Saloma Miller Furlong reads from her book, "Why I Left the Amish," on Thursday, March 14, 2013, at EMU. Furlong's book details her experiences growing up in, and then leaving an Amish community in Ohio. (Photo courtesy Jason Lenhart, Daily News Record)

Writers Read Author Discusses Leaving the Amish

Saloma Miller Furlong always liked the way Burlington, Vt., looked in her school history books.

So, when she decided to leave her Ohio Amish community at the age of 20, that’s where she headed.

When she got there, she felt like a new person.

“I got my dream job as a waitress at Pizza Hut,” she said in the PBS documentary “The Amish,” from which Furlong showed an excerpt to a crowd of dozens at Eastern Mennonite University’s Martin Chapel on Thursday evening.

No more invariable black-and-white clothing, mandatory church visits and abuse from her father, whom she described as seeming to be strapped to his rocking chair at times, communicating with someone invisible to the rest of the family.

Her memories of him are dotted with visions of his intense rage.

“When he came after someone, there was no fighting back,” Furlong read from her memoir, “Why I Left the Amish.” “He was physically strong, but when he was in one of his rages, he was as strong as a bull.”

But at 20 years old, Furlong was unfettered: Free to take college courses – whereas before her schooling ended with graduation from the eighth grade – date whomever she wanted and live alone with the previously unrealized calm of privacy.

Her independence was short-lived, however; her mother soon called and said she was coming to get her.

“Something changed in me where I couldn’t say,`No,'” Furlong said. “The Amish life is not about saying `No.'”

So, she returned to the familiar farm life and abusive father.

“It was a very long two years and eight months” before she left again and married her husband, David Furlong, she said.

Thirty years after she made that second move, she hasn’t looked back. Furlong discovered that her mother had finally given in to an intervention from the local social services department. Previously, when Furlong was still living in the Amish community, her mother refused to accept the help that Furlong sought out.

Her father was diagnosed with schizophrenia and depression, started taking medication and was never abusive to his family again, she said.

Furlong is still patching up relationships with her siblings, only one of whom will speak to her now – a recent development, she noted.

But she stands by the decision she made decades ago.

“I had to sacrifice community to have my personal freedom,” she said, explaining the list of goals she was able to accomplish after her move out of the Amish community. She married the love of her life, she said, raised two sons, earned a bachelor’s degree from Smith College in Northampton, Mass., and became a published author.

“These things could not have happened if I had stayed in my Amish tradition,” she said. “For me, taking this life path was worth the price I had to pay for it.”

Furlong is currently writing a sequel to her memoir.

Courtesy Daily News Record, Mar. 16, 2013