Literally Reruns – “The Business of Saving Souls” by Mitchell Toews

via Literally Reruns – The Business of Saving Souls by Mitchell Toews

Some of my favourite people—and there are many in this inky-blinky biz—from Literally Stories, just north of the 50th parallel and a little east of me, gave me a rerun. I heart them, hard.

Cheers to my friends from London, the Pacific NW, and those tagging rude—but intrinsically artful—images on the stucco backside of a mega-church in Abbotsford, as we speak (in tongues.)

Want some FINE reading? Creative, real, raw, skilled, fun, funny, makes you shake your head with a hearty, “wish I woulda thought of that!” Here:

Allison, Leila

https://literallystories2014.com/?s=henson

https://literallystories2014.com/?s=sheehan

https://literallystories2014.com/?s=hawley

 

Jessica Lake Idyll

Last summer a good friend visited. We drank cold Belgian lager beside a warm Manitoba lake. It was idyllic and pleasant. To add to the enjoyment, Irene told us a story from her past—her mom is my aunt’s sister and that family is famously as full of life and spontaneity as a sizzling firecracker.

I confessed to our friend Irene that the story was terrific and that, guiltily, I was tempted to steal it. She said I could steal with her permission—so, a theft, but legally pre-excused.

Over the next few months, I wrote it first as a short essay, then changed it to be used as the first segment of a more complicated three-part story.

It was, I believed, a truly Canadian story and more so a Canadian Mennonite tale, even though my friend’s mom is not, by origin, a Mennonite. (But she sure as heck lived with Mennonites, as did her sister—my aunt.) I sent it out for consideration by several literary journals, hoping for the best.

Ultimately, I decided to withdraw the story. I had grown dissatisfied with it and a few readers—other writers whose opinion I trusted—felt it was convoluted and disjointed, even if they didn’t say it exactly that way…

Schiet.

But, one of the markets spoke up. Like several of my writer friends, they said the first segment of the story was worth keeping and would I care to rewrite it as a solo piece? “Sure,” says I, happy for the lifeline.

So I rewrote and resubmitted. I felt positive, partly because of the resurrection and also sensing that the reduction from that longer piece was now more purely refined; “Un sirop nappant,” as, René, a spontaneous Jessica Lake neighbour and skilled cook, might have said.

Happily, the editors agreed and come July, “The Grittiness of Mango Chiffon” will appear in Agnes and True, an exceptional Canadian publication.

Agnes and True is a Canadian online literary journal.

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Our journal was founded on the belief that there are many writers whose work has not yet had the chance to be appreciated and many stories that have not yet found their literary home.

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As our name suggests, Agnes and True celebrates the achievement of women, though not exclusively. We are particularly interested in discovering and publishing the work of emerging older writers (both female and male).

My thanks to the editorial team at Agnes and True, home to more than a few sizzling firecrackers, I am sure.

Agnes and True is brought to you by The Trojan Horse Press, Inc. 

 

 

 

 

Mak’n Sparks

Janice and I spent a month over Christmas and New Year visiting family and dog-sitting in BC. The majority of the time had us in Victoria. While we were there I contacted the Victoria Writers’ Society to see if they had any events or functions taking place during our stay.

They did: the Society’s Annual General Meeting was on the slate and the Secretary, Ms. Sheila Martindale, invited me to sign-up for their Open Mic, which, she assured me was the main activity of the evening.

So I did: reading a sightly abridged version of “Sweet Caporal at Dawn”. It was fun and Jan & I really enjoyed the various readings. Lots of grab-ya-by-the-throat poetry and some fine essay and memoir pieces.

A reading I found particularly entertaining—and relatable—was Ron Stefik’s bright, funny ramble, “Mak’n Sparks”. I’ve received Ron’s permission to share it here.

Like Conrad led us upriver into a world of winding darkness and deception, so—conversely—Ron takes us downstream, away from lives filled with confusion and dilemma.

We are brought into the quiet of the workshop: the place of washer-filled Cheeze-Whiz jars suspended by their lids from the underside of a shelf… the land of pegboard and felt pen outlines on the wall… the sanctuary of our favourite tools—their double-insulated smells, their familiarity, their loyalty, their simple ways.

But also the power tool’s growling capacity for raw, emergency room-feeding might!

“I don’t like work—no man does—but I like what is in the work—the chance to find yourself.”—Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad

 

Mak’n Sparks

by Ron Stefik

I enthusiastically read the latest Canadian Tire advertising flyer that had arrived in the mail.  These are basically glossy hardware porn. The centrefold display caught my attention, the item between the stepladder with open legs and the set of socket wrenches. Angle grinders were on sale.

I have always felt a desire to own a portable angle grinder. Not an actual need, but a desire. When I had worked in the design office at Strathcona Steel in Edmonton, I would occasionally have reason to go down to the cavernous shop floor; to get a measurement, to get a progress update, or to get yelled at for not wearing safety boots. Metal shaping and welding stations were busy all around as I navigated across the factory, but those using angle grinders seemed to have the most satisfying tasks. Like Prometheus delivering fire, labourers cast long showers of fiery sparks to the howling accompaniment of their empowering device. Here be men!

Ownership of such a tool might lead to identification of a previously unrecognized daily need for such a thing, and would likely inspire a worthy addition to my story series, “The Joy of…”.  The Joy of Radial Arm Saws, The Joy of Hedge Trimmers…..The Joy of Angle Grinders…..intriguing titles like that.

