When the Roll is Called a Pyonder

A Preview of the forthcoming memoir

Mennonite tradition emphasizes the importance of being “different from the (rest of) the world” and from the time of my earliest memories I have been aware, on some level, of a split between “us” (the Mennonites) and “them” (everyone else). I realized the uniqueness of the dichotomized universe I was born into only as I became old enough to leave it. I puzzled long over how to tell these simple stories, finally settling upon letting the child tell them in her own voice, in the way that she experiences them.

The story ends on the day that my mother gives me the thin red notebook that will become my first diary, a day between my 10th birthday and the start of spring. All of this is the forward to the book of my life that is still being written.


There is a hole in the bathroom floor and I have to be careful or I could fall in. Daddy is fixing it and I want to watch.

Daddy says Be Careful and I am careful. The floor is broken and you can look at the broken wood and the dark underneath it.

My leg goes in the hole and I scream because I’m going to fall in and go all the way under the bathroom into the cellar.

Daddy tells me I’m ok and says Be Careful again. I don’t want to watch anymore.


At our house we have doggies. Jack is our daddy dog. Playgo is the mommy. They're beagle dogs that Daddy goes hunting with. Playgo has puppies. She lays on the porch and I pet her. I like her. Her nipples have milk for her babies.

I lay on the porch beside Playgo. I bite her nipple like a puppy. Playgo bites me. She doesn't bite me very hard but I cry because she scared me. Mommy runs outside and says, What Did You Do?

I say, Nothing. Playgo bit me.

Mommy knows I did something because Playgo doesn’t bite.

We have kitties too. Some kitties are wild and live in the barn. Daddy throws them dead chickens from the chicken house. Other kitties are tame and eat kitty food on the porch. I love kitties. I hold them by the head like my dollies. They scratch me.

Daddy and Mommy tell me NO. They make me say it:

Not by the ears,

Not by the tail,

Not by the fuzzies,

But by the BELLY.

One day I put a pinchy clothespin on the tail of a kitty to see what it does. It meows at me and runs away before I can take it off. It never comes back, ever. I think it runs around the whole world and no one can ever catch it to take the clothespin off.

That wasn't nice of me. I feel sad about that.


I save Baby Kelly and Mommy and the house from burning up. I'm in the kitchen coloring on paper and Baby Kelly is sleeping and Mommy isn't with me. There's clothes in the drier. I smell a funny smell and I look up at the air. It's full of funny little white smoke curls that look like macaronis. I heard stories on Children's Bible Hour about good children who obey Jesus and help to save their mothers and baby sisters.

I holler for Mommy. She comes fast and turns off the drier that's making white smoke. It’s good I was in the kitchen coloring so the house didn't burn down.


I don’t know what a Pyonder is. We have a song we sing in Church about When The Roll Is Called A Pyonder I’ll Be There. A roll is sometimes called a bun but I never heard anyone call it a pyonder. Or there are rolls like toilet paper rolls or rolls like rolling down the hill and I don’t know which one you’d call a Pyonder. It’s kind of a funny song. But I know it’s about Jesus coming back and I know we have to be ready for that any minute.


Sunday is for going to Church. We wear Sunday dresses and Sunday shoes and Sunday coats if it’s cold. Mommy puts on perfume and Daddy puts on smell-me-good.

First we have Sunday School and then we have church. Sunday School is fun because it’s for children. Irene Nolt tells us Bible stories and sticks pictures of Jesus and Moses on a fuzzy cloth. We get stars by our name on the attendance chart each time we go. I have a lot of stars. At the end we sing Dropping Dropping and put the pennies our daddies gave us in the basket. Jesus likes that because people take that money and buy food for hungry children in other countries. Then we eat pretzels and drink little paper cups of juice.

After Sunday School is Church. Church takes a long long time. The preacher talks about God to the grown-ups and the children have to sit still and be quiet. Sometimes I’m sleepy and Mommy or Daddy holds me on their lap. Mommy’s shoulder is littler than Daddy’s and you can feel the bones under your head. Daddy is so big my head doesn’t reach up to his shoulder, I just have to put my ear on his shirt and I can listen to his heart.

After church I stand up on the bench and look for The Candy Lady. Mommy says her name is Emily and it isn’t nice to call her The Candy Lady and it isn’t nice to ask people for candy. But her name is The Candy Lady and I know she has candy. If she didn’t like giving candy to children, she wouldn’t bring a pocketbook full of it to church.


I don't know what I want to be when I grow up. I can't decide. I don't want to be a mommy like Mommy and I can't be a farmer like Daddy because I'm a girl. I think maybe I'll be a rock collector. I like rocks. I like to play in the lane and pick out pretty stones and bring them inside.

Then I see a circus on TV and I know what I want to be. I want to be an acrobat. I want to hang upside down on a flying trapeze and flip through the air. That must be the most fun thing in the world. I practice doing somersaults and standing on my head.


