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Smoking Jacket Mennonites

There’s a lively discussion current now on one of the Mennonite chat rooms online. It’s about the existence—like a newly discovered tribe of Yeti, I guess—of “Cultural Mennonites“.

Here follows a sizzling grenade I decided not to lob into that chat room (too much collateral damage) but, well, I wanted to share…

As Religious Mennonites will confirm, Mennonite is a religion. I feel it’s a good one, as these things go. The doctrine of peace & non-violence, above all, and the notable generosity and charity inherent in Mennonite churches are, indeed, “full of grace.” The Mennonite Disaster Service is the Gretzky of volunteer disaster relief in North America.

Many—myself included—feel Mennonitism also has a distinct, modern (awakened in the 1960s?) cultural derivative. It was during that turbulent period when the idea of being a Mennonite without baptism or a deep commitment to church life first began to gain acceptance. Around the same time that divorce, irrespective of the Sermon on the Mount, first started on the path to toleration within the plenary Mennonite church.

meat pudding
The basic argument against the existence of Cultural Mennonites

“Cultural”, btw, has interesting roots, for the etymologically inclined. “Tillage”, indicating to me that culture is tilled, or incorporated, into its subject – an individual, a gathering, a congregation, a population, a society. That root has a lot to do with why I believe I am part of the Cultural Mennonite phenomenon: I was born and raised—innocently so, but without my direct adult consent—in the cult of Mennonite. My childhood nuclear family did not attend church but in all other ways, my extended family and our community was as Menno as Dirk Willems.

The complex and often contradictory Mennonite culture was TILLED into me from birth and it continues to exert itself on me even as I cast aside the learned knowledge of others and depend more on my own experiences and my familiarity with the world.

My formative influences were different than those of my Religious Mennonite kin & kith but also far different from my non-Menno “import” friends.

I see the Cultural Mennonite emerging as a distinct sub-set because of their (my) “half-breed” existence, suspended between disparate worlds.

Those who disavow a stand-alone cultural variant often point instead to a kind of “Mennonite Imposter” creed. I and several of my antecedents are seen to be of this lowly pretender ilk. I tend to object, but maybe I should embrace this tag even if it is pejorative and imposed by others?

imposter
The Mennonite Imposter

I’ll propose a fourth iteration: “Smoking Jacket Mennonites“. Those who gather in a shadowy, virtual quorum and represent the interests of:

  • industry & commerce
  • finance
  • government
  • education

These subverters (a “den of thieves” according to one angry historical observer) are connected via interlocking directorate. They gather within the friendly, hallowed confines of the church’s tax-exempt status where they typically hold high rank or are able to exert influence by proxy.

smoking jacket mennonites

One SJM prerequisite is membership in the Religious Mennonite superstructure. Or just good’ol wealth and power. Ideally both.

Membership to SJM, the leadership elite, is by subtle invitation. Its congregation comprises fewer women than men. Likewise, there are not many “fringe” members: those financially challenged, POC, First Nations peoples, and LGBTQ are not strongly represented cohorts. By extension, those overtly tolerant of the non-mainstream or accused of “liberal extremist” social beliefs need not apply either.

These are not hard membership rules. But like the current U.S. Cabinet, it just tends to work out that way. Gender, race, wealth and social standing (or close association to wealth and power) are predictable. Good hair, a tan, and nice teeth are increasingly helpful for videos, podcasts, and evangelizing, but those attributes are furniture, not architecture, and in the hands of a deft PR shop, could be re-framed as a weakness. “He’s almost too pretty to be taken seriously.” 

Smoking Jacket Mennonites are not the first or the best at this specious, old-boyistic full meal deal of [wealth creation] & [worship of the divine], but are starting to really get the hang of reciprocal back-scratchery. I can see a Doug Ford getting a standing “O” in the right sanctuary, at the right time. Maybe he already has.

doug ford

Hmmm.

In conclusion, I don’t believe I am a “Non-Mennonite”. Nope, that just does not fit; that thread is too coarse. I definitely feel I am a “Mennonite“. In fact, I have an undeniable, unshameable set of Menno credentials and antecedents, but I am not a member of a Mennonite church so some would keep me on the büte with those who don’t know the difference between Ditsied and Jantsied.

Seeking a finer definition, you can go right ahead and call me a Religious Mennonite (if you’re willing to accept a highly non-conformist definition) or use the Cultural Mennonite tag, or brand me as a Mennonite Imposter – I’ll accept any of those labels without complaint.

As for the arm-waving megafellas of the Smoking Jacket Mennonite elite, I don’t qualify, I don’t have the price of admission, nor do I seek entry to the club. You guys go on without me.

~ ~ ~

Two stories that grab a root and dig at these themes:

“I am Otter” in The Machinery – A Literary Collection

Literally Stories presents a satiric peek at Big Church in, “The Business of Saving Souls” 

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Our German Relative

A Molotschnan yarn
For fam’ly ’round Tannenbaum,
Prince of Peace, et al

Our German Relative 

Whenever our family got together, it was inevitable that we would sit and tell stories. We would gather in my grandparents’ adjoining kitchen and living room, tjinja on the floor to make room on the couches and chairs for our elders. Here at the heart of their warm and crowded house, no one would be out of earshot. Yarns were unravelled, and our feelings rose and fell. It was as if we were on a ship and the prairie around us was a rolling ocean – in all that great grass sea, my grandparents’ house was the safest harbour. And yet the stories often reminded us of the many dangers that exist in what seemed such a placid and familiar world.

At Christmas, Grandma always told the final story. That was our tradition. It was about my great-aunt Rosa when she was a child in Russia.

Enunciating with care in her precise English, Grandma Zehen told the story. Her narration was theatrical and thrilling, but still heartfelt and purely told. She would fill in detail and sentiment, adding dialogue to suit. But most engaging of all, she always told the story as if it was ours. This may not have been strictly so; it may have been cultural lore, a patchwork as much as family history. I never felt that it mattered – I just remember waiting for the story every Christmastime.

Lights were dimmed, candles lit. Out came the platters of Christmas cookies from the warmth of Grandma’s oven. Baked fresh this evening, we had been smelling them since the stories began, all of us waiting for them to arrive. I will never forget the candy taste of the pink icing, the buttery aroma with just a hint of vanilla. I can still see the warm glint of the crystal sugar in the candlelight. Best of all, dee tjinja got first pick from the overflowing trays!