Scanning the store shelves in my quest for self-worth, I suppressed a rising panic this item would be sold-out and unavailable to the remaining local angle grinding citizenry. Such disappointing ventures are reminiscent of potential dates that never show, an unfulfilled promise of a happily ever after future. Discovering my equivalent of the Golden Fleece craftily located on a lower shelf, with fevered anticipation and sweaty hands I made my selection from the inventory. I had briefly considered using some of my hoard of 5 and 10 cent Canadian Tire coupons to finance the investment, but wisely decided to maintain this bankroll for a future spending spree, such as the purchase of an electric lighting fixture to donate to an Amish charity. However, I did also acquire a 10-pack of grinding wheels. I was sure to identify many things around the house that could benefit from a good grinding. I could hardly wait to get home and start annoying the neighbours.

Alone in the privacy of my workshop, I savoured the moment of unveiling. The box included an instruction book sealed in a plastic bag. This would preserve it in pristine unopened condition for the benefit of future generations. It was tough plastic, and curiosity getting the better of me, I used the grinder to get it open. A thick booklet, it was printed in a multitude of languages, for the convenience of angle grinding Swahili bushmen and Bedouin travellers with long extension cords. Of the 32-page English section, the first thirty-one and a half pages were dedicated to safety advisories of the “never do this” variety. Such as using this power tool to open a plastic bag.

As it would happen, I had recently brought home from a neighbourhood free-pile a damaged air compressor. I did not see any need to compress air but had a vague idea of using the attached small pressure tank for a future inventive project. It was welded on. My first grinding task! Safety glasses and ear covers on, I attacked the task with suitable angle grinding élan and vigour. Electric motor whining at a satisfyingly high pitch, sparks flew as I spread destruction, Jedi warrior descendant upon a metallic foe. Within minutes I transformed a once useful piece of equipment into bits of scrap. This was progress!

Having satisfied my initial primal urge to cut through metal, I await the next necessity that will present itself to use this latest weapon in my home-improvement arsenal. That jam jar that has been getting a bit tough to open? Perhaps a bit of grinding to remove the lid is in order. Or perhaps a passerby on an electric shopping scooter will overturn in front of my home and require my rescue with a portable angle grinder to cut them free from the wreckage. One can only hope.

Publication-Interviews-Readings

The list is getting long enough to have its own dedicated page. I’ll keep this page more or less up to date and that is all I’m gonna say about that.

Last updated: January 22, 2020

PUBLISHED

Since June 2016:

“Encountered on the Shore”, CommuterLit (Ca), 2016

“A Vile Insinuation”, CommuterLit (Ca), 2016

“Without Reason”, CommuterLit (Ca), 2016

“Zero to Sixty”, CommuterLit (Ca), 2016

“The Margin of the River”, CommuterLit (Ca), 2016

“Nothing to Lose”, Fiction on the Web (UK), 2016

“Heavy Artillery”, Fiction on the Web (UK), 2016

“Breezy and the Six-Pack Sneaker”, Literally Stories (UK), 2016

“The Fifty Dollar Sewing Machine”, Literally Stories (UK), 2016

“South of Oromocto Depths”, Literally Stories (UK), 2016

“Frozen Tag”, Literally Stories (UK), 2016

“A Fisherman’s Story”, Rhubarb Magazine (Ca), Issue 39, 2016

“Our German Relative”, Red Fez (Ca), Issue 96, 2016

“Graperoo”, Fair Folk Journal (US), 2016

“So Are They All”, Voices (Ca), Volume 16, No. 2, 2016

“The Phage Match”, Broken Pencil (Ca), 2016

“The Rothmans Job”, CommuterLit (Ca), 2017

“Winter Eve in Walker Creek Park”, CommuterLit (Ca), 2017

“South of Oromocto Depths”, CommuterLit (Ca), 2017

“Encountered on the Shore”, CommuterLit (Ca), 2017

“The Preacher and His Wife”, Literally Stories (UK), 2017

“The Beefeater and the Donnybrook”, Literally Stories (UK), 2017

“The Light Pool”, Alsina Publishing LingoBites (UK – English and Spanish), 2017

“Nothing to Lose”, Digging Through the Fat (US), 2017 (Link)

“Heavy Artillery”, Digging Through the Fat (US), 2017 (Link)

“The Business of Saving Souls”, Literally Stories (UK), 2017

“So Are They All”, Literally Stories (UK), 2017

“The Rothmans Job”, Sick Lit Magazine (US), 2017

“The Business of Saving Souls”, Sick Lit Magazine (US), 2017

“I am Otter”, The Machinery – A Literary Collection (India), “Fauna” 2017

“The Log Boom”, Storgy.com (UK), 2017

“Encountered on the Shore”, Occulum (US), 2017

“The Peacemongers”, The MOON magazine (US), 2017

“The Margin of the River”, riverbabble (US), 2017

“The Seven Songs”, Fictive Dream (UK), 2017

“I am Otter”, CommuterLit (Ca) 2018

“Fall From Grace”, Literally Stories (UK), 2018

“Of a Forest Silent”, Alsina Publishing LingoBites (UK – English and Spanish), 2018

“City Lights”, Literally Stories (UK), 2018

“The Bottom of the Sky”, Fiction on the Web (UK), 2018

“In the Dim Light Beyond the Fence”, riverbabble (US), 2018

“Nothing to Lose”, riverbabble (US), 2018

“Shade Tree Haven”, Doorknobs & Bodypaint (US), 2018

“Sweet Caporal at Dawn”, Blank Spaces (Ca), 2018

“Sweet Caporal at Dawn”, “Just Words, Volume 2” (Ca), 2018

“Away Game”, Pulp Literature (Ca), 2018

“The Doeling”, Cabinet of Heed (Ireland), 2018

“Groota Pieter”, River Poets Journal, Special Themed Edition, “The Immigrants” (US),  2018

INTERVIEW, Mennotoba (Ca), 2018

“The Narrowing”, Scarlet Leaf Review (Ca), 2018

“Wide Winter River” podcast Not Ready for Prime Time (US), 2018

“The Fifty Dollar Sewing Machine”, Literally Stories (UK), 2019

“The Toboggan Run”, The MOON magazine (US), 2019

“Peacemongers”, The MOON magazine: “Out of This World” The Best Short Stories from the MOON (US), Volume 1, 2019

