In the spirit of the rather fitful reporting to which this blog has devolved, I’m here this Monday afternoon to say that I was away four days in Kansas, hanging out with historians and archivists. (I believe I’ve mentioned before that these are some of my favorite people.) I’m on the Historical Commission of the Mennonite Brethren (MB) denomination, which meets once a year, rotating between the four archival centers in Kansas, California, B.C., and Manitoba. We hear reports from the centers, undertake various publishing projects (including both scholarly and popular history–last year’s was the fascinating mystery-biography, It Happened in Moscow by Maureen Klassen, which has sold astonishingly well), sponsor research grants and an archival internship, and occasionally plan symposiums, all to foster the preservation of, study of, and reflection on our history.
I’m no expert on Kansas, but it seemed to me the Hillsboro area put on a show for us, so lush and green it was, slightly more rolling than I’d anticipated, more treed as well, the sky prairie-big as expected and loaded with massive cottonball clouds. The winter wheat was ripening and threw its yellow into the mix of vivid colors, and it was hot and humid and grasshoppers chirred and jumped at roadsides and ditches. Besides taking care of commission business, our meetings always include some activity of historical interest. Peggy Goertzen, archivist at the Hillsboro center, led us on a tour of various sites relevant to the history of the large Mennonite settlement in the area. She’s a wonderful storyteller, and her stories enlivened every monument, old church, or cemetery we saw. I love the odd juxtapositions of past and present that such poking around in history yields. Just one small example: a train passed in a great noise and bombast while we were viewing a monument commemorating Mennonite immigrant arrivals at the Peabody train station in 1874.
When we arrived back in Winnipeg late last night, a fellow Commission member said, “Hard to believe we were in the Ebenfeld Church just this morning.” Hard to believe, indeed, Ebenfeld with its unique house-like shape, where we heard Julia Reimer’s excellent dramatic monologue of Gertrude Simons, wife of Menno. Ebenfeld, yes, with the gravestone of Abraham Cornelsen (1826-1884), who drafted the MB document of secession. As we stood around the stone, I couldn’t help remarking that the tall and gently waving sunflower or brown-eyed susan or whatever it was, planted in front of the modest stone, was a lovely touch. Someone replied that actually it was “stuck in”. And so it was, an artificial stalk and flower, bending and bowing with the wind in honor of the past. It makes me happy anyway, a fake bloom, an old stone, good meetings, good friends, and now back home, Winnipeg turned Kansan-gorgeous-green in the days I was gone (our spring was very late this year), and May done and the calendar turned to June.