A Whirlwind, Forty Years & A Trip to Aylmer to Reconnect with Lost Friends

The last few weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind. An exciting whirlwind, spinning wide open in a dance, just like they did in Mexico in the dust. How I loved the way they spun and twirled, rushing across the yard! And that’s sort of how I feel right now, about life. Oh, there’s been some ‘downers’, like the death of my beloved Mazda 3, nicknamed Rustbucket. In the weeks before its death, I had started to call it Rattletrap, and even joked that one day the tires will just keep rolling down the road, and the rest will fall off, and there I’ll sit. Fortunately, it gave up the ghost, slowly and safely. Anyway, that was distressing, and made even more so because we hadn’t had a chance to do anything about replacing it yet, when the brakes on our van went, leaving us with any vehicle. But enough of the depressing things… Overlapping with this some very exciting things happened…

It started April 21, 2015, to be exact. I had received a friend request on Facebook, a day or two earlier, from Peter and Mary Froese, and accepted. The name stood out, but I didn’t give it a lot of thought. We Germans have a lot of Loewens, Reddekopps, Klassens, Froeses and, well, you pick the name and there’s just a lot of us, so I didn’t even consider trying to figure out if it’s a family I know.

I had been in a meeting, and when I came out that afternoon, there was a Facebook message posted to my timeline from Peter. It read as follows:

Hello Trudy. Thank you for accepting our friendship. I read your book last weekend. Wow, I have never read a book as fast as this one. It only took me just over two days and I’m not a reader. Many memories, since, I was your neighbor boy back in the old country. I remember many of the events you are sharing in the book, including your moves, the house without windows, plus the three funerals. I was very surprised of the details that you remembered. I must say the book was very well done. But what interested me most was the point of it all. To bring out and point out the real God from the harsh God of religion which is indeed no god at all.

I’m looking forward to your next book. The rest of the story. How you got from there to where you are now. The healing steps, the growth etc.

May God continue to use you for his Kingdom and bless you.

I can’t quite describe the emotions that filled my chest. These are people I knew as a youngster in Mexico, and have never seen again, since moving to Canada. That’s forty years of separation, this summer. This month it will be, in fact, to be specific; we left Mexico in May 1975.

family in mexico

Days later I received a friend request from another familiar name. Herbert Hildebrandt. Again, the name caught my eye, but again, I didn’t over analyze it. But, again, the following message landed in my inbox.

Hi Trudy, I first heard about your book thru Ira Wagler, intending to buy it some time when I come across it. Only yesterday we realized that our family has a personal connection in that you lived on my grandparents property in #82 (David Hildebrandt). My dad is Henry, he vividly remembers your family being there and the fact that your brother had the ability to determine what brand of tire a vehicle had by the tread pattern left on the dirt road and yard! He’s told that story since I was a little boy…so yesterday someone in Aylmer let us know what the connection was to you and the book. Having said that, is there a place to buy the book locally? If not, we’ll order a few online for the family. Two of my uncles died of cancer in the past decade, not sure if you remember them – John and David. We admire for you speaking out in word and print, blessings to you and your family. Herbert Hildebrandt

It was almost surreal, this double chain of events, and rediscovering neighbours from the same community, one living to the left and down a ways, and the other to the right, if my memory has it accurately. There is a connection and a bond that happens in early childhood, that cannot be recreated, and it flooded back, after all these years. I could hardly absorb it all, that these re-connections were spilling in so soon after the release of Between 2 Gods. These are things you don’t think of, when you write a book with the hope of reaching a few broken hearts, here and there. The radar simply doesn’t extend that far. At least it didn’t for me. So it has come as a complete surprise, and an incredible blessing; the payback and the gift of these invaluable connections.

Some quick brainstorming with Peter and Mary, and with connections at The Central–an amazing restaurant in Aylmer, and my favourite place in town–we planned a book signing for Saturday, May 2, 2015. Peter checked with deBridg radio in Aylmer, and sure enough, they agreed to do an interview. Could I make it Wednesday, April 29, for 2:00pm, they wondered. Yes, I told him, even though I wasn’t sure how I’d get there without a car. Something would work out.

Fortunately Tim’s mom had let us borrow a vehicle for until the brakes were the van brakes were repaired, so we had that, but so many things happening in our household. Five children. Three jobs.  My client appointments. It’s a busy household. By Saturday April 25 we had found a decent used vehicle–a gorgeous and incredibly under-priced Honda Accord, which the owner sold at less than two-thirds of going wholesale price, and less than half of going retail. The perks: leather interior, manual, and just a sweet looking vehicle. The downside: two-door, therefore slightly higher insurance, but with the price, still a better deal. The ultimate bonus, of course, is that it falls in the ‘Honda and Toyota’ category. I trust those vehicles. A lot. That car is a little miracle, in every way. Still, there was a lot to be done, and I had no guarantees I’d have it on the road for Wednesday.

Wednesday morning, having purchased and done the E-Test and Safety on the vehicle, I drove it to the Service Canada office to register it, having acquired insurance at 4:45pm–15 minutes before close–on Tuesday night. By 10:00am Wednesday morning, it was a done deal. My car was ready. Well, almost. I still needed the right plates on it.  Tim had put a ratchet and screw driver on the passenger seat, for me to install the plates before heading to Aylmer. I pulled into the Foodland parking lot, surrounded by trucks and truckers headed into Tim Hortons for their coffees, and there I attached the plates, all dressed up and ready for my radio interview. Tim, in the meantime, printed out the insurance slip because our printer was not working, and I drove over to his work, to pick it up.