Grandma began her special story once everyone had their cookies and we chewed as quietly as we could to listen.

* * *

Not too far from Odessa and the shores of the Black Sea, there was a place called Molotschna Colony – ‘Milk River’, you know, as Englanders say it. My mother’s sister, my Taunte Rosa, attended grade school in one of the villages there. By Soviet dictate, the lessons were taught in Russian. The teacher, however, was brought in from Germany for the school year. Naturally, she was fluent in Hoch Deutsch – the language many Molotschna Mennonites spoke in church. She spoke Russian too, but best of all, this Lehrerin was also able to get by in her Mennonite students’ native Plautdietsch. Obah, for the tjinja, of course, Plautdietsch was like the difference between day-old rye bread and fresh raisin toast with butter!

After Russia’s Godless Revolution, another state dictate forbade all religions. It was illegal to come together in any kind of gathering, especially for groups with obvious proclivities towards worship. Why even our little get-together today would have been banned under these new laws! Ambitious and diligent, the government officials were particularly strict in overseeing the local Mennonites in everything they did: at work, at home, and in Taunte Rosa’s school.

But there were still some aspects of Christendom that refused to fade in Russia. In a practical sense, this referred to the calendar and the arrangement of holidays, most of which were based on old religious traditions too deeply ingrained in society to go away overnight. Christmas ceased to exist, but a single day of rest near the end of December was conditionally permitted in Taunte’s village. Despite this, officially, even the most innocent Yuletide symbols were banned.

Can you imagine? We Mennonites have not experienced oppression like this in Canada, but let me tell you, it was a profound stimulant to Christmas joy back then! There is a kind of enthusiasm for celebrations that only forbidding them can produce. Ha! Bibles came out of secret hiding places. Clandestine late-night services were held in barns and haylofts and carols were sung in whispered voices. Even the auf’jefollna cast aside their backsliding ways and rediscovered their fervour! (Grandma smiled and winked at the adults as she told this last part.)

Now, kids, I’m sorry for all the big words and grown-up talk! What I am saying to you is that Christmas was taken away. And not just Christmas, but Easter too and even going to Sunday School. It was a mixed-up time, joh? But you little ones shouldn’t worry – the next part of the story is really for you, most of all!

One year, a few days before Christmas Day, Rosa’s mother baked a batch of secret Christmas cookies, and young Rosa couldn’t stop herself. She took one of the best, one with pink icing and red and green sugar crystals on top – and snuck away. She wrapped it in oiled paper, then in a folded piece of cardboard and secured it snugly with a thin ribbon she had saved from her birthday. Her coat had an inside pocket and she placed it there, near her heart. This was her Christmas gift for her teacher, Fraulein Rosenfeld. Rosa was so fond of her pretty teacher, you see, and was always broken-hearted in the springtime when Fraulein packed her trunk and left on the train.

Imagine the winter sky, children, as big there and just as blue as it is here. Think of Taunte Rosa as she hummed ‘Stille Nacht’ ever so softly while she walked to the schoolhouse, her bootheels squeaking in rhythm on the hard-packed snow path. Rosa, you see, felt guilty for not telling her mother about the gift. But, you know just how she felt, joh? She wanted to give this gift so badly and feared if she had asked permission, the answer would’ve been no.

After lunch at school that day, while the other children dressed to go out and play, Rosa walked shyly to Fraulein’s desk and placed the ribboned gift in front of her. Fraulein tilted her head, not used to gifts from children in her class.

“What’s this?” the teacher asked.

Rosa stood at the edge of the desk, her heavy parka over her arm. At first, she was terrified, sensing that her teacher was angry and that she had done something wrong. “A present, Lehrerin,” was her meek answer.

Fraulein answered with a hum and a slight frown. She was a prim woman, thin and neat and somewhat severe. Her eyebrows raised and her eyes flicked up to see if anyone else was in the room. It was empty, all the children were already on the playground. She picked up the light bundle and unwrapped it with long piano fingers, laying the shiny ribbon on the varnished desktop. She undid the folded oil-paper and looked down at the small Christmas cookie.

“Well, well,” she said, before taking a deep breath and sitting upright in her chair. “How nice, Rosa. But, tell me please: did your mother give you this, for me?” She left her steady gaze on the child but took care not to stare too hard.

Rosa looked down, her cheeks flushing. “Nay, Lehrerin. It was me,” she confessed.

“Nicht Mutti?” replied the teacher in more formal High German; her tone firmer, a hint of accusation lingering.

“Nein, Fraulein. Mother doesn’t know.”

Fraulein Rosenfeld nodded curtly. She rose and walked swiftly to the doorway, her footsteps like hammer blows on the oiled wood floor. Looking down the hall and then closing the door, she paused there, her hands clenching as she gathered her thoughts. Rosa waited, feeling ever smaller next to the tall desk. The door locked with a sharp snap.

“Nah joh,” Fraulein Rosenfeld began. When she turned back to Rosa she was smiling. “This is so nice.”

Rosa squirmed, basking in the moment.

“It’s just so nice!” Fraulein repeated. “Can we have it now, Rosa?”

The little girl studied her teacher’s face. Then, eyes shining, she said, “Joh!”

Fraulein Rosenfeld looked through the window to the playground. Then she returned to the desk and broke the cookie into smaller bits. She ate some of it, passing a small piece to Rosa.

They ate together, chewing busily like church mice, with the teacher standing between little Rosa and the door. Fraulein fretted from door to window and kept glancing at the large mantle clock on the shelf behind her, above the lined blackboard, keeping watch all the while.

Soon the cookie was gone. The teacher took the wrapper and folded it over and over until it was a small square. She pushed it deep into her pocket, together with the curly ribbon. She moistened her fingertip and dabbed at the few remaining crumbs. Holding one finger upright in front of her pursed lips, she took Rosa’s little hands and squeezed them gently, leaning over to kiss her on the forehead in the silent classroom.

“Our secret, joh?” Fraulein said in a whisper.

Rosa nodded, elated to have a secret with Fraulein – an honour she did not fully grasp. But perhaps it was just what the Fraulein had been lacking in cold and distant Molotschna, far from her native home in Germany. Just ask any Oma or Opa whose children have since begun their own lives and families, and they will tell you, it’s easier to feel lonely at Christmas than at any other time of the year.

