HAPPY 1996 to our readers everywhere! Hopefully this year will bring peace and happiness to humankind everywhere. This always tends to be the least 'newsy' time of year, with everyone busy over the holidays. But it's a good time to think about the year that has passed and total up the plus and minus.
On the plus side, KIT is continuing to inform an ever-widening circle of readers about the Bruderhof. On the minus side, the lawsuit brought by the leadership against COB and 'The Kingston 8' remains unsettled. A recent Bruderhof offer to settle out of court merely reiterated all their demands: they ask that only they can use the term 'Bruderhof,' COB gives up the phone listings, the 800 # support line and pays them $15,000 in damages.
Many KIT readers continue to be severely demonized by the Bruderhof hierarchy and punished by not being allowed to visit their family members inside the communities. During the holidays, once again this brings much sadness and sorrow to both sides. Many KITfolk have elderly parents within the communities who they may never be able to see again. This tragic situation goes directly against the spoken and written guarantees that Johann Christoph Arnold gave several years ago, both in person and in KIT. If and when he stands before God some day, he will have to answer for this. But as time progresses, it seems more and more that perhaps Christoph is merely a figurehead and that the REAL leadership resides with three guesses. Change of Address: Chris & Ollie Ahrens 31 Wagon Trail Black Mountain, NC 28711
"Recently I was invited by a more than 400-year old sect called Bruderlos. This group is led by Johann Geistlos and Richard Lieblos. They live in Notfir, a small town in Yewnork. This group discovered a little known fact, namely that the New Testament was written in the 'negative affirmative'. This is indeed a very exciting discovery! What it means is that Christ's true message is actually the opposite of what most Christians have thought. Since 1960, the Bruderlos have lived according to this version and have been very successful. For example, Christ's commandment to love one's enemy can be read as 'sue the son of a gun.'
"This form of Christianity conflicts much less with capitalism, and is totally antidemocratic. In fact, love is understood simply a sentimental human state that must be overcome, once and for all. They feel that they have come a long way since 1960 when the discovery was made, and that all those who have left them since then are degenerates who hang on to old beliefs that are really incompatible with negative affirmation and capitalism."
Dr. Total Verzweifelt has been offered a position on the Bruderlos as Luegendiener. This position means that he will never have to work, just like a capitalist who lets his capital work for him. Dr. Total Verzweifelt tells me that he is finally free from the burden of the wrong biblical interpretation to which he had clung for so long. His closing was typical of much that he had told me by phone.
"Greetings to you my dear Hila. May you soon see the light as we see it, and finally understand those mysterious words: 'His yoke is easy and his burden is light'. Do away with all your scruples about love, justice, truth, hunger, longings to see relatives, etc. Those are all sentimentalities that come from Satan who works overtime. Hate your brothers, sue their pants off, and join the capitalist revolution proclaimed in the needle and camel story, when it is read in the negative affirmative!"
I won't give you all of his letter now, since it may confuse too many readers who are not familiar with negative affirmation. Leonard probably corresponds with Dr. Total Verzweifelt also, and can explain this phenomenon better than I can. Love to all of you (the old type, as I don't buy into J. Geistlos' and R. Lieblos' theories), 12/28/95: Best wishes to all for 1966 and then some! The subject of complete unity has come up recently, and I found a piece on this written by a fellow named Leblos Gebirnlos:
One beautiful morning, I greeted a brother, Joe, with the exclamation, "What a nice day!" Joe thought otherwise, and we realized the utter disunity that existed between us. With the help of a Witness Brother, I was made to realize how really, really wrong I was. After all, it was up to God, not me, to judge what kind of a day it was. It was one of those icy days, and I had fallen on my bottom several times, I asked Joe for forgiveness and, just as I did so, the sun came out and transformed the landscape into radiant beauty. Frank, Joe and I stood in awe of its beauty and in total unity exclaimed, "What a miserable day!!"
As we said good-bye to each other, Frank asked me to stay for a chat, and it become very clear that I was in a very, very wrong spirit. I had given in to weakness and had brought both Joe and Frank into need. It was obvious that it was a beautiful day, and now we had experienced false unity, disunity, and I was spreading this wrong spirit. We had to get to the bottom of this.
After a meeting with a Servant, who pointed out to me how dark my heart was, the brotherhood was asked to consider this threat to total unity. I knew how deep and terrible my spirit was. My wife with 14 children reported to the brotherhood that I was always looking for the logical answer instead of letting my heart speak. Many brothers and sisters spoke up and felt that I should be put in the Great Exclusion for my pride, and for spreading a false unity.
I wanted to die, I felt so miserable. Remorse and shame filled my heart, and it was very obvious to me that I was terribly wrong since the whole brotherhood said so. If it had not been for the Servants' discernment and the wisdom of the Witness Brothers, my evil logic would have spread throughout the brotherhood and ruined total unity. I realize now that it is wrong and prideful since I should not even take credit for anything -- right or wrong! But I really learned this in my long exclusion in Alaska where I worked as a dishwasher in a restaurant. I was very lonely and missed my family. Most of all, I missed being in unity with the brotherhood. I saw how different it was in the outside world where people lived without total unity and constantly searched for facts and truth because they had no unity. The joy these outsiders experienced was not pure. Instead it was full of lust and pride. I realized then how thinking leads to disunity. I learned to stop thinking and how to speak only from the heart as the brotherhood had told me to do.
