 1991 and came right down here and started working as a physical therapist.
R: You've made an absolute beeline to success!
A: Straight to success -- which is bizarre, because I had no idea how to do it. But I guess I had enough smarts and enough luck. I feel extremely fortunate, I really do, because I'm a lot more successful than most people in their late twenties. But then, at the same time, I stayed a lot more focused -- I didn't have the sexual and social distractions. I worked two jobs while I went to school for the first four years. I didn't have any kind of relationship or anything until I was twenty-one. That gave me a good head start on life. Work-work-work-work-work!
R: That was actually one benefit that you got from being repressed, right?
A: My man friend Johnny and I were talking about it the other night, how I stayed much more focused because my life was such a narrow pattern when I was growing up, and not being allowed to relate to other patterns.
R: You were not distracted.
A: I wanted to be distracted! Now I can be focused, but I allow myself to get distracted. I allow myself to indulge. I probably fritter away lots of time.
R: That gives life variety. Life without distractions is not fulfilling. You've got to get out there and experience life.
A: I agree with you on that one. I used to feel kind of relieved that I didn't have to keep up with my 'outside' age group, but the worst part about it was that once I decided that I was going to do it, then I didn't know if I was within the norm, you know. It took me forever to figure out what was normal and what wasn't. First I'd put on too much make-up, and now I hardly use any make-up at all. I figure if somebody doesn't like who I am, I'm perfectly happy and they don't have to be part of it. I never wear lipstick or anything like that.
R: Not even at work?
A: No.
R: And is your hair naturally curly?
A: Uh-huh.
R: You're lucky.
A: Some days I look like Little Orphan Annie, though, with the Afro. My brother Steven and I both have naturally curly hair, and our four oldest siblings have straight -- very different gene pool in the two of us.
R: Maybe that's why you took a 'kinkier' path. You didn't take the 'Straight and Narrow' of the Bruderhof. It's all in the hair -- in the genes, right?
A: Exactly! It's the curliness! The weird thing is that the two of us -- I mean, all our family was rebellious to a certain extent, but I decided early. When I was six years old I told my parents that I was going to leave as soon as I could. My reason at that point was because I would have a better chance of getting married if I left the Community because I was tall. All my sisters were getting old and not getting married, and I thought that marriage was the completion.
R: So how many of your sisters are married now?
A: All of them, and all have kids. Linda married Justin Peters, Anne and Don's son. They have a very tall, skinny, red-headed little girl who looks just like a Peters. Now Amy, she feels best when she's pregnant. She married Alan MacPherson at 27, and Jen married at 24 or 25. They all had careers and were very strong people.
R: Did the men come into the Bruderhof or had they been there before?
A: Well, Linda married Justin and he'd been out probably for about half of his life. He came with his family when he was a kid, then he left, then he came back and married her two years later. Allen, Amy's husband, joined as a single guy in the early 1980s, and abut four years later married her. And then Jen married Mischa Mathis who had been out of the community for three years, and came back. They all been out and had different experiences, so I think that's why they could relate to my sisters better, because my family always has been more open-minded and a little unusual. Mom made sure of that.
R: That was one of the questions that I had. What are some of the ways in which your mother supported your rebellion towards the Commune?
A: It was very subtle. Let me see if I can give you a good example. At home, she would make fun of authority. She would pick on somebody, "So-and-so talks so slow that by the time he finishes a sentence I've forgotten what the beginning was." Stuff like that, which isn't that outrageous, but to speak anything negative at all was pushing the envelope. Klaus Meier was teaching us in school, and she would laugh about how little he knew.
R: You mother had a college education, right?
A: She went to The Art Institute in Chicago, and then went home to her mom because she couldn't make it with the money.
R: My gosh, a woman who has experienced the Art Institute of Chicago joins the Bruderhof! That is something!
A: You see, her life took a real twist because she was in art school in fairly rebellious circles. She hinted at it a couple of times. She went back to stay with her mother and work until she could get enough money to go back, and during that time she met my dad. They got married three months later and had a kid within a year, and within six years had four kids. So her career stopped at that point. My uncle thinks that the reason my mom embraced the Community so much was because she was really overwhelmed by the kids.
R: Great place for kids!!
A: Exactly! She felt that she could have a life, because Mom is very loving and everything but she likes to do her own thing and have her own free time. A very independent woman. Dad just wants 'Peace On Earth, Good will Toward Men.' That's why he fits in so well up there. In the beginning he didn't. He got kicked out right after I was born. He was out for three years.
R: Wow!
A: Mom raised us six kids. I think that's a lot of what Steve has trouble with, because Steve was two when Dad left, and when he came back Steve was five-and-a-half.
R: Did he come back to visit regularly? Could you see him regularly?
A: No, nothing.
R: Just nothing, no contact? No telephone?
A: I wasn't even aware that this had happened until I was eight years old and my sister said something about it, and I said, "What do you mean, 'Daddy was gone?'" And she said, "Yeah, he was gone until you were three years old," and I didn't even recall it. Steve remembers the whole thing. I don't know if Mom and Dad had contact, but I'm pretty sure if they did that it was very limited, because I know that he never visited during those three years. He told my uncle that the only reason he was going back was because of his kids. They kicked him out because they had made him Steward in Evergreen and within a year he got the community out of the red. So they admonished him for being too focused and aggressive and money-hungry, and threw him out -- for doing a good job! Because my dad is like all of us. We set our mind on doing something, we do it. I guess he didn't have much contact with the family. I don't know. By the time he did come back, Mom was wearing the pants in the family.
R: That incident created a change in the family dynamics.
A: Oh yes, because anyway they were one of these couples where Dad was the supporter and Mom was the mover and shaker. Then when he left, my oldest sister Linda became the second parent. And when he came back, there was a lot of tension between those two. Then Linda decided she was going to be my parent, and I rebelled against her, and she rebelled against Dad, and Mom and Dad were crossing swords, because he had six kids he hadn't seen in three years.
R: What did he do while he was out?
A: He went back to his dad's business and worked in Pontiac, Detroit.
R: Those of us who came from the outside and have relatives on the outside, we know that there's another world out there. There are grandparents and aunts, and the visits may be infrequent, but there are visits. In your case, did you ever see any of your grandparents?
A: Oh yes. They came to visit. My cousins came, my Mom's sisters, my Dad's brothers all visited. Maybe once a year somebody would visit. We'd see my grandparents at four- year intervals, usually. And we went out to visit them twice. We went out to my Dad's youngest brother's wedding when I was five, and I remember that very clearly. The whole family went out for a week, a huge experience. We went out to restaurants and everything. It was just like Wonderland!
R: So you SAW another world!
A: Mom always talked about the outside very fondly, and all the wild and crazy things they used to do, she and Dad. To me when I was a kid, it was always the land of ice cream and sunshine. You could get ice cream every day, like "Dick and Sally" -- those little reading books. I just thought it was the most wonderful place to be.
R: So you had a real sense of another world out there.
A: Oh yes. Like I mentioned, when I was six I told them I was moving out. Plus we got kicked out in 1975 when they had the crisis in Evergreen. We were moved to Salisbury, CT., between Woodcrest and Deerspring, when I was in Second Grade. We were there for a year, and I had a ball. We had a blast, we had good times with the family. Steve and I went to one public school, and Jan and Paul went to another. Linda stayed in the Commune, and Amy went to nursing school in Albany. But that was the first time that the family really had a blast. We went on trips, and stuff. I absolutely loved being outside.
R: What do you think made your dad go back in again? It seemed as if he had a supportive family in Michigan and could go back and work with his father and so on.
A: He told my uncle it was because of the kids.
R: And your mother at that point didn't want to come out again. Don't you think your mother and father had some contact with each other during his three years out?
A: I never asked about at all. The only things I know about it came from Steven -- he might have a better idea -- and from my uncles. My uncles were the ones who told me about it how distraught and angry my Dad was when he first came back to Michigan, but I never really talked with him about it. In fact, I was never really curious about it. It's weird to me that my Mom stayed in the Commune and didn't go with him. I think that the whole kid thing and the support group kept her inside. Mom likes to have a support group, an audience kind of thing.
R: She found her support group in the Bruderhof?
A: Oh yes. But of course she will always challenge the support. That's how she gets her kicks.
R: She needs the barrier there, the boundaries, so that she can push against them.
A: Exactly. All my life it's been like that. My Mom got in trouble many times for things that she said. We would see her get disciplined a lot too. My Dad was the quiet follower, and now he's completely into it.
R: Straight and narrow. So tell me about your attempt to visit them over Christmas, 1994. You went up there and your expectation was that you were going to visit?
A: Yes, we decided that we were going to pay a nice surprise visit. We hadn't seen my brothers and sisters in two years, and there are now seventeen grandchildren, five of which I haven't seen. So about a month ago Steve, Johnny and I reserved rooms at the Woodlands resort right on top of the mountain across from New Meadow Run. We told my sister Amy who lives at the Catskill bruderhof that we were going to go to New Meadow Run and surprise Mom and Dad.
"Don't tell them!" we told her.
"Oh, that's great!" she said. "Do it!"
So we drove up with total expectation of surprising them and everybody would be happy. We'd visit for a few hours and then we'd go off and do our thing. We weren't going to interact with the Community in any way, but just see the family. So on Christmas Day, Steve went down early before they went to a communal breakfast. He walked into our parents' house -- he knew where they were living because he had stopped by another time a while back -- and the second thing out of my parents' mouths was, "Did you ask if you could visit us?" And when he said that we hadn't, they told him that he would have to leave.
So Steve comes back to the hotel, and meets us in the hallway. He's almost crying.
"Don't go down there," he said. "It's a big mess. They didn't want me there because we didn't ask."
R: Is it too late to ask on the morning that you're visiting?
A: I don't know. I didn't even think about that because I was so shocked. It really took me by surprise, which is amazing because I should have known by then. But it took me by surprise, and then my second reaction was, "Well, if that's the way they want it, that's the way they can have it."
