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Reflections on turning 60

This year (2019) is a significant one because it commemorates events that greatly impacted the trajectory of my life. Last month on July 16th was the 50th anniversary of the day we left Fairholme Colony. On July 27th I turned 60 and on October 8th my husband Gordon and I will celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. If feelings were a beverage mine would taste like gratitude with a splash of melancholy.

I love to dress up so my husband Gordon and son Levi threw me a birthday party at the Rusty Owl Restaurant in Prince Albert, SK. My “boys” are the jewels in my crown and they brought love and laughter to my party with touching toasts and stories that provoked great merriment at my expense. Despite all my efforts to “become English” I had to concede that I am a bona fide Hutterite wife and mother…. long, loud and deeply loving.

I’m a fan of marking special occasions. Life is marching by at such great speed that we are forgetting to turn off our gadgets and turn to each other. I was not afraid of 60. It’s a beautiful age.

Over my lifetime I have been incredibly fortunate to draw to myself a circle of friends with whom I have shared the best of times and the worst of times. (And I have experienced plenty of both). They all came to my celebration, some in person and some via audio or video messages. Hutterite friends and family across Canada and the U.S. and my cherished European friends all made an appearance. I felt so blessed.

Looking back, my life feels like a dream. Until I was 10 years old, I had a happy go lucky childhood at the Fairholme Hutterite Colony. From age 10 (when we left the colony) to age 20 I went through difficult transitional years getting a handle on the “English” world. From age 20-30 I enjoyed (immensely) a career in journalism, mostly television and radio. The story telling culture that was entrenched in my consciousness in the Klanaschuel on the Colony served me extremely well during those years. Then I hit a fork in the road. As a journalist, falling in love with your subject was, to put it bluntly, a career ender. Gordon Kirkby, the newly elected Mayor of Prince Albert was then, the youngest mayor (30) in Saskatchewan’s history. There was a lot of tension in Prince Albert at the time of his election between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal community. I was greatly impacted by his message that we all have a right and duty to feel proud of our cultural heritage. I was very "unproud" to be Hutterite. We married in 1989. Thus, in my 30’s-40’s I became a politician’s wife, and then a mother to our beloved son, Levi.

It was during those years, that I was forced to reinvent myself, again. I am an avid reader and was absolutely astounded that standard bookstores didn’t carry any books about Hutterites. That a culture as rich and vibrant as mine was completely unrepresented in the mass market was an unpleasant revelation. Our spiritual cousins, the Mennonites, the Amish, were all generously portrayed but nothing, nothing, nothing about Hutterites. No wonder people thought us strange. No wonder people believed those awful rumours. Suddenly I felt ashamed about my defensive and prickly responses to outsiders who asked weird questions about Hutterites. How on earth could they know or should they know our story if we didn’t tell it? And I don’t mean academic or historical accounts nor glossed over or distorted versions of Hutterite life. Nobody wants to read about a Utopia that doesn’t exist. Ordinary people connect with stories that speak to our common humanity. To be relevant cultures need writers to be openhearted and to share stories that are both tragic and triumphant. Its how in my 40’s I came to write, I Am Hutterite, and in my 50’s, Secrets of a Hutterite Kitchen.

As I stand on the cusp of a new decade the question I get asked over and over again is, “when’s your next book coming out?” Over the past several years I’ve traveled to Tyrol as well as Moravia, Slovakia and Hungary where the cradle of our past languishes in stony silence. Like an unwanted child our forefathers story yearns to be claimed by its own "Familie." I was ushered through the theatre of our history in the presence of archaeologists, researchers and historians who pulled back the 500-year-old shroud of a bygone era revealing how much we still have to learn about ourselves. Swallowed by long hallways of archives that wove a riveting narrative I saw precious Hutterite books and artifacts and came away deeply humbled that the blood of such courage runs through my veins.

Europe is holding our history in trust and they want to know….who will tell our story? I was blessed with financial sponsorship to do the work I have already done, but it will take at least another 2 years and many more miles, to complete. Right now, the project is on hold unless it gets more funding.

In the meantime, I have much to celebrate. A big thank you to the Rusty Owl Restaurant on the picturesque banks of the North Saskatchewan River in Prince Albert, …. a dazzling venue for a wondrous feast. The Rusty Owl stuffed Chicken Supreme was just outstanding! To my beautiful friend, (Dr.) Noelene le Roux for setting a splendid table before me with all my favorite things; tea cups with garden flowers, pearls from our jewelry boxes, leather bound books and silver candelabras that topped white lace tablecloths strewn with tealights. It was sensational. Thank you, Sue Schmid for the glorious hat cake!! It was as decadent as it looked…. moist lemon pound cake with layers of fresh raspberry filling. And to the gifted Wilna Furstenberg for capturing it all in photos that will live in my heart forever. I close with a line from a German song that has been my mother’s mantra for many years, “Bis hierher hat mich Gott gebracht, durch seine grosse Gute.” Amen!

Sue Schmid: mama.sue1963 (Instragram)

Wilna Furstenberg: :

The Rusty Owl Experience:

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