A quick ramble through the blackberries: I write about my Mennonite and my secular experiences–what I love and what I disrespect–as it occurs to me and in roughly equal measure. As a non-baptised cultural Mennonite, and a self-named Mennonite imposter, I am outside of the permission loop that may constrain others who write about the same topics.
But I’m not immune to restraint and inhibition just because I don’t surf the hemlock pews on Sunday morning. (Another one of those surf-slash-theological and pinophytically-correct metaphors, dudes.) Externality, it could be argued or at least considered, gives me and those like me the freedom to be hyper-critical.
In fact, I am rigorously beholden to all of my personal relationships, long held and cherished, with those who DO “surf the hemlock.” Seriously, a perceived outsider (or imposter) has internal motivation–not church-imposed–when speaking out. An equivalent influence? Sometimes jo, sometimes nay.
So… audible inhalation… I would like to and should make it my professional beeswax to know what has gone on in various church groups, conferences, etc. in the history of Mennonite writing. I need to understand those who held or now hold formal rank and wield the power of censure or absolution. The fact that those bodies-politic were, or still are, all-male and seem as intellectually homegenous as those identical rows of psuedotsuga benches upon which they, uhh, ‘hang ten’ bugs me not a little and diminishes their validity in my view. But still.
So, yeah… I’ll work to enhance my knowledge of the history of “insider” writing in the Mennonite fiction canon. It will enhance my POV even as I see my externality as an equally worthy, and perhaps in the final analysis, less incumbered point of origin. My lifetime of personal experiences continue to kick me “right in the back pocket” and won’t allow me to ignore their painful presence. Plus, considering the depth and context of my personal Mennonite experience–with both a Russian delegate and a shunning in my antecedents–and my 50-years in one of the central milieus and eras of Mennonite evoloution… I feel I should tell the stories I have lived.
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Winnipeg blogger and author MaryLou Driedger (“What Next?”) had this interesting post on her site recently: Flash Fiction and The Group of Seven. I’ve re-blogged it here partly because she mentions me in her post.
She has pointed out that photographic artist Phil Hossack and I will draw from people and places in Manitoba to create an ekphrastic prose-filled artbook. The photography will offer one interpretation and prose another.
MaryLou accurately points out some similarities between our concept and the excellent new book, The Group of Seven Reimagined published by Heritage House in Victoria and edited by Karen Schauber.
Like the Group of Seven book and other artbooks that combine visual art and the written word, we too will be called upon to create an aesthetic that is worthy of the subject matter. Our “design charette” has paid attention to the design on the printed page. Some benchmarks: Unity & Variety; Balance; Emphasis & Subordination; Directional Forces (visual flow of pages, spreads, covers, bleeds, etc.); Contrast; Repetition & Rhythm; Scale & Proportion.
Leading our design… the recurrent themes or stepping stones will be People, Places, and Light. Phil and I are excited, eager to begin, but we’ll wait for the all-clear Covid siren to sound before we hit the road.
Below: One of Phil’s evocative images, Roseisle artist Stephen Jackson near the Sourisford Linear Burial Mounds. This photo provides a possible example of how People, Place, and Light might combine to suggest a fictional narrative with a distinctive Manitoba inflection.
This project, with the working title, “People, Places, and Light — a Manitoba journey” is assisted by a “Create” grant from MAC | CAM.
In art and design the quatrefoil is an important and frequently used element. I don’t know too much about them but I enjoy them for their simultaneous blend of simplicity and complexity. A quatrefoil consists essentially of four overlapping equal-sized circles, with variants on that theme. Like a meander or a spiral, there is an innate optical pleasingness in looking at a quatrefoil and that is one of the reasons why it is a fundamental of visual art and design.
Both the quatrefoil and the spaces between its evenly aligned ranks and files are visually soothing. Looking at these shapes scratches an itch in your brain, the one you did not realize you had until it got scratched.
I think. I did not look all of this up on Wikipedia, nor have I studied this in the past nor do I have special intuitive knowledge powers (“super genius stuff”), like some C- grade undergrads from Wharton. Wharton is in Pennsylvania. I think.
Four. 4. Quarters. Quatro. Four anything can be represented by a quatrefoil. Four lads from Liverpool, the Ninja Turtles, four ripe plums, or four asteroids in orbit around one of the nine moons of Endor…
Today, I have four good things to talk about. I have listed them as Quatrefoil One through Four:
Nice people are overrepresented in the business of fiction. Thank goodness. If it wasn’t for the nice people, I would lose my mind because this writing shit is super genius stuff and that means, for me—a non-graduate of Wharton undergraduate studies, Cambridge University or Endor (or any of its moons)—it is hard as f*ck!