They started phoning up our room, and my brother Paul and his kid came up to the resort to find us, because they wanted to visit with us off the community. We had just told the desk that if anyone from the Commune called, we were not there because I didn't want to deal with them. When we walked outside, Paul pulled up in a car.
"Mom and Dad want at least to spend some time with you in a nearby coffee shop."
Paul had come up to run interference for them or something. He's married to Beatrice Gneiting, the Servant Jacob's daughter, and has four or five kids. He's climbed the hierarchy quickly and is principal of the school. They've given him a lot of privileges because they want to hold onto him. He's the only one in our family who has never really fit in as far as personality and whatever. He was almost crying. It was horrible. But still there was no seeing the other brothers and sisters, or anything like that.
So I said, "Cool, okay. I can show them how to be Christian."
Then Mom and Dad came up, and they didn't know that my friend Johnny and I were there too, so that was a surprise. They were very happy to see us, and we just avoided the subject altogether, about 'how come you did that to us'. We looked for a coffee shop, but nothing was open, so we invited them up to our hotel room, not really thinking along the lines that there was only one bed. It was a very luxurious room, and one bed, and me and Johnny there, and they've just met him.
But they were fine about it. "Yeah, sure, that will be a fine idea. Sure! No problem."
So we went up to the room, and nothing was said. Nothing at all was asked. No prying into our business, nothing. I had photos of Costa Rica -- we had just gotten back from Costa Rica a few weeks earlier, and some of them were rather revealing. I forgot to edit them -- My mind was sort of dull from the shock of driving six hours and then not being able to go to their house. I handed the photos to them and they looked through all of them. I tried to edit a few out at one point and Mom said, "No, leave them here. I'm looking at them!" She knew what I was trying to do. They looked at all of them and commented that it looked like we had had a wonderful trip. No problems. They were really nice to us, but I'm expecting a letter in a few days. After Dad thinks about the photos a little bit, he'll definitely put them down.
R: They never said anything about the bed?
A: Nope. We ordered some food from Room Service, they brought up this really nice wine, fruit and bread thing. We sat down and talked and laughed, and Mom and Johnny went and got ice, and they talked the whole way.
"Do you mind if I'm dressed funny?" she asked. "Can I walk with you?"
R: She says that about herself?
A: Oh yeah! That's the kind of thing she says! She'll say, "I know I look really funny in this outfit," or something like that.
R: How many years has she worn it?
A: Since 1973, when they changed over to the Hutterite dress.
R: Twenty years! And after twenty years of wearing those clothes, she still has that kind of consciousness!
A: It's more for humor than it is for -- she always goes for the shock value in her humor. Also it's for making people more comfortable with the situation, because she knows exactly where we're coming from, but she can't admit it to us. My life -- the way I am -- is just so much like the way she used to be. She ran away from home in Birmingham, Michigan, to Florida at fourteen to some camp owned by friends of her family. She didn't come back for three years, she got into all these funky scenes, I'm not exactly sure what. She's a very independent, very strong-minded, creative, funny person -- and I'm so much like her in many ways. But Steve is more like Mom because he's got the nervous stomach and the hyperactive worry-worry- worry thing going on. At least I got Dad's even keel, for most of the time. It takes a lot to fluster me, thank God.
R: You see, it's difficult for me to comprehend what it would be like to live in the Bruderhof and have this other consciousness. Because I have a Hutterite consciousness, which I have when I meet Hutterites and when I go to their colonies. I know exactly where they're coming from. I know how it feels to be inside and to consider that way normal. But I had a 'twisted thing' from what your mother does. When I walked down the streets in my Hutterite outfit, I thought I was the only normal person out there -- and I certainly was a single minority in Grand Forks, North Dakota. I judged all the other people and thought, "My gosh, don't these other people have any aesthetic sense?" Their short skirts -- why, you can see their ugly legs!"
A: Really, you perceived it that way?
R: That's how I perceived it! If you never have seen TV, if you don't go to movies, I could not even begin to look at people's faces because their garish, mismatched and heterogeneous stuff so confused my mind. It disturbed me. I did not even have a sense of what a beautiful face consisted of on the outside, or what was decent hair, what wasn't decent hair.
A: That's a hard thing to understand, isn't it?
R: I had no sense of that. It made me understand how very powerful the environment is in which you grow up.
A: When I first started seeing other people's dress, I thought, 'Oh my God, I would love to be like that! Look at that! Now that's neat!' I hated my outfit. I wouldn't wear it half the time. You perceived your Hutterite dress as normal, and I perceived mine as horrible.
R: And you grew up in it. That's what I find --
A: I grew up in it and I despised it. I think that's part of what made me so crazy towards the end of my time in the Community. I felt that the costume was the only thing in high school that was keeping people from getting to know me, or me getting to know people. They couldn't see past the dress, and when you're a teenager, it's all looks to you at that point. I remember when I was little, I always had my bonnet pulled off. I never wanted my bonnet on my head. I thought it was very constricting. I always told Mom, "I hate having something tied to my head. I hate that." And she'd say, "Oh don't worry about it."
Then people started getting onto her about my not wearing my head covering, so she had to get back onto me. "Maybe you should really wear it," she said.
When I went off the 'hof on trips, I always desired to be 'in' with the other people that I saw on the outside. I always thought they had the better lot in life, and they must have thought I was weird. That was hard for me, that people thought I was weird, because I wanted them to think I was GREAT! Then when I went to high school, I really started to hate the costume bad. I always did everything I could to make my dress as different as possible. I felt that my dress was really the only thing that was keeping me from being a part of the 'in' group, although by the fourth year I was popular with the 'in' kids.
R: Did you play sports with them?
A: We weren't allowed to do anything at that time. Now they're doing sports. We weren't allowed to do any activities with them at all.
R: Really! So how did you get out of doing physical education?
Anne: Oh, we did that. We always had to wear the pants to our knees and the blouse. We couldn't wear the shorts and t-shirts.
R: So the skin between your knee and --
A: And the hip is the VERY SACRED part. THAT is the erogenous zone! By the time I left, their swimsuit straps went all the way around, all the way around your neck, to here.
R: You mean the Bruderhof made swimsuits?
A: Absolutely! All my entire life!
R: Interesting. As a Hutterite, you know how we went swimming? With our whole goddam dress! Yes! In the river, in the creek with the whole thing on.
A: It's amazing that people didn't drown with that much material around your legs and everything. Amazing!
R: We did take our apron off.
A: Your skirts went up in the air and your panties showed, probably. We at least had the shackles down to about here, like the pictures you see of the swimsuits in the 1920s.
R: I think how you dress is very powerful. I know if I dress up, if I put on my biking outfit, if I put on my waitress outfit, I get into a different mood. So the B'hof has enormous control over people's emotions.
A: Also they basically make you look ugly, no matter how beautiful you are, although sometimes the beauty shows through.
R: You thought everybody looked ugly?
A: Yeah, and I was convinced I was ugly, and I thought that almost everybody in my family was ugly. I thought Steve looked good, because people told Steve he looked good. That was the funny thing. He was the Golden Boy. He was funny, he was good-looking. Mom would tell him all the time, "You're good-looking" -- and you weren't supposed to do that either.
R: Didn't you think that any women on the 'hof were pretty?
A: Yes, but I gauged 'pretty' by length of hair, thickness of hair, body.
R: With the bonnet you can't really tell,
A: But the braids. They used to wear braids down to their rear end and stuff. I always had the little curly mop that I had to pull back. And I was always heavier, and bigger and stronger than everybody else, so I thought I was an ox!
R: You weren't petite!
A: And my feet were HUGE! But I always turned it around to my advantage. I competed, and everything I competed in, I was usually the best, the top of the class in grades, the fastest runner, the most aggressive player in soccer. I was always picked first on the teams, I hit the hardest. I was very-very-very competitive, because that was how I could show people that I did have something going on.
R: In a way, the Bruderhof made you competitive.
A: Oh, it did!
R: It prepared you for the world.
A: It did. Look at all of those kids who are within the twenty-five to thirty-five-year age range and who left within those years. All of us in our group are successful. Some of them stumbled along the way because of drugs and women and men, but now everybody is successful. The oldest Zumpe boys don't have a degree. They have an education but not a degree, but our school education was beyond most people's high school education anyway.
R: By successful you mean 'reasonably successful'? More than average?
A: I mean higher than average, right. Higher than average, on a higher pay scale, on a higher job security, on a higher independence level as far as having your own place.
R: So how many people are you talking about?
A: Well, like Steve's a doctor, I'm a physical therapist, I put my money into the house, he's got the practice. He doesn't have a house yet, but he will shortly. Simon Marchant is a licensed plumber, makes good money, has a house. Mike Gneiting makes good money as an electrician. He's married with two kids, and very much enjoying the whole family thing. Ebo Zumpe's married with a kid, does plumbing and works as a private contractor. He takes care of his little sister Susie as well. Chris Zumpe is married, Danny Wiehler just got his engineering degree, and Mike Boller has his own sheet metal fabricating business. There also are others. We all get together every Memorial Day weekend and go camping. We're very much an 'in' group, because we are all within five years of each other.
R: Is there any other woman in the group?
A: Hilda Gneiting, who's now moving back East from Oregon. She's a year younger than I, and we were real tight growing up. When she moved out, she traveled in our circle but then she very quickly got involved with Traveling Nurses and went all over the States. She's a very, very strong woman, and very funny. She lived in Albany, New York, and then moved to California and then met someone there. They moved to Florida, then to Boston -- all through Traveling Nurses -- and then out to Oregon, where she's had two kids, and now they're moving back East.
R: You'd think as a nurse she'd know about contraception.
A: Well, this brings up the whole sex issue, doesn't it? There've been a lot of problems sexually for the women who have left. Some even have had an abortion.