Fraulein gazed with fondness at the tiny girl, she saw the brightness in her eyes and touched her braided blonde hair.

Just then, the first of Rosa’s red-cheeked classmates huffed into the cloakroom stomping snow off their boots and unwinding scarfs, their yarn-strung mittens wet and dangling. They looked at the two at the front of the classroom. Rosa’s friend Tina called out that they missed her for the game of fox and geese they had played, running in the fresh snow. Before Rosa could reply, the bell rang and the children returned to their seats.

Now tjinja, you might ask, how dangerous was that one innocent küak? Surely no great peril could come from something so small? But all it would have taken was for the wrong official to find out about the cookie – what would have happened to them then? Those Russians, obliged by strict orders to investigate, might have detained Rosa’s family. Maybe they would have been sent to a distant work camp or suffered some secret cruelty in Moscow, too horrible to name. Who knows?

And all because of a Christmas cookie.

* * *

Grandma folded her hands in her lap. The house fell still and silent until Grandpa prayed, his voice solemn and thick with emotion. When he finished, after, “Amen,” we sang, giving thanks for our deliverance, rattling the windows, billowing our hearts; “Praise God from whom all blessings flow…”

At last, late on Tjristowend, I would lie in my bed and retell myself Great-Aunt Rosa’s story. Fraulein Rosenfeld was like a relative we saw just once a year – a loyal and trusted member of our family there in the tiny house behind the bakery on Barkman Avenue. Without this visitor from far away and long ago, our Christmas could not be complete.

Four Fantasies

A group of artists gathers for a meal. They each bring two dishes, one edible and the other inspirational.

The first of them lifts the lid on a steaming Dutch oven full of exotic stir-fry. She is small, with fine features and possessing a direct, flowing gaze that makes each one at the table feel a personal connection to her before she even says a word.

“Each mouthful is different, an adventure, a departure from the last, an experience defined by its variety,” she says, flourishing the lid with eloquence. “And yet, they each come from a similar culinary tradition and are all prepared by the same chef, in one communal pot. Each ingredient is spiced with varying amounts of identical additives: conflict, joy, desire, personality, sorrow and more. Much more.”

After plates are loaded and the group tucks in, a thin man with a sparse beard stands.

“My friends,” he begins, “I’ve brought wine. It’s meant to complement and heighten the enjoyment of the meal, but if you give it a chance, I hope that you can find in its complexity a fulfillment that stands alone. Savour it for what it contains, however well-hidden and blended the constituents are and enjoy the way each lends itself to the plenary, just as each wave adds its own shape to the shore.”

Glasses chime and there is a moment of satisfaction expressed by the table as collective stillness while the wine’s secrets are shared.

Without introduction, a brassy fanfare sounds followed by the swirl of parting curtains that separate the dining room from the house. A brawny, serious figure enters. With long, powerful strides this latest presenter commands the room’s immediate attention and is followed by a troupe of brightly costumed servers.  Perfectly conceived and composed plated entrees are set before the diners.

“Each is a masterpiece—with a beginning, a middle and an ending—that is delivered not only by taste but by the presentation, artistry, and the interaction between each delicacy. The arrangement of every morsel a work of art of its own!” Music swirls and fills the room from some unseen orchestra and those assembled take their seats, voices hushed, attention rapt.

In a dark corner, unnoticed, a furtive, wide-eyed rat keeps an unblinking watch with keen lamps that blinter like wee distant winter stars.

“How? Where did they learn these arts? How do I join them? Won’t I be crushed by their greatness?”

In sensuous forepaws, a shred of cabbage is braided and interwoven with a trifle of cheese so thin it is opaque. The grey rat weaves with busy concentration. Clawed fingers fret, the fragile conception set on a single sparkling sequin dropped without care or worry from the bedazzlement above, so far above.

“I’ll offer this portion from my pantry. Perhaps, someone will like it…”

 

MORNING SERIAL: PRAIRIE’S END, MANITOBA 5 ~ Conclusion

Episode 5 – Our Finale – Showdown at the ¿Por qué? Corral

DANIELLE OARLESS peeked at her face in the compact mirror, snapped the clam-lid shut and placed it back in her crocodile embossed Downtown Baby Cabas bag. She moved towards her prey now with reptilian confidence, gliding silently over the cheap tiled floor as if it were ermine and she the pampered palm of a princess.

Entering the interrogation room, her shadow crossed Wade’s downcast view. He immediately looked up and demanded, “When do we get outta here?” his face a mask of annoyance.

“Soon, I promise,” the sultry Lieutenant replied, wetting her lips and sending a fast wink at the impatient man. She surveyed the room, pausing to nod at Kowalski, addressing him informally. “Alright, Shep, time to make an arrest. You may close the door if you don’t mind.”

As Kowalski stepped by her to secure the door, Oarless moved in behind Old Man Reimer and, placing her Saint Laurent on the table, set her feet like a lead-off hitter digging into the fresh sand of the batter’s box. Once she was comfortable, she raised both hands quickly, and, nuzzling the stubbly hog jowls on either side of Reimer’s neck with her large hands—she clenched handfuls of skin and PULLED!

Double-barrelled snot flew out of Reimer’s nostrils as he reacted with understandable shock, his eyes bulging like a hooked fish.

“Time to take off this mask, time to introduce the real smuggler… DIKJ WULF!” Danielle shouted, her neck corded and shoulders heaving as she strained to remove the mask. No headway, though…

Sputtering, cursing, his buttocks now several inches above the curved plywood of his chair bottom, Reimer seemed about to faint, to be decapitated, or to simply expire from the force of Oarless’s brawny exertions. Before any of these dire outcomes could take place, Kowalski’s voice cut through the din—

“Excuse me, Lieutenant, I believe it’s me you seek.” Kowalski stood behind her, a rubber mask with only black holes for eyes dangled from his hand.

Little Ben Reimer looked on from the other room, in utter dismay. The speaker crackled with the audio and he could see the action unfold as though he was watching an NFL game on a big screen TV.

“I’d never have guessed, in a thousand years,” he said to an equally-astonished Roget, “a Wulf in Shep’s clothing!”

* * *

“So, explain this again,” said Roget, “I’ll have an exposition chaser with this hoppy IPA,” he then reiterated.

“Sure,” Oarless said, draining her beer and jiggling the empty glass at the barman, Corny Süppsach, owner of the Shrieking Rooster Taproom, a former watering-hole for Danielle and her loqui abundantem partner.

