Jessie had begun home-schooling Susan and her two siblings in the 1970s at the farm because she thought the local schools were full of sloppy teaching and rowdy behavior. Susan was reading at fifth-grade level by age 5 and learned Latin at 10. At 17, she attended Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va., finished her bachelor's degree in English in five semesters, did a summer stint at Oxford University in England, then was off to Westminster Theological Seminary outside Philadelphia. It was there that she met Peter Bauer, 27, a fellow student. She was 19.
"Every guy in the school was following her around," remembers Peter, now pastor of a small evangelical church at Peace Hill. "She wore flowing long skirts, had curly dark hair and large brown eyes." They went on a date where he had to jump-start the car. Months later, she invited him to a barbecue. "I don't know why," he muses. "I was a disaster. I had no money. I was a dopey kid with broken glasses that had to be taped up. I didn't cut a very classic figure."
Four months later, they were engaged. They married in January 1990 and moved back to the farm to live with Susan's parents 18 months later. Babies started to arrive. As eldest son Christopher approached kindergarten age in the mid-1990s, Susan approached her mother about how to teach her growing family the way she had been taught. The two women wrote a home-schooling manual focused on classical education. They wanted to produce a book that was informed by their Christian beliefs yet used secular resources that would be acceptable to nonreligious home-schoolers.
A book agent said editors at Norton were interested but wanted to meet with them "to see if you're marketable." Susan's grandfather pulled out a credit card and told them to "go to Richmond and buy some New York clothes." Attired in new suits, Jessie and Susan went to New York in 1996 to meet with Star Lawrence, then Norton's editor in chief, and his staff.