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”.

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A Letter to My Conservative Friends

What do you do the day your sewer pipe freezes? I wrote this.

First of all, am I a ‘snowflake’ because I don’t want the environment to be irrevocably ruined? If so, sign me up! I’m in. Call me names if you must just don’t say I’m irresponsible or negligent.

You see, the environment, last time we checked, ignored political borders. So, yeah – I am inclined to pay attention to what goes on, south of the border, down USA way. Also, whatever disease they have right now – I’m hoping we’re immune. But I doubt it.

Therefore, I believe we need more snowflakes, dude! Banks and drifts and dunes of ’em!

More scientists, too. Scientists, most would agree, are best taught in schools, not in houses of worship. “Why?” So the scientists have the freedom to ask, “Why?” instead of stating, “Because that is our faith.”

Let our faith be that we will have the scientists ask why, over and over, and then, well, let’s go from there.

Can we not let schools be schools and their views–from crop science to medicine–be broad? Broad enough, at least, to see that the earth is not flat, appearances notwithstanding. Even at the corner of the #1 and the #12 – a plain if there ever was one.

Gather by the margin of the river? Of course! Scientists don’t prevent that. They shine a light on that Chartered pledge. Gather by any river you want.

Aliens Need Not Apply

‘Libtard’ – a shameful, ignoble word and I’m positive most of my friends don’t use it except when they are with an extreme crowd. Peer pressure. Anyway – am I a libtard because I don’t want a Canadian version of the WALL around “our” part of the sandbox? (The same sandbox we grabbed when the previous tenants weren’t looking.)

Sure, my weak-ass approach might mean sharing more of Canada with some odd Queeg Quegs who did not RSVP. Just like in 1873, when the Métis, French, the subjects of the British Queen, and all the established patches in the quilt around the Red River of the North had to get used to us. And we were a bunch of dike-building, silk-spinning, plum-growing peaceniks. Aliens? Oh bah, joh! 

We sat in our white-washed (inside and out), gender-segregated churches and argued about our ancestors –  the people who waged word wars about buttons versus hooks. (Like Dee Oolah even cared.) Oh, what a magnificent gaggle of crazed zealots we were!

“Mennonites with hooks and eyes,
are pleasing to the Holy Guise.
But Mennonites with buttons and pockets
are choice trinkets for the Devil’s lockets.”

Günter Gross, via page 503, Mennonite Low German Dictionary, Jack Thiessen

We were bonneted, bearded, stubborn, obscenely productive foreigners who spoke Plautdietsch like we really, really meant it. Deutsch issued from our lips even as Canada fought wars against Deutschland. Hmm…I would have thought that was suspicious. It was! It was, and yet they let us carry on – every Hans and Heinrich and Helen.

But we, of course, and to our ever-lasting credit (union and otherwise) made the struck pay off. “Damn it, how those Mennos can make the Red Fife grow!” happy prairie politicians said, twirling their moustaches with fingers dipped in every pie.

They all got used to us, I guess. The Englanders and colour commentators (“A good Canadian kid!”) can now pronounce our strange, umlauted names as accurately as any church elder. Now they prize our books, buy our autos, elect us to high office; even teach us graft and greed! (We’re fast learners and even offer some tricks of our own – like conflating church, and state and industry – a time-honoured way to make pigshit flow uphill.)

So be it – as we were welcomed, let us welcome others. Bring on the frintschoft, the fast-talkers, the money-changers, the dishwashers, the uber drivers and the undertakers. In fact, invite the whole madman’s rainbow garden, sown with every flavour, stripe and viewpoint and let them brandish their curly daggers and their straight laces alike. They will enrich us, and although that road may not be perfectly smooth, it’ll be worth the trip.

So be it, indeed. Even if that means acquiring some new, elastic personal boundaries, or smelling a little more garlic–or curry–or seeing a tall spire, here and there. Even on ‘your’ side of Sumas Avenue.

Also, we must remember: as the USA turns to a Hispanic majority–estimated to happen in 2044–Canada will become an Asian majority by 2050, or so. I want my children and their kids ready for that sea change, not meeting it with irrational dread and regurgitating old great-bias and great-great-hatred.

Soa doa wie doat nich

Am I a ‘sinner’ because I fear the climate is shifting and we are bringing it about?

