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Wednesday, 22 April 2015 14:47

Being proud of a Mennonite heritage

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Waterloo, Day 3.

“Several months ago, when Hildi first asked me to step up to this stage,” I began, “I knew I had to say yes before taking any time to think about today when I’d actually stand here in my size seven shoes, in the footsteps of giants, the floor still warm from the feet of a Giller Prize winner.”
Last night, in front of an audience of about 75, I’d just stepped up to a chapel lectern and in front of a video camera that had already, over several Wednesdays, recorded some of Canada’s finest writers and scholars.
I arranged the notes I’d spent five weeks obsessing over, and began an hour-long presentation about how my life informs my work.
“If I thought about it right now,” I continued, “I can tell you that the marrow in my bones would wobble like the jelly salad at a Mennonite potluck and one of you would have to scurry up here with a handful of paper napkins to scoop me up.”
Facing this audience, which is mostly made up of Mennonites from Kitchener/Waterloo, there was nothing to be except authentic. Even about being a fraud.
 “I’ve heard a few things I think you should all know about Darcie Friesen Hossack,” I said.
“Like that she pulled up her Mennonite roots when she was 13 years old, and spent more than a decade as a Seventh Day Adventist. Or that she didn’t know the name of a single Mennonite author until she was almost 30. And more, she’s Mennonite on her mother’s side only, and is therefore not really entitled to the name Friesen.”
And yet, “Even while I am a prodigal daughter, I am Mennonite.”
Throughout the hour, I read from my short stories in Mennonites Don’t Dance, and debuted an excerpt from a novel-in-progress (where Seventh Day Adventists will join the narrative), while silently thanking my mother for years of music lessons. Dozens upon dozens of solo performances, in various churches, now serve me well when I have to speak in public.
Although, last night was not quite like any other.
Even though this is only my second trip to Ontario, speaking to this audience was a homecoming of sorts. And when it was over, once the questions and congratulations went quiet, and I’d signed my last title page, Hildi and Paul (whose lecture will conclude the series next week) ferried me back to their home, where they arranged a cheese board, opened a bottle of wine, and a jar of rhubarb jam I’d brought as a gift from home. And I thanked them for all they’d done. For gathering me under their umbrella.
Now, it’s noon on my final day in Waterloo, and only a few hours remain before my return flight home.
Before a late lunch, Hildi takes me to an Italian market, where she shops for a few ingredients, and I busy myself picking out presents for Chefhusband. A jar of blackcurrant curd and a promising new pizza cutter. A ceramic urn for holding wooden spoons.
The urn will fit our modern townhome and its clean lines, but when I get it back to Hildi and Paul’s, I can’t help but compare it, and all my plain white dishes, to the cupboards and shelves full of artisan plates and bowls, platters and cups, in earthy shades of blue-green, collected from local potters and from around the world.
In them, over the last few days, I’ve been served delicate arctic char, breakfasts of homemade granola, freshly-pulled Americanos and, now, as Hildi takes a pot off the stove, a satin-smooth cream of broccoli soup that will send me on my way.

Cream of Broccoli Soup
1/2 medium onion, diced
2 tbs butter
5 cups chopped broccoli florets
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup cream
kosher salt/freshly ground pepper

In a large pot over medium heat, cook onion in butter until translucent. Stir in broccoli. Add stock and simmer 15 to 30 minutes, until broccoli is very tender.
Transfer into a blender. Puree until smooth. Return to pot and heat gently. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in cream.

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