Quarrel One. The diamond-shaped pieces between adjacent quatrefoils are sometimes called “quarrels”, especially in a description of fenestration — like the stained glass windows in the King’s College at Cambridge. (A place, like Endor, where actual “super genius stuff” takes place.) Quarrel is a fine word and so I’ll use it here to describe the fillers I have inserted into each space between my four good things. Each of the three quarrels will describe something about quatrefoils. There is no extra charge for these trequarrels of sublime, intermediary (or interlocutory, cuz that is also a fun, six-syllable word) information.
I am able to enjoy the lake we live next to in almost any condition. If it is warm, I can swim in it. There’s fishing, but somehow I don’t get around to that much. In summer, on calm mornings, I can row across its surface. When it’s really windy, I can windsurf. Windsurfing is basically a showing-off activity so when I am out windsurfing I am thinking super genius stuff like: “I bet those people sitting on the dock over there would be prett-ty-prett-ty impressed if they knew that I’m a GD pensioner!” Meanwhile, the person on the dock is actually busy wondering if Regina really does rhyme with “vagina” or whether that Canadian guy was just having them on…
If it is just a little windy I can windsurf on a board equipped with a hydrofoil. This is a new windsurfing invention and it really ramps up the “bet those people are impressed” thoughts in my show-offy brain. It may also increase the shoreline spectator consideration of other Canadian city names like Moose Jaw, Upper Rubber Boot, Crotch Lake, Dildo, and Climax.
Quarrel Two.A quatrefoil arch is a common feature in gothic architecture. Cathedrals are loaded with ’em.
Quatrefoil Three. I have work out soon in three exceptional Canadian publications and one based in the U.S.:
On Sunday, July 19th, at 2pm Pacific time, I’ll be part of a virtual (online) launch for Pulp Literature Issue 27. The launch will be on PL’s Discord server channel, and I hope you’ll be able to join in. Just like an in-person launch, there will be door prizes and chances to chat with the authors, who will be reading from their work. The event has contributions from Denmark to Western Australia. But none from Elbow. (Saskatchewan… there may be one from Elbow, Ontario, though — home of the Elbow Roughriders.)
August will see the launch of a new issue of Agnes and True, an exceptional Canadian online literary journal. I’m super genius excited to be in this market and can’t wait for folks to read my story, “The Grittiness of Mango Chiffon”, a tale of fashion, warmth, and redoubtable resolve.
My pick-up truck saga, “The Sunshine Girl” will shine its ever-lovin’ light on Cowboy Jamboree, sometime this fall. “An interesting slice-of-life vignette…” according to Editor Adam Van Winkle.
“A grit lit rag promoting fiction in the vein of Donald Ray Pollock and Larry Brown and Dorothy Allison and the like.”—Cowboy Jamboree, About.
Quarrel Three.Are quatrefoils lucky? Do they have special, magical powers? Do they stay crunchy in milk? I don’t want to influence your religious beliefs or otherwise stray onto private property but I’d say quatrefoils are never considered unlucky.
Quatrefoil Four. Drumroll, please. My grant application to the Manitoba Arts Council | Conseil des Arts du Manitoba has been accepted! My proposal to produce a Manitoba artbook will be going ahead as soon as Covid-19 allows free travel around the province. My collaborator, photographer Phil Hossack, and I will work together to create an ekphrastic collection of Manitoba-based short fiction and photography. The three-part theme we want to focus on: People, Place, Light. We’ll travel the province to gather extraordinary stories and pictures from ordinary folks.
More on this project soon, but for now, please let me know if you have a Manitoba location, a person, a story, or if you know someone with a printing press sitting around not doing much. These are all things we could use!
PEOPLE | PLACE | LIGHT
Manitoba is endowed with remarkable people. From Louis Riel to other famous individuals like Gabriel Roy, Cindy Klassen, Miriam Toews, and many, many more, there are lots to choose from. There’s also a plethora of the not-so-famous—but just as interesting. It’s predominantly this latter group we hope to meet and share with our readers, though story-telling and visual arts.
Our province is one of diversity not just in the origins of its people, but in its geography too. The North, the prairies, the boreal, rivers, lakes, a great city and numerous smaller communities with singular stories to tell and show. Manitoba places make for fascinating discovery and study.
Sunny Manitoba. As every Manitoban who has spent time out of the province knows, it is our light, both in terms of the vast size of the sky over the flat prairie landscape, and its year-round abundance that makes the sun’s absense felt most acutely when we are away from home. Whether it’s sitting on a Whiteshell dock in the unfading light of a late June evening, or waiting impatiently for the sunrise on a frozen January morning, Manitobans’ relationship with daylight—with the sun—is special and unlike any other place. So too, light plays a dominant role in the art of photography and we believe that by paying special attention to light in our photos (and in our fiction!) we’ll uncover truths that may otherwise have gone, uh… unilluminated.