R: How could they bring themselves to have an abortion?
A: I wouldn't have any qualms about the abortion issue because I take bringing kids into the world and raising kids extremely seriously. I look on them as an eighteen- year commitment, and I've not been able to make any commitment to anybody other than to my brother Steve.
R: You know, when I had my little baby Karl, he was a twin. The girl died, and I had this little boy. I looked at it and I said, "Oh my God!" All of a sudden I realized, "I am going to be stuck with this eighteen years! I can never just jump up and change my mind! I can't undo it!" I looked at the baby -- it didn't have a name yet -- and I said, "Oh my God, I wish you'd be graduated from Harvard already!" Then I put him to my breast and started nursing him, and then the relationship started. Then you're hooked!
A: It's all about love and relationships, and you just don't allow the relationship to start. I would never figure out in my mind, "Nine months from now, when would it be born?" I would never let myself in any way travel in my mind at all about it. A friend of mine went for the abortion, and her mindset was "Take it out. Just take it out! I don't want it any more!" The doctor told her, "My God, you're the best patient I've ever had!" She was totally relaxed about it, and I would be too. I've worked hard, and have just gotten to the point where I have my own house am flying smooth. Also I would never bring a kid into the world without a partner, because I know about myself that I'm too selfish to raise a kid by myself. I'm much too selfish. I want my time. I love kids, and I'm great with kids. I love the kids in the neighborhood and all my babies that I treat at work, and all their families love me and want me to do this and that with their kids, but I can walk away from it.
R: I think I look forward to grandchildren because of that, because you can always hand them back to the parents.
A: What about the men in your life?
R: I'm friends with all the guys I've ever dated. They're all fairly local, and I'm friends with all of them still. If they care to be involved in my life, I'm more than happy to see them. I still play Ping-Pong and pool with them and let them come over and we drink and stuff. Johnny, the man I'm with, we're very secure with each other, so there's no jealousy or insecurity at all.
R: Earlier you said that you've never had a longer than nine-month relationship with any one of them.
A: And the one I had a nine months affair with was an ex- Commune boy. He's the one who took my virginity too. He was the first one who understood me enough for me to free up myself and offer that kind of intimacy. We slept together for two weeks before I would even get that close.
Max [neighbor and friend]: Religion is kind of like thinking about a vacation. If Anne calls me up and says, "Come on, Max, let's go skiing in February." So here at the end of December until February I'm thinking, 'Man, February 14th we're going skiing! We're going to have a big time!' Stuff like that. All of us will build up such expectations as to what it's going to be that by when February 14th comes and we all go skiing, chances are that we might not have that great a time, know what I mean? I'll probably have a good time, 'cause I've never gone anywhere without a good time. But it wouldn't be as good as if Anne just had run up to the house some Friday night at six o'clock and said, "Come on with me and John! Let's go night-skiing!" And we take off and we just have a great time. So that's kind of the way religion is, that people expect so much that they can't enjoy it when they get there.
A: Or they live for the end so much that they don't enjoy the present.
M: You always have to live for right now.
R: Be alive and aware in the moment.
M: See, a lot of religions rely on guilt.
A: Max wrote me a song called "Jacuzzi Susie." Let's see, how do the words go...
R: You let your parents listen to that?
A: When they come to my house, I do what I do. And if they don't like it, they can go. I always get letters from them afterwards: "We didn't like this, we didn't like this," but they enjoy it while they're here. Then the process of guilt locks in. Mom and Dad LOVE being here! They drink and eat and play pool and Ping-Pong, and watch TV and carry on. But when they go home to their environment, all of a sudden they start feeling bad about things.
R: They have to start judging it all.
A: Oh Max, I didn't tell you. My parents wouldn't let us visit them in the Commune. I saw my Mom and Dad outside, but I haven't seen my sisters or nephews, nieces for two years and they wouldn't let us in because we didn't ask the Elder and get permission ahead of time, and that was against their rules. It's the Christmas Season, and the whole world is into loving and giving, and here the Commune's whole life is based on the life of somebody whose mother and father were turned away this time of year -- and they turned us away! I told Dad, "Well, thank God we have plenty of swaddling clothes up here in the hotel room!"
M: What I can't understand is, all these people have all these different kinds of religions, and they all preach love and caring for their fellow man, but they all want to effing kill them! "If you don't believe in what I believe, then we're going to kill you!" I say that if there is a God that I worship, he is much more than that.
R: He's like you.
M: Yeah, he's kind of like me.
R: How did you first meet Anne, Max?
M: When she bought the house and moved down.
R: You just walked up to her and said "I'm your neighbor?"
M: I think we had a party or something. It just seemed like we kind of fell in together.
A: It was just like instant friendship. Fran came down here and brought me a welcome gift, and then I wandered up there next Saturday. We started partying together and -- it was easy.
R: So how big is your neighborhood here, or your community?
M: Michael, who owned this land and built this first house here, he is our extended family. He lives right up there. He's built and owned four houses right here in this neighborhood, and he's the only man I ever knew that's built so many houses and never moved out of any of them. He still stays here, he ate supper with us last night. He's one of those people that you don't want to have any money dealings with, but he's got one of those personalities that you just can't be mad at him, no matter what he does, no matter how he poops on you.
A: He's sorry, lazy and takes advantage of your kindness. He's like the Prodigal Son.
R: How many people are in this group?
M: We have our own little commune. Me, Fran, Keith, Steve, Johnny, Mikey and a bunch of others.
A: About ten.
M: We're always there for each other. It's like an extended family.
A: We go out a lot partying together and have a designated driver. We recreate very well together.
R: Wouldn't you say, Anne, that you learned some of that in the Community?
A: Oh yes, and that's what I was looking for too. That's why I am so happy here. Absolutely.
M: She does have an extended family. We all do.
A: When they turned us away at the Commune, I thought 'Well, the hell with you guys. I've got a family in North Carolina.'
M: It's like Steve, her brother. He's not down here all the time. Sometimes he is, sometimes he ain't. We called him at Christmas, and he knows he can come down here and unload on us when his things ain't going good.
R: How far does he live from here?
A: Forty-five minutes at most.
M: I understand, in the circumstances that Anne and Steve come from, and not personally knowing -- like some of the worst whippings and beatings that I ever had were those in religion. We got a little saying, you know, even though I didn't grow up in that kind of violence that they grew up in, we had a summer preacher who came very summer and set up a tent with wood shavings. He would talk in tongues -- I guess he was 'holiness preacher.' The funny thing about it is that when he talked in tongues, he always said the same thing -- "SHAWN DILLY-DUH-MO- SEE-YA!" I memorized it as a kid: "SHAWN DILLY-DUH- MO-SEE-YA!" I was running through the house hollering "SHAWN DILLY-DUH-MO-SEE-YA!" and Mama just whupped my ass. I can never forget that saying. Anne and Steve both have memorized it. They're extremely intelligent people, although I know they act like buffoons.
A: That's the thing about North Carolina. As soon as I got here I realized this is where I needed to be, because they still have a real sense of community and family. Even if you don't have a family, they'll take you into their family. People really build support around you if they like you. Now if you screw somebody, don't even bother going back!
M: Now I wouldn't say that. You've got to prove yourself wrong several times. Basically I think people down here are really forgiving. The first couple of times they'll forgive you, but we when you reach three strikes, then maybe. And when they're done with you, they are DONE with you.
A: They're forgiving, but they'll tell you what they think about you. They don't mind saying "You're a mean mother, blah-blah-blah-blah-blah." I mean, they'll let it out, and then put you like in exclusion of their friendship for a few months before they'll let you back in. Make you suffer a little bit.
R: So you have to work your way back in, but it's not impossible.
A: Like Max said, they're very loving, forgiving people, but at the same time -- well, we're really close. I could do something that might anger Max, but it wouldn't --
M: I can't hardly imagine what it would be.
A: I can't either. When you plan and you act purposefully to destroy something, that's what I'm talking about. That is taken very hard, especially if you love somebody.
M: It's one of those things with all of our friends and all of the people that we know, there's still the politics in certain way. But everybody is so kind-hearted and so easy-going that they never want to hurt anybody's feelings. Never ever!
A: We'll talk about each other, but there's an understanding that there's a love there. It's talking about them but it's still loving them.
R: I understand that. It's only when you love somebody that you can really criticize them.
M: People basically, what we call 'Homo Sapiens,' are really the same all over the world. They have different wants and desires. What may turn you on may not do anything for me, but I may have something else that turns me on, and vice versa. But everybody has wants and needs and stuff like that. The hard part about it is that people in general don't understand life enough. They worry about all this other stuff so much that they can never enjoy their lives. They can never enjoy living. I mean I've had my guilt trips. I mean I've been hung up on some guilt things and stuff, and I just decided to get over it. There no need for me to feel guilty about the way I felt or whatever, or what I've done, because basically whenever I die I know that I never, ever, intentionally done anything to hurt anybody, that I never intentionally set out on a mission in my life to say, "Well, I'm going to do something that is going to mess Anne up." I have never intentionally hurt anybody. Now I have gotten drunk and run my mouth and hurt people's feelings and stuff like that, and said stuff that was out of the way, and just been my obnoxious self and stuff like that. But whenever I lay down to sleep at night, I never ever lay down and say, "Oh God, I wonder if Ruth is going to find out that I done something bad."
People like people that just say, "No! That's not what I want to do. Let's don't do that. Let's do something else." Instead of the sheep kind of thing.
A: There are no guessing games, it's all straightforward. You don't pretend to like somebody if you don't like them, and that way your friendships are strong and true, and you're secure. I'm very secure with Max and Fran, Johnny's friends and the other people I associate with.
R: Are you that way at work also?
A: Yes, I run my department like that. When somebody says something that aggravates me or there's a problem between us, I deal with it straight to their face right then, and then forget about it and go on. That's the environment I try to have. In the beginning I could pick and train my own people, but now I've that I have a bigger group, we're going to have some backstabbers.
