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Posted September 12, 2011
It was several years after I left the Amish that I first heard about Hutterites through a magazine article. At the time I was astonished that there could be a third branch of Anabaptists that I had never heard about during my 23 years of living in an Amish community. (The other two are Amish and Mennonites). Since then I have read more articles about Hutterites, but I was always left wanting for more information, which left an air of mystery and intrigue around them -- I imagine much the same way most people feel about the Amish. Except maybe even more so, for unlike the Amish, the Hutterites live on cloistered colonies, which does not include anyone who is not Hutterite. After learning about this culture, I wished I knew someone who grew up on a Hutterite colony, or at least that I'd have the opportunity to read a story by a Hutterite.
I found just such a story when I recently read "I Am Hutterite" by Mary-Ann Kirkby. In this beautifully rendered story, she serves her readers a slice of life on the colony from her perspective of a young child. I am with her in Kindergarten, which she started, as all other Hutterite children at age two and a half, when they began their religious training. She describes the soft, fresh buns after dipping them into "Schmond Wacken" (cream) with generous dollops of jam that she enjoyed for breakfast, and the stories, songs and games she participated in. I am with her when she and the other children went on outings to see the geese or visit the colony gardens. I feel as though her memories and mine meld when she describes opening the pods in the pea patch and pulling baby carrots from the ground.
Kirkby's childhood was as nearly idyllic as a child's can be. I love the way she sets the background for the day her life was to change forever when she was ten years old:
"Across the western sky, the rich red, orange, and gold tones of a spectacular Manitoba sunset were bringing the soft summer day to a close. We felt spoiled by its beauty in Fairholme, for over and over again, even in the harshest of winters, we were treated to its splendor. Against this magic expanse of space, I was playing dodgeball with the children from the "Essenschul." We all had the giggles, and our laughter infected a group of adults who had come to watch... I, as wide as was tall, kept eluding the ball....
"Above the merriment, a voice pierced the warm air..."
I won't spoil the story, but I will say that life on the colony was less than idyllic for Mary-Ann's father. And here is where I actually identify with Mary-Ann's parents for the tough choice they had to make, even though I know that life for Mary-Ann and her siblings was about to change... and not necessarily for the better.
"I Am Hutterite" is a wonderfully sensual story about Hutterite life, which does exactly what I thought such a story would... it brings Hutterites down to earth and puts a human face on them.