Thursday, March 1, 2018

Hopeful Mennonite


Continued from Vamonos Mennonite

Arms linked, Irma walked me to the nearest Farmacia. It was foreign and awkward to be so close to a friend that I felt the warmth of her body on mine. Hunched over and holding my breath, I thought, “Oh this is so weird, what are people going to think? Oh no, everybody is staring at us.”

During the entire walk, I had to force all my energy into allowing myself to enjoy the experience as much as I actually was. Knowing that I wasn’t strong enough push my awkward thoughts out of my head before the experience was over, I dug into my memory of George and the many times told me, “Anna, just give yourself some slack. Relax and enjoy this. And Anna, breathe already—you are turning blue.”

When we got to the Farmacia, I was exhausted. I just focused on breathing and trying to relax my tense body. Irma hugged the pharmacist and explained what medication I wanted to buy. The pharmacist wasn’t interested in Irma’s instructions; he just wanted to know about me and how Irma knew me. I stood there and smiled as Irma explained that we had been neighbors growing up, and how long I had been away.

Es un placer conocerte, Anna. Qué bueno que pasen tiempo juntos otra vez. (It's so nice to meet you, Anna. How nice that you get to spend time together again),” said the pharmacist as he handed me the medication.

I smiled nodded my head and said, “Gracias.”

Irma hooked her arm through mine again and off we went to the Paleteria La Michoacana. I thought, “Ekj se blos met. I guess I'm just going with.”

We walked across the street to the park, sat down in the sunshine and enjoyed our paletas before they melted.

We reminisced in an interesting mix of sign language and words about the good old days of our childhood as neighbors.

After I got back to the colony, I made my delivery to Uncle Jake, who was thrilled that I had brought him everything on his list.

I felt much better about being in Mexico. I had reconnected with a dear friend, pleased a family member and proved that I could drive to Nuevo Ideal and back all by myself.

It turned out to be a great day, and it was only getting better when my little sister Maria came running toward me shouting, “Anna! Anna! Justina and Helena Bueckert are here to see you!”

I had decided that the Bueckert girls would never speak to me again after hearing all those rumors that were going around the colony about me.

I had missed those two girls so much. I spent many sleepless nights regretting not having listened to them when they tried to convince me that I was making a big mistake leaving the colony.  At that moment I was doubting my decision again, as I did every time I felt like I didn’t belong in the new places I went to. It seemed like my life had been nothing but awkward and uncomfortable since leaving; even coming back was awkward and uncomfortable. I certainly didn’t feel like I belonged in the colony anymore. 

I was thrilled that they had come to visit me, but at the same time nervous about facing them. At that moment I was glad that Mom had made me put on a dress. It would have been even more awkward having to face them wearing jeans.

“Are you coming? They are waiting for you,” said Maria.

“Okay, okay yes, I'm coming.”

My heart was pounding as I walked over to receive them. I fought back my tears as I saw them standing there so close to me. I had an incredible urge to hug them, but I controlled myself and reached out to shake their hands instead. 

Maria guided us into her room and told us to sit down. We sat down and just stared awkwardly at each other for a while.

Maria came back with a bowl of oranges, peanuts, and chocolates.

“It's so good to see you, Anna.  I'm so glad that you came home,”  said Justina.

“It’s good to see you too. How are you, girls?” I asked, and it was like no time had passed as we conversed about all of the Sunday afternoons we had spent together.

“We are still doing the same thing,” said Helena with a sad look on her face.

“We are still waiting for men from other darpa (villages) to come and visit us, but hardly any come to Hamburg, even though they drive cars now. We’re never going to be able to get married,” said Justina. Helena agreed.

Oba, nea! Are you saying that Sunday afternoons are still as hopeless as when I was part of the group?” I asked.

Ha li dietschjat! Anna, you have no idea. They are worse now. Especially since you left.”

“Really?”

“Yes, not even Aaron Neudorf spends time with us here in the colony since you left.”

My heart started racing when they brought up Aaron. I figured, “This is perfect! I can fish for information without being too obvious.”

“Ahhh, that’s a good thing, right?” I asked.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean because he is a schwien noagel and you don’t want him around.”

“Well, he doesn’t even like us. We heard that he is dating a Mexa mijal (Mexican girl).”

“What? I had no idea.”

“Yeah, you see how hopeless it is? Aaron would rather date a Mexa mejal then either one of us.”

Oba!” I said and reminded myself that they might not know Aaron the way that I did.

That’s when I had to really bite my tongue, because I realized again just how separated we were from the people of the world in the way we thought about things. My experience in Canada had allowed me the freedom to think that it would be okay to go out with someone who wasn’t Dietsch. But in the colony, it was still ‘them’ and ‘us’--the thought of dating someone non-Dietsch was incomprehensible. I thought to myself, “Crap! Am I ever in big trouble.”

“I don’t know how you have done it. I mean live alone in Canada,” said Justina.

“Weren't you ever scared?” asked Helena.

“Well, it hasn’t been easy, but since I have been going to school, it's getting easier, because I am able to do so much more on my own. Sometimes it's still scary, but now that I can speak enough English to get by, it’s easier to figure things out. Since learning how to read and write I can learn how to take care of myself so much better.”

When they looked at each other with confusion on their faces, I realized that I had lost them. What I had just shared with them would have never crossed their minds, or mine before I had experienced it.

In the colony, you go to school until you are the age that you are done school, and that’s it. Whether you know more than when you started school is beside the point.