Five weeks before Christmas, the brotherhood in total unity and in love, invited me to visit for Christmas. I was not sure whether I could make any decision, since it would involve thinking, but my heart spoke to me, and I packed my bags and was received with open arms by the brotherhood. At the Love Meal I asked to be reunited with the brotherhood. Through discernment, it was discovered that I was too concerned about my family, that by now numbered 15 children, and that it would be better for me to stay off the hof for a while. It was then decided to put me on another hof to really experience total unity without the distraction of my family.
I cannot tell you how full of joy I am, finally free of all concerns except the longing for the Life! I have not seen my family for several weeks, but that is so unimportant compared to absolute unity, which I have finally experienced. For those of you outside, I can only say: "Give up all rational thought! Give up al desire for beauty and love, and work for total unity! Never think, or try to have an opinion, because all it leads to is disunity. Don't ask me why unity is important, because that would lead to thinking!"
These groups may have widely different religious or non-religious fundamental beliefs, but they all have one common belief, which is that theirs is 'the only way.' When challenged on this, they are apt to say something like, "Oh, no! We do not believe this is the only way. If you can show us a better way, we will follow you." This sounds very broad-minded, but if you suggest what seems to you to be a better way, they are simply too short-sighted to see it. If you are in a position to be of some help to them, either financially or through your 'connections,' they will probably, with great magnanimity, 'agree to disagree.' If, however, this is not the case and you persist in your view and go so far as to form a group which implies, even indirectly, that theirs is not the only way, you would be well advised to have your phone checked from time to time. After seeing the video about the Klapsmühle Kommunity, I was a little mortified to realise that I may have given the wrong impression when, in my last letter, I said that The Welder had levitated in the jet stream to Rome. It now appears that he actually owns and uses a jet plane, of which he seems inordinately proud. When I expressed surprise that a group dedicated to a life of simplicity and sharing should actually own an extremely expensive jet plane, I was again told that these things are relative (Einstein has a lot to answer for) and that, as one American member put it, "The De Beers Gold and Diamond Mining Corporation have jet planes coming out of their ears, and we have to scrape by with just the one. What greater sacrifice can you make?"
I saw on the video that The Welder has taken over the role of trainer to the Alsatian dogs because, as one Brother explained, "The dogs understand him better than we do." When I expressed surprise at this, he said, "Alsatians are very intelligent animals." I was tempted to say, "They would have to be," but thought better of it. I was intrigued to hear The Welder call one of the bitches by the name "Kit." It did not seem to me that this particular animal had anything like the nature usually associated with harmless pussycats (as I believe you call them). On querying this with my guide, he explained that The Welder had named it after some very dear friends of his who had formed a group, some four or five years ago, known as K.I.T., the 'Kommune for Intergalactic Travel,' who feel it is their mission "To take the Message to 'Those Out There'." Apparently there has been some talk of The Welder joining them in their first space journey. Whether his going would be of benefit to 'Those Out There' is debatable, but there is little doubt, in my mind, that it would be of quite definite benefit and relief to "Those Back Here.' When I asked my guide if he thought The Welder would be going, he said, "No, I'm er... I don't think so." I thought I detected a note of wistful sadness in his voice.
Quite by accident, I find I am looked upon with great favour by the Savants and Weightless Brothers, and was told I would be welcome to visit any time and find my own way around. It happened thus: I was 'treated' to a whole hour of a taped address by The Welder, delivered with all the verve and sparkle of a railway train announcer. When it had finished, I was asked what I thought of it. I was a little slow in answering, and fortunately they must have thought that I was overcome with emotion, but I was thinking what on earth I could say without perjuring myself. I then remember something that William James had written in his book Varieties of Religious Experience regarding the outpourings of certain mystics of earlier times, and how "Mysterious utterings may sound the more sublime for being incomprehensible." So I told them I thought it had been 'sublime.' They were absolutely delighted and phoned The Welder to tell him.
This newfound freedom to visit without a 'guide' has enabled me to meet some of the 'Plan Brothers and Sisters,' as the rank-and-file are known. I must say that on the whole, in contrast to the Savants and Weightless Brothers, I found them to be very pleasant, friendly, earnest folk. Somehow, not quite so bigotted, although they were all careful to stick to the 'party line.' This gave one the feeling sometimes that one was not actually speaking to the real person inside them, a strange and rather sad experience. I was reminded of what Erich Fromm wrote in his book, Escape from Freedom:
"... in becoming a part of a bigger and more powerful whole outside of oneself, one surrenders one's own self and renounces all strength and pride connected with it, one loses one's integrity as an individual and surrenders freedom; but one gains a new security and a new pride in the participation in the new power in which one submerges. One gains also security against the torture of doubt. He is also saved from the doubt of what the meaning of his life is... The meaning of his life and the identity of his self are determined by the greater whole into which the self is submerged... but the price he pays, however, is high; it is the loss of self."