“We don’t do it like that – it is not our way,” as author Elizabeth Reimer Bartel wrote* with a full heart.

God commanded his flock a long time ago to not worry about things like climate. “I got this,” He might have said, had He cameoed on a TV sitcom.  (Yes, you can PVR God, just not on more than two channels at once.) “You guys go ahead and sacrifice that lamb, dam that creek, burn that whale oil, domesticate those beasts – let me worry about the deets.” We made the deal and now there are nine billion of us and the creeks are all dammed and we are drowning in the deets, Big Oolah.

I’m guessing that since He has not fixed things, He’s either suffering from some major Saviour’s block or He wants us to use our miraculous brains to fix it ourselves. I expect it’s the latter.

Sunday (Afternoon) Golf

Am I a ‘leftist’, or is that just what you call all those who push back at the hate mongering that passes for leadership?

I imagine a foursome for golf. Let’s call it a politically-mixed group. It comprises the American Steve Bannon (I think he’s American? Could be Russian?), a Syrian refugee who froze off six fingers when walking over North Dakota beet fields to get to Canada, dee aforementioned Oolah, and me. The odiferous and the ornery, the omnipotent and the obstreperous.

We play the game not with clubs and golf balls, but by hurling ideas as far as we can. More like Frisbee golf, come to think of it, especially since three of us have beards and one of us wears sandals. (Not Birkenstocks, alas.)

Bannon strikes first, launching now-commonplace shock and awe as far and as wide as his amplified voice can broadcast. He flings it from a high place and some of what he throws lands in Canada. Sharp Operators observe with interest, “Hey! That could work here, too!” they say, grinding their unblemished knuckles into the eye of reason.

Next up, the four-fingered Syrian. She was an engineer back in her native land, so she has rigged a clever device to take her shots; overcoming her physical infirmity. Her prosthesis is constructed of gold and measures precisely 12 inches. Trim it, she did, with history and law, though these nostalgic indulgences were easily rubbed off. Not knowing the course we played, her powerful drives bounced badly, misbehaving and leaving her with impossible lies.

It was my turn, but Bannon’s caddy pushed me aside and said, “Here’s how we’re going to do it!” He took my shot and I admit it was much stronger than I could have managed. It travelled at least a country mile – from dit seid to yan. In comparison, my effort would have hardly made it off the tee. The gallery gave a rousing cheer and noted his black boots and brown shirt. “Natty attire,” they whispered with admiration. “That’s what we need, a man who buys his shirts and his ideology abroad. Someone to make golf great again here in Canada too!”

“You’re up, Big Hitter,” I said, but the Almighty was busy with a call from the hereafter. “Long distance, gotta take this,” He said, His words rolling like thunder. He gestured to the Syrian engineer. “Take another turn,” He said. “Knock one right down the waterline!”

She waggled, she knitted her brow, she rent her clothes, and she bowed her head. Just as she began, the florid caddy ran up with a fully automatic rulebook. “She can’t play!” he bawled, unlocking the safety on his weapon. “She’s not a member! She doesn’t belong!”

All eyes turned to the attendant elected official, whose ruling was law.

“Sorry, I have a previous engagement in St. Pierre, at the Frog Follies,” the official said and he slipped away in silence, his thousand legs churning in practiced conformity.

“Well, look, she’s with me and I’m the founding member. So slow your role,” God said, eyeing the caddy’s red hat and wondering how it could fit over that albino mink coiled on his scalp.

Who?

And it came to pass in the land of Nod–the land of vigorous, sycophantic, sanguine nod–that the lowly caddy became king. “Kiss his ring? You can’t be serious,” I say.

Really though, who would follow such a man? “Who? I scream up at the six-story bunker? Who?” I whisper to the woman, up early to do some baking – the only way she has time. (Meet Netty at the mall, go straight to work, pick up the kids after school, make dinner, work on my dissertation, get dressed for the Christmas program. Is that tonight?) Who? I demand of the once-outspoken preacher’s kid who sits drinking coffee, spezearen and smirking while his proxies inherit the earth for him. Who? I ask of the slave drivers who strain to shove a shop-worn camel through the eye of a needle, “just one more time.”

