Excerpts from Born Hutterite - Stories by Samuel Hofer

Written and published by Samuel Hofer. Copyright 1991, Samuel Hofer. All rights reserved.

Excerpt from Marrying Away

My oldest sister Ida, who's twenty-eight, five years older than me, she doesn't live here any more. The house seemed hollow at first after she married away to another colony, almost as if there was an echo inside her house every time somebody moved or spoke. From her first letters, I got the impression the echo inside her house was more like that inside an empty granary. Maybe it would've helped if she hadn't written so clearly because my mother started crying.

Ida, she never had has much free time outside German and English school as most of the girls here age had while growing up, because she was the first in our family. Many many times while her comrades would play hide and seek or dodge-ball, or pick rosehips out in the cow pasture with the boys, Ida would have to stay close to home and take care of me and my brothers and sisters. To pass the time, she was always making up stories in her mind and writing them down, about a girl named Sarah Gross who was her imaginary pen pal living in far-off Manitoba. This girl - I know because Ida let me read her stories - had a box of fancy perfumes and jewels hidden inside the walls of their family unit, of which only she knew about. She could wear them to school and right under the German school teacher's nose because they were invisible to everybody but her.

Like Ida, I knew her stories could never come true in the colony, but I sure enjoyed reading them because they made me feel bold inside. And Ida's stories inspired me to write my own. Mostly I write stories about stuff that happens around here. Hardly anybody outside my family except my girlfriend Kleinsasser Elizabeth knows. You know how people spread stories about such things that are different. Every time a story circulates, it ricochets from one colony to the next, then gets chewed over and over till it's like a legend. I'd rather not stand out that much.

Before Ida married with Martin Entz from Picture Butte colony out in Alberta, they went together for three years. They first met when she was at Green Ridge colony somewhere by Lethbridge, helping her friend Debbie Wurtz's family repaint the interior of their house. Ida came home with high spirits, as if she had been to heaven for two weeks.

Me and my brothers teased her about having to come down from the clouds sooner or later, but she didn't come down for a long, long time, probably not till just before she got married. We could see in her eyes that faraway look that showed she was feeling like someone in the very last pages of those Harlequin Romance books, of which she had a whole drawers full. Our cousin Helen Wipf and Judith Waldner from the old Isaac Waldner family, who are a few years older than my sister, passed on their collection of Harlequin Romance books to her when they got baptized. My father burned almost all of them in our ash barrel outside.

"So what's wrong with reading romance books?" Ida complained when Father wasn't around. "Can't a girl do anything other than work all the time?"

"You know these books only keep you form reading the Bible," my mother echoed my father's words. "Worldly books are from the devil; they don't belong to us."

But Ida, she kept reading romance books in privacy anyway. And although she kept it quiet, she practiced writing love letters for when she'd have a boyfriend.

"When that boyfriend finally arrives, he'll be so mesmerised by your words, he won't be able to stay away; we might have to chase him off," I teased her one time when she showed me a letter she had written.

Well, she sure got her chance. Hardly a week had gone by after she came back from Green Ridge colony, when the first Thinking of You card arrived with the mail. Ida had a response card and a letter ready which she made sure somebody mailed on the very first trip that went to Moose Jaw.

In two weeks a bigger and more serious card came, with a letter inside. Ida wouldn't let me and my brothers read the letter, but four Sundays hadn't even passed when Martin Entz hitchhiked up here to visit with her. He came walking along the gravel road that leads into the colony from the highway, where someone had dropped him off. He was a big fellow, the kind of guy who could pitch alfalfa bales from the very bottom of the haywagon to the top of the haystack without straining himself. Ida sure seemed tiny sitting next to him on a bench. One thing me and my family noticed quick was that Martin had one heck of a nice personality and he was real sensible guy. Knew a lot about mechanics, he did. And he didn't smoke, drink too much nor act big-shottish in front of the girls.

Also, he had memorized lots of Charlie Pride and Buck Owens songs which he played on John Waldner's guitar. All the boys and girls were gathered in the kindergarten house where young adults gather in the evening when guests come, for some coffee and sweet stuff that the girls bring over. It was pretty obvious what Ida saw in Martin. Before his two-day visit was over, she had already acknowledged that she had accepted his proposal for them to go together.

"Boy, do they ever make a nice couple," some of the boys and girls said.

From looking at Ida, the way she had her plump arm wrapped around Martin's shoulder in the little school, we could see that she was very proud of finally having a boyfriend. Her grey-blue eyes were shining like sunlight off the dugout and she beamed happily at everybody. Ida looks much like my girlfriend Kleinsasser Elizabeth, only she's shorter. She has the same colour hair as Elizabeth, which is dark like topsoil after a rain. Ida's face is round and pudgy and it seems like she has a sunburn on her face, but she doesn't. The part of her face and chin that is covered by her kerchief looks pale in comparison. And she's strong. My mother says that girls with wide hips like hers are good for having lots of children.

Actually, my mother wasn't pleased at first with Ida's boyfriend.

"Why can't you wait for Chris Hofer?" she said. "You wouldn't need to marry away from Old Lakeville and your family."

My mother, she married away from her family and her home colony. I remember one time when I was about six, three colonies from Montana, including Fairfield, my mother's home colony, got a visiting trip going to Old Lakeville and Caronport colony by Moose Jaw. For some dumb reason none of her family could come. I still remember her, bent over at our living room closet, sobbing and hurting quietly; it took my father a long time to lighten her heart.