R: I have the same sort of thing in my little group, and I think this is another thing that you got from the Community. In a sense, you really have taken what the Community preached and put it into practice. And the Community doesn't do it.
A: Exactly! I try to love and give and be open, and I take people as they are and don't judge them. The people around here that I know who don't claim to be religious are the best 'Christian' people that I know.
M: The beautiful part about it is that whenever people go ahead and express and live the way that we were taught to be, it is really nice that you can be open and say what you want to say and not hurt people's feelings.
A: You know, in my intimate relationships is where I've done my biggest growth, in the relationships and through the break-ups. Those have taught me more about myself and other people and life in general. If I hadn't had all those messed-up relationships with men, some of them good, some of them not so good, I would not have arrived at as good an understanding of myself as I have. They were all positive experiences, although most of them involved a lot of pain as well. But I learned, I grew, and I don't see how I could be who I am today without having had those experiences. I don't really regret or resent any of them, but it takes time to get that perspective.
R: Do you think that every human being needs to go through a lot of relationships?
A: No, but I think everybody needs to have the experience of giving and losing. "If You Never Loved, You Never Would Have Cried" -- you know that song from Simon and Garfunkle? I really believe in that a lot.
M: I don't believe in human nature so much. I could never emotionally ever consider myself giving my 'all' to any person or to any god or whatever it is. I'm always gonna hold just little bit back. It maintains my sanity.
A: I don't see how anybody can develop, though, without having those kinds of relationship experiences. I see the people in the Commune as underdeveloped personalities because they never had the challenge of meeting their weaknesses and taking the consequences and learning from that. Everything is so damn safe, so damn protected that they don't develop their character. The life doesn't develop their minds, but it also doesn't develop their sense of self, and in that way they can be more 'followers' because they are not allowed to experiment in any form.
R: See, I married the first guy that I kissed -- can you imagine how stupid? I was frightened as hell of him. I had nightmares about him, and I married the guy because I felt -- "I've kissed him, I have to follow through." It's the Christian thing -- you put your hand on the plow and when you once start, you don't turn back until you get to the end of the row. That caused me to lose my child when he was three-and-a-half years old. We divorced, and my husband got custody of the kid, all because of my stupidity. I was so darn stupid! I spent ten years in hell because of that.
A: Young women who leave the Community are not prepared to save themselves. The incidence of rape among this group is extremely high because they are not given the knowledge or the self-esteem to help them prevent that. At the same time I don't know how the Community could give the girls the knowledge to cope with that and still maintain the ignorance that they find so holy.
R: Do you think that the same thing might be true of other conservative Christian people or do you think that's something unique to the Bruderhof?
A: I think probably the same is true of anybody that's brought up in a very sexually repressed family where nobody talks about it. I don't see why, even in the Community, the parents don't talk about it. It's such a personal thing to dictate to parents how to inform their kids about sexual issues. But lack of basic knowledge and a low self-image are the reasons why every Bruderhof girl I know who has left, except for myself, has been raped, and all of us either have had abortions or become single mothers. We don't know how to socially relate. What saved me was that I didn't have the time to associate with men for the first few years because I worked two jobs, at night and on the weekends, and I went to school in the days.
R: But actually, all these girls were raped?
A: Most of it was date-rape, men whom they knew. I know with one girl, her body language was probably very inviting and he took it that way, and she didn't know how to handle it.
R: I am frequently misinterpreted. Recently my body language obviously told the man something that I wasn't intending. It's almost as though anybody who is open -- if they feel an openness -- a liveliness --
A: The majority of people that come out from the Commune are bright, intelligent and beautiful people. Just a lot of fun to be around. R Earlier you mentioned two women who have been in and out of institutions. Who are they?
A: One I've met a couple of times, and she's just kind of fried, I think mostly because she wasn't able to cope with society's pressures. I don't really know about her. She's outside, but when I met her she had been institutionalized a couple of times. The other one left in her late twenties, I think. They told her that she'd have to leave because she wasn't headed towards becoming a baptized member. So they put pressure on her, and basically forced her to leave. I think only a couple of months later she went into a mental institution near New Meadow Run. She wasn't there very long, a couple of weeks or a month, and was given a combination of medications that killed her.
Our parents visited us not long after that, and were saying how wonderful the experience was. They really felt close, and her father was touched by the experience.
R: What experience?
A: I guess sitting around her bed while she was in a coma and feeling like they had a contact with her or something. You know how they can always blow up something like that. Apparently it did change her father quite a bit. I wouldn't swear that I have all the details straight, but I challenged my parents when they came here. "You know, that could've been ME!" I told them. "Do you realize that could've been me or Steven or any of us kids that left? It's amazing that we didn't all end up in mental institutions. It's amazing that we aren't crazy or dead!" Mom kind of accepted the shock of that knowledge, I think. They of course thought that it was just God's will or whatever. It's amazing how little responsibility they take. I think they really have no sense of responsibility whatsoever.
Did you ever hear about that little girl who lived in New Meadow Run? She had two brothers, her mother and father kept going in and out of the Commune. She was in the third or fourth grade, and she just snapped. She started attacking the kids in her class, literally trying to strangle them or something at recess. She had behavior problems because her family had been in and out of the Commune so much. This time her family was living on the edge and she was in the school, and she probably had been extremely marked. Anyway, when that happened, they just shipped her off to a mental institution in New York, an eight or nine-year-old. After that she didn't want anything to do with her parents. She and Hilda Gneiting had some connection, but I don't know where she is now or what's going on with her. That was a real sad situation.
From the time I was a child, as long as I can remember, they were talked about as being in and out of the Commune. Everybody knew that they were poor folks who couldn't quite stay on the path.
R: It is amazing how the children reflect their parents' situation. If there's anything wrong or slightly unusual about your parents, they don't quite fit or they don't quite mold in, boy, you are targeted! So that would be very tough.
A: The Commune is really like a very mean, tough society where, basically, if you are in any way different, they almost try to kill you. That's how I felt literally for years, that they were trying to squash me or kill me.
R: When did you first feel that you were different?
A: I don't really remember. I was always fascinated by the 'outside world,' as I said earlier. I think in the beginning it was a romantic feeling about the world outside, but there was never any point that I can remember where I thought I was going to stay. There was always a progression toward leaving, even when I was attracted to boys at the time when for some girls the thought became "Maybe I should stick around -- maybe this wouldn't be so bad.' My thought always was 'How can I get them out?' I think a lot of the young people who do stay there stay for partnership reasons. I know one of my brothers did, and Steve almost would have if he had been assured of achieving that with one of the girls up there.
The main thing is that I think it's pretty much the way things are. I don't know a whole lot about what's going on now, but I know enough to scare me, though. I know enough to be alarmed by the whole scene.
R: What about the other experiences that you had with the 'outside' group?
A: The so-called 'Hartford Boys?' There were no sexual experiences. It was just drinking and getting high and exploring the wilder side of life. When we got together, we knew that we'd look out for each other -- it was like an unspoken law. We were all very secure about that, and so we'd go out and get totally blitzed. Basically it wasn't that unusual of an experience for young people, except that we were a little older than most who were going through that phase -- and we were less worldly-wise. A lot of times that can be dangerous, and is an aspect of the rape issue too. The reality was that we were younger than our actual age. People perceived me as being very mature and knowledgeable, but I was mature only on a very narrow plane, and not mature socially. People just assumed that I was.
The Hartford Boys group was all young men. I was the only woman, so there were a lot of escapades and carryings-on. The thing that entertained us the most was copying the community and the way that they talked. We parodied all their stuff, pretending to admonish each other and so on, like seeing the whole 'St. Matthew Passion' at Christmas very drunk and raucous. We reflected our rebellion off each other and had a good time laughing about it. There was nothing sexual in that group, which is interesting. They were my brothers, always, and always have been and always will be. Back then I was still a virgin. I wasn't flaunting or flirting very much.
R: Do you think that Bruderhof women know how to relate sexually.
A: In the Bruderhof, women get married without even knowing how sex is accomplished. Now that is scary. You go out into the world like that, and you're bound to have problems.
R: I met a Hutterite girl who is now in her thirties. She has eight children and is living in a tenement dwelling. She was on Public Assistance, they had taken the children away from her, and on this particular weekend when I visited they had brought them back to visit her. The first one was Filipino, the second one Chinese, the others were half African-American, but this woman had produced each of these babies from a different father. She left the Hutterites when she was seventeen years old, and I looked at her and thought, 'Oh my God, she left at the same age I did! There but for the grace of God go I!'
A: Me too! That's exactly what I'd say. Can you imagine how low her self-esteem must be! I left at seventeen, and I could be just as messed up as she is.
R: That's where I could be!
A: I credit my Mom for making me feel like a strong person, so that I didn't end up in that trap. But almost all of the Bruderhof girls I know were brought up to be so programmed to the men, to satisfy the men, wash the babies, have sex with the men, feed the men. So when they leave the Commune, they are looking for the men.
R: Without a man, you don't feel like you have an anchor.
A: Without a man, they feel like they don't have a life! But then that's very common, isn't it? Our life was so different, but at the same time so much the same as many other people's. How many times were we taught "The Church is the sun, and you are a plant, the Church is the building and you are a brick." You cannot be a whole thing -- a whole person by yourself.
R: It's the loaf of bread metaphor and the grape metaphor. The grape has to be pressed and become wine. You never got that one?
A: No!
R: And the skin is the ego, because if you don't let go of your ego, the juice can't meld together and make wine. And wine is something positive. The same with the bread. The grain has to let go of its outer core to be ground into flour and be baked into a loaf.
A: So if you try to make your own beliefs, then you are impeding the final goal of everybody else. You're a thorn in their side, in addition to which you are totally going astray because you can't achieve wholeness on your own.
