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.
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.
~ ~ ~
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.
Please feel welcome. To contribute, send your material to firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
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.
The link above is a short story inspired by women in general—and one with some similarities to Jesse in particular—and the human beings they create.
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!”
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 arguement—“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 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.
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I’m equal parts thrilled and honoured to be included in Leslee Goodman’s anthology of The MOON Magazine 2013-2019. As a contributor (“Peacemongers” June 2017) I find myself sharing the lunar night with a wide variety of heavenly minds and rising stars.
Jessica Lake, Manitoba—Local author Mitchell Toews has a short story featured in the new anthology, Out of This World: The Best Short Stories from The MOON. His story, “Peacemongers,” tells of young boys wrestling with issues of non-violence, conscientious objection, and how to stand up to a bully in Hartplatz, Manitoba, against the backdrop of the Cuban missile crisis. The story is one of 23 works included in this anthology from The MOON magazine, a monthly journal of personal and universal reflections. (Full Press Release linked below.) “Peacemongers” is one of eight “Making Peace” selections in the book.
Curious and ready for a great summer read? Both Kindle and softcover versions of the anthology are available on Amazon at a great price! Take a brief exit from this world and its circular rancour, breaking news, rising water and record temperatures and find 23 new worlds to explore!
The theme for the July 2019 issue of The MOON Magazine is Invisible People. It’s a multi-faceted look at homelessness. “If your brother becomes impoverished and his hand falters beside you, you shall strengthen him, whether he is a stranger or a native, so that he can live with you.” – Leviticus 25:35
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Photo Caption: Here we are on July 20. Photo by Phil Hossack.
POSTED HERE EARLIER (Pre-event): Janice and I live in a 1950 cottage on the shore of a lake in the Whiteshell Provincial Park in Manitoba.
We try to live simply out here in the boreal–WiFi and Polish beer notwithstanding–but even the residents of Walden Pond gave in to the occasional venture back to the city for supplies and human contact. Us too.
On July 20 we will try to bring the city to the Park. We hope to be swamped by forest-thirsty urbanites, neighbours, and friendly randos here at our Walden. We will welcome these visitors to be our guests and, if they can, to bring a story, a poem, a song, a painting and share it with the gathering.
A night under the stars. Informal artistic expression and reflective appreciation. Come by boat, windsurfer, canoe. Swim, hike in, ride a bike or fill a vehicle–float plane, microbus, Red River cart, or a 1947 Lincoln Zephyr. . . whatevs–with your most convivial merry prankster friends.
[…] “twas in another lifetime,
one of toil and blood.
When blackness was a virtue, the road was full of mud.
I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form.
‘Come in,’ she said, ‘I’ll give you shelter from the storm.'”
Let us, like Bob Dylan’s friend in his mystic lyric above, offer you an evening of shelter from the storm.
AND, if you can’t make it in person, we’d welcome your proxy–a snippet or an excerpt or a few lines of verse. We’ll present your work with reverence and hope. Then we’ll toast you and hope once more—that you join us next year.
Contact me here or on Facebook, twitter, email, Goodreads, phone, or drop in for details. email@example.com to learn about the point in time and space where reality meets infinity, borne on blintering starlight at the 50th latitude.
An outdated song-movie reference, but truly, what IS it all about?
Followers. Friends. Connections.
I have them, I value many… some not so much. I’ve made new friends via twitter and Facebook. It is a time-consumer, the internet is, that’s for sure but I’ll gladly put in the time if there is a pay-off.
And if the pay-off is simply getting to know a few more cool people on the planet? I’m in.
What do the figures mean? What is helpful to a writer? What does an editor or a literary agent or a publisher really care about beyond the story?
Build your base, countless consultants with extremely white teeth and button-down collars proclaim.
I’d be glad to know about the Malcolm points that magically tip things in my favour and take my story from “promising” to “compelling” or from “not a good fit for us right now” to “we are goddamn-freaking-mind-blown to have you on board, you massive rock star in a blue plaid shirt!” Or words to that effect.
At the same time, I have my own disclaimers. I care about working with people who like me and whom I enjoy — I feel like I’ve earned that privilege and so my journey up & down the rocky, steep, and sometimes treacherous fiction trail is among friends and pleasant, fun people. Sure, they’re skilled and sharp and they gotta be smart. Hard-working and honest; of course, but they also must be just plain old nice. Share a deserted island with nice. Two-hole outhouse nice. (Okay — no one is that nice.)
Anyway, please tell me… what’s it all about?
Twitter = 4,484 followers @Mitchell_Toews (See my mapped follower results in the image above.)
Each building tour, on the half-hour, will stop for a brief reading: Seven-minute excursions into the boreal, towards the dim light, to the bottom of the sky, and screwed to the sticking spot, all for free in the 119-year-old Gault Building, now home to ARTSPACE.
Readings may include selections from:
“I am Otter”
“Sweet Caporals at Dawn”
“A Plum of a Night” (for groups with lots of little kids)
“Operation Night Bandit” (for groups with lots of exhausted young moms)
“In the Dim Light Beyond the Fence” (for groups with more than one Blue Jays cap in evidence)
The opening sequence of “The Fisherman’s Story”, Part Two in a trilogy.
