Monday, November 30, 2009

Ancestors: Giving Thanks

Today I feel especially thankful for my ancestors. For the lives they lived, the examples that they set, and for the hardships that they endured. I've tried in various posts to 'liken' some of the recorded history that I've been able to read to my life - to make it more real. I've been reading 'They Seek A Country' by David V. Wiebe (pronounced get the idea I hope. ). It is a history of the Mennonites, which while not being strictly my ancestors, lived life's in close parallel to the Lutheran/Evangelicals in South Russia, and I think that they left their homelands for similar reasons and traveled along similar roads. I'm going to quote a few sections as the true experiences that are related here are so much more powerful and poignant than any imagining can be.

Anabaptist Hymn Der Ausbund, No. 31 (written in 1528 by Leonard Schiemer before his execution for his beliefs)

We wander in the forest dark
with dogs upon our track
and like the captive silent lamb
Men bring us prisoner back.
They point to us amid the throng
and with their taunts offend
And long to let the sharpened ax
On Heritics decend. (1)

I just can't imagine the memories that this must have brought to mind. It is hard to imagine this being sung in a church service. This was a long time back, and the Anabaptists during the time that this was written were in Holland. This is still before they were called Mennonites. Menno Simmons would leave the Catholic Church and join the Anabaptists and prove to be such a stabilizing influence and provide such comfort that they came to be called Mennists, and later Mennonites, in about 18 years.

The Bible salesman in 'O Brother Where Art Thou' utters a great truth as he beats Delmar and Everet with a good sized tree branch. He smacks Delmar and Everet looks up from his food and asks 'What's up Big Dan' and Big Dan says 'It's all about the money, boys' as he proceeds to beat them bloody. So often when you see people getting a beating in one way or another, it is all about the money.

So it was with the Prussian's and the Mennonites in the late 1500's and early 1600's, and then again with the Russians in the late 1700's. In Holland, the Mennonites were mostly farmers, and farmers that specialized in draining the low swampy land and turning it into productive farmland. As they move to Prussia, they moved onto lands belonging to rich land owners, and they were welcomed and made to feel at home. They were promised that they could have religious freedom, and not have to have their sons serve in the military.

The Mennonites responded by rolling up their collective sleeves and working hard for several generations. They drained large areas and put them under cultivation. They planted orchards, hedges, built homes and outbuildings. Often they were dairy farmers. In 1774 a census showed 80,000 acres in Mennonite hands.

Back to Wiebe:

"The native Prussians now became jealous of the thrifty Duch, who persisted in retaining their Low-German along with the required High-German. Both the State and the Church determined to stop the further expansion of these people. Towards the close of the eighteenth century (1700's) strict militatry and property laws were enacted. Military exemptions were withdrawn and heavy taxes imposed. Mennonites were forbidden to purchase land except from other Mennonites and they were not to propagate their faith aside from their own ranks. The Kaiser also decreed that children born out of mixed marriages could not be taken into the Mennonite ChurchFurthermore, the government collected fedes for the State Church along with other taxes from the Mennonites." (2)

About this time, Catherine the Great's (Empress of Russia) army was throwing the Ottoman Turks out of Southern Russia. Catherine was a German Princess and wanted to establish a hardworking, educated, loyal population in this area. She invited most of Germany to come and farm in the area, promising about 180 acres, 500 roubles to help estblish themselves, and 120 oak boards per family for building purposes. I don't know how much she promised actually, but that was the offer that found it's way to Prussia and tempted the Mennonites.

It wasn't that easy to leave. At first, only those with no land were allowed to go. It's always all about the money, and the land owners in Prussia didn't want their farms to empty out and go to weeds. The first contingent of emmigrants to leave Prussia for Russia consisted of 228 families. But somewhat like the handcart pioneers, these were the poorest and most unprepared of the population.

They left early in the year, before diplomatic permission had been given, without good leaders, without a doctor, and without a minister. They had bouts of disease and even starvation during their trip. Here is an old rhyme in Low-German that kind of tells the tale:

"Geprachet, gegeft un geborgt,
Genoamme un dan vada vaukofft;
So sen Foadiki, un Moutiki, entlich,
Fon Dietschlaund noam wille Russland geflocht.

Begged, given, borrowed, and taken,
Destitute, sick, hungry, and forsaken;
Thus father and mother fled from Prussia,
To the wild steppes of Southern Russia."
Free Translation (3)

Well, I've put off posting this because there is so much more to tell. But that can wait for another post. Sometime I think is would be a good idea to have our family reunion be a trek. We could walk along the old handcart pioneer trails in Wyoming, literally walking some miles in our ancestors shoes..... yeah, now you will think Lake Powell isn't so bad right?

