I am a Klassen.
My paternal grandparents were D.D. and Susan Klassen of Halbstadt, Manitoba (they moved to Homewood and then to Carmen where they finished their days). My father grew up there and I still have many Manitoba family members. They were Bergthaler Mennonites.
My mother’s parents were born in Russia and met in Saskatchewan after immigrating separately. My mother grew up in Leamington and then moved to Toronto. Her family were “Kirchliche” Mennonites in Russia, United Mennonites in Canada. As far as I know, all my acknowledged ancestors were Mennonite, though of slightly different stripes.
My parents lived in Altona, MB and then in Toronto before I was born but settled into the Kitchener-Waterloo region in time for me to make my appearance into the world. I spent the first eight years of my life in an inner suburb – or maybe the outer inner city – of Kitchener. After that, we moved to a farm outside of Waterloo and stayed there for four years. Then we moved to another place in Waterloo before gathering up our belongings once more and heading on back to Kitchener. And, after another few years, we moved to a different house at the other end of Kitchener.
So, you see. I am a person of diaspora. Micro-diaspora.
By the time I left home at eighteen, I thought those kids who grew up entirely within the same house to have lived very dull lives indeed. Mind, it never occurred to me that there were others who were uprooted as many times as I (or more) and over far greater distances and that I looked ridiculously coddled next to them.
I started writing at the age of four or five but was never an ace at penmanship. I impressed my first grade teacher by putting together a few sentences into an order that approximated a plot. Subsequent teachers were not as easy to impress but I continued to write and have a number of notebooks someplace full of aborted stories.
Unless I threw them out.
I might have done that, during a phase in my young adulthood when I was young enough to be embarrassed without the wisdom to see how time can transform embarrassment into a charming nostalgia.
I remember that one of the stories I wrote was about a cat and a dog who solved a mystery — I think it may have been a burglary; I don’t think I could have managed a murder — and needed to try to communicate with the people to bring the criminals to justice. I never finished that story, though, so those dastardly thieves are still at large. I like to think they have reformed their lives through restorative justice but without the help of the local cat and dog population.
In high school, I fell in love with History and this love took me away from writing stories of fiction. Prior to this, I had already fallen in love with Toronto and so, upon graduating from my Mennonite high school in Kitchener, I followed both my loves by pursuing a history degree at the University of Toronto. I also left the Church and the faith community it represented. Over the next fifteen years, I chased my love of history from Toronto to the US to France and then back to Toronto. We parted ways when the discipline made it clear that I could have a PhD if I liked but there was no way History had any intention of supporting me financially. I would not call it an amicable break-up.
In the meantime, I had married and borne two children. They helped me keep that heartbreak in perspective.
I started writing stories again. Somewhere, there are floppy disks with various aborted stories on them. Unless I threw them out.
I gave myself one year during which I would not teach or look for work and I would devote myself to two things: I would write a novel from beginning to end; and I would learn to make butter croissants. While child rearing.
And I did that.
The novel from that year had a small cast of characters and a simple plot but it had a beginning, middle and an end and that was enough to be considered an achievement of my goal. The croissants were sublime. I make them every year at Christmas now.
I took a job as an administrator at the University of Toronto, and then another until finally I came to one that uses the critical, analytical and academic writing skills that I developed while embroiled in my relationship with History. I have started to mellow my resentment at History for having done me wrong. I have also partly reconciled myself to the faith of my ancestors and have discovered that partial reconciliation is a place where I can live comfortably.
My children have grown up. My father passed away a few years ago.
I have seen three cats mature and die in my care and had another two that ran away and simply disappeared from sight. There was always a dog in the house when I was young. Those pets have all long ago passed away and now an old dog of my own lies beside me as I type away at my keyboard. As far as I can tell, none of the cats or dogs that I have known have ever shown an inclination for crime fighting.
People keep asking me: “Do I know you?”
I started blogging and tweeting as the Drunken Menno in the fall of 2014. I’d been working on a novel for about a decade and was starting to imagine that I might finish it at some point (it’s done now, but not published). For that reason, I called myself and the site that housed the Drunken Menno Blog “The Imaginary Novelist.” I didn’t bother putting my name anywhere prominent but I tweeted and made a facebook page. It wasn’t really a secret. It just wasn’t really public either. Eventually, I started inserting enough personal details that people who knew me and who read the blog could identify me. A couple — to my astonishment — did.
I started telling my family and friends.
But a lot of people I didn’t know at all also found me. These are people I followed or Mennotrolled* on Twitter. Mostly disaffected Mennonites and other people in the various outskirts of the Menno world. Such people would look at my moniker and sometimes rummage through my posts and then send me a note or a tweet hoping or — I suspect — fearing, that I was the secret alter ego of one of their friends or family members.
The Mennonite world is small enough that Mennonites always imagine that they must know everyone else. But we don’t. With my name prominent on the website now, I expect less people will come across the blog and say to themselves, “wait, is this my old friend from Rockway Mennonite Collegiate who moved to Toronto in the 1980s and never came back?” I am that, sure, but I’m not that other friend with that other Mennonite name.
Still — am I really the Drunken Mennonite? No. The Drunken Menno is a persona too large for any one human to capture. It’s like Santa Claus or Dirk Willems. I write the blog, yes, but I write it as the Drunken Menno, pulling anecdotes and memories from my own life, to be sure, but stretching and pulling at the narration until I’m not sure if we are one in the same person or not. You might find a slightly different voice if I start writing blog posts categorized under “Enchanted Cottage Notebooks.” You might find another slightly different voice if you meet slklassen in person. She’s not exactly me and I’m not exactly her.
I know I like to hang out with her, though.
Mostly for the cocktails.
*I word I made up to mean searching through Twitter for tweets that mention Mennonites in them and then responding #NotallMennos or something equally annoying. I have made numerous twitter friends this way.