While writing some childrens' books for my niece's children and thinking about how to describe myself for "about me" pages on my web sites, I've been reviewing my childhood memories and influences.
A major theme seems to rise. It's how early I longed to read books, how that became an obsession for me. I suspect there was a plan for me to become a writer built right into me!
I was born into a small Canadian prairie village that was all Mennonite families, descended from pioneers which came to Canada in the 1870s. The language of the kitchen and barn was Low German, or as we called it, Plaut Dietsch. Regular German, or Hoch Dietsch, was the language of church and school.
However, changes came. The Canadian government brought in English schools, and by law our people were to attend. Some Mennonites picked up from the surrounding villages and emigrated off to Mexico and Paraguay to start over with their own private schools. My grandparents were too poor, so they and others in Chortitz village stayed.
My mother had about completed the private school course at age 8 or 9 when the changes came, so she had to start over in grade one, English. She got into grade two, when she had to quit to care for her sick mother and the younger siblings.
By the time I came along, children were becoming fluent in English, but the adults were slower in taking it on.
As a toddler I'm suppose to have fed turkeys out of my hand. Later I recall being terrified of feathers lying about, and of big boots. Mom said I could be kept out of a cupboard with a feather, or out of a room with a pair of boots in the doorway.
We were especially close to Mom's parents, who lived on the next farm, just a run through the pasture. (The distance of about two city blocks). My favourite uncle was a teenager during those years, and I was quite attached to him. I was a chatterbox and full of questions. Uncle Henry took time to respectfully answer them.
I yearned to learn English and to read books for myself the way he did. I wanted to go to school long before I was old enough.
Just when I was six and old enough to start, we had moved for a while to another town, where Dad had a job doing deliveries with a team of horses and a wagon. I often had pain in my side when I ran and played, so Mom took me to the doctor up the street, and it was determined that I had appendicitis and needed to go to hospital. A scary adventure for me.
When done, the doctor told my parents my appendix had been about to burst, so I should be kept out of school one more year. What devastating news!
By the following September, Dad had a job as a farmhand near the smaller town of Laird. We were a day late for the start of school in the one-room country school but I could not be held back any more!
Mom had prepared me the best she could. She'd had me practice my first two English phrases or answers to questions I would be asked.
If someone said, "What is your name?" I should answer; "Ruth Marlene Friesen."
If someone asked, "How old are you?" I should answer; "Seven years old."
The next morning Dad took me to school on his orange Allis Chalmers tractor. While he went to the teacherage (home of the teacher) on one side of the yard, I swung my lard pail with my lunch and headed for the steps where some other students were gathered.
One of them said something. I rolled my name off my tongue quick and ready. Someone else make some verbal noise, and I replied, "Seven years old."
This made some of the boys roll cartwheels over the grass. Seems it was amusing.
But my teacher, Mr. Bill Janzen, had the utmost patience with me. He explained in Plaut Deutsche to me what was happening, as he gave me a seat at the front, with a lift-up lid. He gave me a pink picture book to look at and told me to think what each item was called, while he gave the rest of the grades 2-8 their work.
Then he came back to me, crouched beside me, and as I named the pictures, he told me what they were in English. Later he came back again and I told him what they were in English.
In no time at all we were up to the alphabet and numbers. Next came Dick and Jane Readers with short words. Between times I got to colour and draw pictures to my heart's content.
At recess I sat on the swings or the teeter-totters (seesaw) with the girl behind me in school. Lovella and I reveled in this new thing called friendship. I even got invited to stay overnight at her house a few times.
At the end of every day Mr. Janzen let me take a book or two home to practice my reading. At first Mom helped me out when I forgot a word, but soon I could read bigger words than she, and I'd take my baby sister Elsie on my lap, on the rocker, and our brothers Ernie and Tommy stood on the rocker's curved base on each side, and rocked along as I read my stories to them.
Mr. Janzen could hardly keep up with me. He had to make a trip to a library in Rosthern every three weeks to fetch more books because I would be done with the previous box full!
There were no English-as-a-Second-Language courses, and no literacy programs that I was aware of. Somehow I just knew that to read books, I would have to learn English. Like a sponge I read and learned every day.
By the time I was nine I had an awesome idea; what if God would let me become a writer of books too?!
Arbour Pages: Photos of My Parents ~ Dad at 90 ~~ Day of Dad's Funeral ~~ New Author Pics (2005-2006) ~~ Friendship - About Helping Your Friend Succeed ~~ Defining Mentor or Merea ~~ Let me learn English and READ! ~~ What it Takes to Write for Kids ~~ Writing Tips ~~ Publishing Tips for Do-It-Yourself-ers ~~ Successful Goal setting Spiritual Retreat ~~ Come Tour Hague, my Hometown~~ Arbour Index