Between the Lines: Growing Up 4H in the Sixties

Jun 5, 2015

Anne-Marie Oomen
Credit Don Shikoski (copyright, used with permission)

For a writer, few topics are more revealing, and make them more vulnerable, than writing a memoir. Love, Sex and 4H (Wayne State University Press, 2015) is the third in a trilogy of memoirs by Anne-Marie Oomen. She now lives in Traverse City but writes about her hometown of Hart, Michigan. 

Set in the ‘1960s, Oomen’s memoir tells of growing up on a farm and working on sewing projects for the 4-H Club, embodying the principles of loyalty, service, and better living. She writes about the teenage angst of a girl growing up on a farm, sizing herself up against the “townie” kids but finding confidence in modeling the outfits she sewed in 4-H.

“I felt I had a lot more to say about growing up in the Sixties,” Oomen says. “It’s an important time, so I was thinking a lot about that, and I realized I had been in 4-H that entire time, from 1959 to 1969, so that became the controlling metaphor, the device for writing about the lessons, the changes in my life.”

Anne-Marie Oomen in her high school prom dress
Credit Anne-Marie Oomen

Oomen writes about her first sewing project, a dishtowel she still owns and brings to readings, and learning how complex a deceptively simple project can be when you must learn to sew an invisible hem with exacting stitches. From that she graduated to aprons, dresses, prom gowns, and finally mini-skirts and bell-bottoms. Those exacting stitches became her expression of rebellion. Sleeves might get torn from gowns and a neckline lowered as Oomen chooses her first boyfriends and learns how to kiss—and how to break hearts.

Sewing projects happened alongside changes outside her personal circle. Oomen learns about free love, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Civil Rights Movement, and Rev. Martin Luther King, Junior. The clothes she makes also reflect the rise of feminism.

While is wasn’t always easy to show moments of self-doubt and less than stellar teenage behavior, Oomen says she embraced the vulnerability of writing a memoir. “It’s a vulnerability that creates a kinship with my reader,” she says. “I don’t hesitate because I don’t feel heroic. To me it’s interesting and revealing to look more closely at those moments rather than trying to cover them up.”

Anne-Marie Oomen’s previous books include Pulling Down the Barn and House of Fields, both picked as “Michigan Notable Books,” and An American Map: Essays (Wayne State University Press); and a collection of poetry, Uncoded Woman (Milkweed Editions). She has written seven plays, including Secrets of Luce Talk Tavern, the winner of the 2012 CTAM playwriting contest. She is instructor at the Solstice MFA Program at Pine Manor College in Massachusetts and at the Interlochen College of Creative Arts Writer's Retreat.

Listen to Between the Lines on WMUK every Tuesday at 7:20 a.m., 11:55 a.m., and 4:20 p.m.