Mennonite Memories

We had just moved to Waterloo, and seven-year old Lauren came running into the house, "Mom, Dad, a Mennonite, a real live Mennonite, out front...and a horse!" Sure enough one of the "quiet people" was clopping down Regina Street headed for the buggy stall near the City Hall. It was a sunny, chilly October morning.

We would soon be surprised by how much of an influence the Mennonite community had here. Churches. Flourishing crops. Farmers' markets. Quilters' festivals. Peter Etril Snyder's famed art gallery. Maple syrup. Roadside flower stands. (Pay in the money jar on the honour system, please.) "No Sunday Sales" signs at each lane. Barn raising bees. Sunday meeting houses, all white clapboard with large horse and buggy lots. Single room rural route schools.

Every generation would be represented. The elders with long beard, stiff-brimmed hat and rolled shirt-sleeves sitting porch-side with pipes aglow discussing cattle prices or the new addition to the grain storage facility. Grandmothers orchestrating Sunday front yard picnics. The young husbands in black fedoras guiding nimble horse and buggy into town for supplies, or mastering large teams on horse-plow. The young bonneted wives tending to fluttering laundry or bounteous vegetable gardens edged with colourful gladiolae. The teen-age boys breaking free for their Sunday afternoon bike hike. The girls in severe purple or blue dresses walking, arms folded, along the highway margin, deep in conversation. The little ones gaily flying on hand-crafted swings, or taking a try at baseball.

It was as if their culture (the Old Order culture) made an arbitrary decision to halt all technology and convenience at a certain date in the late 1800's. No hydro (propane). No televisions. No internet. No cosmetics. No current fashions. But big on industrious agrarian endeavour, literacy, small township shops in wood or metal-working, Christian based education. Charitable relief through the Mennonite Central Committee. Much help extended to disaster-ridden areas, and particularly Central and South American communities.

Unfortunately there are some sad entries of note. Impatient motorists in over-priced, over-waxed cars blasting their horns at any inconvenience on township roads caused by buggy or hay wagon. Only seldom have the horses become skittish in traffic, precipitating accidents. There was that episode of some weekend teenagers throwing a broken beer bottle at a young wife in buggy. Much injury to the face. In response a mammoth fund-raiser led by one of the banks and resulting in totally satisfactory plastic surgery and a trust fund to benefit others. Some farmers would talk about the occasional shady deal on a horse or a piece of equipment. As if aggressively looking for cause for censure. There is something in us which despises the different. BUT PEOPLE, THEY WERE HERE FIRST! BE NEIGHBOURLY, WILL YOU?

(Paintings by Peter Etril Snyder)


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