I am Hutterite
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
In 1969, Mary-Ann Kirkby’s parents did the unthinkable. They left a Hutterite colony near Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, with seven children and little else, to start a new life. Overnight, the family was thrust into a society they did not understand and which knew little of their unique culture. The transition was overwhelming.
More than 40,000 Hutterites live on 400 colonies throughout the U.S. and Canada’s Prairie provinces. Spiritual cousins to the Mennonites and the Amish, this 500-year-old culture with European roots has been in North America since the late 1800s, yet few outsiders know anything about its customs or traditions.
"I Am Hutterite" takes you inside Fairholme Colony, where Kirkby spent the first ten years of her life. Her detailed portrait of Hutterian people opens a window on a closedcommunity and reveals a way of life that seems extraordinary to the outside world.
Whenever the mood struck him, often over the Christmas holidays, Jake Vetter would invite a handful of children to his house for the evening. We were always summoned at the last minute and in the same manner. One of the young Dienen would open our front door and yell, “Ann-Marie, der Jake Vetter werd G’schichtlen verzählen,” announcing the exclusive invitation. And while she was off to the homes of other invitees, I would dash off at full speed to my uncle’s house at the opposite end of the colony.
Mary’s brother Jake and her brother-in-law Dafit Wurtz, the man Mary’s father had urged Katrina to marry for love, took up the last two chairs at the head table. Jake trained his eyes on Elie Wipf standing with two Buben, “young men,” from New Rosedale in the far corner of the dining room. One of them gave Elie a good-natured slap on the shoulder, and they both laughed. Elie appeared to be taking his recent setback in stride, but seeing their glib behavior annoyed Jake, who was left to shoulder his disappointment over his sister’s choice.
Hutterite dresses didn’t have pockets, so most of the women used their bras to store small items such as hairpins, safety pins, and Kleenex. Esther, Annie reported, carried tea bags and sugar lumps that way too. When an outsider had dropped in to see Esther’s husband, she sent one of her children for him and offered the stranger a cup of tea, nonchalantly pulling a tea bag and two sugar lumps from her bosom. When she asked whether he took cream, the flabbergasted businessman jumped out of his chair and cried, “No thanks!
And they taste better than hamburger ’cause they’re better for you,” he replied smugly. Bernie heaved and ran for the bathroom. It was the last time anyone traded an item of food with one of us. The leaves turned to red and gold that autumn, and we shivered in the morning cold, anticipating the bone-chilling temperatures that would soon follow. One evening, when frost had cloaked the lawns and fallow fields, Father called me downstairs. “Ann-Marie, come to the kitchen! ” he shouted. I was high in the Alps with Heidi, Peter, and the goats, and the budding romance between the goat herder and his alpine sweetheart was just heating up.
At the end of a bumpy ride down a series of back roads, the forest gave way to an enormous house guarding a neglected farmyard. The home had clearly once belonged to someone of means, but its deteriorating exterior was marred by gashes of peeling paint and corroding brickwork. The lawn and flower beds were buried under tall grass and weeds. Inside, the sheen had long gone from the hardwood floors, and the air was thick with dust. We had never seen a house with such big rooms before. The living room and adjacent parlor on the main floor were the size of a small hockey rink—a consideration not lost on my brothers, who would use it to play floor hockey when the weather outside was too wet or too cold.