Where is the line of dissenters – each in that queue as conscientious and true to themselves and their children as Christ the carpenter? Would that line not be a raging, roaring, rippling, steel chain 7,448 KMs long?

“From Bonavista to Vancouver Island;
the Arctic Circle to the Great Lakes waters?”**

And when he shouts, “Bomb them!” we reply in unison, “Give them bread.” And when he says, “Build the wall!” the congregation sings, “Love thy neighbour!” And when he hisses, “They defile Him.” we shout, “He is in them.”

And would that unflinching line not be led by clear-eyed Mennonitisch people with their DISAVOW pens flowing dark; indelible with the ink of their antecedents? I want to believe it would be so. Unsaved, auf’jefollnah wretch that I am, I want to sign on. I want to link arms and bellow, “Not on my watch!” with the same conviction as that hollow pipsqueak who once spat those words in the face of the 98-pound high school girl in the Council Chambers.

The A-word

But, if it’s all about abortion for you, then let’s talk. Let’s take a deep breath. I respect your passion. Many are driven by their abhorrence for abortion.

So be it, I’m not arguing that issue. There might be a fifteen-year-old living on the street who has an opinion – I’ll leave you two to discuss things. Again, deets.

The US president has made clear promises about abortion. It’s off-putting to you that his lifeboat is filled with a collection of repellent Scaramucciesque characters. The US President himself is unapologetically vile in his behaviour when held to the standards we all (try to) follow–conservatives in particular– in our own lives. This US President, the caddy in the little parable above, is shunworthy by any church standard. He and his chosen crew are those who would take you down with them, but you believe it’s the last boat – the only boat.

I sense that you feel compelled because “he promised to fight against abortion for us.” And, “he’ll change the law in America and then we can vote in a Canadian clone here, right?”

Maybe. He could just as easily bail out on you, leaving you with only your heart and no sleeve upon which to wear it.

I  know that you see right through this bad caddy’s specious fake-fervour – you know what he really is. So, why do you believe he will support you when the time comes? His political needs always come first, isn’t that obvious? He’s likely to abandon you for some new expedient and he’ll do it with a tweet. A message you may not ♥.

Tally

If you hunt or are a target shooter or a collector, fill your boots. Maybe you need a .22 for the farm or at the cottage. (That last one is a stretch.) But other than that, I have reservations. I hope Canada does not copy this frightening American trait. GUNS.

The 12 months of 2017 in the United States:
🔫  61,113 total number of gun incidents
🔫  15,501 gun deaths
🔫  31,065 gun injuries
🔫  345 mass shootings
🔫  2,003 unintentional shootings
🔫  2,018 incidents of defensive gun use
🔫  3,949 children/teenagers shot or killed
Canadian numbers are creeping upwards. Do we really want to join in reckless gun ownership and proliferation? The problem is, if we get a “populist” Canadian version of the current POTUS, it might come part and parcel with Republican style anti-gun control rhetoric and policy. Surely we can leave that to our US neighbours. Do you agree?

The Bully Pulpit

As a kid, I was the owner of a late birthday and a precocious nature. I was a small boy, usually the youngest in the class, and I had shrimp-orange hair, a bumper crop of freckles and ears like London Cab doors. Teasing came my way, not unlike the Steinbach snowstorm of ’66. True to popular gingerology, I possessed the infamous redhead short fuse so black eyes and split lips ensued. (Mostly mine.)

I earned, via the court of knuckle justice, a discerning eye and ear for blow-hards. I could spot a bully who was secretly not willing to back it up in the same way some schnoddanäs pastors claim they can spot a gay congregant. I’d hone in on these posers and challenge them:

Runty me: “Shut up!”
Big bully: “Nay!”
Runty me: “Then let’s fight.”
Big bully” “Nay!”

Doing this repeatedly, I developed a keen sense of Naydar. (Nadir too, in some cases.)

When these self-professed toughs backed down, I won a small measure of street cred there on the Southwood School playground. If I was off in my assessment, I endured a physical pounding – so my iterative process, like editing, painfully discerned the true from the false.

I also learned not to lead with my right hand.

Fast forward to 2016. #45 came on the US scene and I read him as a straight up heehnaschiet. A pair of deuces acting like a flushNo doubt about it – my Naydar screamed its verdict like the in-dash Geiger counter on Bond’s Aston Martin db5.