“I knew all of the apparent ‘clues’ were nothing more than red herrings scattered about by the perp, or possibly Wade, who was trying to negotiate a buy-out of Old Man Reimer, or maybe even false evidence laid by Little Ben, who wanted to squeeze out his old man.”

Roget nodded, and in the quiet of Oarless’s pause, hummed with the tonal quality of a synthesizer, like the sound of a Dutch Oven lid slamming shut:

“DOON, DOON!”

“Ha, very clever, you repetitious recapitulator, you!” Oarless said, smiling her approval. “Yes, Dikj Wulf, creator of  ‘Slaw and Flounder’, CBC’s longest running cooking show. How did I know, you ask?”

“The sting from that show haunts my dreams, like the howls of the dogs of hell!” Roget admitted, somewhat off-topic.

“Anyway, I could not see any motive for our suspects to smuggle in these industrial-sized quantities of Mexican vanilla, so I had to look elsewhere.”

Roget made snaky-eyes at Danielle, pretending to understand. She continued:

“I pulled his LUDs and did some digging. After a night of drinking coffee from those awful little blue take-out cups…”

cup nyc doon doon prairie's end.png

“Oh you mean the cups with the kinda, faux Greek aesthetic—the meander graphic on the top and the picture of the amphora vase…”

“Roll up the rim, you win,” she confirmed. “Anyway, it was the cups that gave me the clues…”

“Wait! How did you get iconic New York City takeout coffee cups in Prairie’s End?” Corny Süppsach interrupted. The balding redhead had wandered over, his BiC poised over a small spiral notebook. “And what does an American TV prop have to do with a cooking show on the CBC?”

“Never mind that, how can you expect there to be no plot holes in a yarn as convoluted as this?”

“Trü,” Roget said in a dietsch accent, with a “when-yer-right-yer-right” look.

Corny just shrugged. “Yoma leid ecksai.”

“So, to continue,” she glowered at the barkeep, who hitched at his pants, Humphrey Bogart style. “I had to find the one person in Prairie’s End with a vested interest in massive quantities of vanilla. I looked at Old Man Reimer’s telephone bill and there it was!”

“1-800-PORN-R-US?” Corny offered.

“GO AWAY! Who invited you here, anyway, dü oult, roothoahrijch Tjreihohn?” Danielle yelled, now enraged at the bearded, freckled interloper.

“This expositional conclusion would go a lot smoother if the author had not inserted himself so rudely into the proceedings,” Roget said confidentially, looking directly at the reader and cracking the divide between the fictive and the fictee.

“Last chance!” Danielle said, making a threatening fist and regaining the floor. “I assumed it was Old Man Reimer, trying to make a few bucks off the books before flipping the Reimer Reindeer company to his ne’er do well stepson Ben, or to Wade,  but…” she paused, glaring at Corny Süppsach, who retreated, showing surprisingly good footwork for an old, red-haired, loudmouth rooster.

“But,” she continued, “Dikj Wulf had even thought of that and he had snuck into Reimer’s trailer and made all of the calls back to CBC Toronto, Mexico, and the Montreal Vanilla District from there. That’s why I figgered it was Old Man Reimer,” she concluded, raising her glass in a self-toast.

* * *

Unseen, in a black Cadillac parked across from the Shrieking Rooster, Juanita sat with her inscrutable leader, Randy the schinda Accounts Receivable clerk. The car idled quietly, sending a thin ribbon of white exhaust up towards the winter stars of the Northern Hemisphere. Dark tinted glass gleamed the starlight back at the sky.

“Shep Kowalski—AKA Dikj Wulf—is in for five-to-ten, Little Ben and Wade have agreed to our terms in exchange for ownership of Reimer Reindeers, and our friends at the vainilla cartel are most pleased with the way we’ve cornered the market in Canada. That just about does it, Oomtje Randy. Anything else you’d like done before Oarless and that half-wit return to the NorthWest Angle?”

Randy sat unmoving in the back seat. His neatly trimmed white hair contrasted with his dark tailored suit, and the perfect Winsor knot in his cashmere Paolo Albizzati.  After flicking a bored glance at Juanita, he inhaled with languid slowness, filling his chest with  Caddy interior air. Without moving his lips, Randy replied in perfect synthesizer pitch:

“DOON, DOON!”

 

The End… For now.

Fade to black, roll credits, playback theme music

Addendum, 11.19.18: Here’s a few lines of lyric for the theme music, somewhat reminiscent of “The Sopranos” maybe, or “Fresh Off the Boat”, wiv jus a sprinkle aw Mike Skinner innit too, oiy?

♫ All rise for Menno rap…
Praise God from whom
Yo, we’re singing the dox,
harmonizin’ the dox
All creatures here be–yooooo
Yo, we sinje the dox!
Yo, we sinje the dox!
Got my oab boots on
Where’s my MAGA hat, Don?
Gonna drain that pond
from da lowlands yon
Gonna eat my schnectje–get yer own, my maun!
Ain’t no buttons!
Ain’t no buttons!
Ain’t no buttons!
HEAR THE HOOK!:
Yo, we’re singing the dox,
harmonizin’ the dox
All creatures here be–yooooo
Yo, we sinje the dox!
Yo, we sinje the dox!
And soowaut…

 

MORNING SERIAL: PRAIRIE’S END, MANITOBA 4

Episode Four: Johnny Cash Lyrics or True Confessions? or Quintana Roo’s on First?

Lieutenant Danielle Oarless looked at Juanita and inhaled deeply. She ‘inspired’, as Roget might suggest, both literally and figuratively. Rising up to her full six feet four inches, in heels, she said this:

“Ms. Juanita, I applaud you. I send kudos and sunshine your way, madam, for all that you do. I give respect for the way you ROCK that red paisley neck scarf over top of the pale silkiness of that Winners champagne blouse. I extoll your virtues to Gaia for the all-in way you have come here to stand up for your son, Wade…”

“Two thumbs up!” Roget added, gesturing appropriately with digits heavenly opposed.

“But,” Oarless broke off the accolades, slamming Wade’s briefcase down on the table with the loud slap of worn cowhide. “I’m afraid your ruse has been unsuccessful!”

Roget quickly retracted his thumbs.