R: It reinforces the idea that you're always supposed to be vulnerable, you're supposed to have no boundaries. That's the biggest negative that my friend in New York accuses me of -- that I have no boundaries. You don't have any sort of shell or wall to protect you. Most normal human beings have a wall, and they say "This is private, this is public. I share this with these people."
A: You share everything with everybody.
R: When I was first outside in Pittsburgh at seventeen, and I got on a trolley car, I would introduce myself to the people on all sides of me. I'd tell them how many brothers I had, how many sisters I had, what their names were, where I was going, what I was doing. For about three days I talked the whole way to wherever I was going! I'm sure these people thought I was demented. Then I woke up and realized, "Oh my God, look what these other people are doing! They're not talking, they're reading! I'm making a fool out of myself!" So I walked into a drugstore and bought myself a paperback book, and it was "On the Beach" by Nevil Shute. So after three days I was socialized -- I figured out what you had to do. So I read this book, and it's the most devastating novel about the end of the world after a nuclear holocaust. And that was what I felt like -- I felt like I had landed on Mars!
M: It's like when these friends had to go to Washington, D.C. -- a boy and girl and their mom. So I asked the boy, "How was the trip?" And he said, "Man, you get on them subways, and everybody's sitting around reading. They don't talk. They don't look at each other, no contact whatsoever!" I told him, "You know the first thing I would've done? You seen that old commercial about the guy that's standing in the elevator and looks around and says, "I feel good all over!" I think it's a Haines Underwear commercial. That's what I would do. I would've gotten on and said, "Hey, y'all! How y'all?" They'd have thought I was crazy, because I would've waved and nodded.
A: I used to get on the elevator and say, "Who called this meeting?" And everybody would react like -- "She's TALKING!" "Don't look at her!"
M: If you stay in that situation long enough -- if you don't have to get off and they don't -- you'll break that barrier soon. Somebody else will start having a good time.
A: This Christmas we went on vacation, and we were in the building with all these people, and every time we were on the elevator it was like a big social gathering. Even with my parents there, these funny little old dressed-up people, they were just chit-chatting away. Of course Mom probably started the whole thing when we got on. I think she did.
M: I would! I learned it from my mentally unbalanced sister, because she's never met a stranger. I'd stand back and watch her do this interaction with people, and some of the stuff she could say and get away with just amazed me. I thought, 'She can do it and they don't know that she's crazy. So I can do it -- just say whatever I want!' Instead of having to pay for a psychiatrist or anything like that, if I spend any time with you whatsoever, I'll tell you my whole life.
A: That's what Ruth is like and that's what I'm like. We talk just too much! And I don't care, except recently in my work situation I've had to learn that if I talk too much they can use it against me. I had to learn that.
R: You had to learn the concept of boundaries.
A: Yes, but I have very very few.
R: Because that's how you were trained to be.
A: That's also the way I want to be. I like that. We grew up in a society where everybody knew everybody and everybody talked to everybody, and there were no strangers there.
R: This is what it's like: within the Community, within the loaf of bread, you have no boundaries. But outside the bread there's this thick crust, and you're very clear about what's inside and what's outside. You have this concept. In the Hutterite culture, because we spoke Tyrolean, I grew up thinking that God could only speak German, that He only understood German. My heart was full of compassion for the people who didn't understand German. How would they ever be able to speak to God? For us, all the people who were not in the colony, who weren't dressed our way, were 'English people.' It didn't matter if you were French, Belgian, Spanish, Mexican, Chinese, African-American -- you were 'English.' All the outsiders were English people, and we inside were the German people. That was the very distinct boundary that we had.
M: Do you think that's the reason that it was so easy for Hitler and the Nazi party to convince the German people that they were superior?
A: I think Germans, in general, are 'follower' types. And those who aren't followers are fanatical leaders. That's what I've seen in a lot of the full-blooded Germans. I really think that the German culture has had a lot to do with the destruction of the Commune. Tremendously. All of the ones who treated me poorly and treated Steve poorly and harassed our family constantly were the effing German members.
R: Which ones are you talking about?
A: The Meiers, the Arnolds, the Gneitings -- Jacob was hateful. Not the Pleils. The Pleils were big-time scapegoats. We liked the Pleils, but they were marked from the beginning. All their boys were labeled 'bad,' like all the Buttons were bad too. But all the leadership is frigging German, or at least heavily authoritarian- oriented!
R: We should write a tourist guide to whackos on the Northeast Coast!
A: Not 'Waco' but 'whackos,' -- similar pronunciation. It's craziness. For instance, we were told about this whole situation where Christoph Arnold, the elder, set this guy up to do physicals on the young boys because he -- Christoph -- wanted something that would allow him to discredit the guy. To kick him out. Christoph saw him as some sort of competition, so he set him up for a fall, because he knew the guy was gay. I knew he was gay from the time I was little. When Steve and I first met him, we were in high school and we both told our parents, "That man is evil." He was so energetic and 'possessed,' always running around trying to get groups of people behind him and be so inspirational. I thought there were a lot of adults in the Commune who were total idiots, and I expressed it to several people when I was little.
R: That's the difference between you and me, because physically we are similar types, and character-wise. I was cowed into this kind of -- to think I was so impressionable! I'd think, 'Oh, I've done something wrong! I've walked barefoot!' And the adult would say, "Your toes are going to grow north, south, east and west!" Can you imagine?
A: If somebody had said that to me when I was five or six years old, I would've said, "Well, I can throw a rock fifty feet with my toes. What can YOU do?" I could do that!
R: I thought, 'Maybe I should just walk on head! Maybe THAT's what the Holy Spirit wants me to do!' Maybe I shouldn't walk on my feet! You see, Anne, you had this mother behind you. That's what I was curious about, because I immediately focused in on that. I thought, 'How did this woman undermine the whole Bruderhof to you? She did it very effectively.'
A: Her behavior, her little quiet things she said, and when we'd get in trouble she would tell me, "Just be quiet." They would rant and rave at us and she'd just be sitting there going, "Just be quiet. Just take it." Frequently I was the ringleader and would get caught and excluded. We used to climb up in the trees and pee and poop down, and everything. It was all discovery, but with a lot of guilt, but that of course made it more exciting. I was excluded so many times over nudity. Then in high school I was out for an entire year because of things I said. I said the 'F' word once and was out for a whole year. They threatened either to kick my parents out or I could stay out of school.
R: Kick your parents out because of you?
A: Yeah, and I was only fourteen. They wanted me OUT, but I was too young to go by myself.
R: So your whole family would have to go with you.
A: Or I could choose to stay in my house for a year. So I chose to stay in my house for a year. I thought I'd never get through that.
R: You'd stayed in the house for a year?
A: They made me work. I cleaned the babies' house, and I cleaned toilets for the summer, and I did high school correspondence courses and then I could go out in the back yard.
R: Any time you visit the Bruderhof and you see somebody cleaning toilets, you know WHY they're cleaning toilets!
A: You know that they are a good person! I cleaned toilets eight hours every day for an entire summer, all by myself, flat-out cleaning all the toilets alone.
R: Just to prick your conscience a little bit so that you'd know what you were missing.
A: Just to still be better that I was. Just to make them better people than I was. That's what they always do. That's what their whole thing is. Whenever you interact with them, they have to be better than you, which is total bull because they don't know how to treat people any more.
I went through a time when I was so bottled up, I would have these brief fits of rage when I'd pound the walls, just kick and hit. I never did it where anybody could see me, and I never did it loud or with screams or anything, but I had quite a bit of time alone during that year. I think probably it was my way of keeping from snapping. Throughout all those years, I always thought to myself, 'My God, how come they can't see what a great person I am?' Isn't it unbelievable that I was able to maintain that feeling?
R: There wasn't anyone you could speak to?
A: Right, you know how you form friendships and you confide and then they turn around and report on you? I had two girls in my class that I was pretty secure with. I was very tight with them, and we'd tell each other quite personal things about our feelings and stuff like that. It demanded extreme trust, because you weren't supposed to talk at all.
R: You weren't supposed to have special friends, even as children?
A: No, and if you did, they would try their best to separate you. But how can you not form special friends? I don't see how that's possible.
R: So the concept of 'my best friend' does not exist?
A: You were not allowed to say 'my best friend' back then. I don't know about now, because the way they're raising their children is changing so much.
R: You're supposed to love everybody.
A: In class I was always the one who was doing some crazy activity on the sideline. While the rest of the class was out doing one thing, I was off in the corner creating something a little bit different, a little bit crazy. My classmates kind of admired me and wanted to partake in whatever activities I was doing. That of course boosted my ego, and so I encouraged it as much as possible, and was quite manipulative, intentionally so.
I was disciplined and out of school and in exclusion many times throughout my life. During tenth grade we had some sort of upheaval where we had a kind of a big 'extermination' thing. The adults just sat around and drilled you and drilled you until you confessed to whatever they were trying to find out. And those two girls in whom I had confided turned on me, and I lost them. By this point I wasn't talking to my parents. I was living in the same house with them but hardly talking to them at all because I felt that they had betrayed me so many times that I didn't trust them. Things I would tell them they would tell the ministers, or they would just believe automatically things that were said about me. They wouldn't give me any credit. I think the worst thing about it was that nobody ever mentioned my strong points. It was always, "When are you going to change? You are bad. You're a bad character, you're the ringleader of the group, you're the bad influence in the group." I would say to them, "But what about my STRONG points?" I would sit there and say to them, "Why are you so down on me? Why can't you say something good about me once in a while?" And they say something like "We don't need to," or something. I just started feeling really betrayed on all levels, being a very expressive person and nobody to express to, and nobody giving me any input.
At the beginning of my junior year we had another big upheaval because the high school boys were caught talking about pubic hair or some jokes about Tampons or about something totally mundane. The ministers cooked up this huge riot about it. They told Steven that they had all four communities on the telephone, that there would be thousands of people listening, and he and all these boys would have to stand up in the brotherhood and confess. They made all of the brothers and sisters of the boys who were being twisted come to the meeting to watch. This was exceptionally cruel, because Steve was our Golden Boy, and to watch him be humiliated was terrible. He was so humiliated that his blood pressure went so high that his nose just started squirting blood. He was crying and bleeding, and he was just a shell of a human being. It was awful!