Evidence? His unfulfilled threats against North Korea and his yellow-bellied bluster against women who accused him of a host (not heavenly) of misogyny. He’s all talk, locker room and otherwise. Vietnam deferments, I’ll remind you, made his true character clear long before he became a seedy pop-culture symbol. An unconscientious objector.

I believe Putin has a similar result on his Nyetdar, so please my friends – don’t lead with your right.

#

Fun reading for masochists: Fire & Fury Excerpts

That’s it. We may differ, but I like you, ya know? That’s why I bother with all this nertjeI hope you can still like me. Just maybe not, you know, online. I’ll understand. 🙂

_____

Our German Relative

Our German Relative

By Mitchell Toews

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 sprawling snowy 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 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, on the shores of the Black Sea, there was once 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 the Molotschna Mennonites spoke in church. She spoke Russian too, but best of all, thisLehrerin was also able to get by in her Mennonite students’ native PlautdietschObah, 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 permitted in Taunte’s village. Despite this, officially, even the simplest Yuletide symbols were banned.

Can you imagine? We 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!

Now, kids, I’m sorry for all the big words and grown-up talk! What Grandma is 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!

So, now…little Rosa was very excited and too young then to grasp the full extent of the ban. She felt that taking away Christmas was like a game the adults played – the government on one side, trying to catch you; the parents and kids on the other side, trying to be clever and feeling the dangerous exhilaration of outsmarting the apparatchiks and their stuffy No-Christmas rules.

Christmas baking was one of many pieces in this complex game. Most Mennonite families still made Christmas cookies and other festive treats, but these traditions were known to the officials and were part of the ban. Christmas cookies were kept secret and were hidden.

A few days before Christmas Day one year, Rosa joined the game. That day, her mother had baked a batch of these 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 boots 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, the answer would be 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. Desperately saving for passage to strange, distant destinations like Canada, America, and Mexico, the families of Molotschna had little left over. And, of course, no one in any of the Russian Mennonite Colonies gave gifts for Christmas.

“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 heels 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 to the large white-faced clock on the wall 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.

 

molotschna sm
Page 232, “Building on the Past”, Raduga Publications, Rudy P. Friesen

 

You see, Fraulein Rosenfeld was much revered by the officials who ran the school. They saw her presence as a special concession to the Mennonites. On the other hand, the local teachers felt it was a slight to them and they treated her with cool disdain. For Fraulein, from a remote dairy farm in southern Germany, this teaching position was Godsent. It combined her gift for language and her love of children. To her, some minor social distance was a small price to pay. But 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 – why what would have happened to them then? Those Russians, obliged by strict orders to find them, 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 Tjrist’owend, 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. With this visitor, never distant though she came from far away and long ago, our Christmas was complete.

 

Reprints and re-blogs are welcome. A version of this fiction appeared on Red Fez Christmas, 2016.

Dad

2000th follower twitter

There are times when I can totally relate to Donald Trump’s compulsion to post on twitter, even if it’s a stupid-ass thing to do.

Humour needs expanded boundaries, is what I keep telling myself.

My dad would have got it. He would have had a sparkle in his eye and appreciated that I pressed send. Dad preferred – would have preferred – that I follow my natural inclinations and become an artist or a writer. Something in the creative layer of dirt. Instead, like so much of his discarded advice, I followed not what he said, but what he did. (Someone should make that into a memorable expression.) I became a guy with a family who showed up every morning for work and tried to eat my crap sandwich without too much moaning. Well, he and I both moaned a little.

Like Dad, what it got me was a happy life and a family I treasure. Not a bad deal. Pass the sandwiches, I’ll take another. Make it a double.

Anyway, cheers to my dad, a hale fellow well met of whom an observer both wise and kindred from Grunthal, Manitoba (home of the Red Wings) once said, “He could separate braggarts from their bullshit with a hip check.”

Here’s a story about him, posted a while back by Fiction on the Web editor @fishcharlie

Nothing to Lose

 allfornow – Mitch

The Bottom of the Sky

Hi everyone!

I have a new story.