(1) They Seek A Country' by David V. Wiebe pg. 19
(2) They Seek A Country' by David V. Wiebe pg. 20
(3) They Seek A Country' by David V. Wiebe pg. 23

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Great Excuse for a Visit

We made the trek to Provo today to see our newest relative (grandson) . He is a cute little bundle, and I think that Annie will have better pictures. It was a nice trip and a fun visit. Here is a short video clip.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Back Yard Report

One of my charming daughters asked to see a few pictures of the back yard, as I have been spending a lot of time there, and just finished two gate that will give us drive in access. So, here it is. I think a foot of snow would make it look a lot better.

Monday, November 9, 2009

If Only, If Only I Could Write

'If Only' is the blog of a good friend who putters with poetry. I hope you enjoy his work. The latest one 'Helaman M.D' is kind of a tribute and thanks to a cadre of doctors throughout the world that watch over the missionaries wherever they are. They don't usually do the primary care, but are on hand as representatives of the Church to ensure that appropriate care is given. I had no idea, but two of his boys needed medical care on their missions, and these doctors were right there to consult with local doctors.

Early Morning Thoughts andThe Old German Bible

Stumbling around this morning, getting ready for work in the dark and cool house, I had to wonder about my life and how I live, and how very easy it is. Well, when you get up at 5 in November it will always be kind of cold and dark. But I just turn on the light, turn on the stove, put the bread in the toaster and presto-changeo I have breakfast.

I've been reading a little about Mom's Mennonite forebears. They started out back in Flanders in the Netherlands in the 1500's. The book sums up their migration to Danzig area in a small paragraph. It was about a 600 mile trip, as the crow flies, and I suspect that as the ox walked it was much longer. It's possible, but we don't know, that they went by boat.

I'm sure the author didn't mean to trivialize their lives and accomplishments - he probably just didn't have much in the way of documentation. No stories, no names.... just a general history.

And so in the dark of the morning, I don't know anything either. But I wonder a lot. They probably got up before the sun, but I imagine that the dad and the boys went out in the cold and the dark to take care of the animals. The mom and the girls lit the lamps and built the fire up, heated water, made a breakfast - but they got up, there was work to do. I imagine that it was often cold and rainy and the boy's feet would be wet before they got to the barn. The wind would be bitter, and it would be with relief that they would close the door behind them and breathe in the warm smell of cows and hay.

The dad would take the lantern and hang it up on a rafter to give a feeble light that left the walls in shadows, but allowed the cows to be fed and milked. The dad would probably milk three cows and each of the boys would milk one. In less than an hour they would be back in the house, now lamp lit and starting to get warm, at least by the fire. The cats, at least were happy for the morning milking as they gathered around the milkers and waited for a squirt of warm milk into their mouths.

Breakfast would probably be oatmeal, or cooked wheat with cream, and they would all be hungry. They would ask a blessing on the food, and probably the boys and girls would tease one another. Kids will do those things. I wonder if it was good natured teasing that would bring a smile to the parents faces and a kind but unmistakable look to keep it in bounds, or if it was mean spirited and made the parents exasperated to where they would send some children out to find a switch..... Since it is morning in my world, and I'm not ready for a bunch of hate and discontent, I will make it good natured teasing, and I'll make the mother shush them a little and the father bring out the old bible.

Wait. It's in the early 1500's. It is likely that not many can read. Likely that there is no bible or any book in the house. But again, this is my morning mirage, and maybe it is the early 1600's and their bible looks a lot like the bible that Annie got at her grandma's estate sale. This one would be in Dutch probably, although if it was in Swahili it couldn't be harder to read than Annie's German bible. But they can read it, and today's story is ......yes, The Flood, in honor of the pounding rain outside.

And so a day of labor would begin. Sewing, spinning, weaving, tanning, carving, preserving, butchering, feeding, building..... the list is endless.

Well, I have spent so much time with my musings that I'm almost late to work. But little things will trigger these musings. Little touch stones in our lives. If that old bible could talk..... and it is probably about 1870 vintage rather than 1600's. Still, it serves as a reminder of the people who laid the foundations for the easy life that we lead.

Friday, November 6, 2009

It's All About Soda

You are going to like this This guy is cool. He must be crushed. :)