Christoph got on the microphone from Woodcrest and intoned in that German zombi way of his, "Ste-ven, it would be better off if we put a millstone around your neck and DROWNED you!" That's what Christoph told him, and Steve is very impressionable and always has been. At this point I was just starting, without even really being able to form the thought, I was starting to think to myself, 'This is totally screwed up!' It was all so Animal Farm-ish! But then a few weeks after that, MY turn came to be publicly humiliated, because it came up that the girls ALSO were VERY BAD. I had said "shit" and "f---" once each a year and a half earlier. So now, a year and a half LATER, that was reported! They had a great way of saving things up for years and years and then blowing the lid off. People would confess things from like four or five years earlier.
We started hearing all these words in high school, and at first I didn't know what they meant. I didn't even know how sex was done at this point. I didn't know what "f---" meant, but I knew where it went in the sentence. We were playing soccer, I missed the ball, and so I said "f- --!" It's amazing that I didn't say these words more.
I also had talked about the adults and the teachers, saying stuff like, "Look at that idiot," or something. Of course all this got reported, and there was another big jump onto the brotherhood bandwagon, with the ministers screaming things at me. It was at that point that I was given the option, since I had been so bad for so many years and I was such a destructive influence to "The Spirit of the Child" and all this stuff, that I could either stay totally away from anybody my age for an entire year, or I could leave the Commune with my parents. And my parents obviously didn't want to go. They would have gone if they'd wanted to! Basically I decided to punish myself rather than punishing them, so I did correspondence courses at home for a year. Here I was, no friends, I wasn't speaking to my parents, I was staying in the house alone all morning doing schoolwork, and then all afternoon I was cleaning. I was just sixteen years old!
My brother Steve, who was my idol and my friend, was gone. This was extremely traumatic for me because Steve and I always have been very close emotionally and thought-wise. We'd talk a lot about things that we felt were real sensitive. So I lost the only confidant I had. I would try to write him letters and they would be sent back. I would put the letter in the mail and the next day my parents would have it, which was rather interesting because that meant they were going through the mail.
It was a really traumatic six months . The whole family pretty much fell apart when Steve left. When he phoned home, the whole family would gather around the phone and cry hysterically and fight and argue. It was just horrible. I went into a period where I wouldn't talk to Mom, I wouldn't talk to my sisters. I stayed in the same bedroom with two of my sisters and didn't talk to them for about a year. I was just real angry, and walked around pounding my fists into walls, emotionally unable to find out how I was supposed to express it. I never did it where anybody could see me, and I never did it loud or with screams or anything, but I had quite a bit of time alone during that year. I think it probably was my way of keeping from snapping. And throughout, I always thought myself, 'My God, how come they can't see what a great person I am?'
R: Were you cleaning in public places so that other people would see you, and would walk by you and not talk to you?
A: I could talk to people, but a lot of people really didn't talk to me. And I didn't go out of my way to make any contact with them, because at this point I was just looking at the ground.
R: One year. Did you do well in your studies that year?
A: Yeah, yeah. I cheated on every single thing. I did well. I did Chemistry. I had this whole chemistry set and had to do all these experiments. I made big explosions and craziness with it in the house. And if the arithmetic did not come out quite right, I'd manipulate the numbers until the figures came out right, because I usually knew what they were looking for. They had to give me my tests at home and Mom would say, "Here's the test," and she'd go off and do something.
R: One entire year of NO socializing?
A: It turned out to be nine months. I finished the school year in like three months. I just did all the work -- boom- boom-boom -- got it done, and then I had to work full time.
I pretty much covered up what I was going through. I just seemed a very sarcastic, happy teenager, trying to cover the whole thing up, but they took it as my being ornery.
Senior year I was back in high school, and basically associating with the outside kids. I was out again at the end of the year, but they let me back in just long enough to look good for graduation. That summer I arranged for me to go up and work at a summer camp in Maine which I heard about through a friend in high school. The day after I graduated I moved to Maine for the summer, and the morning before I left, the Bruderhof high school group came while I was eating breakfast and sang outside the living room window songs like "God Bless Your Journey." And I hadn't even been in the high school group. They had shunned me about two months before that, and here they all showed up! So that was really wild that they did that. I freaked out. I couldn't handle it because I was very emotionally fragile at the time anyway. They made me go out and shake all their hands and everything.
My plan was at the end of high school in a year to go away for the summer and work at a summer camp in Maine.
Two weeks before I was supposed to go, they let me back into the high school group, as if they were doing me a huge favor or something. I remember at the time saying, "Oh yeah, that's really nice of you. I've got two weeks to have friends before I leave forever." I was just real bitter.
By the time I got to Maine I was almost ready for a nervous breakdown. I didn't know why I was or who I was or what I was doing. But then I met Lillian Maendel, George Maendel's sister. She worked at that summer camp, and when I walked in I was dressed like a Hutterite, and she looked at me and said, "Oh my God! Where did YOU come from?"
So immediately I found somebody I could talk to. That's when I basically started to see the Commune for what it was and not take it so personally. I was able to have a really tremendous summer, but for some reason I went running back to the Commune at the end of the summer because they had arranged for me to go to school. I walked in the door, handed my dad a check for a thousand dollars, which was what I earned over the summer. I hadn't spent hardly any of it because I felt like it wasn't my money. I had never had money before, so I handed it over. And they said something like, "Thank you very much. Now you can go to school and get a job." Basically that was about it. I went to college in Albany, New York, and came home every weekend for a year. I just started to get to the point where I was crying uncontrollably for no reason...
I wasn't a Novice or anything. I wouldn't even go to Gemeindestunde. I much preferred to play tennis or something with the boys during the meetings. My family and about four other families started the Pleasant View commnity.Three of the boys and I would jump on the train coming up the hill at night and ride it into Kingston and then walk back and talk about just everything, you know. It came to the point where I really knew that I didn't have any choice. I had to leave. Now I can look back and see that I was falling apart emotionally. But at the time I just felt like "there was more happiness out there than there was in here" kind of thing. But now I can see that it was basically a survival thing.
R: You have an incredibly healthy ego!
A: I don't know how anybody could possibly maintain a sense of self-worth throughout all the crap! I think it must have my mother's doing. I don't know how it happened, although I believed them to a certain extent. I thought I was pretty bad, but I also thought I was having a helluva good time, and so how could that be so bad?
R: Actually in my opinion one of the positive things about the Bruderhof, or the Hutterites, is that every place that you go in the system you are affirmed. You belong. You belong to a group, and that world is set up for you. It expects you there. It knows you're there. You're protected. The entire system is designed for your welfare, which is unlike the world we live in out here where a kid is out on the street and then all bets are off. He isn't affirmed and protected in the world in the same way you are in the Colonies, and I do believe that it makes for stronger individuals. Because you have the basic solid, secure sense that you belong in the world and the world has a place for you.
A: What I would like to figure out is how the hell can I do that with kids in this world out here. How can I give them that by myself? I can't imagine growing up and not playing in the woods and doing arts and crafts, and music and all this input we had. And the security.
R: That's why people go in the Community and stay there.
A: I'm sure it's a huge attraction, but the sad part is that so many of them now have just been born into it. They're not even aware of THAT any more. Our parents and others would look at the life and perceive something beautiful and special and feel "I want to be part of that," even if there were dirty underpinnings. Now they don't even appreciate a darn thing. They just go through life trying to be humble and subservient and never even stop and see the beauty of what's going on around them. I mean, most of them don't. They are just a bunch of idiots up there. You would not believe it. Just a bunch of shells. They don't choose it any more. It's just there.
R: They were raised in it and they don't see any alternative to that way of life.
A: And they don't have one original thought in their heads. It's stunning how thoroughly they've been able to achieve their model of the good little sheep.
R: I've thought about that a lot, and I've often wondered if they should not perhaps insist that people who are born in there go out and do something different. I feel the same way about American culture. When you think about this country, why should everybody who just happened to be born here automatically become an American? I think it should be a choice, and there should be some training. It should be very conscious.
A: You'd have to earn your citizenship. You'd value it more.
R: I don't know how one could do that in the Bruderhof.
A: The children should be forced to go out. The leadership has this whole thing, "But our children go to public high school so that they can really make a clear choice." We went to public high school. We had a whole schoolbus for the twenty or so Bruderhof kids, just us. We got off the bus, we stuck together, we went through the whole day in our group because that age group is cliquish anyway. We hardly interacted with anybody except perhaps for me and a couple of other kids in art class. Right after school we'd be bused back home. It's so darn easy to stay within your shell! I poked out once in a while to check things out, but that was about it.
R: When we went to high school there were eight of us. Given that it was a small school, we had one library room with a glass window, and if one of us went into the library for study hall, all of us went into the library. We occupied the library. And then if we went out, and if one of 'them' -- the outsiders -- went in the library, then it filled up with the others. We would never mix.
A: My fourth year I was mixing a little bit, but that is basically how it was. So the whole premise that "We go to public high school so that we can make a choice" is total bull. It's so transparent it's almost laughable.
R: Of course. And what about the training kids get later?
A: While I was going through high school the Community went through this thing that "The children all think they DESERVE a training, but the Brotherhood is going to choose WHO gets the training. It's very very evil that you girls talked about what you want to be, and how you think you should be able to do what you want!" And kids didn't want to be pushed toward a certain profession. The Community would channel people towards professions. My brother Paul wanted to be a doctor, Steve wanted to be a doctor. "No, absolutely not. The Buttons don't have enough spiritual understanding and power."
R: You have to demonstrate spiritual understanding and power first?