It is a prequel to the story that first appeared in Rhubarb Magazine, “A Fisherman’s Story”. This piece becomes a Part 1 to that original tale of a family on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Part 1 is in 1955, in Acapulco and tells of one of the original characters, when he was a younger man, captaining a fishing charter boat. The original piece is Part 2 and is told primarily through the experience of the wife; the mujere.

I have re-named it, “The Bottom of the Sky” , comprising Part 1 Acapulco 1955 and Part 2 Puerta Vallarta 1975.

Here are a few excerpts:

Avelino walked the tourist beaches. His officina, as he liked to joke with the Americans who lay like white cordwood in neat rows, toes pointing at the sun. He had a photo album with pictures of the azul boat; fish strung on the scale at the Acapulco dock; smiling American faces, sun-tanned with movie-star sunglasses and drinks in hand. He was charming and good looking and he hooked many gringo fish.

[Snip]

After a quiet half-hour of trolling they came to a feeding fish. In the split second before it happened, Jose could feel the strike. Then the rod bucked in the holder and the line peeled out in a persistent zazzzzz sound like fingernails on nylon. The pinche yelled and the woman named Angel clapped her hands, her red fingernails looking like spattered blood against the bright horizon.

[Snip]

“Senor Bart! Por favor,” Jose strode rearward with the rod harness, its buckles jingling, passing it to the large man. Then he hurried to the transom where the fishing line danced and swung like a kite tail above the bubbles in the wake of the boat.

[Snip]

The boat rocked in silence at the wharf, next to the scales. Jose sat on the dock staring down into the dirty water. The American had shouted something, cursing as he climbed into a taxi with the women. Doris stared at Jose from the car, her eyes dark and hateful – not the fairy blue they were when she reached over and touched his arm with hers.

[Snip]

YOU KNOW HOW IT IS, RIGHT? You create something that you feel good about – it’s honest, or you believe it to be so. You love it. Shitface drunk love. Then you slowly get to know it – you see it age like a child – and you recognize flaws that you were earlier willing to ignore. You work on it over and over until it is the best you can do; things become stale and the edits you make just become a false shuffle of the deck – nothing really changes.

Then a month goes by (or six) and you read it again. You see things and maybe after a sleep – waking up at three A.M. – you figure out what to do.

And then you love it again the same way it was when it was born, except maybe it’s a more mature love – maybe you accept it in a way you could not before, including the things that you could still change, but, you don’t. The story, like the characters in it, is partly good and partly bad – flawed but capable of splendor.

Blah-blah-blah. 🙂

I am a proud father today and maybe this will find a publication home. I’ll send it to a few “early readers” in the meantime and will report it here if it does get picked up.

Another day in the life — I better get down to the beach before my wife becomes certain that I have lost my mind.

allfornow – mitch

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2017

 

 

 

 

The Preacher and His Wife

January 23, 2017

“The Preacher and His Wife” is a comical look at the comings and goings of Mennonite life in a small town in the sixties. It is as pure as the view from inside the cocoon can be — but it’s just one cocoon.

The story goes live TODAY (January 23) on Fiction on the Web

Please find below a few short excerpts and also a couple of links to two other “Mennosphere” stories of mine that are in the FOTW archives.

On FICTION ON THE WEB JANUARY 23
“All family congresses were held in the tiny house and we sat packed as tight as two-yolks in a shell. Chair legs intersected like a village of miniature wigwams, and above that, our arms and forearms were in constant contact; sometimes linked. Our Zehen freundschaft heads – complete with high, overhanging brows – bobbed as one as we laughed or bowed in prayer or swiveled to see the facial expressions of the storyteller of the moment. The incoming newlywed uncles and aunts who found themselves part of this household became used to the close quarters. They soon grew adept at stepping over overlapping legs and socked feet as they picked a path through from the kitchen to the living room, doling out fresh coffee and buns with jam while a dozen conversations hummed and budgies squawked in their cages.”

[SNIP]

“One fall day, when winter parkas were in order, Sarah ran into our house to announce that, ‘Grandma can’t find her engagement ring and she is pretty sure that the Preacher’s wife has it.’
‘What?’ my mother said, stopping in mid-paw as she dug through a box of warm clothes to outfit us for winter. Grandma’s ring was her lone extravagant luxury and unlike other items of some beauty in her possession – furniture and rugs for example – this ring had no redeeming practical use. It symbolized love and fidelity and was purely a thing of pleasure. Grandma loved her ring, which had set a much younger Grandpa back almost a whole season of timber cutting in the Redekopp forests south of town.
‘That’s impossible,’ Mother said, with no opportunity for rebuttal, standing up straight with her hands on her aproned hips.”

