Saturday, November 22, 2008

Mennonite Wedding

Today I was awoken by the ringing phone. It was my dad, phoning to tell me that another of my girl cousins was getting married. To put this is in a bit of perspective, on my dad’s side I have – let me see, now – 33 cousins, 16 of whom are girls. (In counting I just realized to my shame I don’t know all of my cousins names. I know I haven’t seen some of them for over 10 years but that still seems a bit pathetic. Oh well. Back to the main story.) In the last year, three of my girl cousins have gotten married and it is a sport with my parents to phone me and make me guess who is getting hitched next. I haven’t guessed right once, until this morning, which is all the more impressive because I had only been awake for maybe two minutes.
My dad doesn’t much care for the future cousin-in-law’s family, and neither does his brother, but it’s my cousin’s opinion that matters and apparently she likes them enough to tie herself to them for eternity. She’s getting married in the new year and it looks like another wedding (4 for 4) that I’ve missed. I wish it wasn’t so.
“At least her mother can stop stressing about her girls not getting married now,” my dad said. We talked about the customs and commonly held beliefs of his family’s sub-culture. Holdeman Mennonites vary, or so I am told, wildly from one region to another, so perhaps my family’s pocket is not the norm. I know that I have a hard time understanding how any one can believe 25 and single means you’re reaching spinsterhood, but that is a common perception and I have at least one cousin who is getting to that tipping point.
It was so neat to hear my dad talk about the culture of his youth. I don’t think I’ve heard him talk about it much, and maybe that’s why I feel so disconnected from that side of my history. His perception is so fascinating, because he was a part of it and now he has distance from it, but he understands the culture and their way of life and how they think in a way that I never can because I’ve never lived it. He came close to being a member of the church. The night before he was to get baptized he went out drinking. When he came home he told his family he wasn’t going to church and went to sleep. He has said that it must have been a huge scandal for his parents, particularly his mother, to bear. But he’s glad he didn’t join. It’s made it easier for us as a family. He were never a part of the church so he never had to be excommunicated; our idiosyncrasies and odd behaviours are more acceptable because we don’t have that stigma.
I’m glad I wasn’t raised in that culture, even while I feel a hole from the disconnect – I’m glad I was raised with the understanding that my life could be more than a rush to a wedding and children, with some time spent teaching or nursing while I waited for the groom to appear. And I’m glad that I could spend time unsupervised or chaperoned with guys. I don’t understand how young people even get to know each other before they get engaged when they can’t even spend too much time talking to each other in a group setting without someone interfering in case things get out of hand. It doesn’t make sense.
And I’m glad I got to hear my dad talk this morning. It made some sense of one side of my history. I’ll have to talk to him more about it. It makes more sense coming from him than from my family who are immersed in it; one, because I wouldn’t know where to begin that conversation, and two, because he understands where I am too.
It was worth losing ten minutes of sleep, that’s for sure.

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