I took the ferry to Mayne Island this week to visit friend Dorothy Peters at the house called Morningstone, and the day was bright, the air and water blue, and after the beauty of the ride, there was a lovely lunch and then hours in front of a wood fire with our feet up, sipping tea and lattes, and talking. About everything! It was a day of companionship and soulish nourishment, and I’m grateful I got it. Sometimes you don’t realize how badly you’ve needed something until it’s given.
Dorothy is an adjunct assistant professor of religious studies (Hebrew, Old Testament, and her special interest, the Dead Sea Scrolls) at Trinity Western University, but what I want to mention here is a book she and her cousin Christine Kampen, a pastor, recently wrote, Daughters in the House of Jacob: A Memoir of Migration.
Daughters is a family story that works back from their own lives to their parents’ and grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ stories. Specific to them, in other words, and especially relevant to Mennonite readers for whom migration and its upheaval and change is a familiar trope. Butthere’s a lot more going on than that. Which is what I find fascinating about this book. (Full disclosure: I’m a member of the Mennonite Brethren Historical Commission that published it.) While physical migration is a big part of their family story, there’s also theological migration through the generations. How could it be otherwise? Change is the stuff of life. So there’s continuity with the past, and influence, but also newness. Difference. Just being women in teaching and pastoral roles signals a huge shift in a Mennonite setting. Because Dorothy and Christine are deeply respectful of their heritage, while bravely revealing how they’ve stretched away from that heritage, the book posits a template for staying in relationship with elders, while growing into one’s own story. Read more in this review by Robert Martens.
Dorothy is also associate director of Humanitas Anabaptist-Mennonite Centre, which reminds me of another writer friend I’ve (re)connected with here in B.C. Last fall Humanitas hosted a series concerning refugees, and the first event was an evening of poetry by Connie Braun. Her parents and grandparents were refugees. Connie and I got acquainted mostly through our work and occasional email contact, but I’m pleased we’re living closer now. She’s the author of the memoir The Steppes are the Colour of Sepia, tracing her father’s life back to Russia. Currently, she told me, she’s writing about her mother.
That evening she read from her poetry book, Unspoken: an inheritance of words, as well as from new writing. I took Unspoken along to California; it was a good read for a trip with some unexpected turns. Quite apart from the poems, which tell of grandparents, displacement and losses and re-location, and childhood memories and curiosity, and which are simply lovely, so evocative, I love the book itself as object. Its tones are cream and brown, the paper and cover feel thick enough for the weight of its stories, there’s the richness of old photographs to contemplate, and there’s lots of empty space between and around the words and pictures. As the title implies, Connie gives voice to what has been kept silent by grief or ravage. I sense the longing in her to attend to the past, to help and hold it somehow, but great sensitivity too. Sometimes words can be found that breathe sound into the silence, and sometimes there’s still just silence, and that silence has to be allowed.
And the river nourishes the accacias, their roots
fingering into the soil,and those of the pines, trunks
thickened by time, casting shadows long
after the bones of frolicking children have grown ethereal.
— from “Telegram, 1943”