Unlike the Plain Brothers and Sisters, some of the Savants and Weightless Brothers give the outward appearance of being individuals in their own right, but I was reminded again of something Erich Fromm had written, in the same book, that could possibly explain this, as follows:
"Often he is well adapted only at the expense of having given up his self in order to become, more or less, the person he believes he is expected to be. All genuine individuality and spontaneity may have been lost."
So maybe the apparent different between some of the 'Hierarchy' and the 'Plain Folk' in this regard is superficial. My acceptance by the Hierarchy has enabled me to have some contact with the young teenagers who, when they realised that I was not a prospective member, have, as they say, 'opened up' to me, which may prove interesting in the future. One even told me that their secret name for The Welder was H2O (which usually stands for water) but which, he explained with a grin, means 'Heard 2 Often.' Cordially yours,
I would like to be put on the mailing list of KIT, and if any of the former members of the Bruderhof or anyone else would like to write me and ask me about my association with the Hutterites and the business dealings, I would be happy to respond. I feel that it is time I told my side of things and what really happened.
Whether it is greed on the material plane, testosterone-driven territoriality on the emotional or its equivalent on the spiritual (our "Good" against your "Evil"), it all amounts to the same thing: Mine instead of Thine, or us against them. I truly believe that war is war, whether waged against other bodies, other minds or other souls. And war on all levels, in all atmospheres, against all dominions and principalities, is in the WRONG spirit. Jesus conquered Satan by setting an example of a loving son obedient to His Father's will. He did not come -- nor will He come again -- with a flaming sword, etc. I am sure this image of a wrathful messiah was developed later by the church fathers to terrify the rank-and-file.
The Bruderhof is a 'petri dish culture of totalitarian leadership run amok within a small group of 2200 people. Whatever spiritual enzyme we can discover that will dissolve the barriers to communication within the Bruderhof 'cell walls' I think ultimately will be applicable to the same disease in other parts of the world. It is as if we all are searching for the antibodies necessary to cure this particular affliction -- a vaccination against the dictatorship of the spirit and its ultimate consequence, the death of the individual conscience.
Andrea Perterer [a German scholar studying the Hutterites - ed] is home again after her visit to the Hutterite colonies. She was very surprised at the natural warmth and sympathy shown her by everyone she met. Having been on the Michaelshof several times, she did not really expect the Hutterites to receive her so very warmly! She had anticipated that they would be very reserved towards her, being a divorced woman, raising a son alone, and doing this historic study. She writes:
"I feel that I found real friends and we spent many hours listening to each other -- laughing and crying together... I cannot tell you in words how deeply hurt these people feel about the Bruderhof and the Schmiedeleut. They never said a bad word about anyone, but the pain was visible in their faces. They are very thankful for the existence of KIT and that people like John Hostetler and Julius Rubin are not afraid to open their mouths about the devastating truth about the Bruderhof... One thing I do want to stress today is that the KIT organization seems to me to be more valuable than ever! Your book is and was an absolute MUST to be printed at this time (even before the Schmiedeleut and the Arnoldleut separated). Your book is received well in the colonies. I have seen it in every colony I visited and it circulates amongst the members. They feel that you wrote the truth without malice but in a loving way, and they like that and respect you for this...
"In one colony, seven preachers met together with me in order to get to know me and offered their help in the divided situation in Birnbach. They also invited the Schwalms and you to visit them at any time!... Some even remembered your grandfather in a very positive way!..."
Now that we are coming to the end of the year, I would like to say again how much I appreciate the KIT Newsletter and all it stands for, especially the contacts that it has brought about and maintains between all of us Ex-Members. I would like to add an especial thanks to all who make it possible, especially the American KIT staff, and I do want to wish you all a joyful Christmas time!
During the Christmas holidays, we looked at the 10/11/95 video 'Chronicle' from Boston ABC TV several times with our children, as it contains pictures of family members we have not seen for many years. My son Jurgen, who spent three weeks at Woodcrest in 1985, as well as Hanna (who spent time at Darvell and Woodcrest) were very interested to see the video. The question arose whether the Bruderhof has changed these last years, or whether the leadership has changed. More and more I see Johann Christoph as a sad and pathetic figure -- almost a little helpless answering all the questions Mary Richardson put to him. Maybe he is the leader for the people within the Community, and most probably the Brotherhood has chosen Responsible Brothers to deal with us, the disloyal members. These brothers are, I feel, the real force behind all the terrible things that happened to KIT and COB during these last months. Very evident are the many Inconsistencies during J.C.A's talk with Mary R. These I will list here.
