• Nora Koch

Updated: Jun 13, 2020

Our culture is the opposite of the event of Jesus. Instead of discovering who we are, we are encouraged to invent who we are, based on whatever whim, especially our passions, residing in our head at the moment. Obedience is a bad word. However, I have found in my life the freedom of obedience; freedom and joy in adhering to Christ. I am almost glad I fell far away from him as a young woman so that the difference between the world’s view of freedom and actual freedom has become obvious to me.

When I was young it was very important to discover who I was. This process does not disappear as I age, but I have something to look back on that has a pattern and authority. I can see how adhering to Christ has shaped me, made me more true to myself and as I give up my conception of myself, I am able to let go and relax in the world around me, whatever the circumstances (this is obviously easier in some than others). Having been in dire need and having that need met in a variety of ways and not by my own doing, I have learned to trust God. But it is only when I relax and fall into his arms so to speak, that it happens.

I am an artist and because of that have a personality that is unusual. This does not make life easy; one does not know that their personality is difficult for others. For a long time, I tried to adapt and become more conventional so that I was acceptable, but it never worked. I could not keep it up. I tried to please my parents by being ordinary, but I wasn’t. Eventually I pursued art, even though I knew it might alienate them and was a precarious endeavor.

At the age of forty, after graduate school in Printmaking and Book Arts, I was single and had to make a living for myself. I took a position as Production Manager and Designer for a prominent publisher in Minneapolis because the work interested me and it was within my skill set, but I had embraced Christianity before Grad school. I had produced many overtly Christian themes in my work, and gotten into prestigious national art exhibits with them, so I thought I might have a chance of fitting in with the prevailing culture in spite of my beliefs. I loved the work: designing, typesetting trade books, typesetting and printing letterpress books. I was good at it.

It didn’t take long for me to be “found out” by my boss. I tried to steer the conversation to the things I could speak agreeably about in my position of design and typesetting with the book we were working on. When pressed by him about the content, I had to say it troubled me because I was a Christian. He glared at me as if I had told him I was a Nazi; he was Jewish. After that my life at work was one of constant harassment by him and others for being a practicing Christian. There were others there who were “Christian,” but did not pose the obstinate problem I did. I loved the work and knew I could learn a lot, so I stuck it out for three years, during which there was a revolt by the staff of six, including a lock out of the publisher, talks with lawyers and ultimately some leaving with gag orders. I took another job; I did not have a gag order.

I knew that the corporate publisher that I interviewed with was not the atmosphere that I was likely to fit in, but I had to make a living. So, for the interview, I created the person I thought would get the job; I dressed the part and answered all of the questions the way I figured they wanted me to. I got the job, but I could not sustain the impersonation. I had to be me, and I was not acceptable. Though I did good work, my personality made people uncomfortable, except for the remarkable Accountant, who defended me. Unfortunately I met her late in my tenure there.

I was asked to leave after ten months; it wasn’t working. Relived, I became a freelance book designer and production manager. It worked better. I made much more money when I had work, but I had to trust God every day with having enough to sustain me. A good thing to do no matter what one is doing.

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  • Nora Koch

This essay was originally posted on Facebook in 2017

A way to get to know a farm intimately is to follow its cow paths. One of our jobs as little girls was to go get the cows from pasture for evening milking. We’d moved from the farmstead on the north side to the farmstead on south side of the road when I was four, but kept the cows in the pasture on the north side during the summer. In the early days, we had a mixed cowherd with Guernsey, Jersey and large, docile Holsteins. Most of them towered over us, yet I was never afraid to go with my sisters to round them up and bring the cows home. It was one of my favorite things to do. The lane from the vacant barn to the pasture was a favorite place. A cow path meandered along it and when it had not rained for a while, the dirt on it was as soft as cornstarch into which our bare toes sank.

Once released from the confines of the lane, cow paths spread out to different corners of the pasture, eventually disappearing altogether. In one place instead of going around a bush, the path went right through it. I could crouch amid the branches on either side and watch the cows pass through, late afternoon sunlight illuminating their legs. To the east, the pasture rose up a low hill into scattered trees, some of them apple trees from a long gone homestead. Lilac bushes grew there, indicating the margins of an abandoned yard. The pasture ended up across the road from Grandma and Grandpa’s house, about a quarter of a mile away from our farmstead.