But the problem with Chris Hofer was that he was run away. The story was, and had been for a whole year, that he'd be coming back soon. Right after New Year's, his mother said. Then when he didn't show up, she said he had promised to come home right after Easter, then after spring seeding, which got pushed till after harvesting. Ida and Chris had almost started going together before he ran away and got himself a custom combining job out in the world, travelling as far as Kansas down in the States. For two years Ida had kept waiting and waiting, and writing him lots of letters. Once in a while she'd receive a card and a letter from him, which made her happy for a few days. But it didn't take long till the effects of the letter had worn off and she was depressed again.

Mother, I can't wait forever for Chris," she said. "I've written all the words in my heart away to him. If he still wants me, when and if he ever comes back, he's gonna too late."

Excerpt from Born Hutterite

Until I was seven or eight years old, I believed I was delivered from heaven in a cotton pouch via the stork. My parents revealed as much to me and my brothers and sisters - that it was the stork who brought babies to the mothers of Old Lakeville colony, it was the stork who decided how many children there'd be in each family, and it was the stork who decided whether a baby would be a boy or a girl.

Thus, early one Saturday morning, I arrived unannounced, yet welcomed by everyone. A Hutterite baby boy, destined to become another farmer in the tradition of our forbears going back several hundred years.

At age five I was led to believe - when my curious mind probed into grown-up's affairs too close for their comfort - that my sister Katie could just as well have been Martha-pasel's (aunt Martha's) little girl if she hadn't taken careful precautions.

"It wasn't that I didn't want her, Eli," Martha-Pasel explained when I was being nosey. "It was because I already have six boys and eight girls; my house is full."

I couldn't imagine that she'd have shirked her duty as a mother and constant giver of herself, ever. And neither would've my mother. Certainly, there would have been other solutions. As I learned, my aunt's solution was to keep an eye out for the stork day and night and lie low so that when the stork came around he wouldn't find her and he would have to go to someone else's house to deliver the baby. At night she would lock the doors, close the windows, pull down the blinds and stay as quiet as possible.

On the morning of Katie's arrival, she saw the stork coming already from many miles away, only a dot on the western horizon as he flew over Old Wives' Lake. Quickly, she doubled-checked the secured doors and windows, then hid in her bedroom closet. So the stork descended on our house instead, flew through the wide open window, unrolled his cotton pouch, and dropped Katie at my mother's side, who was lying in bed, contemplating the day and the work ahead of her. Of course, she never got up that morning! The stork walloped her with one of his massive wings to make her sick so she'd have to stay home and take care of Katie for a week. The he flew back to Heaven Father for another baby to bring to a mother elsewhere, maybe to an English mother out in the world, nobody knew.

Excerpt from Bonesetter

It's not the chrome-coloured oxygen tanks in the marigold bed outside his window, and it's not the rush trip to Moose Jaw with the Chevy van from which Mike Waldner our truck man had taken all the seats to make room for the bed. It's not those nine-hundred people who came to mourn till five in the morning, and it's not the black dresses the women were wearing on the day of the funeral. And it's not the dark hole either, that my Paul Paul-vetter (uncle Paul Paul) had dug with the 580 Backhoe, into which we lowered the coffin. It's none of these things that bring back memories of my ol-vetter (grandfather), even though they are the most recent.

What I remember best about my Wipf ol-vetter is how he fixed me up one time when I had a dislocated shoulder.

I was twelve then. Me and Kleinsasser George and some of the other boys had made slingshots from fast rubber we had sliced from an old inner tube we found on our neighbour Earl P. Kirk's scrap out on the field, across the creek from Old Lakeville colony, halfway to Old Wives' Lake. I was practicing shooting little stones that I was picking off the gravel road behind the slaughter house and aiming them at my target. It was dark already, the best time for me to be practicing and not get caught by Hofer David-vetter the German school teacher, who'd not only take our slingshots from us but also have us bend over in morning German school, where he'd warm up his leather strap on our taut hinders.

After a while I got tired of aiming at the smokestack on the scalding vat used for scalding pigs and cooking soap; tired of listening to the ping pong of the stones ricocheting off the metal stack and against the roof of the slaughter house. I felt like shooting something that moved. Well, along came Frederick Kleinsasser, who was a year older than me and almost a head taller, carrying water to his family's poplar trees.

Honestly, I intended to shoot only once, then scramble for safety in the dark. But the two or three stones I fired at him at first just whistled past his head by about ten feet. I wasn't a good enough shot yet to hit my targets from a distance. But I couldn't resist the temptation, so I sneaked closer, and he saw me. When I hit him, he let out a yelp like a puppy that had gotten its tail stuck in the crack of a door, flung his pails to the ground and charged after me like a mad gander.

At half-to-ten, my ol-vetter was in bed already. But my wailing that carried far through the still spring night caused my mother's nerves to become like electric, as she said later, and she sent my older brother Tim to call Ol-vetter immediately.

"Tell him he's hurt real bad," she shouted after him. "He's crying like he's been amputated on."

"Now how did this happen? And at such an hour yet?" Ol-vetter asked when he arrived. In his hurry he hadn't bothered to button up his shirt collar nor his black jacket, and I could see the untanned skin below his neckline. His blue eyes searched mine and his forehead was creased into question lines. Yet I detected a tone of amusement in his voice as he stroked his long and cone-shaped white beard. This I interpreted as a sign of confidence that he could heal me. After all, he was a bonesetter, and he had helped many many people before me.

Copyright © 1991 by Samuel Hofer. All rights reserved.

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