“Wide Winter River”, an excerpt from the short story, “The Margin of the River”
“I try to write about everyday people and events, but to see the drama in these lives. Regardless of whether the story takes a turn towards humour, or sorrow, or action, or even fantasy, I often come at it from an underlying perspective of hope, often with a good dose of emotion and courage in the mix.”—Mitchell Toews
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Just sent this bio out. It’s of the long-form variety and I have shorter ones (much) that I use most often. I thought it was kinda fun and less inhibited than some I’ve tried in the past. You tell me?
After university in Victoria, B.C. and Winnipeg, MB, where Mitchell chose not to take his dad’s advice and follow his creative inclinations, he jumped into adult life. Married at 21, a couple of kids soon after, the couple opened a manufacturing company and commenced to work like hell. After 16 years of busted knuckles, lit & fig, Mitchell and Janice sold their company and he went to work for other hewers and makers of wood products in Canada. Mitch became “the creative guy” for a couple of large manufacturers, working on advertising and marketing communication. He added a degree in marcom to his education and worked in this stream of the creative economy until 2015 when he retired. (It was as soon as they dared!)
Now, Janice and he find themselves living a simple life in their 1950 lakeside cabin in Manitoba. Cold as blue steel in the winter and summers are kinda buggy but they have no real complaints—they left those behind—and they drink drunkenly of nature every day. The only blackfly in the boreal ointment is that they are half a continent removed from their grandkids. “That sucks but whatchergonnado?”
Mitchell’s daily beat, when not fixing or renovating the old girl—their cabin, that is—is to write short fiction and submit to lit mags in Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. He has over fifty stories published, a short list of anthology contributions, and one Pushcart Prize nomination. Please see the author’s blog for the full catalogue. https://mitchellaneous.com/write-clicks/
Mitchell has also written:
✒️ a sci-fi-fantasy novella about an insidious mutant swarm of giant kakkerlaks and a group of stranded teenagers. It awaits the TLC that will allow it to seek self-actualization in the outside world of readers and reviewers.
✒️ A short story trilogy set on the Mexican Pacific coast for which he maintains a bothersome notion that someone could adapt it into a great screenplay; and,
✒️ a noir debut literary novel that is in its first full edit. He is about a year-and-a-half into it. Mitch has connected with a Brit editor to help get this WIP tale of Mennonite mayhem set in the wilds of Manitoba to the query stage.
Mitchell was recently accepted as a “New/Early Career Artist” by the Canada Council for the Arts and this allows him to apply for funding to help finance his second act. He is actively considering opportunities for grant application.
Last, FYI, here is an unsolicited list of the folks I’d most like to share a beer with, around the campfire here at Jessica Lake:
First, in recognition of Mother’s Day, my great-grandma Sarah Toews who, in 1917 (!) sued her Mennonite Church (run entirely by men) for shunning her. Next, novelist Phillip Roth who first made it “normal” to insert lots of Yiddish into his books and opened up a rich and fascinating way of incorporating culture and setting. I try to follow his lead. In my case, it’s Low German or *Plautdietsch*. One of my true author heroes, Miriam Toews, would also get an invite. She comes from the same little town as me and she, a bit like Roth did for the American Jewish community, opened things up in the conservative Mennonite community.
She comes from the same little town as me and she, a bit like Roth did for the American Jewish community, opened things up in the conservative Mennonite community. Both Ms. Toews and Mr. Roth enlarged the tolerance for dissent from within, especially when offered in a comical or satirical way, despite the serious subject matter.
Both Ms. Toews and Mr. Roth enlarged the tolerance for dissent from within, especially when offered in a comical or satirical way, despite the serious subject matter. She followed the lead of a renowned writer named Rudy Wiebe, who would also have a lawn chair at the fire. CNF novelist, journalist, speaker, socialist and all-around shit-disturber Chris Hedges would be asked to keep things lively—him with a Doctor of Divinity and a Pulitzer and all. Finally, Moonlight Graham, from W.P. Kinsella’s “Shoeless Joe”, because I love baseball and he seems like a pretty good guy.
P.S. – the Mother’s Day tag would come out under normal, non-Mother’s Day situations. 🙂
A 1934 rerun, in a way, kinda like a print version of Turner Classic Movies. “The Fifty Dollar Sewing Machine”. See it here, along with an entertaining recommendation from author Leila Allison, a frequent contributor to Literally Stories and many other lit mags:
That’s right, I had a surprise heart attack, suddenly lying out on the wet gravel of a deserted road and all I got out of it (besides a couple of stents) was…
Well, we’ll see about that. Here’s the poem:
Woman with the Dog’s Eyes
By Mitchell Toews
Uppermost boughs sough with impatience as I stare
Grey fingers stretch up to the arc, branches of a birch gone bare
And these I frame in the quiet now, the tide wheel all but silent
Apocryphal offspring close by me, how? And dear, so dear
Brushwork details unfinished yet, I fear, I fear
Eyes wide I rise with canvas ready, my pigment not yet spent
allfornow friends, Mitch
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