I feel that many things are done without Christoph knowing exactly what the brothers are doing, and I wonder if Christoph actually receives letters addressed to him personally from "us outside former members" or whether these Brothers confiscate and censor everything that is placed on Christoph's desk. I wrote a letter marked 'Personal' on the envelope to my cousin Johann Christoph on October 16th and had an answer from Christian Domer on the 24th. My letter to Christoph was personal, inasmuch as I asked him why he breaks up everything that the Community built up in years of struggles and what it might be that makes him choose such a different way from what the Bruderhof stood for in the past -- e.g. visiting the Pope, carrying a concealed weapon, breaking up with the Hutterites, wiretapping, death threats, and last but not least, the lawsuit. No answer from Christoph, but Christian Domer writes:
Having read your recent letter to Christoph Arnold, I am now better able to understand why your retelling of the Bruderhof history was so pitifully inaccurate. Your letter demonstrates well your difficulty in registering accurately events that occurred even as recently as a year ago. Knowing that, I suggest you resist trying to be a Bruderhof historian or chronicler. Let's leave that task to those better qualified. Once again you have showed how far your path has taken you away from us. Let's accept this and pursue our separate ways. Sincerely,
I do not know Christian, although he might have been a baby in the Baby House while I was at Woodcrest in the 1960s. To have a letter marked 'Personal' to a family member answered in this manner makes it pretty clear that Christoph never saw the letter I wrote to him. This brings me back to the 'inconsistencies' in his talk with Mary Richardson during the TV interview in 'Chronicle.'
1: To the question about wiretapping, JCA answers:
"No, I had nothing to do with it! "
He then continues, and this is the first inconsistency: "But you would like to know what's happening, wouldn't you, if people get together about your family and so on? So we're also human beings, who make mistakes."
So he did know!!
2: To the question about his application for a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Christoph answers:
"It's an American right, isn't it?" (He then explains that he just filled in what 'everybody' fills in on the form.)
Inconsistency: "I only applied for the gun permit to protect the Community from rabid animals!" This with a .44 Magnum, a murder weapon.
3: To the question about Susanna Zumpe's departure from the Bruderhof "Did you know about this?" Christoph answers:
"A little bit, but not enough. That happened in one of the other communities."
This is a real lie. Susanna left from Spring Valley Community and had a talk with Verena and Christoph the evening that she actually left. Christoph asked her whether she would show her legs -- to see if she was shaving her legs. He told her that if she left, she would most certainly become a prostitute and die of AIDS!
To the more direct question about Susanna being molested in the shower by a baptized brother, Christoph just comments:
"I have read some of the things Susanna has said in KIT [so he must read KIT] and think she is really exaggerating a lot." So once again, the version of the Bruderhof child in the outside world is not taken seriously at all, but wiped away as 'exaggeration.'
4: To the question about exclusion. Christoph replies:
"In the outside world, if a child does not listen to Papa and Mama, don't they say 'You are out of here if you do not abide by our rules?' But the minute where we feel a new beginning, we welcome them with open arms!"
This is just not true. For thirty years we have tried everything -- except rejoining the Bruderhof -- to come to a peaceful and friendly relationship with my family, but the more you give in to their ways, the more they ask in an attempt to actually make any kind of relationship impossible.
5: To the question about breeding attack-dogs, Christoph replies:
"No, it's just a sport. For Germany, it's like the World Series, or the Superbowl. We just like to train them."
Inconsistency: The shepherd dog's name is 'Kit,' and you can hear Christoph giving his orders to 'dog Kit' in a most aggressive manner, which makes me feel the aggression he must feel for us. He continues:
"I feel very sorry for them (the people of KIT), because actually, deep down, they love the community. Yet they do not want to take the commitment on themselves. And sad to say, most of them live a pretty messed-up life. Jesus says you should rejoice when you are attacked. So we're actually rejoicing. We must be doing something right!"
But we are not attacking them in any way at all!
6: To the question about the Gulfstream jet and the vow of poverty, Christoph answers:
"Yes, we live in good times, a lot better and... good times make bad Christians, and we have to careful. But... I'm still proud of the jet!!
This is so contradictory that it needs no comment.
7: To the question, "Do you believe in democracy," Christoph answers:
"No! But we are thankful for democracy. Democracy is better. We have lived under Hitler, so democracy isn't all bad, but democracy can be a tool of Satan. It can hide other evils."
The Bruderhof believes in the dictatorship of the Holy Spirit, or that is what they used to believe in. I feel that they believe that the Holy Spirit is personified in their leadership -- in Johann Christoph Arnold -- and anyone who expressed any doubt at all in the JCA leadership, 'doubts the Holy Spirit' and therefore is "out!" This is a very serious matter and we should continue to question the leadership and hopefully, one day, we will be heard by someone from 'within' whose feelings and beliefs correspond with ours.
So much for the video! I do hope that one day the ears and hearts of our home and families will be open once more.
I have just read the German edition of The Plough. It is dedicated completely to the Bruderhofers who left the Michaelshof at the beginning of this year. They are scattered around the communities in England and the States, and The Plough gives a happy and very positive picture of how much all these members enjoy living on a real Bruderhof without the hatred from neighbors. The copy contains many photos of happy people and happy families. I cannot help feeling that a major crisis was prevented by breaking up and scattering around members with questions and misgivings about leaving Germany.