When I arrived in Aylmer for the interview, Hein Rempel greeted me, and immediately we jumped into German conversation, preparing for the interview. “We knew some Rempels in Mexico,” I said, casually, not expecting there to be an easy connection. “Isaac Rempels,” I added as an afterthought.

Hein chuckled. “I had a brother Isaac,” he said. Hein looked too young to be a brother to the man I remembered, I thought to myself, but I pursued it.

“He was a bit of a ‘frotz’ (clown),” I said, injecting a German word into my English sentence. Hein nodded, adding a chuckle, and said his brother was too. “He used to get my brothers to hide under the table,” I said, “and if they would stay under it for a given length of time, he would promise to give them a peso. Then he would proceed to pound on the table and do anything to make them come out.” This had fascinated me as a little 4-year-old, and I wished Mr. Rempel would offer me a peso too. I’d sit there for it.

Now Hein laughed, almost certain it had to be his brother. And then it popped in my head, the moment of being in the Rempel home, and seeing their daughters, and hearing their names. Memories that had long disappeared into whatever unknown place they visit, when you don’t think about them for almost 40 years. “Did he have a daughter Utje…” I asked, intending to also ask about the other daughter.

“Yes!” Hein said, “and Sushje.” It was confirmed. I had just connected with yet another family member of our friends in Mexico!

We did the interview then, and  shared with the Aylmer community a wee glimpse into the ‘why’ of my story, as well as the ‘what’, and let them know that I will be back on Saturday to hopefully meet many more. I don’t really know what to expect, and how many friends and relatives I will see, or if some other unexpected past connections might happen. What I do know, for sure, is that Saturday is going to be a very exciting day! We left Mexico in late May, 1975. Now, in May 2015, I will see friends I played with… or ‘tried’ to play with, since they were a bit older and I was still the ‘pesky little sister’ who liked to tag along. How cool is that?!

I walked to my car, accompanied by my friend Maria Dyck, from deBridg, to get her a book from my trunk. We stood on the sidewalk and chatted a moment, when a woman stopped, after Maria greeted her with a, “Hi Helen!” She saw the book in Maria’s hands. “I just read that book,” she said, and explained how she borrowed it from a friend. Helen looked familiar, but I couldn’t place her until she told me we recently connected on Facebook. Moments later another friend walked by, a woman I met at a speaking engagement; Mary. I realized again, how small the world is, and what a blessing relationships are.

Checking on messages, I found one from Peter, saying he hopes the interview went well, and then added a note he received from a pastor in Mexico:  “Her story is not unlike many others in our Mennonite world. Really sad but so blessed that Trudy has the guts to reveal what’s going on in so many homes.” 

I walked to The Central to finalize details with Peter, and inside was greeted by more friends. People I met in the eight months, when I traveled to Aylmer to meet clients for sessions at The Central. It’s a friendly town, and th ‘familiarity’ from days gone by, even in the accents, make me feel at home there.

My last stop, before heading back home, was at my mom’s. I spent about an hour and a half with her, listening to her tell stories, and answering questions. She told me she supports me telling our story publicly, because so many victims are stuck in shame, and get all suicidal, and give up hope. “It’s cost too many lives,” she said.

I warned her the book wouldn’t be an easy read, and I’d be happy if she never gets her hands on it because of what I think it would do to her. She understood, but made no promises, which was fine since I wasn’t looking to tell her what to do. She’s a big girl and whatever she decides, I will bless. It’s not really my business anyway. It’s just that I’d rather she not need to feel and walk through all that again, in story form. I know what it did to me in the writing process.

“People will start asking you about it,” I warned. “They might give you a hard time for me speaking out.”

She chuckled and told me how it’s starting, the questions and wondering. Even as I arrived to visit her, a group of women saw me coming toward the building, and when mom said my name, they asked, “Is she the one on the radio, who has written a book?” and mom just giggled and said she doesn’t know about the radio, but yes I am the one who wrote the book.

She’s taking it all in stride, this thing of having the ‘outside world’ peek into the windows of our family’s story. I’m glad for that. And I hope it stays that way. And I hope it never becomes an attack on her, or a rejection for giving birth to me and raising me, for those who don’t like this ‘telling’.  But that we leave in God’s hands.

book signing poster

Tomorrow is just a day away now, and I’m excited. The action starts tonight already, when I meet with a reporter from the Aylmer Express, who will do a story on the book, and will come again tomorrow to interview ‘characters’ from the book. Some Froese family members and hopefully some Hildebrandts, will answer a few questions the reporter has. And I’ve called Mrs. Wolfe, to whose place my mother fled when dad threatened to kill her and our family the summer before I turned seven, and asked her to come for a book and to talk to a reporter. She will come, she said. And that makes my heart so very happy!

It’s going to feel like a regular family reunion, being among my Plautdeutsch friends like that, and in one of the communities in which I lived. It is beautifully mind-boggling.

I’ve asked my cousin Helen Knelsen, if we could slip over to see her mom and dad, my Aunt Anna & Uncle Jake, so we’ll be doing that after the interview wraps up. And then I will head back to Helen’s house and crash… hopefully…. if I can sleep tonight…  Few things get me so excited that my sleep is interrupted, but this just might!

I wish you all a wonderful weekend, and if you’re in the Aylmer area, please pop by! We’d love to see you! The Central has offered to serve coffee and refreshments, and we’ll be doing a draw for a few prizes, so don’t miss out!

Love,
~ T ~

© Trudy Metzger