“While your breath carries the distinctive scent of vanilla extract, and your slightly dilated pupils indicate you did actually imbibe, I am able to see past this. It is a rather well-conceived but nonetheless false furnishing. The true architecture of your story is revealed as follows,” Oarless prowled the floor like Hasterer, German fiction’s most formidable Prosecuting Attorney.

“ONE!” she said in a forceful voice, at which time Roget needed no further prompt and immediately raised an index finger, in digital support of her pending argument. “The presence of vanilla is simply a prop, I submit, and it profits not the bank account of your credulity.” At this point, Oarless undid a bobby pin and her hair cascaded luxuriantly about her linebacker shoulders.

“In the same way, you have brought along vanilla ice cream to support the idea that you are a ‘bean-head’—a vanilla addict—and that this condition is your MOTIVE for smuggling vanilla into Canada. Correct?”

Without removing her baleful stare from Oarless, Juanita reached into her handbag and withdrew a large slice of angel food cake. She took a cheek-bulging bite and chewed steadily, nodding once in agreement.

“Fine,” Oarless continued, pivoting on a stiletto heel to more squarely face her adversary. “Tell us, Juanita, what flavouring agent is used in French Vanilla ice cream?”

“Pure vanilla bean,” Juanita screamed for ice cream without hesitation.

“WRONG!” Lieutenant Oarless screamed back into the reverberating confines of the observation room. “As any true bean-head would tell you, French Vanilla is a faint replica, made using egg custard. Only a trace amount of vanilla is present!” With that conclusive pronouncement, Oarless whirled, winked twice at Roget and pointed two hooked horns with bedazzled nails at Juanita. “Two!” she hissed.

Her engine revving, Danielle Oarless spoke with her back to Juanita. “Tell us, Juanita, where do the beans orig—in—nate? Madagascar, perhaps?”

Juanita stuck out her cake-coated tongue at Oarless, squinted her eyes and said, “Mex—ee—co!”

“Easy one. But, Juanita, which province in Mexico?” Oarless replied, whirling around, eyes aglitter.

While Juanita squirmed in her chair, Oarless slid her fierce scrutiny over to Little Ben. He too seemed to be sitting on a bed of hot coals and fidgeted in his seat.

“Anything wrong, Senor Ben?” she asked, smirking. “Any idea which ‘province’ is home to the contraband in question, the van-eee-yah? Eh, Little Ben?”

mexico-map

“Stop it! STOP IT, IN THE NAME OF VERACRUZ STATE, the home of Vanilla planifolia!” after which dramatic correction, Ben proceeded to confess his seemingly inculpatory knowledge of vainilla and gave support to the Lieutenant’s theory that Juanita was more likely covering for someone else, rather than offering a true confession.

“But, I was not part of the conspiracy, I just love vanilla, that’s all!” Ben pled. “I’m no more guilty of el trafico del sabor than you, or Kowalski, or Wade Oswald!”

Juanita, meanwhile, had grown bored and was cleaning her purse out. Fresh angel food crumbs covered the floor and spilled out in fragrant abundance into the hallway.

Standing back against the wall where she could observe the prisoners through the glass, Oarless toggled the intercom switch and spoke: “Kowalski, open the door for a minute, would ya, please?”

Kowalski, giving her a perplexed pout through the one-way mirror, stood and swung the door open. Oarless watched the reactions of the three as she flipped the intercom back to the “Record Audio” setting.

In a minute, she could see a clear difference in the men. Wade and Old Man Reimer sat unaffected by the vanilla-scented air while Kowalski was clearly agitated and behaved like a dog that just caught a whiff of barbequed steak. She watched the unmistakable response as he sniffed repeatedly, nostrils flaring on the intake and his eyeballs swimming in near-swoon.

“I think we have our bandido de vainilla!” she said, tenting her fingers and resting a satisfied gaze on the guilty party.

Next: Showdown at the ¿Por qué? Corral

Interview with a Mennonite Imposter

http://bit.ly/MennoTOEWSba

Writer interviews can be kinda boring. This is a little more in the Mennonite wiseguy range of the register, but still—you know—predictably boring. And great fun to do, especially with such an engaging set of questions! My thanks to Editor Erin Unger.

 

MORNING SERIAL: PRAIRIE’S END, MANITOBA 3

Overshare: I wake up most mornings with a half a dozen characters, a plotline or two, and a bunch of run-on sentences doing the polka in my head with their work boots on. After the requisite morning constitutions are ratified, and the area is cordoned off with police tape, I oftentimes just let these night-grown inspirations fade away.

Well, no more! I am resolved to give my readers something to read! How about a good old-fashioned serial? Compelling, bent-widget characters with a rollicking plot fraught with lotsa knots, cliff-hangers and roundabouts that meet in the middle.

Roll, Reimer Reindeers, roll…

Episode Three: Everything must come to an end. Except for farmer sausage, that has two ends. (869 words, about an eight-minute read)

“Let’s put them in the penalty box,” Deputy-Inspector, Detective Lex Roget, Oarless’ partner said to the desk officer at the Prairie’s End Police Station.

“Ahh, gonna interrogate them, eh, Inspector?” the officer said, winking. He punched his palm with a clenched fist.

“It’s not what you think,” barked Roget, a cigar stub jammed into the corner of his expressive lips, “and by the way, Kowalski, it’s Detective Roget! Got it?”

“Yes, SIR! Detective Roget, sir. I’ve got it.”

“That’s good. In fact, it’s of benefit. Meritorious, even,” Roget said.

Old Man Reimer and Wade Oswald were cuffed, their hands behind their backs. Kowalski steered them and Randy the Accounts Receivable clerk ahead of him towards the Interrogation Room. They followed Danielle down the hallway. She carried Wade’s briefcase and commented to no one in particular, “Things ain’t changed a bit around here.”

Kowalski smiled at Roget and clucked his tongue. “Same old Danielle!”

“Same old, same old, or equally antiquated, you could also say,” Roget replied.

Little Ben sat in the observation room, one knee jackrabbiting spasmodically. He tapped fingertips on the tabletop in nervous counter-rhythm, waiting to see his father and Randy Randall, the despicable Accounts Receivable clerk, appear through the one-way glass.

* * *

“Thank you for your information, Mr. Reimer,” Lieutenant Danielle Oarless had said to him when he appeared in the Pembina, ND field office a few days earlier. The younger Reimer swore a deposition and provided powerful evidence to Oarless and Roget.

