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Calico Lane: Coming Out and Going Home

In her memoir, Calico Lane is the Northeastern Pennsylvania neighborhood of Judith (Judy) Kiehart. In 1953, and for the first seven years of Judy’s life, she lives with her parents in her grandmother’s home surrounded by loving, yet formidable Russian-Czechoslovakian aunts and uncles. Shortly following the family’s move to Calico Lane, precocious ten-year-old Judy suspects she is different from other girls. She explains early crushes away with, “It must be that I want an older sister.”

Judy meets ‘the other side of her family’ and witnesses the sharp contrasts between her grandmothers and extended families. A Russian Orthodox Church at the center of Calico Lane–a mining settlement in the late 1800s–consists of a devote immigrant population where old-timers gossip and where children run free. Judy quickly learns what the family and church will tolerate and accept.

Childhood games of spying and keeping secrets helps Judy discover that the best way to survive being different is to hide the truth. Homosexual lifestyles in the sixties and seventies attracted negative attention. Fear of discovery and defying the “Don’t Make Shame” family mantra drives Judy into compartmentalizing her life to the point of living a lie and fooling only herself. She believes that the way to be like everyone else will be possible if she leaves Calico Lane and never looks back.

With guidance from Auntie Heley–a favorite aunt, and the woman who becomes a life-long confidente-Judy survives her teen years despite many girl crushes. A friendship with other young women results in a two-year relationship with Valerie, and Judy now faces making life-changing decisions.

Valerie’s sudden death profoundly impacts Judy. She questions God, faith, and her family’s stronghold on her life and, through the aftershock of Valerie’s death, Judy deals with guilt and blame. Decades-long struggles with truth and memory weigh heavy on her during marriage, motherhood, and her never-ending desire to be normal–like everyone else.

Set in a time before sexual identity became a household phrase, of all the transformations Judy made in her life, she could not change her true self or deep connections to Calico Lane.

Jermyn, Pennsylvania is home, though I’ve lived in Colorado most of my life and now reside in Olympia, Washington. I began writing with passion late in life. I adapted two of my short stories into One-Act Plays and placed among the top three in two national competitions. Stage Left Theater in Salida, Colorado, staged both plays and commissioned me to write a 90-minute holiday program for production in 2010.

Calico Lane is my first full-length novel. An excerpt from Calico Lane was a semifinalist in the 2021 Tucson Festival of Books Literary Competition.

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