Thursday, May 26, 2016

Jerkish Mennonite

Continued from Homesick Mennonite

I managed to push my nüdelsup cravings far enough to the back of my mind to be able to write my math exam. By the time, I had finished writing the exam, it had stopped raining and the sun began to shine. I decided to go outside and soak up some of that beautiful sunshine. I sat down at the picnic table closed my eyes, inhaled a deep breath of fresh spring air and thought “I really hope I passed that exam.”

When I opened my eyes, I saw a Low German man walking toward the building. As he got closer, I recognized him. It was one of my uncles that I hadn't seen in a very long time. I got so excited to see such a familiar face and said, “I recognized you right away, it’s so good to see a family member around here, do you remember me?”

Jo, (yes,)” He answered in a low voice while staring me up and down with a noticeably disappointed look on his face.

Well jie uck aunfang noo de School gon? (Are you starting school too?)” I asked.
He shook his head and said, “Oba nee! Wie wellen boolt aunfang too schaufen (Oh no! We are starting work soon)” in the flattest, least excited low voice, and he began to walk away slowly.

It was like he was backing away slowly from a vicious criminal, afraid that he might get attacked or something. Then I realized that I was wearing jeans and that was why he was so disappointed and couldn’t stand to look at me or make eye contact.

As I watched him walk into the school, I wondered, “then what the heck are you doing here?” I felt like a total idiot for getting that excited to see him, and even asking if he was starting school. Of course, he wasn't. I knew better than to ask him that.

My feelings were hurt. I thought to myself , “what a jerk” but then I remembered that he was just acting like any Low German man would toward his niece that has shamed and disappointed her entire family.

I sat there and thought to myself “I am the jerk here, for expecting him to be happy to see me” and remembered that this wasn't something new, people never got too excited about much. Not even about seeing a family member you may have missed.

When any family members that we hadn't seen for years come from Canada to visit us, even though we had missed them like crazy, we just shook their hands and said, “Goodndach (good day)” in the same tone as if we said it to a complete stranger. But I was expecting more because I was getting used to people getting excited about things. I had experienced human relationships in a whole different way.

I was getting used to the way Christina, George, Josh, Steve, Chung, Sam, the nurse at the walk-in clinic, and all of my teachers treated me. They had taught me that life could be exciting sometimes and that it is okay to show it, especially about someone like me doing well in school.

I thought to myself, “Oba Anna du bast en schlopmets, (Oh Anna you are an idiot)” for thinking that he would actually be happy to see me. He wasn’t surprised to see me because he knew I was going to that school and also had heard all the rumors going around about me in the colonies in Mexico. 

On my way back into the school building I saw my uncle help a man load school desks onto a thrift store truck. And there was the answer to my question about what the heck he was doing there.

I went back to my class hoping to be able to put my hurt feelings aside so I could focus on writing the rest of my last grade nine exams.

I began to think about the fact that by the time George was going to eat his lunch, I would know whether or not I had passed grade nine. And the butterflies began to come alive in my stomach again.

Everyone at the school was in a great mood and happy to leave as soon as they finished writing their exams. Some didn’t even care to know what their marks were or if they even passed. It was Friday, the weather was getting nicer and school was out for a week. Getting a whole week off of school was a bit scary. Having too much free time on my hands was not a good thing for me.

As the day went on the sun shone brighter and warmer. I wondered where everyone was rushing off to in such a hurry. I thought, “I am going to have to go home and clean my apartment with pine sol.” That would be the only thing that would make me feel better and connected to my family after running into my uncle. My encounter with him brought back all the sad guilty feelings I had stored away about leaving them.

By noon, I had gotten back all of my marked exams, returned my books to the school library, and I was done. I was free to go, I finished and passed grade nine. I thanked and said goodbye to all my teachers and walked out of the school feeling taller than I did when I first walked in, scared half to death.

I forgot all about my uncle as walked home tall and proud with the biggest smile on my face. I felt so good about passing grade nine, I didn’t even have to remind myself to breathe, it came naturally along with the feeling of being taller than I was before. It was a feeling unlike I had ever experienced before, especially remembering my first walk to the school and how sick to my stomach I felt back then.

When I got home I emptied my backpack, neatly placed all of my exams and the notes I got from Steve, into a binder to keep forever and ever. I put the binder on my bookshelf that George built for me. I ripped all the pages of my own mixed notes in English, Spanish, and bad spelling. I threw them all in the garbage and placed the notebooks back into my backpack so that I would be ready for grade ten after a week off from school.

It was not easy to enjoy that proud feeling for long with that heavy pink slip on back my mind, so I just began cleaning my floors with pine sol. Even though it was only Friday, I hadn't cleaned in a while because I had been too busy with school and work.

