I am easy to judge. The broad side of a barn, figuratively speaking. Straddling Cormac McCarthy style the bow-legged divide between this-and-that is my speciality. That stance provides ample opportunity for haters to hate.
I am a Mennonite. Or am I?
The Affirmative: Jo! He’s a Menno!
My paternal great-great-grandfather was a delegate from the village of Fischau in Southern Russia’s Molotschna region. He visited Manitoba and other places in the world at the behest of governments eager to populate unceded land and thereby lay claim to it. Mennonites, renowned for farming, dike building, and low-land draining were prized acquisitions, particularly in the annually sodden Red River Valley. The payoff to these 1870-vintage inbound Mennos was a get-out-of-jail-free pass for Canadian military service, schooling, religious freedom and all the sunflower seeds they could eat. Opa settled his flock of Kleine Gemeinde congregants on the east side of the Red River.
My maternal ancestors were likewise rooted up out of the black Russian soil and shipped to the frosty northern prairie biome where they grew wheat in varieties tolerant to short growing seasons. They farmed, painted houses, sold cars and were otherwise fruitful in both the East and the West Reserves of land given to their antecedents.
My wife is a baptized Mennonite, as is one of my two daughters. My wife is bilaterally descended from families, the Esaus and the Kaspers, who travelled to Canada in the 1920s from Steinfeld in Molotschna. (Yahtzee! Kanadier and Russlaender mixed together in a Frisian witch’s brew of disparity, for those of refined judginess.)
I grew up in Steinbach, Manitoba which is a sticky spot (spilt schmaundtfat; oh bah nay!) on the edge of the Canadian Shield where the argument over buttons vs. hooks created generational divides.
I played many sports, volleyball being one of them and arguably the most Menno of the pack. Proof? Our volleyball coach would roar,”Toom donna hahn!” – his way of swearing, Mennonite style, without getting tossed from the game. It’s kind of like, “for Pete’s sake!” The literal translation is ‘for thunder chicken’, so it’s not offensive, though it may be fowl.
(Banging of gavel.) Quiet! or I’ll clear the courtroom!
My paternal great-grandfather built a wind-powered grist mill on the shores of the Roseau River in Southern Manitoba. My paternal grandfather, who helped in the windmill construction, was a shoemaker in Steinbach. His occupationally derived nickname was “Shusta“, differentiating him from the many other Cornelius Toews klomping around the sticky clay on both sides (ditseid & yanseid) of the meandering Red River of the North.
My mother is a polyglot of the most wonderous skill; her Plautdietsch is the linguistic equivalent of a Stradivarius – plucky and orotund. How can such sonorous music come out of an instrument so small and light?
My dad was a baker famous for his zweibach and as a hockey player known for his great skill in separating local Red Wings, Saints and Aces from their pregame, coffeeshop bullshit. (A hip-check is worth a thousand words.)
My wife and I took a nine-year pilgrimage to Chilliwack, British Columbia (“Steinbach with a view”) where people could pronounce my surname whether they were hockey fans or literary types or neither.
I have eaten more than my share of Revels (ravel sticks). I have pawed through the deep discount bins at Eaton’s im Tjalla, owned many a pick-up truck, fished with a ‘rad davel’, received a tjutje on Christmas Eve, consulted with relish my signed copy of MENNONITISCH-PLATTDEUTSCHES WöRTERBUCH and I’ve pumped a lotta ‘pane down in New Orleans. (Oops. That last one just seemed to fit, with the cadence of #606.)
I have a close relationship with The Daily Bonnet and consider it my personal blog and satire.
I rest my case (of Uncle Ben’s beer).
The Negative: Neimols not a Menno!
Sure, my g-g-gramps was a delegate, but he was also at the wheel when many of the migrants followed him off-road, down the bumpy path laid by an American named Holdeman. This made him a visionary to some and a regrettable lacky to others. His excursion was the beginning of my paternal family’s travels with a dog named Controversy.
My g-gramps followed and he too bit off more of the same knackwurst. He, likely through his own peccadillos–but who knows for sure?–fell out of favour in his church and was given the boot. His wife Sarah was then summarily informed that her options were to shun husband John or be ousted herself. Being a woman of jrett, stout leather and fortified WonderOil, she held fast (and probably a Rempel or two) and SUED the church, the all-male Deacons, and the all-powerful Pastor.
What kind of Mennonite sues the church? So naysay the naysayers. For shame!
My Plautdietsch (or Plattdeutsche, according to frint Thiessen) is poor. While my mother was a savant, my father’s clan sought to eliminate German. English was the language of the land and they decreed that we should be English speakers. Etj kaun nicht vestohne.
Oh, but! While in Chilliwack, I mostly worshipped at the altar of golf. That and some haulf-moazh pew sitting at the United Church, where incense was waved and women took to the pulpit and may have even driven the family car to church! (Sounds like the behaviour of a ‘Cultural Mennonite’ at best, not?)
I never attended DVBS, I was not a camper at Red Rock Bible Camp, and my sword drill talents were scorned by those who knew there was no such thing as Neuteronomy. A dirty trick question – if you ask me!
My paternal grandma–whom I resemble and revere–was a respected woman in the Steinbach halls of the holy, but her clay feet left suspicious scuff marks on our reputation because she was baptized a Baptist. Devout though she was, she may well have been relegated to Baptist heaven, not up front with the Chortizers and such, in First Cabin, cooled by eternal moist towelletes and Yerba tea.
As a writer, I have ZERO stars on the CanLit scale of proficiency. This is the lowest ranking by a Mennonite, even a lowly Kanadier lacking in urban urbanity, since Corny Wiens wrote his ode to Unjabetje, “Kate, Kate”, on the Kornelson Boys Room wall.
Janice is not my cousin. I married her anyway, but now see the folly – we regularly disagree on what type of soup to make and I really have to hustle to get the crust on the bread. Serves me right.
So there you have it. A sordid past, a spotted present and a dubious future.
I welcome your judgement, I accept your condemnation and won’t suggest that our children play together. Mine are in their thirties, but still – you know what I mean.
Aules haft en Enj:
Bloss de Worscht haft twee Enja.
Everything has an end-
except a sausage. It comes to two ends.
Mennonite Low German Dictionary
P.S. – A not-at-all Mennonite story was just published on LingoBites Connect through your phone to the APP to read it. FREE to Mennonites. Also free to non-Mennonites, but perhaps less satisfyingly so. Send this link to your phone, if you’re not already on it: “The Old Guardsmen”
This story is provided in both English and ¡Spanish!