So that’s it. Four cool things. A quatrefoil.
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I don’t enter too many contests. They almost all charge a fee, which is understandable. I am a cheap Menno—also understandable to those who have taken the pledge of frugality that is part of every Oma’s hand-me-down tool kit for survival in the wide welt.
A contest I have entered a few times is from Pulp Literature Press. It’s called the Bumblebee Flash Fiction Contest. In 2019, I made the longlist. This year, my story was named the Editors’ Choice. A ground-rule double, which I will take with as much bat-flippin’ humility as my over-caffeinated morning-person self can muster. I’m damned pleased.
Furthermore, I felt as though this story was, in part, a product of my excellent Writing Circle in Wpg, led by Wpg Public Library Writer-in-Res, Carolyn Gray. It’s a talented group and I’ve learned a lot from our meetings.
PL is an exceptional lit mag… small press… group of editors and artists… and a judge with plenty of creds. It’s an exemplary part of the white-hot West Coast writing community; home to a blintering sky full of starry writers and poets. As a former BC resident (nine years in the WACK) I am proud of what Pulp Lit has done and is doing.
I read a lot of short stories. Not as many as a literary journal editor—the former editor of Crazyhorse (or maybe it was The Literary Review) estimated at one time that he had read 10,000! That’s a lot. Crazy many. Wilt-like.
Not counting my own stories—read and re-read on a seemingly endless cycle, editing or not—I read at least a story a day and usually two or three. This has reduced the amount of fiction I read in novel form. And, kind of contradictory to the novel result, I now read far more poetry than ever before. I don’t write (much) poetry, but I sure love reading a verklempt-provoking line, even if I don’t quite know WTF is going on, distracted as I am by the many swooshing sounds I hear over my freckled skull.
I no longer read newspapers, something I used to love—right up there with beer, bacon, and baseball. Now I get my newspaper calories from the internet. Columnists and pundits, wags and woebegonists.
A treat these last few years is to read the CNF and ramblings of my friends and those I would like to befriend. ML Driedger and Hoss Neufeld are among the former. (Two Snowbird Western writers who resemble Miss Kitty and Marshall Dillon. Or more so Marshall Dylan, when the gunsmoke clears.)
I also read many writers like me, whose lariats spin sometimes wild, sometimes lazy as we seek to lasso the moon. Some oh-bah-fine shorts I have read lately (or revisited, like Hwy 61) include:
“The Laughing Man”, Salinger. Find it online as easy as Bananafish pie.
“Bullet in the Brain”, Tobias Wolff. Also just a gecko-twitch away, via Google. (This month’s group read for the Wpg Public Library Writing Circle, led by W-I-R Carolyn Gray.)
“The Tree Planter”, Spencer Sekulin. On *Fiction on the Web* a UK joint edited by Sir Charlie Fish.
“Sparking Spot”, Ramona Jones Go to Ms. Jones FB page and track it down there.
All this is part of my latest (and one of my bestest) rock-strewn trails: “Travel widely, experiment boldly, love deeply… ” Words to live by from one of my painting heroes, Winslow Homer. I can handle the second and the third as well as any cheroot-chewin’ gunslinger who cares to draw down on me. The travel one too, with buts and caveats—I can go where I wanna go, do what I wanna do, so long as Swoop flies there for next to frickin’ nuthin’, or our grandkids are there/going to be there, or I win the lottery. (The less common kind of lottery for which you don’t have to buy tickets to win.)
But maybe I don’t need to travel as widely as ol’ WH would have me do… I live in the four seasons of nature surrounded not by people and parking lots and coffee spoons, but rather by small-but-tough animals, white-capped water, and a forest of cross-country skis and tall timber. The love of my redheaded life sits across the dining room table from me each day and inexplicably, loves me deeply with her big brown eyes.
So, I hope interesting, unusual, flaky people can drop by Jessica from time to time, so I can hack the Winslow directive to travel widely. We’ll “welcome widely!”
8.26.20—And another, read with passion and intelligence at 28:55 in this open mic (San Fran Mechanics’ Institute) by Bay Area author Francee Covington… her BLM essay, “Uneasy Lies the Head of the Black Mom.” https://youtu.be/CwijFbQ-YcM
P.S.—I chime in with a reading of “Freight Trains and Jet Planes” right after Ms. Covington’s performance.