A: Yes, if you're going to be a doctor or any kind of thing where you'd know more than the damn ministers. Anybody who knew that much had to be part of the hierarchy. Had to be!
R: So you'd say that the ones that go out and get the highest status trainings are the closest with the hierarchy, right?
A: Yes, and also the ones in whom the hierarchy is willing to invest are the ones whom they are the most sure will stick around. It's just another tool for them to manipulate and control. Psychological politics.
R: To give you an example of how I was at Koinonia Community in Georgia, I had graduated when I was 15, and here I was 16 years old. The question came up, "Well, what's Ruth going to do?" And in front of the whole community, like a good little Bruderhof girl, I said, "Well, I will do what the community wants me to do." Perfect little Bruderhof girl! And my father piped up and said, "No, Ruth is going to go to college!" Just like that. He had that notion. You see, the lucky thing was that my father was NOT born in the Hutterites. He came from the outside. And so then I went to college, but to think that I said that! What a sheep! What a perfectly pliable communitarian I had become!
A: It's amazing to me, because as kids you and I were so different, although now we've achieved a lot of similarities. There you were saying that, and there I was walking around saying "Those anal orifices, if they think that's going to keep me out of school, I'm leaving! They can line up and kiss my rear end!" Without that terminology, but basically that thought. But the majority of the girls were like you, "Whatever the brotherhood wants," "I had a sinful thought, I want forgiveness."
R: Yes, it's frightening how outside of myself I was. I was not in my own person, I wasn't speaking from me. The one example I remember was when our house caught on fire in the back, and I had no emotional response. I didn't even report it. I saw it, and just waited and then casually just walked away.
A: You were just powerless, weren't you?
R: I wasn't powerless. I think I was hoping a little bit that something really huge would happen. I think there's some mechanism inside the human brain, the mind-body thing, that you recognize when you are not being authentic, and you almost set the stage so that something will happen that will force you to break through that.
A: That's where attempted suicide comes in for a lot of people.
R: Probably.
A: You wait long enough, you're going to create the Big Event yourself.
R: It's almost as though something is screaming to be heard. You took an active role. You pounded on walls, and I internalized it and it came out in quite destructive ways. For example when I was in Pittsburgh by myself, I was nine months there without a period. My insides were just hanging on for dear life. I had nobody to talk to, I couldn't cry. One time during that whole time I went home for a weekend visit to Oak Lake. I got off a Greyhound bus on Route 40 there, at Gorley's Lake Hotel, and I'll never forget that. I cried, and my body literally shook. I think it was simply that it was at least home to something recognizable. I did not sleep, but just wept through the whole night. The next morning when I got up of course I had to go back to Pittsburgh. My father must have recognized what I was going through. Nothing was said, nobody had heard me, I didn't tell anything to anybody -- can you imagine? All that experience and I didn't say anything? My father took his big hand -- I'll never forget that -- and he literally SHOVED me onto the Greyhound bus. I think at that point he was himself considering "How the hell do I get out of here?"
A: Like my dad saying "No, you can't come home," knowing that was best for me. Basically the same thing. It's amazing, but if I had known ahead of time the trauma I would go through when I left, I don't think I would have done it. And if I hadn't had Steve, I would be in a mental institution today or I would be back in there. I would never have left. It is amazing the physical side of the whole culture shock as well, like me being nauseated for like months and months, on edge, with every nerve alert for survival.
R: I have sometimes thought of it as if I had been preparing all of my life to go to the moon and then I end up in Antarctica. You're not prepared for the kind of world that you enter.
A: Ending up in a desert with no resources whatsoever. We're an amazing group of people, those who have left and survived.
R: I want to hear that one your Mom said about 'Be Like A Duck.'
A: "Be like a duck, quiet and serene on top and paddle as fast as you can underneath!"
R: So how does your mom paddle?
A: She stirs things up. Even when she was here she was doing that. She was squirting people with hoses.
R: What's her job in the Bruderhof?
A: She cleans. She cleans toilets. The entire time I was in school -- after school we had to go work with our mothers -- she cleaned all the toilets in the Main House. She would clean and mop that huge dining hall and set all the tables and then clean toilets. That was her job every day.
R: Wow! Clean toilets!!!
A: But she enjoyed it! She figured she was going enjoy it, and she did.
R: She's a true artist. A true artist is able to make art out of whatever is given to you. Even toilets.
A: She'd take pride on how fast and how well she could do it. She'd usually have two or three people working under her, like me the prodigal six-year-old daughter, cleaning toilets.
R: So even at six you were a prodigal daughter?
A: Oh yeah, I was labeled from when I was smaller than that. At six I used to say to my teacher, "If you'd shut up for a minute I could tell you my side of the story." This from a little 'Amish girl' who is supposed to be -- like you were -- totally impressionable -- 'put your head down.' I stood up on my locker one time and leaned into the classroom and said, "If you all would just SHUT UP, I could tell you my side of the story!!!" Boom! I was gone. Teachers would say how they wished they were "missing the button," and stuff like that. I mean I was labeled from where I was very little. But I lived up to it every day of my life.
R: What about your grandparents?
A: My grandparents would send us whole bunches of presents for Christmas, and the Community would send them back, which was really hurtful to them. We didn't even know it was happening. There were all kinds of signs of love that were just thrown back in their faces. Then when my grandmother died, Dad didn't go to the funeral because he didn't even ask. He felt like he shouldn't ask, because the Community needed him or something. So at that point he was written out of the will. And Grandpa died while visiting the Commune, right in our living room. They called an ambulance and took him to the local hospital, where they declared him dead, and then flew his body back to Michigan. And nobody went to his funeral either.
R: Would you say that your father's family presumed that you were in some kind of a cult?
A: They definitely did. They felt that they were totally excluded from our lives, and they couldn't relate and they couldn't believe it. Because when Dad was growing up, he sued to have huge parties at his dad's house and trash the house. Every time they went away the house would be trashed. Dad was in this political group -- the Young Republicans -- and they'd have all these wild parties at the house. So here they were, with their son with four grandchildren living in a house just nearby, with a job and the whole American dream. Then all of a sudden they just -- boom! -- went across the country and cut themselves off.
R: Republicans join the Bruderhof -- amazing!
A: A Republican schoolteacher joined the Bruderhof and became a socialist plumber.
R: Wow!
A: Religion is a strong drug. But you have to remember that when they first joined in 1962, the Bruderhof was much more liberal than it is now. Mom tells stories about their having food fights. They'd be sitting at a meal in the dining room and she would pick up a bowl of mashed potatoes and walk across the room and dump it on somebody's head. Then the whole room would go into an uproar and there'd be food everywhere. Huge food fights! Or they would have shaving cream fights all the time. Real craziness.
R: When I was in Woodcrest, there was this one woman, Dr. Miriam Brailey, who left the Bruderhof, I hear, and died by herself, a lonely old woman. But I remember one time when we were eating corn-on-the-cob. Always at mealtimes, when hundreds of people sit together, you have to do something. So we would have singing or entertainment.
A: The Buttons would be squirting apple seeds across the room trying to hit people on the head.
R: This string trio was playing in the background, and Miriam Brailey started eating her corn-on-the-cob in time to the music. Pretty soon the whole dining room was chewing in time to the music. So there was a lot of playful stuff happening -- this was in 1960. Then in 1973 the big crackdown came, with the uniting with the Hutterites.
A: All of a sudden -- boom! -- twenty families thrown out and everybody had to dress the same, everybody had to quit smoking, everybody had to drinking, all in one day. Isn't that amazing? Twelve hundred people!
R: They adopted the worst aspects. Before they joined, they had been wild and loose and carefree and spontaneous. They believed in spontaneity.
A: It was good before. My parents believed they joined a genuine effort to have the best society support structure, admittedly with a religion, but it didn't seem their main focus.
R: One of the main focuses was to be childlike in spirit, to be open and spontaneous. What happened? I don't know, but I think the spontaneous structure cannot sustain hundreds of people.
A: It threatened the authority. The Germans could not quite handle that. I think it started to threaten the structure and authority line, and also they hooked in with the Hutterites who were much more conservative. But they switched the behaviors before the people could assimilate. The leadership just told everyone, "Now you have to behave like this." They didn't let you grow into it. It was all done in one day.
R: It might have been a grand experiment. Some of the best experiences in my life spiritually, physically, musically, happened in the Bruderhof. But then there's the shadow side. For instance breaking a vow -- or even just changing your mind about something is about the worst thing you can do. At least that's the way I've internalized it.
A: So many vows or promises or understandings were broken for me from the time I was tiny. Friendships, loyalties, mother, father, mother-daughter, father- daughter, all of these were betrayed repeatedly on every level throughout my entire life -- and still are. I could never -- if I say to somebody that I'm going to do something, I always do it, or at least I make sure I tell them why I can't. My friendships are very loyal, and my friends are the most important things in my life. Keeping my word and not betraying a friendship is the most important thing in my life, I would say. That's why I don't know if I could survive a divorce.
R: Once you have contemplated that, the world is up for grabs. I think what I have done -- and it does help to talk -- I think what I have done is to punish myself. I have felt guilty probably for the past twenty years.
A: It must be "my fault."
R: Really, I punished myself in every way possible. I mean, on the surface it looks like I'm successful and all that sort of stuff. At least reasonably successful. But underneath, I know that have not developed into what I know I can be. I have continually put myself into positions where I give myself a huge handicap.
A: I do the same.
R: I worked as a waitress after having been a teacher, even in Milwaukee where they wanted to put me on TV to teach German. I came to Chicago, and what did I do? I looked through the job listings, and it was like I was in 1959 looking for a job. Actually I got a job , that I only kept for three days, luckily -- I came to my senses -- in a laundry with only African-American women workers.
A: And here you were a teacher!