“Illegal transport of baking supplies is a scourge. It depletes U.S. stocks of vainilla negra extract, plus the VAT and income taxes that Canada loses to this flavour trafficking is significant too. Our agency normally puts more emphasis on illegal drugs, but the vainilla cartels are a growing problem. She pronounced it, “van-eee-yah,” enunciating with great care. Reimer took no notice, knowing this was, in fact, approximately the correct pronounciation, en español.

20181112_215326 vainilla vanilla

“Van-eee-yah? What is van-eee-yah? We’re talkin’ about the same stuff, eh? Vanilla extract, right? The brown stuff you put in whipped cream?” Roget asked, vexed. Oarless nodded, passing an odd, angry look at Roget as she did so.

It made no difference to Little Ben Reimer. Drugs, vanilla, or vainilla—his end game was purely to see his father go to jail. The fact that it was for the illegal importation of flavouring agents, el tráfico saborwas fine with him: crime is crime, was the way he looked at it. If he could get his old man out of the way, the path was clear for him to take over the company and show everyone what he could do.

“It’s always gonna be, Mr. Reimer, no more ‘Little Ben’!” he said under his breath as the two Border Patrol agents argued about something in hushed tones.

“I felt it was my duty to reveal the scheme,” Reimer said, adding a thick coat of verbal varnish.

“The trucks have false fenders,” he continued. “Bottles of extract, mostly vanilla—vainilla—but also some Almond and the occasional Mint from Quintana Roo and Guanajuato are hidden in bladders inside the wheel well,” he explained, speaking clearly into the recorder microphone. “The contraband is shipped into our Toronto terminal for Canadian distribution.”

“Ingenious,” Oarless muttered.

“Shrewd!” Roget said.

“And tattooed!” said the mildly hard-of-hearing Lieutenant.

* * *

And now the dominoes had begun to fall. Little Ben watched with predatory intensity as his father, Randy, and Wade Oswald sat in the sparsely furnished room, guarded by Kowalski. Oarless and Roget joined Little Ben in the observation chamber.

“What’s he doing here?” Little Ben demanded.

“Who?” Roget asked.

“Oswald! He’s the company accountant and it’s supposed to be his day off,” Little Ben said, then quickly added, “at least, I think so, anyway—not sure…”

Oarless and Roget exchanged a look.

“Like you say, he’s the accountant. You’d think he’d have to know about the smuggling, right? Anyway, we’ll find out soon enough if he’s dirty or not,” Danielle said, eyes narrowing below her unibrow.

“Good cop or bad cop?” she continued, looking down at Roget.

Bad, nefarious, irremediable,” Roget replied.

“Okay, Lex, old buddy,” Danielle said, “You’re up, as we used to say in Angle Inlet. Get in there and make them sweat!”

“Well, people say that just about everywhere. I mean, onomatologically, ‘You’re up’—that’s pretty common, it’s not geographically specific—” Roget stammered, but was interrupted (thank God!) when Juanita burst into the room, her mascara running in Tammy-like streaks down her cheeks. She posed dramatically, arms raised, and shouted,

“Stop! Hold yer damn horses!”

She paused with dramatic effect, her breath coming in heaving sobs as she looked lovingly through the glass at her cherished boy, Wade. Her teeth gritted, and the two trained law enforcement agents immediately noticed the brownish tinge on the enamel. In her hands she held a pint container of Blue Boy French Vanilla ice cream and a gleaming tablespoon, sparkling as only a recently licked spoon can…

“I did it,” she said in a wavering soprano. “I smuggled in the FREAKING VANILLA! It was me!” She threw the spoon down with a jangling clamour. “Plus, I shot a man down in Juarez, just to see— him— die!”

Next: Johnny Cash Lyrics or True Confessions?

or

Quintana Roo’s on First?

Please stand by: Episode Four will DROP on Friday @ 5:55 a.m. and Danielle is in NO MOOD to be messed with.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MORNING SERIAL: PRAIRIE’S END, MANITOBA 2

Overture: I wake up most mornings with a half a dozen characters, a plotline or two, and a bunch of run-on sentences doing the polka in my head with their work boots on. After the requisite morning constitutions are ratified, I oftentimes just let these night-grown inspirations fade away.

Well, no more! I am resolved to give my readers something to read! How about a good old-fashioned serial? Compelling, bent-widget characters with a rollicking plot fraught with lotsa knots, cliff-hangers and roundabouts that meet in the middle.

In the spirit of NaNoWriMo, it will be voluminous, spontaneous, and free-flowing. You don’t know where the story and the characters are going, so why should I? I won’t promise 50,000 words, but you never know what my morning coffee will deliver!

We continue…

Episode Two: The Stampede is Ont (1,100 words, about a nine-minute read)

The trucking company was called, “Reimer Reindeers” and the company logo had been created by the owner’s diffident step-son, Benjamin, or “Little Ben” as he was known in Prairie’s End.

The garish logo showed a herd of galloping reindeer, antler-to-antler in a frenzied dash across the map from Eastern Manitoba to Toronto. Spinning, smoking wheels replaced legs and hooves. A bold, swooping font declared,

“THE STAMPEDE IS ONT!”

It had started out in Ben’s mind as, “The Reimer Stampede is on!” This was just at the time when the federal government decreed that all provinces would go from three or four-letter acronyms to computer-friendly, consistent two-letter identifiers. Thus, Manitoba went from Man. to MB, Alberta from Alta. to AB and so on.

Little Ben thought that since the Reimer company only trucked between its terminals in Kenora and Toronto, all within the province of Ontario, or ON, that a clever, meaningful slogan could be made. “The Reimer Stampedis ON!” set on a map graphic would tell people that Reimer was an Ontario carrier. Besides, he liked the herd of charging reindeer. “Tres Canadien,” he thought.

Unfortunately, Big Ben, or Old Man Reimer as he was known in Prairie’s End, thought that the two-letter names were a temporary inconvenience. “That will never LAST!” Based on this viewpoint, and in the dubious interests of saving decal material, he ordered the graphics company to create a shorter, less clever slogan, “The Stampede is ONT!”

* * *

Wade walked up to the three-step wooden porch hung on the side of the construction trailer. REIMER REINDEERS – OPERATIONS was stencilled onto the corrugated sidewall and a busy cluster of alien-looking antennae poked up into the pale blue Manitoba sky from the flat roof. A radio tower was bolted to the end of the trailer and it stood erect, a lone 40-foot weed in a field of alfalfa.

