This post was originally published on the old site in August 2016. I haven’t changed a thing. Well that photo of Winnipeg is new.
I have an acquaintance whose Mennonite mother told her that her family had lived in Manitoba “forever.” Oh, honey, it only feels like forever.
Though I grew up in Ontario, I traveled to Manitoba every few years because my father was a Manitoba Mennonite, born and raised in that cluster of agricultural villages with German-sounding names that huddle along the American border. Family lore has it that one year a couple of the family’s cows innocently wandered off of their pasture and into the US where they were rustled by some unscrupulous Americans. This is what happens when one wanders.
That can be a metaphor for just about anything.
The cow wandering incident was, of course, long before my time. I don’t remember a single cow from any of my visits. Perhaps they had all skipped off to the land of opportunity by then, my grandparents’ cows having pioneered the way. Or maybe there were still the occasional cows kicking about but I just didn’t see them as I was too busy visiting cousins, eating sunflower seeds, and playing with kittens.
My father would not have claimed that they’d lived in Manitoba forever. Born in the 1920s, he was only two short generations from being an immigrant himself. Both his maternal and his paternal grandparents had come from Russia in 1874, all from the Bergthal colony — the poorest of the Russian Mennonite colonies, and the least progressive. By the time my father was born some 50 years later, the Mennonites in Manitoba had already set up a couple of institutions and achieved their very first Church split. But they still knew they were newcomers.
My great grandparents and their compatriots were lured to Canada with the promise of good land, exclusion from military service, and the freedom to run their own schools. In return, they would sink their Teutonic roots into the earth and in so doing ward off the advancing American hordes who were banging at the gates of the Canadian west. That’s right — the cow rustling incident was not the beginning of our suspicion of all things American.
It would be nice to think that the Canadian government and the First Nations peoples who occupied the plains had joined up and agreed together to welcome in the Mennonites, deciding by general consensus that the Yankee threat was sufficiently dire that it was worth welcoming in these peculiar Anabaptists from the steppes of Russia. And that the Mennonites henceforth lived in respectful gratitude towards the people who gave up their lands for them. Isn’t that a nice thought? Let’s just pause for a moment and enjoy the image of the alternative universe where that could have happened.
Happy thoughts like that deserve happy cocktails. When I think of my visits to Manitoba, I think of gooseberries, chokecherries, and sunflower seeds (I only got to play with kittens once). I have already discovered that sunflower seeds do not add anything positive to a cocktail and it’ll be a little while before I experiment with them again. The sour berries that grow along the hedgerows of Southern Manitoba, however, blend nicely into a Mennonite sangria as long as you also throw in some rhubarb.
1/4 cup sugar