R: Two dollars and fifty cents an hour working in a laundry folding these GREASY rags that they use in car garages. We folded them into stacks of twenty-five. For three days I did that. The guy who hired me said, "You know, we've never had any white women." Of course I took that as a challenge. "Well, hell, you don't think a white women can do this?" Crazy! Meanwhile I had gotten a waitress job on the weekends, just for the kicks of it, because the laundry wasn't open on Sundays. And here I was a college graduate!
A: No belief in yourself whatsoever.
R: That's right. And I worked as a waitress, and that first Sunday I made seventy-five dollars. I thought, "Holy Moly! Seventy-five dollars in tips from here, and I make two-fifty an hour over there?" It was very clear what I had to do. So I quit the laundry job and stayed with that waitress job for five years. Can you imagine?
A: Oh my gosh! But good money, though.
R: It was very good experience. And you know what I realized about that job? I was belatedly living my teenage years. The complicated part was that I was married to this nice gentleman. Before we got married, I stayed up at night and tape-recorded a Bach cantata from an FM classical music station that we were going to use at the wedding. At the same time I was writing out the invitations to the wedding. I got a third of the way through, and emotionally I did not want to go through with it. At one point I was going to put all the invitations in the garbage. But once again, "You put your hand on the plow," -- and I don't know where that comes from in the Bible, but boy-oh-boy it's deep in me -- "and you have to go all the way through!" YOU DON'T STOP IN THE MIDDLE!
A: Even if you know halfway through that this is a stupid thing to do?
R: That's right. You can see yourself destroying yourself, you know. It doesn't matter. You chose this, you made your bed, now you lie in it. Those are, in fact, the words that my mother told me when I was out in the street in Madison, Wisconsin, in December, 1972. I literally almost killed myself during that time, and it was awful. I would do things like jump out of the car on the expressway. That's the kind of stuff I would do.
A: My gosh, you really were messed up!
R: At one point I was on the street with no money, and somebody loaned me five dollars. Since then I have passed that five dollars on when people have asked me on the street. I had nothing. I had put myself back again to where I was after the B'hof. I repeated that pattern.
A: That was really deep in you. It's amazing how we grew up in the same kind of environment, but somehow I -- externalized it.
R: All the pounding on the walls, all the being in ausschluss, all that stuff --
A: And my thoughts were always rebellious, as if I knew better. Those were my thoughts, whereas the majority of the children are like you, and that's what's so darn scary! When you think about it, it's a miracle that you are even alive, much less sane.
R: Given that passivity, that training, the deeply rooted patterning which I saw in my mother, in all the women around me. If you could see photos of me back in those days! Ben Zablocki saw one and he couldn't believe it was the same person because of the kind of serenity that I had, quiet, dutiful, serene.
I'm convinced that life is a spiral, and you go over it like a record. You go over the same kind of bumpiness, and every time you come around and re-experience that stuff, you iron it out a bit more. For me, the pain and the trauma I experienced in Pittsburgh as a seventeen-year- old was repeated again and again. The most powerful repetition was when I lost custody of my son Karl from my first marriage.
A: You had already lost everybody that you loved! You probably had an extremely strong attachment to Karl because of that.
R: I dutifully went back to Milwaukee from Chicago every weekend to visit him on Saturday. I would bring a bag of groceries there, and his father would not let me take Karl out of the house. Can you imagine just coming back and spending the day, and what I did is that I committed myself to putting aside all of my pain and not to trouble him. For me, being with Karl was playtime. We'd make snow angels, and snowmen, we'd go sledding. I was just with him in the moment, because I knew that that moment would end, and that it would be hell. But I think that's why Karl has a great sense of play and spontaneity.
A: Once again putting all of your personality and all of your needs under so you could be there and take care of somebody.
R: I did that for a period of ten years, and I remember one example.
A: You visited him for a period of ten years? Holy cow! I didn't realize it went on for that long!
R: With his father being angry and recriminative. For example,. he would drive me to the bus and one particular time he yelled at the bus driver, "Here! You can have her! She'll drop her pants for any man!" And here's my little four-year-old boy, who just walks away quietly. And I had to get on that Greyhound bus. And if anybody knows what one of those effing Greyhound buses smells like, I do. In that raw, emotional state, I would sit in utter agony, and then back in Chicago I'd have to take the El back to my place. Once back there, I'd just collapse and cry for maybe two or three hours. Then I'd pull myself together again, because Sunday morning was the busiest day at the restaurant. What I did was I bicycled. That was one of the healthiest things that I ever did.
A: Steve and I biked furiously for the first couple of years.
R: I bicycled every single day, every month of every year. One time I even did it in a storm. It didn't matter if it rained at night -- I'd come back at 10 p.m. The more of that kind of stuff, the better. I bicycled a round-trip of twenty miles every day, and I had the ten miles down to nineteen, sometimes twenty minutes. I went like a BAT out of HELL! I didn't need deodorants. I'd just take a piece of lemon when I got to work and rub it under my arms, and I didn't smell. Every once in a while when I didn't bicycle, I'd have to use deodorants, because I didn't get all that sweat out of me.
A: That's an interesting theory. Flushing it out.
R: That's the theory I subscribe to, anyway. So if it hadn't been for that vigorous bicycling that I did -- and then running all day as a waitress -- because as a waitress you put on maybe ten miles in one shift. Then of course being busy. And once again, as a waitress, I was there for the moment, and was very present. I wouldn't allow anything to disturb me on the outside. If I had had to go into a classroom and be with children, I would have been in torment. But as a waitress I was on stage. You put on a uniform, you're on stage.
A: Nobody knows you, they come and go, they give you positive feedback.
R: And I had food there.
A: A perfect job for a Hutterite girl!
R: You know what else? It was a uniform. It was a brown uniform. I didn't have to think about clothes, I didn't have to identify myself, none of that stuff.
A: You've basically lived like five lives within one life. You really have!
R: Let's get back to your family. How do you think your parents raised six successful kids?
A: That's the reason I respect them now is because they raised Steve and me. They basically raised the best person I know. How can you not respect that?
R: And you think the best person you know is Steve?
A: Absolutely, hands-down. He's one of the people in my life that saved me. He really did.
R: Is he older or younger than you?
A: Older. I'm the youngest of six. And yet in Steve and my relationship, I tend to be the steady one. I have more 'continuum' than he does. He has more ups and downs, but he's one of these people who loves to love. He just loves to love. Steve is just the happiest guy when he loves, but he doesn't have the best judgment about WHO to love. He spends his time, money and heart to love, but he doesn't use good judgment, so it just drains him.
R: Let me ask you: if you've had all these relationships, do you think that you exhibit good judgment in love?
A: Yes, because I didn't love a lot of them. I have better judgment than Steve, but not good. No way! It took me seven years of going out with men to learn that to men, sex did not mean love. Men would have sex without caring a hoot about tomorrow. They didn't think about the consequences. That was okay for them to be that way, but that wasn't what I wanted. It took me a heck of a long time to figure men out. Right now I'm in the best relationship I've been in. I've been in a lot of relationships where I was the caretaker, and felt needed and I wanted to be needed and all this bull. I dated a lot of serious losers.
R: Do you think you needed that many relationships just because you were from the Bruderhof, or do you think that every person needs to go through that many?
A: I don't think everybody needs to go through that many. I think everybody needs to have a FEW. If I have kids, I would hope that it wouldn't be more than five or so. But for me, I had so much growing to do in such a short period of time. I got out when I was seventeen and had to be an adult and start making money and grappling with the world in three or four years. I didn't know the music, I didn't know how it was. It was one way that I could grow up fast and experience a lot quickly, but it went deeper than that too. We always were taught that in order to be fulfilled you had to give. In order to have people like you or be a good person, you were supposed to give of yourself or whatever.
R: The very meaning of Bruderhof life has to do with being of service, giving yourself, giving yourself to God, giving yourself to the community, to each other. Whatever situation you're in, you're supposed to give of yourself, totally, unreservedly.
A: Plus we came out of there craving to love and be loved! It was just like this thing eating me up inside, so I went running out and loved everybody I met. Once I started, I couldn't stop. It was just like my greatest motivator until I started to realize that it was just sex. Then I realized that there was more to it than that, not that I stopped having just sex. But that's what I see with most of the kids that left the commune. All the ones that I know have gotten into some very bad relationships, not so much physical -- like you hear about women who get into physically abusive relationships and stuff like that. Not so much physical as in being screwed around by some manipulative, mean-spirited person.
R: Would you say it's difficult thing for an ex-Bruderhof person to tell someone to get out of their life? It's almost impossible, right?
A: Right!
R: Because you're BREAKING A VOW. You're not keeping your word.
A: And you're intensely hurting somebody, which shouldn't be a big deal if they are intentionally hurting you for six months, but it is. Ruth: Was the second time around always better for most of these people?
A: Yes, I'd say so.
R: What is the key ingredient that your current man has that the others didn't?
A: He's treating me like I am valuable, which I never had before. I always treated THEM like they were valuable. It was all give-give-give and no take. This guy just thinks I'm fantastic. He's just a giver, like I am. It's just totally amazing to me. It costs me nothing to be in this relationship, no anxiety, no jealousy, no money. I don't know if we'll marry, but then I don't think I'll ever get married. I don't think I could ever have kids with anybody unless I met somebody who was as caring and loving as the fathers are in the Commune. The boys that leave the Commune make FANTASTIC fathers. Steve would make a fantastic father, and he wants to have kids.
R: Do you call the outside 'the outside?'
A: Not any more so much. I don't know when it happened, but now 'home' is here. I used to say 'home,' meaning there (the Bruderhof). I don't know when that happened, but I don't say 'outside,' I say 'commune' now. Now THEY are outside of the reality and I'm in the reality. I don't know exactly when that happened.
R: The commune is marked and you are normal. In linguistics terms, that's how you'd call it.
A: And 'normal' not being exactly the right word. I just feel like I'm more developed than they are. I'm more open-minded, more aware.
Click here to get back to The KIT Newsletters Page.