“Cave on a Cul-de-sac”, The Hayward Fault Line, Doorknobs & Bodypaint (US) Issue 93, 2019

“Din and the Wash Bear”, The Hayward Fault Line, Doorknobs & Bodypaint (US) Issue 95, 2019

“Died Rich”, Fabula Argentea (US), Issue #27, 2019

“I am Otter”, Short Tales – Flash Fiction Stories (Iran), 2019

“Away Game”, Short Tales – Flash Fiction Stories (Iran), 2019

INTERVIEW and EXCERPT from WIP novel, “Mulholland and Hardbar”, South Branch Scribbler (Ca), 2019

“Ifs and Butters”, TurnPike (US), 2019

“Concealment”, Me First Magazine (US), 2019

“Groota Pieter”, Pact Press (Australia), “We Refugees” anthology, 2019

“Fast and Steep”, Riddle Fence (Ca), Issue 34, 2019.

“Holthacka’s Quandary”, Lunate Fiction (UK), 2019

“Shade Tree Haven”, (mac)ro(mic) (US), 2019

“My Writing Day”, my (small press) writing day (Ca), 2019

“The Log Boom”, River Poets Journal, Special Themed Edition, “A Fork in the Road” (US),  Date TBA, 2020

“The Business of Saving Souls”, Literally Stories (UK), January 26, 2020

“Encampment”, Tiny Seed Literary Journal (US), February 8, 2020

“The Grittiness of Mango Chiffon”, Agnes and True (Ca), Date TBA (July 2020)

CONTESTS & AWARDS

“So Are They All”, Second Place in the Adult Fiction category of the Write on the Lake (Ca) contest, 2016

“Fall from Grace”, Honourable Mention in The Writers’ Workshop of Asheville (US) Memoirs Contest, 2016

“The Phage Match”, Finalist in Broken Pencil’s (Ca) annual “Deathmatch contest, 2016

“Cave on a Cul-de-sac”, Winner in The Hayward Fault LineDoorknobs & Bodypaint (US) Issue 93 Triannual Themed Flash contest, 2018

“I am Otter”, CommuterLit (Ca), Runner-up in for Flash Fiction Feature, 2018

“Sweet Caporal at Dawn”, Nominated by Blank Spaces (Ca) for a PUSHCART PRIZE, 2018

READINGS

Voices Launch, McNally Robinson, Winnipeg, MB, 2016

Pulp Literature Issue Launch, Vancouver, BC, 2017

Manitoba Writers’ Guild, Artspace, Winnipeg, MB, 2019

Prosetry, Jessica Lake, MB, 2019

Driedger Readings, Winnipeg, MB, 2019

Victoria Writers’ Society AGM, Victoria Central Library, Open Mic, Jan 8, 2020

Jake Epp Public Library, Steinbach, MB, 2020 (date TBA)

A Mennonite Imposter’s Discursive Rhapsody

Three Problems with Christianity: Souldierism, Heaven, and Receipts. (And possibly some of the reasons why the author maunders along in so many stories, searching out weak actors like a Red Rock Bible Camp Councillor hunting for Playboys between the mattresses.)

Problem One: Onward Christian “Soul-diers”

  • Mennonite religion (voted *Best Guilt* at Reformerpalooza) is obsessively and unabashedly built upon an army mentality.
  • Follow orders or else. It’s just that simple.
  • Those who ask questions based on some external code or sense of moral dissatisfaction are often eliminated. Shunned, excommunicated, kicked out, shit-canned… The church is governed by court-martial law, coercively presided and prosecuted by high-ranking church officials who are put in place by you-know-who (Die Owlah! An unimpeachable authority.) Just like the armed services, to disobey is to risk extreme penalties and disgrace.

So why is an organization dedicated to peace governed by the same laws, ordinances, and traditions that are used by the world’s militaries; the same rules that were in place for the fearsome armies of the Old Testament?

  • Also like the military, most Christian conventions change, but they are grindingly slow to do so. Examples of past changes I’ve seen in my own adult lifetime: Divorce (with the caveat that it is still far rougher on women then it is for men), Tight Jeans, and Rock n’ Roll. No? Just take a look around at church this Sunday, is there not at least one divorced person in your pew? Are you and others not wearing jeans that would have drawn a hair-afire rebuke in 1970? That musical menagerie: drum kit, synthesizer, and stable full of guitars up on the (ahem) stage is at the ready and is not out of place, in fact, they are the instruments of salvation and worship.

“Last one in the mosh pit is a demon!” 

