Writers are readers. We were readers long before we became writers, and reading is a habit we can’t break. It is a habit that broadens minds and introduces us to new worlds.
Or, in some cases, as in the book I am focusing on today, it takes us back to the world we thought we left behind.
I read in every genre. Memoirs were high on my mother’s reading list, so I borrowed them off her shelf and read them too. The way people think and view their life experiences fascinates me. I enjoy the contrast of the turning points in their lives, juxtaposing them with what I see as the rather mundane moments of mine.
So now, let’s get down to the book, Calico Lane.
But first, the Blurb:
How do we survive when who we are is not the person our family expects us to be?
Judy Kiehart’s Calico Lane deals with universal themes of family, acceptance, faith, and love; it is a memoir of confusion and muddled thoughts that slowly untangle as a sturdy heritage endures.
In a small Pennsylvania town, a neighborhood called The Lane is surrounded by dense woods, creeks, and rutted mining tracks. Not even the rumored child-eating spiders inside an old structure scare Judy. What frightens the ten-year-old is that someone may discover her secret.
Set in a time before sexual identity became a household phrase, Judy develops confusing emotions for an older girl, and, year after year, girl after girl, the feelings continue. Judy’s friends want to kiss the boys. No one talks about girls kissing girls. Over time she fears her emotions are not typical, and if continued, will bring shame to her family and the town’s Russian Orthodox Church. But harboring a secret is paralyzing.
Armed with an affable sense of humor and her mother’s housekeeping principle, “everything in its place and a place for everything,” Judy begins a life of pretense; after all, the best way to survive being different is to hide the truth, isn’t it?
Calico Lane is a gentle journey into the troubles and confusions of knowing you are different from your friends in a truly fundamental way. Judy’s struggle to maintain the strong family ties that sustained her early childhood and still negotiate the troubled seas of her teenage years is endearing.
The world she paints for us is both comforting and terrifying in many ways, familiar to anyone who grew up in a strict religious/cultural tradition.
We all can relate to the fear of losing your parents’ love over something you can’t change. I was born just after Judy Kiehart, and while we were raised in widely different parts of the US, many of our experiences, both in school and out of it, were similar. We both grew up in families with strong religious and cultural traditions, beneath the intense spotlight of the post-WWII focus on visible morality.
We of the lower middle class were happy, prosperous, and above all, we always looked morally good no matter what really happened behind closed doors. We faithfully attended church in our respective denominations every week and participated in all the activities that went along with it.
Family secrets were kept from the children. We were raised with the firm belief that heterosexuality was the only sexuality—you were a woman or a man and, of course, heterosexual.
If you were different, you kept that secret, or you could be jailed, brutally beaten, or even killed. You, or even your family, could lose their jobs. There was no blurring of the lines, no gender identity other than male or female, and who you were allowed to love was defined by strict laws that didn’t allow for any other way of life.
My best friend in school was gay, a secret I kept for him until he came out after the Stonewall riots. This is why I found Judy Kiehart’s memoir of growing up knowing she was attracted to girls and not boys so interesting. It brought me closer to an understanding of my friend’s struggle.
I grew up in a Lutheran family, so many of my family’s traditions differed from Judy’s Russian Orthodox background. But the outward, visible values of middle-class America that she grew up with were the same as mine.
The book flows as if she is sitting with you, sharing her story over a cup of coffee. I highly recommend this memoir to anyone who loves a good story about good people.
About Judy Kiehart:
Judy’s writing achievements include two one-act plays that paced among the top three winners in national competitions and were staged in Colorado in 2005 and 2015. She was commissioned to write a ninety-minute program for Stage Left Theater in Salida for the 2010 winter holiday season. She describes herself as a glass-half-full, gay Christian and enjoys traveling—whether exploring faraway places or nearby towns. Judy and her wife managed a real estate appraisal business for eighteen years in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and following retirement, relocated to Olympia.
An excerpt from Calico Lane was a semifinalist in the 2021 Tucson Festival of Books Literary Competition.
You can find her at:
Purchase Calico Lane at:
or at Browsers in downtown Olympia