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“On Main Street; once my street I just want to say They did things and do things they don’t do on Broadway”
I just read, and loved, Peter Ralph Friesen’s quietly profound new book, “Dad, God, And Me”.
This novel (in many ways) has awakened smeary recollections of my own Steinbach childhood. Unexpectedly, I see stark similarities in our two fathers, although that comment will generate a “Waut?” tidal surge among Steinbachers who knew them both. In my dad’s case, it was more of a generational hand-me-down; something he dispensed with a hip check and then moved on. Or thought he had.
Certainly, the two men had core differences but they both bore the enormous weight of Steinbach in general and Kleine Gemeinde Steinbach in particular. It was, to each man, a stony brook; an overbearing, immovable, and intolerant entity.
In my view, at least.
I see two stoic, driven men—one pious, mild, and somewhat pedantic, the other secular, red-faced, a “man of action”, sometimes to a fault. I also encountered a third shadow presence: Steinbach itself. Looming with Lordly characteristics; a sub-deity.
There’s no place like it…
Sandburg’s famed city of verse came to mind, also uninvited. The poet describes a place “stormy, husky, and brawling” as compared to my childhood home: Severe, bespectacled, and haughty. Both places feel male, both shod with shit-spackled gumshuh. Both broad-shouldered.
Chicago and Steinbach each have a primal gravitas, an undeniable presence that, like a high slap shot, leaves a mark—sometimes painful.
Adult Steinbach, that is. As kids, I remember our secret underground. Raucously—like the Free French—we chided the powerful, the self-important and the self-righteous behind their backs, schpotting in our hideouts: in the storage bins at “CT’s”, with a beer out at “the pits”, schmeatjing at the sinner’s rink and in the ballpark dug-out. Author Friesen confirms this too, recalling his and his poetic buddy Patrick Friesen’s days as noble infidels. (“Noble” is my word, not Ralph’s.) These two rebelled not with misbehaviour, exactly, but with logic and fearless debate, taking on “murderous literalism” and all those pitching a certainty built upon loose-ends and a fear of hell.
I also enjoyed the author’s many comments concerning his mother.
[…] “her eyes are soft with a deep and wordless sadness.”
I felt it was a discrete and worthy sub-text. I noted the juxtaposition of her frazzled ham-and-eggs-and-house-full-of-children existence versus the descriptions of all other women in the local vernacular: “Mrs. Peter F. Rempel, Mrs. Jake G. Koop,” etc. Real-life shades of “The Handmaid’s Tale” and that book’s submissive naming convention. Steinbach’s patronymics to the last degree—a practice that attempted through churchy formal-speak to erase a woman’s given name, always seemed to me, as a kid and still, to be evidence of Mennonites “jumping the shark.” Women might as well been forced to address men as, “Your Honour,” and curtsey.
Somehow, I can’t imagine my rebellious Mercury Cougar-driving mom, in 1968, to succumb. If she did, it would only have been with such an overflowing ladle-full of withering verbal irony that passing pick-up trucks would have been stuck in their Penner Tire tracks as they encountered her sticky sarcasm.
To her credit. I always speculated that my mom, despite her scandalous reputation, was secretly—perhaps guiltily—admired by some of those name-stripped Hausfraus—who regarded themselves as Madam Curie NOT “Mrs. Pierre Curie”.
Altogether, “Dad, God, And Me” is a well-written, thoughtful examination. Forensic, in ways, but never mean-spirited or overly disdainful. Those strong feelings are withheld, but they still add a salty sprinkle of complexity with their just-noticeable absence. It is written with clean text and a forthright style. There are seamless and fluent excursions into German both High and Plaut. The book is built on a firm foundation of self-examination: Candid, telling, and like the prose style, unadorned. I found it, once I adjusted to the cadence, flowing and beautiful.
Near the end, Author Friesen offers a red-hot ember of guilty truth and we are invited to share as he explores with honesty and integrity, as if he is splinta’ noaktijch… When he reveals himself so freely, we know we can believe in him and what he has told us.
P.S.–Alien revivalists do get a little sandpaper, and I was glad for that!
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Northern lights, drunken ranks of Chernobyl ephemera, waver pink and green high above the boreal shield. In November an odd wind blows sharp from the south, kicking skiffs of snow ahead of it. Nodding, heavy head. Insistent… pushing down on the ice all through the night as it rushes unflagging across the fetch, pouring north into the invisible low pressure hollow. The raspy-rough crust on the ice surface catches the gusts. Cat claw on a ball of yarn. Using this purchase the wind is brutish in its labour, heaving with heavy legs.