  • And yet the church, just like the military, battle on in their efforts to resist LGBTQ (see below), to sustain their sadly obvious misogynistic roots, and to disavow the nativism that the church’s unholy co-combatants—far-right conservative politicians—seek to uphold.
  • In 2012, Steinbach, Manitoba’s Southland Church led opposition to a provincial law that sought to provide protection for LGBTQ students suffering from bullying. The church took the position that the Bill would promote “wrong lifestyle choices.” A petite-but-confident and charismatic high school student (not yet voting age at the time) serenely and handily took on the Steinbach Town Council, several adult congregants, a group of not-so-petite (but plenty-surly) adult members of the local ministerial association who carried NOT ON MY WATCH! placards. This latter crew had to be gavelled into silence and was threatened with expulsion from council chambers. Despite being less disruptive than the placardists, a phalanx of spear-wielding ancient Roman soldiers was prevented from entering the chambers.
    • “We want them to change it (the Bill) to say independent faith-based schools do not have to have groups that are in conflict with their beliefs,” Coun. Susan Penner told CBC News on Thursday. —https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/anti-bullying-bill-like-persecution-in-steinbach-1.1340156 (The soldiers could be heard grunting and clacking their spears in noisy agreement outside of the meeting room.)
    • At Steinbach’s Southland Church, pastor Ray Duerksen told parishioners during a (“worship”) service on Feb. 24 that God will judge those who don’t oppose the anti-bullying bill.—https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/manitoba/anti-bullying-bill-like-persecution-in-steinbach-1.1340156
  • My QUESTIONS for Coun. Penner and Pastor Duerksen include: “Is it still your watch? An elected or appointed position? Both, you say?” And, “At the point when the church and the town finally change their puny positions on LGBTQ issues, what REDRESS can be expected for your irresponsible and discriminatory actions in 2012? Will this redress be financial? A public apology? Resignation? Stoning?
  • I have no questions for the placard-waving chuckleheads or the Roman soldiers. (These two represent the same fertilizer; in different piles.)
  • It is my prediction that the petite young high school student who—armed with only five smooth stones—stood up to colossal hatred in 2012. I believe she will one day be a legislator who will debate on a level battlefield. I expect she will defeat the doctrine-wielding and the spear-wielding, alike. I suspect her “watch” will be empathetic and egalitarian.

Problem Two: Heaven

  • You rent a house. The owner stresses that you—the renter—have full dominion over that house. It’s yours to use as you please. It’s almost as though the landlord told you, “I got awesome insurance so party on, DUDE!” Additionally, you rent this house knowing that you will be moving to a castle at some point in the future. You’ve taken all the necessary steps to assure your admittance to the castle. It’s a done deal.
  • My prediction, based on close personal contact with numerous rat bastards and almost as many sweet soulful brethren is that the renter is not gonna put a lot of leasehold improvements into that rental house. The renter is not gonna worry about a drywall dent here, or a busted tile there, or a swimming pool filled with empty Tim Horton cups. (Or rusted out Chevy Blazers, dirty syringes or radioactive waste, for that matter. It ain’t the renter’s problem.)
  • The renter’s carefree attitude is in high contrast when compared to their landlord-less heathen neighbours who own their abode and who intend to hand it down to their descendants… Those dumb suckers are tasked with the constant upkeep and care of their place, unlike the renter. Renters have the same rights to live in their home as the homeowners but, ‘cuz of the whole “I’m gonna move into a golden castle in the sky” thing, renters don’t really give a Norwegian rat turd about upkeep, cleanliness, sustainability or any other word ending in pollution or climate change or extinction or any words that are not “dominion over”.

Heaven appears to be an effective disincentive to take care of the earth. “DON’T BE GENTLE—IT’S A RENTAL!”

Problem Three: Receipts

Here’s a modern parable:

You run down to Anabaptist Appliances and buy a toaster. It’s fine, until one day you don’t smell burning toast. Hot under the collar, you hustle back to the store and ask to trade-in or return the toaster or to be given warranteed compensation.

“Sure, Mister Ishmael. Do you happen to have a copy of your receipt? I’m gonna need a scriptural confirmation to verify that everything you are telling me is gospel. Know what I’m sayin’?”

“Of course. But, can’t you just take my word? Have you no, uh, faith?”

“Oh bah jo! I believe everything you’ve told me—the trilogy: alternating|direct|ground… the death of the thermostat and its resurrection via the reset button… the four horsemen of the power surge… It’s just that my boss is a stickler and I really need a  proof of purchase.”

He seems insistent, this clerk. Now, you KNOW you bought the toaster—full retail price—at Anabaptist Appliances and you never abused it or changed anything or went outside of the commandments of the operator’s manual so even though you don’t have actual written proof, you say, “Look, bro. I don’t have the receipt, but my buddy James, on King Street, he can vouch for me. Will that do?”

“Sure. As long as it’s in print, on ancient, rotting scrolls, in an appropriate language not spoken on earth in centuries, and concerns only the toaster model later built in the precise triangular region delineated by i.) the old blood-letting clinic (Abe’s Arteries) on Queen up to ii.) Spadina and then back along Graffiti Alley to the location of iii.) the common pasture … we’ll accept that as gospel!”

“Sure, partner. Sounds like we have a deal. Is it okay if the written proof from James on King is filled with ambiguities about when and exactly how to prepare and eat toast, how a toaster should properly be prepared for sacrifice, the selling of a toaster into slavery, the rules governing the crucifixion of a  toaster, and the throwing of plugged-in toasters into the bathtubs of Hittite neighbours?”

“Hittites, eh? They’re the worst. It can even be co-authored by several hundred of James’s best buddies (just not too many women, eh?) and you can come on down and revise it any time you feel like it.”

  • The main trouble with the good book is that it is the product of WRITERS and EDITORS. Untrustworthy louts, by and large. And the genre—is it literary fiction, is it reportage, is it non-fiction, is it science-fiction, is it fantasy, is it non-fiction? Astrological science?  History text-book or historical fiction? Maybe foodie lit? (What Whales Love to Eat: Old Guys with Long Beards… Superbowl Munchies? How to Feed a Crowd with Just Bread and Fish.)
  • Lots of authors. Lots of (Holy) ghostwriters. Distributors and agents gettin’ their Gideon on too and disenfranchising the Midianite Book Club. It’s quite the anthology!

The Bible is kinda like the Leity high rollers (from a long time ago) assuring all us lunchpail Leity types that a Deity won the big hand except the Deity does not want to show His cards. He wants us to take it on His word that He filled His holy straight. He understands our mortal doubts though, and instructs us to have faith. He gives His Leity pals a few tools to help with the convincing; some insider info to prove what He claims. The suite may be Clubs. (But it could be Diamonds.) He may have drawn the Ten or it may have been a pat hand. Sure, His betting pattern doesn’t support it, but… if you don’t believe the Allmighty, you just might be banished to the basement—with his relative, Diablo, who sells life insurance—for the rest of eternity, so… it’s up to you, but I know what I’d do.