“I mean, it’s scary and hard for us here too sometimes, right?” I said.

“YES!” They both said.

Just as I took a big bite of my orange, Helena said, “We heard that you are not going back to Canada, that you are going to stay home.”

I almost choked on my orange as I asked, “What? Who is saying that?”

“Well, everybody.”

“Ahhhh.”

“We have to get going now,” said Justina.

“Okay,” I answered, and followed them out the door. I walked with them to the gate of our property line.

Dan lot scheengon,” they both said.

Junt uk. (You too.)”

At the end of the day, when everyone had gone to bed, I lay there wide awake, staring at the flickering light of the oil lamp on the ceiling and wondering who was spreading rumors that I was there to stay.  The next day was New Year’s Eve, and I had a decision to make. Was I going to the dance with the tall, dark and handsome cowboy, or was I going to El Guero’s ranch in the mountains?

I imagined the conversation with my mom in my head: “Ahhh, Mom, I am going to a dance with a Mexa jung (Mexican man) tonight.”

Oba nienich! (Never!)”

“Mom, a strangely dressed, light-skinned, tall, attractive, blue-eyed Mexican man nicknamed El Guero invited me to his New Year’s Eve party at his ranch in the mountains tonight. What should I wear?”

Oba waut dreement die nicht noch aules? (Oh no! What else could you dream up?)”

“Hey Mom, eena Mexa mejal (a Mexican woman) invited me to a dinner at a ranch tonight. John is going too, and I would really like to go with him.”

Nah jo, mool seen. (Okay, we’ll see.)”

Yes… I hoped it would be just like I imagined it.

The next day it was the usual madness of cleaning the whole house from top to bottom with Pine Sol, baking tweeback, and butchering chickens for noodle soup the next day.

I assisted John in catching a few chickens, and held them down while he chopped their heads off. I figured there was no better opportunity than that to run my plan by him. He agreed that I should tell Mom that a “Mexa mijal” invited me to a dinner, and that he was going anyways, so I could tag along with him.

It had been a long time since I had butchered chickens, so while Mom demonstrated how to rip the guts out of a chicken properly, I told her my plans for the evening.

My heart was pounding out of my chest. “Mom, a Mexa mijal invited me to a dinner tonight. John is going too. Can I go with him?”

I held my breath and thought, “Please don’t say ‘We’ll see what dad says’.”

Dad hadn't said much to me at all. It was clear as mud where I stood with him, and I imagined his answer to my request would be clear as mud too.

Nah ekj glive me es dot endont. Blose nich to loot wach bleven (Well, I think I’m okay with that, just don’t stay out too late),” said Mom.

In spite of the chicken-gut stink, my stomach began to feel warm and tingly as relief washed over me after Mom’s answer had sunk in. But my warm and tingly feelings immediately turned to guilt, knowing that we weren't going to be too late. Instead, we would come home really early the next morning.

At the end of the day, everyone had had their baths and all the chores were done. Everyone was busy doing their own thing. My parents took my youngest brothers to Schoendarp to visit my older, married sister. My younger sisters went to visit their friends.

The house was quiet and the smell of Pine Sol still lingered in the air. I got emotional as I recalled the many happy memories I had of my childhood in that house. I realized that most of my happy memories were associated with the smell of Pine Sol. At that moment I felt included, instead of pushed aside because I had plans of my own. I was being allowed to do something that I wanted to do. At that moment I felt like I was home and I belonged there.

I put on my dad’s radio and listened to Santiago’s radio station La Tremeda while I had my bath. I went through my suitcase looking for an outfit to put together for the party, something that was not a pleated Mennonite dress. I had no idea what would be appropriate to wear. I chuckled as I remembered my purple dress experience with George, and how dressing struggles seemed to follow me wherever I went. Finally, I just put on my jeans.

I didn’t have any makeup, so the all-natural look was my only choice. I combed my hair, grabbed the magazine my brothers had brought from Cuernavaca, went outside, and sat in the sun to let my hair dry.

While I was enjoying the peace and quiet, flipping through the magazine and attempting to read about actor Joaquim de Almeida’s role in the film One Man's Hero, Javier pulled into the driveway.

All dressed up and smelling amazing, Javier gave me his usual cowboy greeting of a hat nod and said, “Hola Anita, como estas?”

“Oh no!” I thought, “Now I have to tell him that I'm not going to the dance with him.”

“So tell me, Anita, are you ready to dance with me all night and until next year?”

I turned red like a tomato, and my heart sank when I made eye contact with him.

“I’m sorry, but I am going to a party with my brother tonight instead.” I held my breath.

“Don’t worry, Anita, I understand. It was wishful thinking on my part, but I will see you later at El Guero’s ranch then,” he said.  He did his hat nod again as he turned and went to see my brother John in the garage.

All I could do was inhale a breath, or I would be sure to pass out.

Javier left, and John went inside to get ready. He came outside dressed in his best cowboy clothes, matching ostrich skin boots, and hat. “Ready?” he asked.

“I think so.”

“Okay, vamonos pues. (Let's go then.)”

I followed him to the pickup.

“I spoke to Javier yesterday, and I told him about our plans. I hope you don’t mind.”

“Ahhh…no, no, that’s okay, I guess. I was wondering how he knew.”

When John said, “You know we're not coming home until next year, right?” my heart sank to the dusty ground. I thought, “I really hope this will be worth the trouble I will get into tomorrow.” Click here to continue reading my story.


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