On Facebook where I interact with some of my readers, I’ve been asked quite often about my own family history, and if it has affected my choice to write Amish stories. So today, I thought I’d give you a little view into the family I come from.
My father’s side of the family is Russian Mennonite. They came to Canada in 1925 from Russia. They were German speaking, and starting farming almost immediately–it was a life they already knew. In fact, their first house was a sod house (by the looks of some old pictures) and it was one room. My grandfather was 16 when he arrived in Canada, and had to start learning English by going to Grade One in school.
This is a picture from my grandfather and grandmother’s wedding in 1933. They’d upgraded to a wooden farm house–two stories! In eight short years, they’d worked their way up, and my grandfather had found a woman he loved.
My grandmother came from an incredibly conservative Mennonite community, while my grandfather was less so. They did end up buying a truck in later years (after my grandparents were married for a little while, I believe), and then eventually a car. A tractor was acquired for my grandfather’s farm, so they weren’t Amish or Old Order Mennnonite, but they did live very simply. There was no running water or electricity when they first started out.
My aunt who is in her eighties now tells stories about how her parents used to refer to the neighbours as the “English neighbours.” She’d assumed back then that they must have been from England, but I highly suspect they were called English in the same way that the Amish use the term–to describe their native language spoken at home. They were English speaking, while my grandfather’s home was German speaking.
By the time my dad was born (he was #11 out of 12 kids), his parents used low German as the language they spoke to each other, and the language they could use to keep secrets from the younger kids. My aunt who was #5 out of 12, spoke a lot more German.
My dad grew up on a farm. His father was multi-talented. He built their houses himself, kept a flourishing garden, and ran his own dairy farm. My grandmother, who took care of the kids and the house, was a tremendous cook, I’ve been told.
My father graduated from high school, and he was going on to become a computer technician. He’d certainly moved on to very modern goals. He even married a Catholic girl (my mother.) This was very shocking to his conservative mother. My grandmother wouldn’t attend the wedding–that was just a shade too far in her eyes. My mother would end up taking care of my grandmother for a few years before her death, though, which just goes to prove that it all worked out rather nicely after all.
There is still a great sense of respect for our family’s humble beginnings on Canadian soil, and for the communities of Anabaptist believers who keep to a strict, Plain faith. We still have some Russian money that was smuggled out of Russia when they left. It was absolutely worthless by the time it arrived in Canada, but it was preserved for the memories, and at first, possibly out of a loathing to literally throw money away. I’m glad they did keep it, though, because it is a part of our story.
So when you read my Amish stories, you’ll notice a theme of outsiders versus insiders, keeping a community safe by preserving tradition, and the curious gaze of the Amish, looking at the outside world around them. This all comes from my own family’s experience of preserving their Mennonite faith on the Canadian prairies. ❤
It wasn’t so long ago!
THE PREACHER’S DAUGHTER hits the shelves in a week! It releases May 25, 2021.
I hope you’ll pick it up!