~

Also, you cowboy philosophers and your John Prine mix-tapes (“Jesus Christ died for nuthin'” etc.) and your medical marijuana… you can just stop pointing out that whole, “Well, doesn’t the very presence of evil prove that an omnipotent God does not exist?” thing. The man with the long white robe and the gold throne is getting pretty tired of that whole logic spiel and if you don’t want those glaciers to start melting at TURBO speed, then—verily, I say unto you—just watch it!

Conclusion: Wherein the Author Wraps Up with a “Ha! Toro!” and a Swirl of His Fadadatj

“The Holy Fool”. Another parable, of sorts.

You know the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, where supposedly only those with “a perfect sense of fashion” can actually see the King’s new duds. Those peasants without the chic fashion eye cannot even see the King’s new apparel. At least that’s what the King’s advisors tell the King and his court in order to keep their ruse alive. No one dares point out the folly—they all pretend to be able to see the clothes, including the King—and it goes on and on.

Until, a person in the court, a jester perhaps, the so-called “Holy Fool” steps up and says the obvious. “The King is naked.”

Gasps and outrage follow. Slowly, the truth seeps in and then with a surge, everyone is busy denying that they see anything and the truth wins out after much subterfuge.

I sometimes feel like this “Holy Fool”; one who has no investment in the bullshit, a person who is not a part of it—not even close—and who without anything more than average insight utters the obvious, uninfluenced by the need to fall in line.

I am that fool. I cannot be sanctioned because I live a life within, but apart.

A believer may say to me, with force and indignation, that because I am nothing but a Mennonite imposter—a secular Mennonite—that I cannot and do not speak for Mennonites.

And yet,

  • My G-G-GF was Delegate Toews, born in Fischau and sent with 11 brooda to find a new home.
  • My G-GF and G-GM Toews, John and Sarah—late of the Kleine Gemeinde—were shunned from the Holdeman camp—shoed away like a pair of impertinent crows picking at a roadside deer carcass before the eagles had their fill. John and Sarah took umbrage at their unfair ouster and sued the church. The lowly corvids sued the uppity raptors. That must have sent tail-feathers fluttering!

Interesting bonafides, wouldn’t you agree? Plus I grew up in Steinbach Bakery—the floury bullseye of Manitoba’s cultural Mennonite dartboard. Add to that my uncommonly good and well-loved community treasure GrandMother Toews, despite her German Baptist (non-Menno) baptismal certificate. Also, my full-fledged adult-dunked Menno wife and one dunked daughter. (So our little family is 50-50: two wet and two dry. )

http___www.hendersonnebraska.com_wp-content_uploads_2012_04_zwieback

And now, at the end of this trail of breadcrumbs, I find myself standing in the court—not at the bench John and Sarah Toews stood before at the turn of the last century, but the aforementioned King’s court.

Sure enough, the king is naked. In fact, he’s got a boil on his butt the size and texture of an overfilled jambuster and a belly that must be schmaundtfat cuz jelly don’t shake like that!

The dude is, as we used to say, nuck bak-ed!

You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything. I Corinthians 6:12 (NLT)

So, hear me when I say that I may be uniquely qualified to see it all—including the ignoble and the insincere and the hypocritical—with eagle eyes and a crow’s discernment. I am a slave to none. And with familiarity and empathy and kinship and knowledge of the waymarkers and the places to stumble and those places too, where Mennonites soar.

~

And if I’m a little bit annoying and more didactic than you’re prepared to accept from a everyday guy, an former class-clown, an ex-jock with a plentiful supply of demons and not near enough angels, well… too bad, because no one gave me this job, I just damn well took it.

“Poets are the unauthorized legislators of the universe.”—P. Shelley

Coming Up Soon

COMING UP:

LUNATE-logo-black-3

10.15.19—The VERY promising new UK literary journal market, Lunate Fiction has accepted Mitchell’s much-sweat-over story, “Holthacka’s Quandary.” It will appear in December, but don’t wait! Visit their site and see what’s on offer. It’s free so there’s no wrist.

Holthacka (Matt Zehen) interacts once again with the venerable Peter Vogel, one of the author’s favourite repeat characters. Here’s hoping these Hartplatzites can find a happy home in Lunate where favourites (like Damhnait Monaghan and Robert Boucheron and more) have taken up residence.

Riddle fence logo

10.13.19—One of Toews’ recent short stories has been graciously accepted by a special Canadian lit mag from a rock near a windrous and wondrous squiggly-edged place. Yes, it’s true, he has a short story called “Fast and Steep” in Newfoundland’s Riddle Fence: A Journal of Arts & Culture. Coming November 2019.

A winter’s tale from the flat, frozen front yard of Matt and Justy.

Peace, Brooda

Today is the UN’s International Day of Peace. So, even if you are a follower of the incandescent flaccid golf popsicle from south of the 49th—and are therefore ideologically opposed to the UN for some incomprehensible reason (draws deep breath) —you may want to meditate on peace for a few minutes.

Couldn’t hurt, right?

Here’s a squawk from the rearmost pew; a story called “The Peacemongers” which first appeared in The MOON magazine in June 2017. This story was also chosen to be included in the publication’s recent, beautiful anthology, “Out of This World” The Best Short Stories from The MOON Volume I (2013-2019).

out of this world pic sm

Peace. Conscientious Objectors. “Just War”. Leaders we are bound by the bible to follow, chosen by and given authority by God, we are told… even leaders with triangular moustaches.