I want to wish each and every one a very happy and healthy New Year and hopefully we will meet with many in Germany next summer. Much love,
I want to be supportive of all KITfolk, but I am not happy about the freefone [800 # - ed.] and COB. I fear these activities are counter-productive to our goal of greater access to those we love in the B'hof. I was very bitter and angry towards the B'hof for many years, to the extent of consoling myself with fantasies of fire-bombing Oak Lake with key people trapped inside. But I came to realize that much of this bitterness was about the fact that the B'hof had not lived up to my childish expectations of it being 'special'. I can't help feeling some KITfolk are still stuck on wanting the B'hof to be 'special' -- it never was and never will be.
The B'hof is just one of hundreds of mini-societies, neither the worst nor the best. I feel one of KIT's important roles is in ensuring that the costs of living in the B'hof are made public. But B'hof members have as much right to choose the security of slavery as I have the right to enjoy the insecurity of freedom. Our demands on the B'hof to change are as unacceptable to me as their demands that abortion be banned. Persuade -- yes; demand -- no. As children of the B'hof, we bear witness to both its strengths and weaknesses. When we meet at KIT gatherings, I'm always impressed by what a colorful lot we are -- surely, the B'hof deserves some credit for this (even if it doesn't want it!). This business of court cases is off-puttingly macho and 'very American' to me; aren't there any mediation services we could turn to in New York State?
Bearing witness: the question has been asked of why children didn't speak out about abuse. I tried to when I was 12 by calling Sammy "a pig" in front of adults. I was interrogated by men (not my father) and was too ashamed to explain what I meant. My father was ordered to whip me ten times with his belt. He told me to put on my snowpants first, so it didn't hurt physically, but it was a humiliating experience for us both.
He had never whipped me before, and had not even slapped me for several years. My impression was that this was a Hutterian punishment (we were at Forest River), but an ex-Hutterite has suggested it might have come from Paraguay. Paradox: I look back on our two years at Forest River as 'happy and fun', and yet I was often excluded from school and family (once for 4 months), and it was at this time that I first seriously contemplated suicide.
The B'hof had (and seems still to have) a real difficulty acknowledging child sexual abuse as an adult problem and responsibility, and this compounds the child victims' problems. But the B'hof is not a community which promotes sexual abuse. The serious institutionalized abuse I believe we all suffered was the systematic denial of our fight to be unique individuals and to foster 'special relationships' with anyone -- even our own parents and siblings. Whatever our individual experiences, I believe we all also suffered the sexual abuse of being raised to view sexual pleasure as evil and threatening. Sadly, these two key abuses seem to be continuing. I don't know whether to laugh or be sick at the thought that they are publishing a book about sex. Very best wishes for 1996,
This has been a very different year for me. There haven't been the usual trips this year, as my focus has been on education. The year started out with the arrival of my sister, Marilyn, and her husband Norm, and their two beautiful, adopted Chinese children, Nathan and Jemma. Marilyn and Norm had lived in China for two years and, while there, adopted these 'made in China' children! The four of them lived with us for a few weeks before finding their own place in Buffalo. This gave us a wonderful chance to get to know these two new precious additions to our family. They are a real added blessing! Just yesterday they became citizens of the United States of America, allowing them to participate in all the blessings and privileges that we natural-born Americans take for granted. It was a special day.
The first part of the year was very difficult for me as I adjusted to life in New York State. It took a long time to make this adjustment, but God was faithful and brought me through it all. In May I made two trips. The first was with my brother Tommy to pick up my niece, Rebekah, from college in Marietta, Ohio. The second was to visit friends in beautiful Lancaster County, PA. It was wonderful o be there, to see so many good friends, and to participate in the annual one-mile-walk on Race Day at Tel Hai Retirement Community where I used to work.
Soon after that, I started school. I originally had planned to study at the University of Buffalo, but my advisor recommended I take my foundational courses at Erie County Community College where the classes are smaller, the course work is easier and the cost is less. So that's what's been taking up most of my time. I took one course this summer, two courses this fall and will take two in the spring. I'm really enjoying school and am getting good grades as well.
I still work full time at Polyfusion Electronics as an inspector and I had a large garden this summer that produced incredibly well. Also, I still volunteer at a local nursing home every other week -- so with all that, plus church activities -- well, I stay busy and have to schedule time to relax. Like I say, it's been a different year for me, but a good year -- a year of growth and a year of blessings from the Lord. I pray it's been a good year for you and that God will bless you with a good year to come in 1996. Merry Christmas,
As a child I was taken in by the Bruderhof who gave me a very good childhood, apart from some very traumatic experiences that I had to endure at the hands of the most Divine Heini Arnold, who was a practicing pedophile as well as being my teacher preaching the divine word of Jesus. And as I was born illegitimate, he had to work hard on me creating forgiveness for that. Jesus was illegitimate too, you know, but He never had to endure [allegation of sexual abuse -ed]. That and the relentless beatings, only interrupted by the question, "Do you love Jesus?" I had to answer "Yes," although I hated Heini. Well, he is dead now, thank God. His divine son Tehdel is now the Big and Almighty. Fifty years ago he could not even play a game of 'Schnipp Schnapp' without cheating, so what else can be expected from him today? Cheating is his hallmark, and Greed, Divine Greed, is his God. On the Bruderhof, anyone could walk in and join in the life, but the Holy Ones today cannot tolerate that, as their faith is so weak. For instance, I am a big liability to their seat in Heaven...