The Stick is on top of the refrigerator. It used to be a yardstick, but it broke and now it's The Stick. It's old and green. If Mommy or Daddy reaches up on top of the refrigerator and gets The Stick, somebody is going to get spanked and it's usually me. I start to cry when I see The Stick because they never change their minds about it. If you even see The Stick you might as well start crying awhile. Sometimes Daddy spanks us without The Stick, just with his hand but The Stick is sharper. They sit down and stand us against their legs and bend us over and smack our bottoms with The Stick. This is what happens if we're mean or bad or back talk or don't listen. I don't want to cry when Mommy and Daddy spank me. I want to say that didn't hurt but it hurts a lot and I cry a lot.

Daddy spanks me with The Stick and then when I'm crying he sits on the rocking chair and picks me up onto his lap and gives me his hanky and rocks me. He says he loves me and that's why he has to spank me – so I will learn to obey him like God wants children to obey their parents. I already know that. I want to be a good girl and I cry more because I was bad.

I can only cry for a little bit though because if I keep crying and crying because I'm mad at him, Daddy says Now It's Time To Stop Crying Or I'll Give You Something To Cry About. That means you're about to get spanked again for crying too much. If you cry too much you get spanked again and then you cry more because it hurts and you still have to stop crying. I don't know why Mommy and Daddy spank us if they want us to be nice. Spanking isn't nice.


I heard of children who say bad words getting their mouths washed out with soap. I never say bad words because Jesus can always hear me and bad words make Jesus sad. I think about getting your mouth washed out with soap. It probably doesn't taste very good. But it must be a good idea – you wash everything else with soap, and your hair you wash with shampoo. I decide it might be a good thing to wash my mouth with soap because I'm never going to say bad words and my mouth probably needs washed.

There's green Lava soap in the bathroom for when Daddy comes in from the barn and I wash my mouth with it. It tastes very very yucky. It's a pretty good punishment for bad children.

I ask Mommy if it's a good idea to wash your mouth with soap because then I'm going to tell her I already did it all by myself.

Mommy says Oh No, Honey. That's Why We Brush Our Teeth Every Day.

I say oh.

I guess that means toothpaste is soap too and it isn't even yucky like Lava. I guess I did that for nothing.


I have a Christmas present for Daddy. He's going to like it a lot; I know because it's a book he reads every day for Sunday School. He's looking for it all over the place and so is Mommy but they can't find it because I'm hiding it up in my room. I'm happy because that was a smart idea – imagine how glad Daddy is going to be when he sees I gave him his favorite book. It isn't really that close to Christmas yet so he'll probably forget and be really surprised. Mommy does that with our toys sometimes. Not for Christmas, though.

On Christmas, Daddy is very surprised. Even Mommy is surprised and they laugh their heads off. They can't believe I thought of that idea all by myself. Daddy says I shouldn't take people's things and hide them because people need their things. He sure is happy to have that book, though, just like I thought.


I like going fishing with Daddy. Me and Daddy get the bucket and the shovel from the barn and we go dig up some worms. We always find lots of worms in the dirt down by the loading chute at the barn. Some little girls are scared of worms but not me. Not even big ones.

Then Daddy gets the fishing poles and we go down to the pond. I have to be quiet or all the fish get scared and swim away. Daddy puts the worm on the hook for me so I don't poke myself. I feel sorry for the little worms getting a hook stuck in them but Daddy says they don't have any feelings. I think they do have feelings because when you poke him, he wiggles a lot. But I guess it doesn't matter because anyway he's going to drown in the water and get ate by a fish. You have to poke the worm's tail and push him up along the hook until the hook is all full of worm and if you don't do it right, a smart fish could bite him off the hook and not get caught. And if the worm is too big to fit the whole thing on, you can just tear it in half. It's alright to do that because it can grow the other half back. I can see how the head could grow back another tail, but I wonder if the tail half really knows how to grow back another head. Worms don't really have blood, but they do have guts. You can get them on your shirt.

I throw it as hard as I can out in the water and the bobber goes plop. Then you have to hold still and wait until a hungry fish sees the worm and bites it. When the fish bites it, the bobber goes under water and you have to yank on the pole as hard as you can so the hook gets stuck in the fish's mouth. Daddy says fish don't have feelings either. Then I reel him in and Daddy takes him off the hook. Usually we catch sunnies but sometimes we catch a bass.

We throw the fishes back in the pond because Daddy doesn't like to clean fish and Mommy doesn't like to cook them.

One day when I want to go fishing, Daddy says No. He's tired from working. But I want to go fishing and it isn't fair. I can't have my fishing pole without Daddy, so I decide I'm going to make one. I have a bamboo pole Daddy gave me one time and I think I could make a fishing pole out of that like Huckleberry Finn. I know where we have string so I cut a long string and tie it on the end of the stick. I think about the hook. Daddy has a lot of them in his tackle box, but if I get one and he finds me, he’s going to put it up where I can’t reach it anymore. A safety pin looks a little bit like a hook and we have lots of those. I don’t think you can catch a fish with a safety pin, but I guess you could pretend.

My fishing pole doesn't look so good and I don't have any worms. I take a shovel out of the barn and go down to the loading chute but the dirt is hard as a rock. I stomp on the shovel as hard as I can like Daddy does, but it hurts through my shoes and doesn't make a hole.