My cousin Doug and I used to jump aboard the tractors lined up for sale on the Case dealership lot in Steinbach, Manitoba. We were, in those long-ago summers, U.S. fighter pilots shooting down Messerschmidt 109s in our P-51s. If a few things in our ancestry had gone differently, maybe we would have been in imaginary Luftwaffe cockpits instead of those of the USAF. A few more twists of fate and we might have had ancestors in the Russian infantry meat-grinder or the Polish resistance. Or maybe, had our forefathers stayed in Frisland, our Opas past would have considered a “MANNEN VON NEDERLAND!” recruiting poster and become real Flying Dutchmen.

flying dutchman

Had our great-great-grandpa Toews chosen Mountain Lake, MN instead of Manitoba’s East Reserve, Doug and I may well have found ourselves singing along to Country Joe and the Fish in Da-nang or some other place of less-than-righteous smiting. My fiction, “A Vile Insinuation” revisits this troubled time on the borderline.

Anyway, please find highlighted and hyperlinked above a couple of peace inclined short stories of mine. Give’em a read and afterwards, maybe give some waiter or waitress a twenty-buck tip to address the war on poverty. THAT’s a JUST war!

Also, here’s a link to Slaughterhouse-Five, a true book of peace for this day of peace. So it goes.

We Refugees

My short story, “Groota Pieter” based on my experiences in Southeast Manitoba, is included in this thoughtful, important conversation on forced migration. In 1873, my great-great-grandfather, Cornelius Toews, was one of a group of 12 delegates to travel to North America to scout locations for a mass migration as Russia constricted around their Mennonite villages in the Molotschna region of Ukraine. This historical connection, plus my life in a Canadian diaspora community that now sees others arriving as they once did—scared, unfamiliar, poor, and without a choice—makes the story personal for me.

I’m pleased to be a part of the book and if you happen to be in Melbourne, September 16…

From: https://regalhouseinitiative.org/we-refugees/

We Refugees is now on the shelves in Readings bookshops across Melbourne, and it will be launched by Julian Burnside at Readings Hawthorn next Monday 16th September at 6.30pm.
Two contributors, Kirsty Anantharajah and Akuol Garang are able to be here for the launch, which is very exciting.
The launch details are available via the link below:

Now available in Australia… For release September 27, 2019 in the U.S.

The Regal House Initiative, together with Pact Press, is proud to bring you an anthology of writing by and about refugees, asylum seekers, and other forced migrants. We Refugees is intended to amplify the voices of displaced people and bring their experiences to the awareness of readers. The lead editor for this anthology is Dr. Emma Larking.

Our aim is to provide insights into the lives of the displaced, insights that are often ignored in contemporary media accounts of the global refugee crisis. Rather than present a vision of crisis, we would like to present a vision of hope and energy, to celebrate the resilience of people who have been forced to leave their homes and seek new ones. We sought contributions that may discomfort or challenge readers, presenting the experience of displacement in a manner at odds with more typical representations.

Proceeds from the publication of We Refugees

Editorial work will be provided free of charge by the Pact Press editorial team, lead by Dr. Emma Larking, and all net proceeds from the sale of the anthology will go to support the work of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC).

Based in Melbourne, Australia, the ASRC describes itself as:

…both a place and a movement. We are an independent not for profit organisation, whose programs support and empower people seeking asylum to maximise their own physical, mental and social wellbeing. As a movement, we mobilise and unite communities to create lasting social and policy change for people seeking asylum in Australia. We are proud to be owned and run by our community of volunteers and supporters.

Please visit the ASRC website for more information about its campaignsworkvision and values.

Interview with Artist Virginia Ryan, Contributor to our forthcoming Pact Press Anthology, We Refugees.

we refugees library

~ ~ ~

“Groota Pieter” is also a part of the 2018 Lilly Press publication (U.S.), “The Immigrants” by The River Poets Journal.

Din and the Wash Bear

My 450-word-or-less flash fiction, “Din and the Wash Bear” appears today on the flash portion of the Pandemonium Press family of literary sites, Doorknobs and Bodypaint Issue 95. This Berkeley-based online zine is a favourite of mine — especially because I’ve had success in Dorsals and riverbabble, with appearances in a half-dozen issues, or so.

For this month’s Dorsals section, I responded to a themed call that asked for short fiction pieces that included a classic noir feel and a femme fatale. I did so, allowing my immediate surroundings to influence my character selection.

I hope you enjoy it. If you do, just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you? You just put your lips together and blow.

http://www.iceflow.com/doorknobs/issue95/DO-95-TOEWS.HTML

allfornow,
Mitchell

 

Justina “Jesse” Toews, 1933-2019

http://bit.ly/JesseJustinaToews

This page is a memorial site for the life of Jesse Toews, of Steinbach, MB.

We’re stronger in the places where we’ve been broken,”—Ernest Hemingway

Celebration of Life

Jesse’s family is grateful for all the kind gestures of condolence. We are holding a celebration of Jesse’s life on Saturday, Sept 7 at 11 am in the Tamarack Room of the Qualico Family Centre in Assiniboine Park, Winnipeg. The site is near the Duck Pond (and ample parking) at 330 Assiniboine Park Drive.

Update: Sept. 9 Our gathering in the park was particularly uplifting and affirming. Thanks to all who attended and thanks to the staff at the venue for a wonderful setting and family event. Our sister, Mom, Aunt, etc. Marnie Fardoe is to be commended for her tireless work, both as Mom’s number one advocate in life and also her loyal steward in the difficult days we have just come through.

On Sunday, the family interned Jesse beside Dad in the grave in Steinbach, within sight of the plot of land on McKenzie, where she grew up and where years later her children and some of her grandchildren attended high school. It was a beautiful fall day and we read Psalms 23 and enjoyed a quiet last time together.