In the winter morning the young ice platooned along the windward lakeshore, only inches thick and still vulnerable, is the last line of defence. When the ice can’t—it just can’t—push the land out of the way, it buckles with a shotgun crack. The skirmish continues until the shoreline looks like a long line of pup tents…
Twelve. Twelve stories since November 9, 2019. Twelve times I have over-hauled, cannibalized or started from scratch. Twelve times I have verbed the nouns until I wrote
I did not craft these alone. Far from it. Besides editor James, who has a hand (sometimes a fist) in almost all of what I produce, I’ve enjoyed a lot of wise help lately. Newfound writer friends, old friends, cousins, heroes, journal editors, my Writing Circle leader and co-members are among these.
What a dimension these voices add! Voices in my head. Danke seea, voices. I see everything in one way. My way. Sure, my vision has changed over the years and I have the benefit of that changing viewpoint, but it’s still my hazy hazel eyes, my half-functioning, and not-tiny nose, my waxy elephantine ears, my salty, shrink-wrapped, suspiciously rosy memory banks. My taste, my tastelessness… my sense of touch and some would say—a Boomer’s loss-of-touch, an old white guy from a small town, a needling, nerjing, argumentative prick who’s more than happy to express an opinion au contraire mon ami.
Anyway, I’m not so much proud of my productivity as I am stunned. (Aside: A master humble-brag, right there, if I do say so myself, and of course—I’d never do that…) What brought on this flurry? Where are the origins of this Alberta Clipper that has sailed into my Manitoba deep freeze?
Was it my faint effort to mirror Winslow Homer’s advice?: “Travel widely, experiment boldly, love deeply.”
Jan and I spent a month with family in Maple Ridge and Victoria. I rode the SkyTrain. I let my beard grow flaxen and breathed deeply of an urban strain of Pacific pollen not available here in the centre of the continent. I spent time with family and not crawling under the cottage to do battle with dragons and sewer lines. I read a story in front of a crowd of dubious strangers. (Most fully awake.) I lived with a beagle.
I marvelled at marvellous grandchildren, cherished children and found a way to pray for one of them in particular—I suppose that’s true, after a fashion and as John Prine might sing, “in spite of myself.” (I am not first-team all-star when it comes to prayer.) Yes, there was a scary thing.
I’ve worked on less familiar tenses. I cut my dependence on ING words, writing as I too often do, with withering, wringing present participles. I’ve come up with my own Victor Frankenstein of a story-shape theory, resurrected from the cadged prose cadavers of Vonnegut and David Jauss. (They go together like beer and bacon. Piss an’ porcelain.)
I’ve heard and read learned comments on inspirational subjects:
“Poets are the unauthorized legislators of the universe.”—Mary Shelley
“It’s necessary to be pushy, but fatal to appear so.”—one of Bertram Russell’s old Profs.
“Root your story in what is particular and original rather than that which is re-hashed.”—Carolyn Gray
“I’m burly and brawny, not squirrely and scrawny, and if you don’t like me that’s tough.
I shit thunder and lightning, and everything frightening, and where I come from that’s enough.”—Red Lightman
“The writer stands apart and can adjust all aspects of the story in pursuit of specificity.”—George Saunders, via Carolyn Gray
I’ve filled my characters’ pockets with objects in order to get to know them, but I have not shared with the reader what these things are. I know the precise shade of yellow for all of these things: Mustard after the bottle has been thrown and smashed against a reddish mahogany kitchen wall… a melon… a September poplar leaf… a pickerel belly.
I’ve done all of the former plus more: Put on miles and miles on the X-C trails, heard a lot of Canucks games on my tablet (late in the Manitoba night) and also sipped—near Craigflower Road and other salty strasses—on a fresh Phillips First Bjorn, a delightful, light beer with a helluva lotta HOPS! All of this must constitute some kind of writing magic formula. A love potion expressed in diction and syntax, story, plot, character, and a restless soul.
I have killed two hapless MCs in this batch. Neither one saw it coming. Neither deserved it—not even close. But, hell… Shakespeare killed 74. (One of them ate hot coals!) Ms. O’Connor knocked ’em off like shooting cans offen thater split rail fence yonder. Right? I’m just getting my party started!
“Operation Night Bandit” (YA) | 1,067 words—written 11.9.19 | Submitted
“A Man of Reason” | 2,100 words—11.17.19 | Submitted
“Hazel Creek” | 1,500 words—11.20.19 | Submitted
“Regrets De Foie Gras” | 400 words—11.30.19 | Submitted (contest)
“The Grittiness of Mango Chiffon” | 1,850 words—12.20.19 | Accepted by Agnes and True
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.
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!”
Mitch, Jan, Char, Marnie, Maris, Mom/Grandma T
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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