So I just go fishing without any worms. I walk out on the rock pile Daddy made for fishing and dip my hook in the water.

Up at the house Mommy and Daddy hear me start to scream and scream when the fish bites on my pole. I don't know what to do. I can't reel him in because I don't have a reel and he's a very strong fish. Daddy comes running down the bank from the house to the pond saying, What's Going On?! He can't believe I caught a fish on my pole. He didn't even know I made one.

I can't believe it either! Daddy pulls him in and he's a twelve-inch bass--the biggest fish I ever catch in our pond, ever in my whole life.


Daddy can play the guitar and the banjo. Mommy can play the piano and the accordion.

I know what I want to play. I want to play the drums. The drums feel like they're thumping right inside your heart. Piano music and guitar music are nice but everybody plays them and I want to play something special. Besides, it looks easy.

I tell Mommy and Daddy I want to play the drums and they say No. They say we don't play the drums because drums are what they play in rock music and that comes from Satan and the drums come from the jungles where people worship the Devil.

I think about this. I don't want to be sinful, but drums don't seem sinful to me. They’re just drums. I’m not going to play rock music – anyway, I don't even know any rock music songs. I can sing Father Abraham and This Land Is Your Land. I tell Mommy and Daddy I won’t play rock music. I tell them I love God, not the Devil.

I ask for a drum set so many times that finally they get me one. It has Mickey Mouse all over it so no one would ever think it's real, but I don't care. Up until now we never had Mickey Mouse at our house, either. Mommy and Daddy tell me I can have it in the basement and play it all I want but I am not going to be allowed to play the drums anywhere else ever (like at school) and I can't play them for Grandma.

I play the drums until they are all broken. By that time I am big enough to know that I'm a good drummer but Mommy and Daddy would never let me. So I don't ask for any more drums and I never play them again. But I want to.


I watch people doing gymnastics on TV and I want to do that. They do flips and splits and cartwheels and all kinds of hard things. Jennifer Brown and Vicki Henderson go to gymnastics class and I want to too.

I tell Mommy I want to take gymnastics.

Mommy says No.

I tell Daddy I want to take gymnastics. Daddy and Mommy talk about it and they say No.

I cry because I really want to take gymnastics.

They say no daughter of theirs is going to go around in public in a swimming suit like that; it’s immodest and we don’t do that at our house. Its ok for other people, but not for us.

I don’t understand why. There’s only girls in gymnastics. Even if I’m really good at it, I won’t let them put me on TV. I tell them I could wear a culoutte skirt.

They say No.

I don’t want to be naughty; I want to learn to do handsprings and flips.

They say No and if I don’t stop carrying on I’m going to get spanked.

I decide that they can make me not go to gymnastics class but they can’t make me not learn. I watch the girls on TV and I watch Jennifer and Vicki at school. I practice in the yard and in the living room. Mommy and Daddy don’t mind about that. I learn to do everything the girls in gymnastics do and everybody says, you should take gymnastics.

I know. I think so too.


I like reading books and writing stories. Sometimes in church when the preacher is preaching I write little stories on my pretty tablet. We aren’t allowed to read in church because everyone would be able to see we aren’t listening. Mommy lets me write, though, because if you’re writing, you might be writing about what the preacher is saying. I make up a person to be besides me and then I pretend I’m them and write a story. It’s fun. I am not listening or writing about the preacher or Jesus or God. But Mommy doesn’t know that.

I read a book called Harriet The Spy and I like it so much I read it again even though I already know what happens. Harriet is a little girl like me. She decides to be a Spy so she gets a notebook and writes down everything everyone is doing. She lives in the city, so she even has neighbors she can spy on and write down what they are doing.

We don’t have any neighbors. I can only spy on Kelly and Michelle and Mommy and Daddy. I spy on Kelly and Michelle and write on my tablet what dumb things they are playing.

Harriet also writes other things in her spy book. She writes what she thinks about too – sometimes nice things and sometimes mean things. Sometimes she writes things she can’t ever say because if she did, she would get in big trouble. I try it. I know you shouldn’t say some things, but if you write them down, nobody will ever know. And then you kind of feel like you said it but you aren’t in trouble.

About the Author

Diana Zimmerman

Diana Zimmerman was born in the traditional Mennonite community of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and now resides in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. Diana received a B.A. in Theatre from Goshen College, Goshen, IN, in 1993. Her poetry collection, Run Blue River, was published by Goshen College’s Pinchpenny Press. Several of her one-act plays, including “Circulos” and “Betsy,” were performed in Goshen College’s Umble Center. Diana’s poetry has been published by Tamarindo, Costa Rica’s The Howler magazine, and in bi-annual editions of Rust+Moth and When Women Waken. In 2012, she self-published a Spanish/English bilingual collection poetry called Tell me About the Telaraña. Diana’s first work of prose, an early-childhood memoir called When the Roll Is Called A Pyonder: Tales from a Mennonite Childhood, was released in 2014 by Electio Publishing.