We’ll see her again in a few whiles.

http___www.hendersonnebraska.com_wp-content_uploads_2012_04_zwieback
🙂
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The obituary follows below, but this page is intended to host much more. It has been posted and will be maintained as a gathering place for Jesse’s family and friends. Pictures, comments, anecdotes and other loving memories of our mom-grandma-oma may be found and enjoyed here and you may also wish to contribute to the collection.

mom

Please feel welcome. To contribute, send your material to mtoews55@gmail.com. I will receive it and share it with my sisters Char Toews and Marnie Fardoe. Share directly with them if you wish and have their contact information. We’ll contact you to confirm and then share your submission, with thanks and love.

Feel free to share the link with others who knew Jesse and may wish to visit the site.

http://bit.ly/JesseJustinaToews

~ ~ ~

wfp

Here is a link to the obituary in the Winnipeg Free Press: https://shar.es/aXqTKD

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Justina “Jesse” Toews (nee Harder) July 17, 1933—August 10, 2019

Jesse Toews, age 86, formerly of Steinbach, MB, passed away peacefully at the Grace Hospital in Winnipeg on August 10, 2019.

The eighth of 10 children, Justina “Jesse” Harder was born on the family farm near Plum Coulee to parents Marie (nee Penner) and Diedrich Harder. When Jesse was nine-years-old, her family moved to a small homestead on Mackenzie Road in Steinbach. Here the family continued to grow their own food in their large garden, and father and sons were employed as house painters. A skilled painter herself, she liked to tell us, “Paint is in my blood!”

Jesse was a capable, bright kid with boundless energy. In her life, work was rewarding play. As a child she frequently helped with the care of young relatives. As a teen she had responsible jobs such as a pharmacy assistant and an aide at the Ninette TB Hospital. Jesse married Norman “Chuck” Toews in 1954. Always a quick study, she fulfilled her role and was instrumental in the family businesses, Steinbach Bakery and Grow Sir. She also curled, water-skied, cooked up many a storm, and cut grass—all with joy and zeal!

She was the last surviving sibling in her family. Predeceased by Norman in 1994, Jesse is survived by their three children: Mitchell (Janice, nee Kasper) of Jessica Lake, MB, Charlynn Toews (David Menzies) of Terrace, BC, Marnie Fardoe (Ken Fardoe) of Winnipeg, and five grandchildren: Megan Olynyk (Blair Olynyk) and their children Tyrus and Hazel, Tere Toews (Tom Halpin), Cameron Menzies, Emily Fardoe, and Maris Fardoe.

A celebration of Jesse’s life is being planned for September, details to be announced. For more information on the event and also to share pictures, memories and other fond expressions of our mom/grandma/oma, please visit this commemorative web page: http://bit.ly/JesseJustinaToews

In lieu of flowers, you may want to give to the charity of your choice and then get together and schputt with someone over a coffee, laughing until your stomach aches and your cheeks are sore from grinning. Jesse would like that.

jesse laugh
Aunt Dee, Uncle Earl, Jesse

jesse 54

When Uncle Earl passed away, I was troubled by it for quite a while. A friend sent me this passage, often attributed to Victor Hugo from “Toilers of the Sea”. I found it soothing and a beautiful thought:

I am standing upon that foreshore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails in the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength and I stand and watch her until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come down to mingle with each other. Then someone at my side says, “There! She’s gone!” “Gone where?” “Gone from my sight, that’s all.” She is just as large in mast and spar and hull as ever she was when she left my side; just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of her destination. Her diminished size is in me, not in her. And just at that moment when someone at my side says, “There! She’s gone!” there are other eyes watching her coming and other voices ready to take up the glad shout, “Here she comes!”

aunty ros and jesse
Aunty Ros and Jesse at Sunrise Bay
bukowski fire
If Mom’s life was a book, perhaps this line of verse could be her coverline.

IMG_2085

fam jesse
Mitch, Jan, Char, Marnie, Maris, Mom/Grandma T
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Maris and Grandma T
candles
Make a wish…
Char, Jan, Tere, Grandma T/Mom, Mitch, Megan
Priceless
Meg, Maris, Tere, and Grandma T
Uncle Tony and Grandma Harder
Jesse and Norm
Jesse and Norm at Sunrise Bay

Mexico
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!
“Verk!”

Mom on Sunrise Bay
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Mom, Charlynn, Mitchell
Mom did love a good HAT…
Char with a Halifax hello or goodbye…
Mom, Dave, Char
Mom, Dad, Ken
Mom and Marn
Char (in the shadow) Cam and Grandma
Emily, Grandma T, Murphy the literary Cat, and a literal cat on Sunrise Bay
One of my sisters doing a shocked Zul Brenner with Mom at Sunrise Bay
Me and Mom, at Grandma & Grandpa Toews (?)
romance
Rrrromance…
n&J wed
July 31, 1954
wedding party jess
The wedding party, with Earl and Mrs. Funk, her bridesman (for whom Mom was bridesmaid the week before… )
mom and mjt
Mom and me on Barkman Ave.
eat and recommend
“We eat and recommend Steinbach Bread!”
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6-yr-old Hazel Abigail Olynyk, Jesse’s great-granddaughter at home in Maple Ridge.
11-yr-old Ty
Jesse’s 11-year-old great-grandson Tyrus James Olynyk at a stop-over in Anola, Mb this August.

Each grandchild and child shared a recollection of Jesse. Here is my recounting of an event that stands proud in my memory of Mom and her ways:

Funerals, as my friend Hans says—he is a funeral expert, having been a lot of people’s favourite lawyer for just about half a century and attending many a closing argument—“funerals are for the living,” Hans says. I believe this is so. I also know that Mom would have nodded approvingly and made a mental note to comment to you sometime about how nice it was that you came. Please consider yourself so acknowledged.

I’d like to share the retelling of a story that I experienced personally with my mom. The year was 1968. Our parents’ main business, Steinbach Bakery, had recently been reduced in size and it was less of a wholesale bakery selling to Winnipeg stores and more of a retail outlet with distribution locally.

