The book combines fiction with historical fact. It paints a picture of the routines of an 1862 farm, and brings to life the realities of war for the families who lived at the edge of the battlefield.
The book presents the family's beliefs: Dunkards were peace-loving people who didn't own slaves. In the story, David Long, accompanied by his daughter, Cassie, purchased slaves to help at his farm. He immediately freed them, but they stayed to work for the family. Mandy, the fictional daughter of the freed slaves, becomes Cassie's best friend.
The book's factual outline includes the characters and setting. Catherine - Haldeman's "Cassie" - was a middle child of David and Mary Long's 10 children living in 1862 on a farm about 5 miles northwest of the Antietam battlefield. David Long was the eldest brother of Haldeman's grandfather. According to church records, David Long, a church elder, preached at the Dunkard church the Sunday before the battle in September 1862. The home and springhouse of the book's farm still are in use today.
Haldeman, who writes at her dining room table at Conifer Ridge Farm in Clearville, Pa., grew up on a farm north of Hagerstown - now a cloverleaf on Interstate 81 near the airport. Many of feelings expressed by the Cassie character are recollections from the author's own childhood. The scenes of Cassie tending to her lambs, milking Molly, a reluctant cow, picking strawberries and finding a litter of kittens in the barn all ring very true.
Haldeman, now 72, grew up in a strict Dunkard household with a lot of restrictions. She describes herself as a shy, plain country girl with long hair - when her classmates' hair was permed. She wasn't permitted to take gym or go the movies. She excelled in high school, but because her teachers assumed she'd return to the farm, she says she received no encouragement. She had two brothers and a sister. Their father died in 1929 when Haldeman was 5 years old. With the help of a bachelor uncle, Milton Long, the family kept the farm. He insisted that the children graduate from high school.
She attended Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pa., where she studied elementary education because she didn't think she was smart enough to pursue secondary education. After two years of college, Haldeman taught in one-room schools in Franklin County, Pa. In 1946 she married Daniel C. Haldeman of Greencastle, Pa. The young couple returned to Elizabethtown, where Myrtle Long Haldeman did another stint as a one-room schoolteacher, and her husband finished his education. His bride shed tears at his graduation - because it wasn't hers.
Daniel Haldeman attended seminary in Chicago and became a Church of the Brethren minister. Myrtle Long Haldeman completed her degree there. The couple's children - four daughters and one son - arrived between 1948 and 1959. They had pastorates in Pennsylvania and came to Howard County, Md., in 1959. Dan Haldeman worked in race relations for the city of Baltimore and the federal government in Baltimore for 22 years.
Although happy in her role as homemaker, Myrtle Long Haldeman says she hungered for the classroom. "I wanted to smell the chalkdust," Myrtle Long Haldeman says. She satisfied that hunger by working as director of a nursery school, and teaching in elementary schools for 18 years.
The Haldemans retired to their 125-acre Bedford County, Pa., farm in 1990. They operate a Christmas tree farm and a bed and breakfast. Myrtle Long Haldeman says she wasn't so sure about retiring to the country, but the seclusion is wonderful for writing. Their passive solar home has lots of windows, and she says she gets ecstatic about clouds and sunsets. "I'm having a wonderful retirement."
That retirement has provided a wealth of opportunity. "You have time to think and time to meditate ... time to get inside yourself to know what life is about," Myrtle Long Haldeman explains. She says she has time to tie her life together.
Retirement also enabled Myrtle Long Haldeman to enroll in a correspondence course with Institute of Children's Literature which resulted in her book. "I had no confidence at all," she admits.
But she learned. Myrtle Long Haldeman followed her editors' instructions by-mail over a period of a few months. She sent her finished manuscript to about 15 publishers, and Hagerstown's Review and Herald Publishing Association offered her a "generous advance" and a contract in October 1995.
The timing now is right for other writing projects. Myrtle Long Haldeman's plans include telling about her experiences as a rural schoolteacher, and she's started an autobiography - a sort of spiritual journey. She believes it's important to write things down - the memories, the geneology and family stories - as a legacy for her children and grandchildren. She also says it's therapeutic.
Myrtle Long Haldeman wrote her first book in longhand. This time she's learning to use the computer herself. She didn't think it would be fair to ask her husband to type another book.
"Cassie: The Girl With the Hero's Heart" is available for $7.99 at The Book Store, Etc. and Christian Light Bookstore in Hagerstown.