When I finished cleaning my floors, I made myself a bowl of chicken flavored Mr. Noodle for lunch. It didn’t satisfy my cravings for nüdelsup, but because of the smell of pine sol lingering in the air it made me feel like I was still part of my family. I was able to convince myself that that was good enough for now. Even though I was sad that they didn’t care or feel any excitement about me doing well in school.

I thought of a way I could make myself feel better about my encounter with my uncle and knowing that I would get the same reaction from my immediate family. I thought about how I could get revenge on them without hurting their feelings while I got ready for work.

I put a notebook into my work bag and decided that I would write a letter to my family at lunch break. I would tell them that I had I finished and passed grade nine. All the while I knew that it wouldn’t mean anything to them and that I would receive back the same reaction as I did from my uncle. All they cared about was how I might be changing.

While I drove to work I thought of a way to get back at my family in a sneaky way. I would write a letter to them and not use any punctuation that I had learned. I would write the same flat no excitement in the letter as I was receiving from them. I got all excited just thinking about it. 

At lunch break, as I was finishing up my punctuation-less letter, Sam came over. He sat down on the sewing table and looked down at what I was doing, and said, “Hey Anna how’s it going?”

“Good except wishing that it will be a long time before we get those pink slips. How are you?”

“I’m hoping the same thing, Anna,” he said and asked, “What are you writing?”

I thought “Oh no! I won't know how to explain this to him”. “Ahhh a letter to my family in Mexico,” I answered. 

“May I see it?”

I thought “Oh, no, oh crap. I can't just say no,” and said  “Okay, sure,” and passed it to him.

I braced myself thinking that he was going to think that I'm an idiot.

He looked at the letter for a while and said, “Wow, this is so interesting, there is no punctuation at all in your writing? Is this how your language is written?”

“Ahhh actually no it’s not.” 

“What, then why...?”

“Well, I have never used punctuation in the letters I wrote to my family because I didn’t actually know how to use it. But today I am mad at them. All of them, and I think since they all have such a flat attitude toward me about going to school, they are not worthy of the punctuation I have learned in school here in Canada. I am giving them back what they have been giving me. No excitement whatsoever. No punctuation!”

He laughed and said, “What? Wow, what a way to stick it to them,” and continued laughing so hard that he almost fell off the table.

I was being serious, but because he was laughing so hard I started laughing too and said, “Well, they all deserve this.”

Sam couldn’t even speak because he was laughing so hard. I began to wonder if he was laughing because he thought it was funny, or because he was thinking “what kind of loser does a thing like this?” 

I wasn’t sure anymore.

When Sam finally caught his breath, he said, “This is awesome, I love it. I'm going to try this next time I am mad at someone for doing me wrong. I will give them no punctuation, what a way to just let ‘er rip to lash out at someone.” and continued laughing.

I laughed and said, “Okay” as I thought “I'm not sure what ‘let ‘er grip’ means but I sure hope it doesn't mean he will rip this letter, I worked really hard on it and I was hoping to put it in the mail after my shift ends.”

“Okay, I’m sorry Anna, I don’t mean to carry on like this, but I have never seen anything like this before.”

“It’s okay Sam, I know all about that.”

“Speaking of first experiences, have you ever been to a drive-in theater before?” Sam asked.

“Ahhh no.”

“A few of my friends are going tomorrow night, would you like to come?”

“Ahhh what is it? What do people do there?”

“Well, it’s like a big outdoor TV, you park the car and watch a movie. Some people stay in the car and watch it, others bring lawn chairs and sit outside to watch. It’s a lot of fun, I think you might enjoy that.”

“Okay, I will think about it.”

“Sure, can I borrow your pen?” He asked and started laughing again.

“Okay,” I said and handed my pen over to him. He wrote down his phone number in my notebook.

“Here is my phone number, think about it and call me anytime.”

“Okay,” I said as he got up and went back to work while he continued laughing.

It sounded tempting. Though we had become good friends. I still wasn’t sure about him.

I sat at my sewing station, stared at Sam’s phone number and thought, “Wow watching a movie outside? How amazing would that be?” And got back to work.

I finished writing my “‘stick it to my family by withholding punctuation from them” letter’ at the last break. I sealed it, put a stamp on it and put it in my bag ready to be mailed to Mexico.

At the end of the shift, Hilary stood by the door and handed all of us a sealed envelope as we were leaving. When I got to him, as he handed an envelope to me, I forced myself to make eye contact with him. I saw the saddest eyes looking back at me through his thick glasses. I gave him a quick half fake smile and said, “Thank you, Hilary.”

He looked down as he said, “Have a good night, Anna,” in the lowest voice I had ever heard him speak before. Click here to continue reading my story.

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