My friend Ruth dashed up the stairs to our third floor apartment with a book in her hand. She was on her way to teach an evening class at the high school but first she wanted to be sure to give me this book, so I could read it on the plane the next day.
mennonite in a little black dress, by Rhoda Janzen.
(That’s how her title appears, all lower case. Is it a reflection of prototypical Mennonite reserve? An acknowledgement that all letters of the alphabet should be accorded equal rank no matter where they happen to fall in a sentence? Just something that the designer did to be trendy?)
Ruth opened Rhoda’s new book and excitedly pointed out the Mennonite History Primer on the last pages.
This is what my husband has always said about me, Ruth exclaimed, reading happily:
“On the other hand, Mennonites happily endorse the following: ‘The scrupulous consumption, on principle, of any and every moldy leftover in the fridge.’ And she’s made a list of all the things that Mennonites do not endorse! Look! ‘Drinking. Dancing (though let’s not forget ‘liturgical movement,’ which is sort of allowed. Smoking. Sex outside of marriage. Sex inside of marriage. Sex on television. Sex in movies….'”
Ruth was raised Mennonite. And Hutterite and Bruderhof. But that’s her story to tell.
I was raised Mennonite Brethren. I married Ruth’s double second cousin.
That’s another feature of being a Mennonite: family trees that embrace one another. At my husband’s maternal grandmother’s funeral this past weekend (her name also was Ruth — that’s another Mennonite feature, the reuse of a small universe of monikers, mostly Biblical), I was singled out by a handsome, grandparent-y couple, David and Alice, who let me know that they used to sit with my little brother James when we attended the Kitchener Mennonite Brethren Church, because they also had a son of James’ age. This is when those boys were below pew height and I was about twelve. A few sentences into our conversation, we uncovered the inevitable family relationships just begging to be revealed in any encounter between two persons of Mennonite origin: my Uncle John was David’s cousin and Tim’s recently deceased grandmother was Alice’s sister. Appropriate exclamations of surprise and delight were made by all.
But I digress. Now that I have taken the plane trip, and have read mennonite in a little black dress by Rhoda Janzen (passing up an opportunity to squint at Jules and Julia through my new trifocals at a distance of ten feet, at an angle, on an eight-inch monitor hanging from the ceiling, absorbing a flat, jerky version of the soundtrack through my iTouch headphones), I am excited.
Rhoda was brought up as a Mennonite, as I was, and she writes truly and with humor. Her work inspires me to continue polishing the draft of my book, Wild and Precious Life, because I want to contribute to the dialog.
Oh, but should I alter my orthographic treatment to a mildly ironic wild and precious life?
Some time I’ll write about Miriam Toews, too, because she’s another one of our tribe of Mennonite writers.