One spring when I was three, Mom had gotten chicks in the mail and was keeping them in a newspaper-covered room upstairs until she could transfer them into the coop. She probably did this to protect them from raccoons. My sister Jan and our cousin Roger found worms and were feeding them to the very enthusiastic chicks. My cousin Holly, Roger’s sister and I, wanted some worms too, but Jan and Roger didn’t want to share them with us, so we went looking for them ourselves.

We wandered out behind the barn, looking around the stone pile. Unaware that we needed to overturn the stones to find the worms, we proceeded along the lane on the cow path. Once in the pasture, we finally settled for lichen found on low hanging branches of Hawthorne trees. We reasoned they looked like worms, and headed home to feed them to the chicks. Taking a shortcut across an alfalfa field, Jan and Roger (5 and 6 years old), met us half way and spanked Holly and me (three year olds). In her alarm at finding us missing, Mom had called the police, but I explained to her that we knew right where we were and assured her we could see Grandpa and Grandma’s house all along.

  • Nora Koch

Updated: Jun 11, 2020

The Cadre (mixed race), were passing my desk and greeted us with big smiles “Hi Ladies!”

My co-worker J. and I laughed and smiled. She said, “They think we are talking about unimportant, easy things.” We were in fact discussing our respective experiences of being beaten by our ex-husbands. This was my first grown-up job. I worked for ROTC on the University of Wisconsin-Platteville campus. J. was the federal Secretary and I the state.

Major Spriggs, our boss, was the first black person I ever knew. I met him as he interviewed me for a position with the Military Science Department at UW-Platteville. I was nonplussed to see his black hand across the table from mine during the interview. I had never seen black skin up close. I needed the position, but I knew at that moment that even more I needed to work with him. Fair, funny and diligent, he was one of the best bosses I have ever had; in company with a small select group all of whom but one have been men.

I grew up in Northern Wisconsin and then western Wisconsin. There were no black people in my life – none, not even in college, though while I was a student at UW-Stout in 1972, I did go to listen to Angela Davis speak and concluded at the end of it that she hated us all.

Major Spriggs was part of the company of Army guys who helped me move from one old Victorian house to another. He, his wife Fanny and two young sons, Derrick and Pickles became my neighbors. They came over for dinner, felt sorry for me that I had no wine glasses and bought me some. Fanny often lamented “You are a hard man, Jack,” but it seemed to me they loved each other well enough.

Major Spriggs liked to glower at J. and me as he came into work in the morning. We laughed about how he was trying to scare the little white girls. He was Adjutant (Chief paper pusher, as he said), was good at it and required that we be good at it. He remarked many times how much he hated Physical Training (PT), and camping; how he loved concrete and bright lights. We thought in that regard that he was crazy.

Sergeant Major Spikes from Louisiana, also a black man, served multiple tours in Vietnam prior to coming to Platteville ROTC. He was noble; devoted to his wife and family, one of the gentlest people I have ever met. In his position as Sergeant Major it was he who taught the cadets how to be in the Army. He was responsible for their PT and as cadets they were his subordinates. After the swearing in ceremony, a newly commissioned smirking First Lieutenant approached him, gloating in the fact that Sergeant Major Spikes was now required to salute him. Sergeant Major Spikes’ salute was disciplined and professional; in my eyes his patience even more impressive.

Sargent Major M., Sargent Major Spikes' predecessor, appalled me by his total lack of a conscience. One day as I suggested that he had a responsibility toward the children he had sired, he remarked “You mean to tell me that if I spill my seed, I am responsible?!” I couldn’t believe it, but told him that “Yes”, I thought so.

Major Spriggs was replaced by a black major, whose wife R. became a good friend. Through her I got to experience a Baptist worship service for the first time. Unbeknownst to her, while I was in the midst of drawing various women as Arwen from the Lord of the Rings, did one of her on a horse. Her husband was not a great boss, not a good Adjutant. J., a professional, who had worked there for five years, fed up with doing her job and his while being badgered by him, quit. I left soon after.

These were my first encounters with black people.

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