[SNIP]

http://www.fictionontheweb.co.uk/2016/07/nothing-to-lose-by-mitchell-toews.html

http://www.fictionontheweb.co.uk/2016/10/heavy-artillery-by-mitchell-toews.html

You may also enjoy, “Our German Relative”. a Christmassy tale from Russia found on Red Fez, or other tales from the fictional prairie darp of “Hartplatz”, on Literally Stories or CommuterLit.

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016
Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2017

Our German Relative

http://bit.ly/RedFezOurGermanRelative

Red Fez’s Story of the Week. Next: world peace. Stand by…

In 2015, I was told this story – parts of it at least – by a resident in a predominantly Mennonite senior home in British Columbia. Some friends and I were there for lunch — the restaurant in the building had famously delicious food. One of the women at our table told us a moving account of incidents that had happened in Russia, during the early days of Communist rule.

Later, on the way back to work, we discussed her story. All of us had heard versions of it before even though the three of us were raised in Mennonite communities in BC, Alberta and Manitoba, respectively.

This story is a fiction based on true experiences passed down from that place and time. Whether it was a Christmas cookie or a Bible (or the Koran, for that matter) or a cross necklace; the danger was real for all those who dared to stand against the will of the state. This is possibly instructive, as some would banish religious symbols-practices-peoples in our free society today. In the 70’s, a friend of mine smuggled Christian Bibles into East Germany. He risked prison but did it gladly, working for a group organized at his Mennonite bible school in Switzerland. Prohibition makes its opponents bold.

I knew then that I wanted to share it as a piece of Mennonite lore. It speaks volumes, in a soft voice, about Mennonite culture and the quiet constancy that is common to many within the community.

I won’t say any more – it’s a short story and I don’t want to spoil it for you! A fiction based on certain historical accuracies, I hope you enjoy it, regardless of your beliefs. I also hope that it adds to your “Christmas spirit” and feelings of thankfulness.

Please see it here on the RED FEZ website. A great place to read, submit, discuss or lurk. 🙂 “Our German Relative” is just one of an entertaining and eclectic mix of stories posted in this Christmas-themed issue (No. 96).

“Red Fez is a melting pot of people interested in creating, sharing and discovering writing, music, art and more.”

The Business of Saving Souls

11.8.16 – Here is an excerpt from a new satirical piece I am working on, “The Business of Saving Souls”. I previously had it posted here in full to gather some feedback from ‘early readers’. Once I have collected all of their notes, I’m gonna shine’er up and submit for consideration to a literary journal!

Let me know if you would like to enlist as an ‘early reader’ for this story. I’ll send you a full draft — just put a note in the comment section below. And, thanks!

My complete collection of published stories, with links to the online pieces, is here: Publications 

#

11.26.16 – OK, I have received some wonderful edit notes and I am shutting the story down for early readers. (That was that unease you sensed in the force just a few minutes ago.) Thanks to early readers and editors!

Here, below, is the new intro excerpt. I hope to submit this to a few literary journals in the next little while. The rewrite is around 3,200 words.

 

The Business of Saving Souls

By Mitchell Toews

THE SMALL HYUNDAI COUPE circled the church parking lot slowly. The car’s driver peered anxiously to ensure there were no homeless people around the dumpster or congregated near the large hot air outlets on the rear of the building.

Pastor Penn Benner hated to see homeless people on the property.

“We pay to support four separate homeless shelters here in Tribune and I’ll be damned if I have them people piling up on our spotless yard. This is The Lord’s home and I aim to keep it neat and tidy,” he had said covertly to Jason on more than one occasion.

Jason found it pleasurable to hear Benner say, “I’ll be damned,” and he felt guilty for it. Benner was, after all, the Head Pastor of the Southern North Tribune Church of Christian Fellowship and was also his boss.

