Leaving the Amish life is Saloma Miller Furlong’s story.
Furlong, 57, told part of her story at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg recently.
She was 20 years old when she left home in northeast Ohio for Burlington, Vt. The move was based on her desire to learn. She chose Vermont based on a seventh-grade geography textbook and a magazine subscription, Miller said.
Furlong’s “education road” was a long one: she got her GED and earned a degree at Smith College when her second child was in high school.
Her second book, “Bonnet Strings: An Amish Woman’s Ties to Two Worlds,” was recently published.
Although Miller is thankful she left the Amish life, she’s not actively trying to recruit others to do so. “Some people are better off Amish,” she told the crowd gathered at EMU’s Strife conference center.
Furlong recounted some of her story in Bonnet Strings, focusing on what it’s like to be torn between two worlds.
She cut her hair, changed her name to Linda and moved to Vermont. She arrived at a YMCA in November 1977 with a suitcase and $400 she had saved by cleaning houses over five years. Her parents let her keep $5 from every job. On special occasions customers would give her $15 or $20, which she put into a bank account.
After arriving in Vermont, she had “no spiritual direction” and thought she had lost her chance at salvation.
One day, Furlong met her future husband while working in the YMCA’s kitchen. David Furlong, who Saloma calls a “Yankee toy maker and street peddler,” came to visit a female friend. That young woman wasn’t there. Instead he found the love of his life.
Saloma was working in the kitchen and offered David chickpea salad.
Referring to what he calls her “simple charm,” David said they talked for hours.
“Seven days later he offered me Chinese food for Sunday brunch,” Saloma said. That was the first time she had Asian food. For the next seven weeks, the couple danced in bars, dined in restaurants, drove into the countryside and talked for hours. They even attended a Bluegrass concert at the University of Vermont.
About a year later, Saloma’s family came and got her and took her back to Geauga County, Ohio.
When she saw her sister outside her Vermont residence, Saloma was overwhelmed. “I felt like a puppet on a string,” she said.
She had a hard time parting with her friend.
“I sensed David was hurt,” Saloma said. “I couldn’t look at him to say, ‘Goodbye.’”
Upon returning to Ohio, Saloma’s Amish community shunned her for two weeks until she made a public confession on her knees that she calls “a transcendent moment.”
Saloma wrote friends in Vermont during her time back in Ohio. David gave her his address and came to visit. David said Saloma was sending him mixed messages. Writing to her friends allowed Saloma to “have a foot in both worlds, but I didn’t realize this was splitting my soul in two.”
She was torn. “I couldn’t hold him close any more than I could let him go,” she said.
When he was getting ready to leave after his first visit to Ohio, David asked Saloma if he could kiss her. She said no. He asked if he could hug her. She denied. Finally he asked if he could shake her hand. She accepted.
That night while lying in bed, Saloma said she brought her hand to her face in a soft caress.
David sent letters persistently. She didn’t reply.
“I kept telling him, ‘I’m Amish. You’re not,” Saloma recalled.
The next time he visited he came unannounced and Saloma gave him “a thorough rejection. I didn’t understand why he kept writing to me,” she said.
The turning point came when she received David’s handmade Christmas card that pictured deer grazing. Inside was a message that reverberated in her mind: “All living things respond to the warmth of love.”
“I prayed, ‘God, if it’s meant to be, help me find my way back to David. I can’t bear to live life alone without giving love another chance,” she said.
David was so taken by Saloma that he even offered to become Amish. “I wouldn’t have liked it,” she said. “There was a great deal of male domination in my family. I wouldn’t put David into a situation where he could dominate me.” Although she added, “David would have made a way better Amish person than me.”
In retrospect, Saloma said she had been yearning her whole life to make her own choices.
Her parents — who both have since passed — came to really love David, Saloma said.
Saloma’s story has been made into two PBS documentaries: The Amish and The Amish Shunned.