Mom worked regularly in the bakery and I was there often after school and during summer vacation to grease bread pans, slice bread, bag buns, eat donuts and so on. I was working on the inclined bread slicer behind the counter one Saturday and the clerk, a high school girl named Yvonne, if memory serves, was cleaning the display case. Mom was in the back. It had been a busy day at the end of summer and we were all tired. We three were the last remaining employees that day and Mom was mostly waiting around to give me a ride home.

There were a few local customers in the store—people Yvonne and I recognized—and then a small group of strangers came in. It was normal on a Saturday to have out-of-town shoppers, but this group seemed slightly off to me and I kind of watched out of the corner of my eye as they began to buy things. There was a rather sizable, older lady, dressed outlandishly, and two younger men and a young female. The older woman was the main actor in this play.

Normally, if zweibach were sold six for a dollar, let’s say, then most people would buy multiples of three, to make it easy—3,6,9,12, etc. Easy-peasy. Not this lady. She wanted, “five of these and four, no make that 13 of those over there, and here’s a twenty-dollar bill—those are for my sister—and may I have the change in two-dollar bills, and what’s on special? Oh? Then put those back and give me the ones on sale instead… or, no! Just put HALF of them back. Say, may I have a donut now, just to nibble on? Also, sweetheart—it would be really good to sit down, because, well my heart is not what it used to be… Boy! Bring me a chair.”

It was a lot to manage.

Plus the others in the group were mimicking her and also ordering poor Yvonne around and making her spin in circles. She was an experienced clerk, but this was something else! Our regular customers left, their heads shaking as they went, wondering what kind of strange people these were!

I remember joining in to try and help Yvonne keep everything straight and bag their orders. The two men started arguing and calling each other names and this added to the overall confusion and raised the volume.

Later on, Ben Sobering, our Chief of Police and a friend of the family, told us this group were con artists, a flim-flam gang, and they had hit a number of stores in town that day, in much the same manner. Confusion, distraction, mayhem and mathematics.

Anyway, Yvonne was losing it and just as things hit a crescendo, Mom entered the front, cool as a proverbial Jant Seid Gurtj. She knew nothing about flim-flam, but she had heard the cash register opening and closing, lots of yelling and one look at Yvonne’s harried face and Mom knew all was not right.

She checked with Yvonne, surveyed the situation, which had kind of drawn to a halt upon her entrance because, for a small planet, she had lots of gravitational pull.

When Mom was nervous and really concentrating, she would move slowly and kind of whistle noiselessly. That’s what she did then, eyeballing each of the crooks as she walked out from behind the counter. There were two entrances to the bakery: the main door into the front display area and a side door for deliveries. My slicer was next to the delivery entrance and as Mom sidled by me on her slow-steppin’ way to the main door, she whispered, “Lock the side door, when I lock the front.”

I winked yes and crept a little closer to the side door as she made her way, chatting now amicably with the flimmers and flammers until she reached the door. Quick as Denver Reimer, the Huskies goalie, she flipped the deadbolt with a loud “CLACK!” and then keyed the main lock shut. Seeing this I quickly engaged the deadbolt on my door and waited to see what would happen.

“That’s it!” Mom yelled, her face as grim as the Reaper’s. “Either all the baked goods stay here and you leave or I’m going to have my husband and the police here in five minutes! You just leave everything here and keep whatever money you have and GO, RIGHT NOW, and that’s the end of it!” She stared at them like a cat watching a bird and if she would have had a tail, it would have twitched.

The heavy-set lady, whom I had now studied in greater detail and had begun wondering pretty hard about exactly what kind of lady has a five o’clock shadow and she also had wingtip shoes peeking out from beneath her long skirt. Animal, mineral or just a tough old gal from the North End, the lady leader sniffed, regarded all wiry five foot three of Mom’s trembling fury and decided, for the betterment of all involved, to exit and live to fight another day.

Whistling silently the whole time, Mom’s eye shone dark and pierced the floury air of the still bakery. She jingled her keys and opened the door for them. When the last one was out, she yelled something about the police and, “I’d hurry if I was you!” and re-locked the door.

We all cheered and the best moment was at home when we told Dad the story and he laughed until he cried and then he laughed some more.

~ ~ ~

This story illustrates perfectly a side of my Mom’s character that I believe, in the first place, attracted our dad to her (and her to him) and ultimately was passed along—like it or not—to Norm and Jesse’s children and their grandchildren and even their great-grandchildren. Persistence. Guts. Standing up for the little guy — that was Mom.

I want to say something else too. Every high note has its bass companion. Even a bright white object casts a dark shadow. Mom’s strength could be her weakness too, when taken to extremes. Also, it’s important to know that she did struggle with her mental health, a condition that took greater hold in her later years. If in your experience with feisty Jesse, you found yourself on the receiving end, I’m here to say she was doing her best and while it might have felt bad at the time, she probably would simply have seen it as simply striving to protect herself or maybe someone else, someone she rightly or wrongly believed needed her jutting jaw and cold steely stare.

When I picture my mother’s life through a wide-angle lens, I am reminded of a complicated mosaic of pieces, all fitting together tightly and in some instances forced into place. If it is true, as Hemingway wrote, that, “We’re stronger in the places where we’ve been broken,” then that is how we should strive to see Jesse’s life and her challenges—and maybe our own too—and see things in their true perspective.

Jesse Toews was a complex person and had beautiful warmth, kindness, empathy, and humour. Her incredible energy kept us all hopping and her intelligence and fearless approach to life were all any of us needed to get through the rough spots. For this, for her love, for her struggles, I am indebted and I am proud to be her son.

P.S.–On Sunday, fittingly, after interning Mom’s ashes alongside Dad’s remains we went to the old GrowSir South and had Mennonite Sundaes. They were terrible beastly good.