From Heini I learned the art of hatred. Without Heini, I could never have killed anyone, and had I not done that, I would be dead now. Heini kept me living, you can say. Apart from my encounters with the Divine Heini, my life on the Bruderhof was very good. Of that fact I am reminded every time I go to Bosnia-Yugoslavia, which I have done quite frequently in the last four years. Every time it brings home to me what a crime it was that Primavera was stolen from those of us whose home it was. Heini and some of his most criminal compatriots committed this crime in the name of Jesus. So there is no need for you, of all people, to lecture me about that treacherous, deceitful demigod Tehdel and his most poisonous disciples from Woodcrest and New Meadow Run.
Are you aware of the fact that as soon as the Bruderhof was destroyed, a huge genocide took place in Paraguay? In my estimation, that would not have happened had the Bruderhof remained in Primavera. Thousands of indigenous people were killed in a genocide that lasted until 1965. Primavera was a large crossroads of people from Paraguay and the rest of the world. The Paraguayan government and military never would have dared do a thing like that [if the Bruderhof had remained - ed.]. It was only possible because there was no more Bruderhof, thanks to divine Greed in the name of Jesus...
Jesus really likes to hear the screams of children in particular. When at night some captured children had a length of fencing wire stuck through their upper wrist tied to a tree, that would attract the mother who was not yet caught but hiding in the bush. So these women were captured, raped and killed. Many other gruesome atrocities were also committed in order to rid the country of some unwanted people.
In the early 1970s, a book came out called Green Hill Far Away by Peter Upton. At that time I thought it was just a fancy novel someone had written. I discussed it with a few people who had lived in Paraguay at some time or other, but I soon forgot about it until two years ago a friend of mine out-of-the-blue came across some records about it. When she went to Paraguay again, I gave her some names of people whom I know, and it was quite amazing what she found out. A lot of it is now on public records, so you can find out for yourself. But then your own country's history is full of events just like those in Paraguay. Seeing you hold those Holy Ones in such high esteem, I wonder what you can do in order to help a lot of us who want to return to Primavera in order to spend the twilight of our lives in the place we call our home from where we were so criminally, ethnically cleansed in the name of Jesus.
Now if you are so well in with Jesus and Divine Tehdel and all the many millions of dollars those two have between them, can you bring yourself round to have some of us reinstated in our home called Primavera? I don't want to upset Jesus with this humble request, but when you talk to Him and Divine Tehdel, every time you pray to those two Supreme Deities, see if you have it within your heart to plead our case? After all, we hold the two of them responsible for our not living there right now...
Your concept of the Holy Ones is so outrageous. Just this minute I went through your letter again. All I can say is, you've got a hell of a lot to learn, or is it perhaps that the Divine Tehdel has put you up to writing this garbage? What you must do, or anyone of your brethren the next time you come to England, is call on me so that I can talk to you, as I find it impossible to write what I really have to say. As a child I was so much out of school on account of Ausschluss by Divine Heini that I had not even had the equivalent of three years at school and gave everyone the chance of seeing me as a complete idiot. That was one way Divine Heini exercised complete control over children and enjoyed a freedom for all his perversions. With an orphan like me, that was easy.
You seem to be under the impression that all KIT readers are of the same mind? Well, let me put you in the picture. Amongst the KIT people there are some very good friends of mine, especially in the USA and Canada. On the Bruderhof, one of the faults was its class system. There was the Rassen Adel the Herren Rasse and the Volk, and the Untermensch. I was always one of the Untermenschen, and that has transgressed into KIT. In the States and Canada, I encountered this rejection only with one family, or rather couple, but here in Europe we have the EuroKITPlappertaschen' who make no two beans about what station in life I am in. Because of that, one cannot tarnish the whole of KIT. Like someone once said, "Lord forgive them because they know not what the ___ they are doing." One old stool pigeon who visits the Holy Ones frequently even started slagging me because of my mother. Only few people from the Holy Ones know that that is my most sensitive and vulnerable point on which to attack me. Divine Tehdel knows that too, and to such depths they stoop in order to attack me! Why don't they do that with Jesus? He is illegitimate too!
I must finish now. This letter has gotten too long. I hope you will write to me again, or better yet, visit me? Here where I live is only 15 minutes in a taxi from Heathrow Airport should you ever come to this United Kingdom with its civil war going on in Ireland. So much for unity. The best Unity ever created was Mr. Shicklgruber, but he had to have a Gestapo in order to uphold his Unity, just like Divine Tehdel.