That’s quite an impressive erection, he thought.

Checking his briefcase just before he entered, Wade ensured that he had all of his paperwork, the contract documents, the bank draft and the Non-disclosure agreement. He paused on the porch, striking an improbable Superman pose before he entered, to steel his nerve.

Inside, as always, sat Mr. Reimer at a desk made from sawhorses and a sheet of cabinet plywood. A (crude) oil rendering of a stampeding herd of reindeer was screwed to the buckled panelling behind his desk. CB radios sat in a clustered congregation behind him, little green bands pulsing brightly, indicating that the drivers were accessible, should he need to speak to them. A tangle of microphone cords spilled onto the ground – a brimming cornucopia of coils.

“Nice of you to drop in on us this afternoon, Wade,” Reimer said without looking up.

The clock read 7:53. “Yes, sir. My pleasure.”

Reimer looked up quickly, his normally stern, heavy-jowled countenance now made even grimmer by a pouting grimace. “Eh?” he grunted, glancing sideways at a young man a few feet away at a small wooden desk. “Accounts Receivable” was written in felt pen on a scrap of two-by-four standing edgewise on the desktop.

The fellow seated there—he was maybe twenty or so—glanced up at Wade, then over at Reimer. The boy shrugged, tossed the blonde hair out of his eyes and tapped his watch. “Tap-tap-tap,” said the Timex.

Schinda, Wade thought to himself, taking care to register no emotion or concern.

“It’s my day off, sir. Remember? Besides, I start at eight, so…” Wade replied.

“So, why are you here den?”

“Well, Mr. Reimer, there’s something I’d like to discuss with you,” Wade said, peering down and fishing around in the briefcase. He pulled up a clutch of papers like he was retrieving a stringer of perch.

“You’re gonna hafta wait a minute. Wade a minute, eh?” He grinned a wide, toothy smile towards the skinny boy behind the Accounts Receivable two-by-four. The boy smiled back and then spat a full mouthful of sunflower seeds into a white foam cup on his desk. He transferred the contents from the cup to a round, grey metal wastepaper container at his feet. The metal pail was half full of wet, spent seeds.

No wonder his hair’s so yellow, Wade thought to himself. He’s turning into a sunflower.

“Is it possible we could have a private conversation, sir?” Wade asked. He shuffled sideways, scraping his feet to indicate that the ribbon-headed AR clerk could sidle by him and out the door of the crowded trailer. Reimer’s wooden chair creaked.

“About what?” Reimer said, leaning back. The schinda clerk did not move. He watched Reimer like a cat staring through window glass at a bird feeder. If he had a tail, it would have twitched.

“A business matter, ” Wade said, then cleared his voice and restated his case, “a very important business matter. Urgent, as a matter of fact.”

“It can’t Wade?” the sunflower/cat/boy said, one clinging black seed giving him a Jack-O-lantern grin. Bobby Clarke, 1969.

Reimer snorted out a guffaw, and then said, almost in one word, “Randy, get outta here for a while.”

Randy shut his ledger, grabbed a handful of seeds from a near-full dish and went out a door behind him, grabbing his jacket as he left.

“Welllll,” Reimer said, dragging a chair to the side of his desk for Wade to sit. “When yer accountant says he has urgent business, then I guess you gotta take a minute and listen.” He reached to the other side of the desk and plugged in a kettle. A jar of instant coffee sat open on his desk. “Prips?” he asked, motioning at the coffee.

“No, thanks,” Wade said. He sorted the papers in his hands like he was alphabetizing them, stalling for time. Sitting upright on the hard plastic seat, his chair was almost tipping forward. Is the offer enough? It’s three times the value of the rolling stock, parts, and the buildings. His receivables run at only 50K, so that’s easily covered. What if he counters? Of course, he’s gonna counter, Brainiac—just go already. It’s a shitload of money and he’s gotta retire soon! He can pay off his house, get that big fishing boat he always talks about.

“Mr. Reimer, I’ve come here this morning to make what I consider to be a very…”

Before he could finish, there was a crash and a tall, muscular body filled the open doorway. Square shoulders blocked the sun – an impenetrable silhouette, an amorphous Rockem-Sockem black shape.

And there too, hopping and bobbing from behind the imposing hulk, trying to see inside, Wade spotted Little Ben’s balding, cue-ball-white head.

In a twinkling of bedazzled-nails, the shadowy figure held up a gold badge and in a dark brown voice, she said, “DANIELLE OARLESS! U.S. BORDER PATROL. YOU’RE UNDER ARREST!”

Next: “Everything must come to an end. Except for farmer sausage, that has two ends.” (Airs Nov 13, 5:55 am)

 

 

 

Morning Serial: Prairie’s End, Manitoba 1

I wake up most mornings with a half a dozen characters, a plotline or two, and a bunch of run-on sentences running around in my head. After the requisite morning constitutions are ratified, I oftentimes just let these night-grown inspirations fade away.

Well, no more! I am resolved to give my readers something to read! How about a good old-fashioned serial? Compelling, bent-widget characters with a rollicking plot fraught with lotsa knots, cliff-hangers and roundabouts that meet in the middle.

In the spirit of NaNoWriMo, it will be voluminous, spontaneous, and free-flowing. You don’t know where the story and the characters are going, so why should I? I won’t promise 50,000 words, but you never know what my morning coffee will deliver!

Fun? I hope so! My ulterior motive is to build a readership who appreciate my brand of schiet-stained rambling and are on-board for something maybe not so much fine arts mastered but more glockenspiel on acid. You know what I mean.

We begin…

Episode One: Wading for Godot (915 words, about a six-minute read)

Donald and Maria Oswald were happy. They had a quiet, loving marriage and lived in a paid-for double-wide—(“This Unit will make your smiles DOUBLE WIDE!”)—just a fat pitching wedge away from the Beauchamp Highway. Their corner lot was neatly tended, grass grew dense and dark green on the sloping lawn. No weeds defiled this Gretna Green.

“Just ‘cuz we don’t have no basement, don’t mean we don’t need no drainage,” Donald would proclaim. Standing stiff and tall inside next to the ‘Proud Panoramic Picture Window’ like an animated John A. Macdonald statue, he would watch the rain come down. He took inordinate satisfaction from seeing the rivulets run off the convex dome of packed topsoil. “Glad I mixed ‘er wit pea gravel,” he would murmur, his Adam’s Apple riding up and down like a ball on a string.

