My mother was born to a family that spoke Plautdietsch at home and German in church. Those languages, sometimes called Low German and High German, were meant to be a protective wall, preventing folks of that heritage from feeling at home with the people around them. They also served to exclude the people around them from their churches and hopefully from their families.
Mom spoke only Plautdietsch until she started school; there she learned German and English. As she neared adulthood, she memorized the German catechism and was baptized, becoming a member of the Sommerfelder Mennonite Church.
Schools stopped teaching German; the church held German classes for the children one winter and stopped. Mom’s eight younger siblings never learned German, thus understood nothing of the Bible reading, preaching or hymns in church. Many of them didn’t bother to attend. Mom began to ponder how the language in which the Christian message was preached could be more important than the Christian message itself.
She listened to Christian messages in English on the radio and learned many English hymns. In 1935 her sister Katherine married Art Goodnough and Mom began to get acquainted with the Goodnough family. In 1940 she married Walter, Art’s older brother. I was born in 1942, the only child of Walter and Agnes.
When I was a very small child Mom would occasionally use a Plautdietsch word or two. But she had cast her lot with the mainstream English-speaking Canadian society and she was a determined woman. She studied her dictionary and built an English vocabulary that was more extensive than most people around her. She completely lost her Low German accent.
When we moved to Craik she joined the Anglican Church Women’s group and the Hospital Auxiliary and built relationships with the other ladies of the community. Despite having had only six years of schooling, she was my first and best teacher. She was interested in my school work and always wanted to get to know my teachers.
She had no prejudices that I ever discerned. Colour of skin and ethnic background were not barriers to her. She occasionally expressed a wish that she could have learned French when she was younger. She never forgot Plautdietsch and German, but they were of no value to her any more, except in visiting with some of her family.
Since I was her only child, Mom determined that she would accept and love whoever I would decide to marry. She carried through on that and she and Chris became very close. She loved her only granddaughter and that love was returned. Mom was already past 90 when Michelle was expecting her first child; Michelle told her Grandma before she told her parents.
Mom was a bridge builder, not a builder of walls. That is the legacy that she has left for us to cherish and continue.
2 thoughts on “Memories of a Bridge Builder”
What a beautiful legacy.