May I finish with a typical greeting used in Arabic and Aramaic languages. Quite possibly Jesus used it too? "May the fleas of a thousand camels, five donkeys, three goats and one chicken infest your -- er, tender regions."
We woke up early and drove to a restaurant that we knew along I-80, just before Bloomsburg, Pa. After breakfast, we set the cruise control at around 69, taking advantage of the revised speed limit. (We saw no construction work on I-80, and gone were all the signs telling of huge fines for speeding.) After Pennsylvania, there was something called Ohio, then Indiana, and by 5 P.M. we were in Evanston at the door of my sister Hannah's apartment. My sisters Hannah and Judy live in the same apartment building. We stayed at Hannah's apartment, which was bright, warm and calm. We sat down and watched the end of a football game where Northwestern beat up on another of their opponents. After the game Hannah and I went out for some exercise and to buy a Chicago newspaper.
Sunday morning, Hannah, Judy, Kerri and I toured around Evanston in Judy's luxurious Cadillac. Actually the car belongs to a 96-year-old woman named Valetta, who lives alone. Judy is her friend and buys groceries for her. One day last summer Valetta wanted to go grocery shopping but Judy didn't have a car. Valetta told her to borrow one so that they could visit a used car dealer. There Valetta bought a slightly used Cadillac. Valetta has never learned to drive, but she now has a car registered in her name. When she wants to go somewhere, she calls Judy. And she loves her sleek black Cadillac with climate control, electric windows, and motorized adjustable seats. Valetta is from another era. We enjoyed a relaxing Sunday afternoon when we returned from our chauffeur-driven tour of the shopping district.
On Monday morning, we set out for the Forest River Colony early enough to avoid the heavy morning traffic in the city. Sixteen hours later, we were at my brother Solomon's house at Forest River. We were greeted warmly and offered all kinds of food. "Where have you been? We expected you would be in time for dinner!" I had to remind them that Chicago was a considerable distance. Here are some entries from my diary during our four-day stay:
Tuesday Nov. 7th: Today I helped Ben and Solomon drain water lines at the irrigation systems. We had a "nerf" soccer ball eight inches in diameter which we put in to one end of the line and tried to flush through with compressed air. This was marginally successful. There are so many different lines under the ground that we lost one of our nerf balls in a ten-inch water line. Its hiding in there and letting the compressed air get by. Solomon says he can find it tomorrow. Or it may have come out down at the river when we were looking the other way. There is a large pump located at the river which is used to pump river water up about seventy feet and into large recharge basins they have built among the irrigated fields. They pump only when the river is especially high from snow melt or heavy rains upstream. It was very cold out in the fields. The air temperature would have been tolerable, but the wind made it feel like what one imagines winter in Siberia to be. There is snow on the ground everywhere, so it really looks and feels like winter. From the cab of the truck, nothing is visible but fields in every direction except to the north where there are trees on the edge of the river valley. I find myself thinking that it was probably not as desolate before Columbus arrived. There must have been more animals and people also. Its ironic that the Plains, so enthusiastically settled when the lands were offered for sale after the "Indian Wars", have been largely abandoned. I have to get out of the warm truck to look for the elusive soccer ball. There is a water spout shooting out of an open pipe into the freezing air. Solomon has turned on one of the 500-gallon-per-minute water pumps to try to flush out the pipe-cleaning soccer ball. One ball comes flying out, a soggy cannonball, but another is still missing. If I wasn't freezing my bones, I'd be laughing at the show and probably getting a shower in the process. We decide to shut down the pumps and quit the hunt for the time being.
I'm glad to get back into the warm truck and go to the Colony where it's almost time to eat. My nephew Mark and his wife Karen join us at Solomon's house. They have left Colony life to live and work in Grafton, a town 30 miles away. We enjoyed a dinner of maulthossen, french fries, chicken, squash, carrot salad, several kinds of bread and home-canned peaches. After dinner there was a discussion about what to spend discretionary income on, guns or computers. And Christmas shopping, which Mark thinks is not worth doing. He would rather be rabbit hunting than at Sam's Club looking for Christmas presents.
Wednesday, Nov. 8th: Winter has come early to North Dakota. The food and drinks we accidentally left in our car are frozen solid. Four inches of dry wind-blown snow overnight. Before breakfast, (the second bell just rang at 7:15 A.M.) all the paths have been cleared by the young boys. I don't think anyone asked them to, it's just something they do. Early winter storms excite them, because soon they will be able to flood an area for a skating rink, which marks the beginning of the hockey season. The children have been on vacation from German school all this week, because of a German school teachers' conference in Manitoba. These conferences are about how and what to teach in German School, and they are having an effect which the kids wholeheartedly agree with: no German school when there's a conference.