“We’re in the business of saving souls not picking up old blankets and all the other crip-crap they leave behind,” Penn Benner would say in the empty church as Jason Halpnuscht listened. The words would echo in the immense chamber, bouncing off the acres of white drywall, the glimmery pot lights and the inlaid glass diamonds that formed a sixty foot cross in the ceiling, stretching from nave to second balcony.

“God loves them, but they are messy. You are the Youth Pastor, Halpnuscht, why don’t you organize the youth into an outreach group for when they – the homeless – congregate on the yard? Have the church youth interact with them. There should be a paucity of homeless on our property.”

Jason Halpnuscht hated Penn Benner’s Word of the Day desk calendar.

Halpnuscht patrolled the yard with particular care today. It was Senior Council day — the second Saturday of each month, the SNTCCF’s senior group met to review church business. The meeting consisted of Jason; Head Pastor Benner; the Chairman of the Senior Deacon Council, Ronald Himmelstrup; and the church Secretary, Jedidiah Davidson. If there were issues concerning specific church functions that were managed by one of the three Associate Pastors (APs), or their assistants (the Sub-Associate Pastors) then they would also be required to attend.

Jason often wondered about his presence at these meetings. Interested and eager to contribute though he was, he was seldom called upon to participate. Furthermore, when issues became controversial, he was routinely asked to leave. “Give us the room please, Jason,” Benner would say. The Pastor started using this expression after he heard it on an episode of “24”.

As he made the last of his inspection rounds, Jason noticed a few pansies, growing yellow and purple in the weak November sun. The flowers were huddled in a sheltered spot near the clothing drop off bins.

“They neither labor nor spin,” he said quietly to the Hyundai’s Camel interior with Burl Oak accents.

#

As he unlocked the council chamber and began to make sure all was in readiness for the meeting, Jason thought back to his patrol of the yard.

If there had been homeless people there, so what? Some churches – even some businesses – take a more direct approach and set up small structures or distribute clothes and blankets. Sending them to the downtown homeless shelters seemed a little cold. Did Jesus point to the nearest Long John Silver’s and yell, “All you can eat, maximum two sides…it’s on me, multitudes!”

*SNIP*

allfornow – m

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016

Hartplatz Sitings

The fictional Mennonite community of Hartplatz, Man., has been seen in print and on the wing at several locations on the WWW.

Tell-tales include red wing blackbirds, killdeers, grackles, budgies and pelicans…icing sugar…the smell of an old baseball glove when you hold it right up to your face…the sound a bible makes when it is dropped – for emphasis – on a large wooden desk…followed perhaps by the sound of Grandma shouting at the TV while watching All-Star Wrestling.

Hey, we all have our guilty pleasures.

Here is a spotter’s guide:

CommuterLit.com has run three of Mitch’s short fictions: “Encountered on the Shore”, “A Vile Insinuation”, and “Without Reason”. Two more of his stories, “Nothing to Lose” and “Heavy Artillery” (Oct 30) appear on Fiction on the Web (UK) and, “A Fisherman’s Story”, was published in Rhubarb Magazine Issue 39 (Available at better book stores – like Sam’s Place, 159 Henderson Hwy – or ORDER  COPIES HERE.)
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Literally Stories (UK) published Mitch’s twisted yarn, “Breezy and the Six-Pack Sneaker” as well as his nostalgic walk down a dangerous alley in 1932 Winnipeg, “The Fifty Dollar Sewing Machine”, and the contemporary tale, “Frozen Tag”(Oct 27).
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“And So Are They All” won second place in the Fiction category in the 2016 “Write on the Lake” writing contest and will be published in the Lake Winnipeg Writers’ Group’s semi-annual journal, Voices, Volume 16, No. 2. Mitch will present the story at the Voices launch at McNally Robinson book sellers in Winnipeg, on November 20 at 2 PM. Voices will be available online HERE and at McNally Robinson after November 20.

THANKS to the editors and publications who have run my stories so far. I am grateful and always nervous when a story goes, “out there”! I wouldn’t want this to get around, but the truth is, I just make this stuff up!

Let’s keep that last bit between us and the mergansers out in the bay.

allfornow – m

P.S. – Click here to think of springtime.

P.P.S. – If you caught the PUN in the title, you’re better than me. I put it there by accident and then realized it and thought, “sitings, that’s pretty good,” and left it in. Ahhh, the creative process, it’s a sacred trust.

 

Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016