Menno Genes


 My grandma was struck by lightning three times—once from the plumbing while washing dishes, once through the window while washing dishes, and once in the yard between the house and the barn. Ask me how often I take baths or wash dishes during a thunderstorm. Never. Being struck by lightning is probably genetic, and it probably skips a generation. This is what I’ve inherited from my grandma.

 My grandpa loved literature. He would recite poetry at the table—long lines that he had taught often enough in high school to commit them to memory. Ask me how many poems I can recite by rote. Not enough. A handful of sonnets, some e.e. cummings, and a few cherished haiku. I taught English tutorials for three years in university, long enough to let some poems transition from short-term memory to long-term memory. This is what I’ve inherited from my grandpa.


 My grandma had a stroke when I was a very young girl. After, she never spoke English again. She reverted to the language of her birth and spoke Low German until her death. My father would nudge me toward her arms and she would kiss my cheek, praise me in a language I had heard my whole life, but only enough to know that it was not my language. Ask me how many Low German words I know? I know a nursery rhyme or two. I can count. I can take naps and meals in her language. This is what I’ve inherited from my grandma.

 My grandpa died when he was a young man, when my father was a teenage boy. He was on the public school board in the 1940s. By being complicit with the municipal government, after bigger governments had been too often the cause for the Menno migration, he was seen as a troublemaker. I hope this is what I’ve inherited from my grandpa.

 I have moments when I feel my mom’s laugh come from my mouth, my dad’s voice come from my throat, my sister’s smile on my face when I tilt my head just so, my brother’s perverse sense of humour when I say something that makes someone uncomfortable. I think of these moments and wonder how much of who I am is tied into this multigenerational Mennonite lineage. I have no doubt I’m greater than the sum of their parts—something that’s more than just pieces of them—but I wonder about my characteristics I don’t see in any of my family members.

 I’m Canadian, but I’m also Mennonite—even though I haven’t set foot in a Mennonite church in years (and only then for the weddings and the funerals), and I keep identifying as a Menno because I can feel this history tying me to the rest of you. I might be lapsed—sometimes I say recovering—but you’re in my blood. You’re stuck with me, crass, strange, ridiculous woman that I am.