Saturday, September 1, 2018
Landmark Roses and what I learned by Nancy M Bell
Writing Landmark Roses was a definite learning experience. Without Margaret Kyle who was my research go to person the book could not have been written. Margaret is a member of the Mennonite community in southern Manitoba and as such was invaluable in the construction of the novel. One of the most surprising things I learned was that there were a large number of Mennonites who migrated to Paraquay in the 1920's and mid to late 1940's. This was due to the Canadian government's plan to take over the Mennonite school system and have the children taught in English rather than their native Low German, and to not teach the religion in schools. Many of the families who made the long journey by rail and ship found themselves hacking an existence out of raw countryside. Also, the men who ran the communities were far more strict with the women and what rights they had than when they were in Canada. Some of the families made the long trek back to southern Manitoba and rejoined their original community where they still had extended family members and friends.
There was also an exodus to Mexico near Chihuahua for much the same reasons. There is still a large and vibrant Mennonite community there today.
Another surprising thing was my perception of the community. I grew up in south central Ontario where there are many Mennonite and Quaker communities. They tend to be very traditional, no cars, not electricity, TV etc and very conservative dress. More like what I see in the Hutterite communities in Alberta. Margaret told me her family drove cars, played cards and dressed like everyone else. She said her mother still had more clothes than Margaret does and takes great care to dress in the current fashions. I learned many other things during the research and writing of the novel, but these are the ones that stand out.
Excerpt from Landmark Roses:
Elsie straightened the new scarf, arranging it neatly on her head and smiled at her reflection. For a woman of fifty-five years she looked very well. The years may have etched fine lines at the corners of her eyes and around her mouth though the diffuse light filtering through the curtains softened them into nonexistence. She ran her hands over her still narrow waist and hips, smoothing the material of her best Sunday dress.
“Elsie, are you coming?” Ike’s voice echoed up the staircase. “I’ve got the buggy waiting by the porch steps.”
“Coming!” With one last appraising glance at her reflection, Elsie crossed the bedroom her heels clicking on the wood floor. No one could ever say Elsie Neufeld looked less than her best on a Sunday morning. The old house was quiet as she descended the stairs. Running her hand down the polished bannister, she smiled. The sunlit peace would soon be broken once the family arrived when Church was over. Her steps slowed momentarily when she entered the living room, ticking off the items prepared and waiting in the kitchen.
“Elsie…” Ike swung the screen door open and broke off abruptly when he caught sight of her standing in a golden beam of light.
“I’m right here, Ike. Come along, we’re going to be late if we don’t hurry.”
Her husband came to her side in two long strides and tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow. “Standing there all bright and golden you’re as beautiful as the day I married you.”
“Thank you, Ike.” Elsie giggled like a young girl and gave him a coquettish glance. “Sometimes it seems like only yesterday, doesn’t it?”
“Somedays,” he agreed moving toward the door and the waiting buggy.
Elsie went down the wide porch steps with her head high, pleased the long slender fingers of her hand looked elegant resting on her husband’s arm. Her wrist peeking out from the sleeve of her dress was still thinner than her sister Agatha’s. She patted at the strand of shining hair the prairie wind teased from under her hat, tucking it back safely where it belonged.
Ike handed her up into the buggy seat and waited until she was settled before going around to the driver’s side. He ran a hand over Polly’s hip as he passed and paused to straighten a strap on the bridle before joining his wife, the springs of the buggy squeaking in protest at the added weight.
“Giddup, mare.” Ike slapped the lines lightly on the bay gelding’s rump. The horse agreeably moved forward and obeyed the signals that sent her out of the yard and unto the dusty road. The September morning was warm with a slight edge to the air that said without a doubt that summer was fading. The breeze carried the scent of sun-ripened grain and last roses of summer nodding along the roadside. How she loved the smell of the wild roses that ran rampant over the rolling prairie. Overhead a pair of hawks circled in the autumn blue sky, bright in contrast to the golden prairie sweeping to the horizon. The creak and rumble of the buggy accompanied by the jingle of harness and the sound of the mare’s hooves striking the soft surface of the road was comfortingly familiar. Elsie turned and smiled at her husband of thirty-five years. Time had been as kind to him as it had to her, she reflected.
Ike tipped his head and caught her eye. “Penny for your thoughts?” He raised an eyebrow.
She shook her head and patted his arm. “Just enjoying the morning. It’s such a lovely day.”
There was already a line of other horse and buggies outside the church along with a scattering of automobiles parked haphazardly anyplace they could find space. Ike brought the buggy to a halt, set the brake and stepped down. He tied the horse’s lead to bracket in an open space on the hitching rail in the shade of a spreading tree. Elsie took his hand and disembarked the buggy, careful of her dress on the dusty wheel.
Together the couple joined the others entering the building, the white paint gleaming in the sun. Elsie nodded to acquaintances and scanned the gathering for her extended family. In such a small community it was impossible not to know everyone present and a hum of conversation buzzed around her. The men were handsome in their Sunday best and the women’s bright dresses fluttered like brilliant butterflies as they moved toward the open doors.
Elsie blinked in the sudden dimness of the small area just inside the porch. She shook her head when Ike glanced down inquiringly at her. Satisfied she was fine, he led her into the nave and waited for her to precede him into the pew with the female members of her family. Ike carried on to where his sons Ed, Jake, and Hank and the young men of the family were already seated. Elsie settled herself beside Agnes and glanced over at her daughters and granddaughters. She smiled to see Agnes, Susan and Helena had separated the boys young enough to still sit with the women. Sarah hadn’t arrived yet. Elsie frowned and turned to ask Agnes if she knew where her sister was. A stir at the back of the church distracted her and she turned to see Sarah entering leaning on her husband’s arm. She smiled as she joined the rest of the women in the pew. Elsie kept her expression carefully schooled, but noted the pallor of her daughter’s face and the faint sheen of perspiration on her brow. The building was warm and a bit stuffy, but she didn’t think it could account for Sarah’s pale face.
Perhaps it was just the pregnancy that was making the girl feel poorly. Elsie sent a silent prayer heavenward that it wasn’t the malaria rearing its ugly head. Not again, she prayed. Not when the dear child was carrying again.
The pastor began the service and Elsie gave her full attention to the matter. The Vorsängers were in fine form, the choristers leading the congregation in responsive singing. They sat at the front of the church on the left side of the raised platform where they called out the number of the songs so the congregation could find the selection in their Gesangbuch.
Elsie joined her voice with the others at the appropriate times, giving herself over to the oneness of community the combined voices invoked. With all present singing mindfully and in the moment, offering the music to God with heartfelt love and praise, Elsie knew she was more than just one person. She was part of the soul of the congregation enraptured by the strength of their combined voices and purpose, praising and following the glory of the Almighty.
“I was so helpless, full of sin, nothing good in myself I find,” she sang.
My other books can be found at my BWL Publishing webpage
My latest release is Wild Horse Rescue, a YA novel set in southern Alberta.