“Fallin’ on my head like a mammary,” he would sing-song, grabbing Maria’s blue jean mama butt as she walked by and the torrents poured out of the sky.

In Spring and Fall, there was a lot of rain. During the brief heat of Summer, thunderstorms visited them almost nightly, hammering the tinny roof in a deluge. These were angry, driving rains, the drops making pock-marks in the sandy aggregate of their block road that dried hard like smallpox scars. Often hailstones collected, glimmering white in the blue lard bucket that held the downspout, looking like batting practice baseballs before a Reimer Reindeer game.

“Real cedar siding,” Donald would point out to visitors, tapping on the horizontal slats and sneering at neighbouring vinyl facsimiles, their brittle, embossed skins yellowing in the sun.

On the adjoining lot were two Granny Houses. They were placed one at each end of the seigneurial shaped, convex-topped grass strip like identical twins on either end of a teeter-totter.

“We got the Little Big House Deluxe models,” Maria would chime-in as they toured visiting relatives from Wawanesa. “It was a little more money but Juanita and Wade are worth it. Family, you know.”

The Little Big Houses were likewise clad in cedar, with black shingle roofs—(“low-slope”)—and eight-by-eight decks, each holding identical Canadian Tire MeatMaster barbeques. Each home was like a brown Lego piece, wedged snugly into its end of the fish-finger shaped lot, the two protruding decks facing one another like four-year-olds with their tongues sticking out.

Juanita lived in the rearmost cube. She was a pert, big-busted woman with grey hair tousled just so and her strip mall clothes tight-fitting and providing an easy-to-follow focal pathway to her freckled but still-smooth cleavage. “Gotta show the boys what they want,” she’d trill, pushing her butt out and pointing her breasts up. “Hi-beam!” she’d proclaim proudly as Wade cringed. Gino, owner of the local service station and a widower, came by on alternate Wednesdays to align her headlights.

Juanita’s son by Donald was a middle-aged man named Wade. He was her detached co-habitant on the narrow property, living across the grassy curtilage that separated their tidy abodes. Wade was a man for whom two things were true. First, he was not yet achieving the success he foresaw for himself as a child. Second, he won $25,555 in the first ever Lotto 5/55 draw held in Manitoba in 1982. His five numbers won second-prize – he needed the bonus number to claim the top prize of $55,555. It was widely believed that the existence of this latter cash fact greatly contributed to the ongoing truth of the former life fact. This apparent causal relationship was invisible to Wade’s parents, Donald and Maria, and his birth mother, Juanita, but was plainly evident to all of the neighbours in the Jolly Reindeer Trailer Court and Retirement Club.

He was known as “Wade-a-minute,” or, “Wade-down,” or sometimes, “LightWade,” by the sharp-tongued ex-farmers and ex-cops and ex-Reimer Reindeer truck drivers that populated the ticky-tack, block-on-block grid. They thought little of this 48-year-old bachelor living next to the rolling strip of black macadam that stretched from Prairie’s End, Manitoba to Toronto, Ontario.

“He’s just lucky he hit that jackpot,” they’d say, their cups of Timmies steaming in mute agreement. “I’d be set for life too if I’da won that kinda money when I was twenty!” Truth is they didn’t, they wouldn’ta and they had no clue.

Wade knew of their name-calling, but he didn’t care. It was him after all, not them, who had taken the $25,555 Lotto cheque and signed it over to his cousin Woody, a newly-minted investment advisor in Winnipeg. His money went all-in… Apple (AAPL) at $220 USD per share. He had invested on a drunken bet, Woody saying he would give Wade his new Camaro if Apple stock did not at least double in the first year.

Had he not panicked and sold most of his shares in the tumble of 2009, just last year, Wade would be worth a couple of million now. But, unknown to his family and neighbours, he still had done well. Really well, or, “Seea scheen!” as his boss, Old Man Reimer, would say. Wade kept his financial success to himself and worked patiently on his master-plan. He tapped the keys of a calculator and smirked to himself, his pencil poised above a neat column of ledger entries at the kitchen table in the Deluxe Little Big House.

“Just Wade ’til next Tuesday!” he whispered to himself. “Then we’ll see who the ‘under-achiever’ is around here!”

Next: The Stampede is Ont!

 

 

Shade

FAMILY TREES sometimes cast shade. Due to the unbending quality of light and the laws of nature, this shade falls where designated by physics, not preference. We can’t change history to suit our current disposition.

The above is the mental garden in which the following Facebook post took root:

https://www.facebook.com/mitch.toews

Macdonald, Mennonites, and Métis: these things have been ricocheting around inside my bulbous, roomy-and-well-lit cranium lately. My daughter, a woman of letters considerable and the possessor of a mind much more well-tended and well-educated than her dad’s, did some research on the goings-on of 1870-1873, part of Sir John’s tenure.

It’s worth noting too that the grandchildren she has provided own a much less homogeneous ancestry than their maternal predecessors. Her rugrats are Menno-Ukrainian-Franco-Métis. This moves the issue out of the theoretical and right into Nanna & Gramps kitchen!

Her scholarly digging turned up some unsavory evidence about how Manitoba Métis were given “scrips” for land titles along many southern waterways in the then-new province. That was in 1870, before our Toews antecedent and his Molotschnan peacenik delegation rolled in and said, “Sure, we’ll take this stoney ground off your hands for frie, ommsonst.” As the research suggests (to some), the post-1870 gov of the day appeared slow-handed in making good on the scrips and many would-be Métis land-owners left for greener pastures, tired of waiting.

Historians also wonder whether the 1873 governments (Fed + Prov) had some prejudicial racial motivation; they were all out of Scots settlers from Ontario and if they didn’t act fast and populate the prairies, they stood to lose the territory to the avaricious Yanks. These industrious, white, tabular-headed Mennos, well-schooled in the way of farming floodplains and (as it turned out) compound interest, were juuuust the ticket! Exit Métis, enter Kleine Gemeinde.

The whole issue is complex and unsettling. What did the delegates weehte and when did they weehte daut?

* * *

This whole Mennonanigan got reinitiated, for me, when I read,

Canada’s First Scapegoat 

in The Walrus. An article that was preceded by “Old Macdonald”.