Thursday, Nov. 9th: We stayed around the hof all day. In fact it's something of a rare day around here because the Suburban was never used. That doesn't mean there wasn't any travel. One vehicle went to Grafton, one to Grand Forks and another to Winnipeg. I started the car this afternoon after sweeping the snow off it. Underneath the snow it was covered with a layer of ice from the rain which fell just before it turned to snow. My five-year-old nephew Jacob helped me remove the ice. We let the car run for 30 minutes with the heater on, then we could slide off the ice in sheets.
I visited with Tony Waldner in the book-binding shop for a few minutes. He showed me several of the projects he has under way. He is helping to put together a book on Hutterite genealogy when he is not busy teaching German school.
Kerri and I had three o-clock snack at my brother Jonathan's house. That was very interesting. Jonathan and Margaret have very beautiful children, all of whom are extremely well-behaved, unless they were putting on a show for the guests. I don't think they were. We had the most lovely pie there, a sugar-custard pie which the Hutterites call tsukor-honkelich. It made me remember a time when Forest River was in the process of rejoining the Hutterites in the early 1960s and I found myself in the dining room at Sturgeon Creek Colony for the noon meal. After the main course was eaten, they served the most humungus pieces of tsukorhonkelich. I ate the one which was served to me, all of it. When the prayer to end the meal had been said, my Uncle Joe stopped by the table where I was sitting and said, "Give me your piece of pie. I'll take it home for you." I said that I had eaten it. He said, "What, the whole thing? That was supposed to be for three o-clock snack!" In fact it had been enough for several snacks.
That evening, we enjoyed a visit at Joe and Rachel's. The whole front room was filled by the quilting frame. Rachael does custom quilting for people, like the lady who brought her a basketful of pieces her mother had sewn together many years before. After a few days, the pieces were part of a whole and beautifully handsewn quilt. Rita, Joe and Rachel's married daughter who lives with her family at Forest River, brought us some photo albums to look at. I saw pictures of old friends whom I have not seen in many years. Their families left Forest River during a split, in 1971. (I missed that split because I was away doing alternative service at Koinonia Farm.) It made me happy to see photos of their beautiful children, and was glad to see that the parents have found happiness.
We left Forest River at 9 A.M. on Friday, Nov. 10th. It was cold and the roads to Grand Forks were covered with snow and ice. We saw cars in the ditch, but still I insisted on passing the overly cautious. We stopped at George Longmire's office to drop off a jar of honey. His office is on Demers Avenue in the heart of old Grand Forks. The modern center of Grand Forks has shifted about five miles to the southwest where there is a huge mall, a Wal Mart and a medical complex. We crossed the Red River on the Demers Avenue bridge. The streets and roads were heavily salted on the Minnesota side so the driving was easier.
Our next stop was three miles north of the small town of Erskine, where Kerri and I own a trailer house on an old five-acre farm site. All the trees are still standing and no windows were broken, but it was obvious that the place had been explored by someone looking for treasures. We picked up some of the things they left strewn around inside the trailer house, and were glad to see that they had done no real damage. We have the place for sale, but no takers so far. The old farm tractors are still there, as is the 1967 slant-six powered Dodge Van parked in one of the sheds. The Van may be a collector's item now, and the WD-9 IH tractor parked beside it is, for sure! We made a determination to go out when it's warmer and dispose of some of our junk -- and of the property itself, if possible. There is an old log cabin built of handhewn logs on the property, which is probably worth something to the right person. It was built by a man named Lars Loff, a Scandinavian immigrant, in 1899.
We got stuck in the snow trying to turn the car around. It took about five minutes to shovel a track to turn around on. We were glad to be back on the road and in the warm car, and drove the next few miles with the heater on high, the air blowing onto our feet which were wet from working in the snow. The road was salted and full of slush, so every time a big truck passed us, (not often, but there are some fools), our windshield was plastered. I don't know if it had to do with the freezing and thawing, or what, but the wipers suddenly stopped cleaning the window. It was like they just said, "Sorry, we've had it!" In spite of the dirty windshield, we found the NAPA Auto Parts store in Bagley, Minnesota, where we installed new wipers. What a relief, and safer too! At 4 P.M. we arrived at the home of our friends, Al and Irene Kujala, on Minnesota's Iron Range, five miles north of Chisholm, Minnesota.
At 8 P.M., after coffee and cake, we said good-bye and left for Chicago, a little over 500 miles away. The road was clear and dry so we sailed along until around midnight, when we found a rest area and slept. We got to Chicago around noon the next day after some tricky driving in ice and snow around Janesville, Wisconsin.
The rest of Saturday and Sunday we spent visiting with Judy and Hannah. Judy and I visited her friend Valetta, where we shoveled the snow off the porch and the paths, and delivered the groceries we had bought for her. We left Chicago 24 hours earlier than we had planned due to the storm forecast. We were out of there at 10:30 A.M. on Monday and drove for eleven hours, to a rest area just east of Bloomsburg, PA. on I-80. There we tilted the seats back and curled up with the feather quilts for a rest until 4:30 A.M. I slept like a log, but Kerri says she spent most of the time awake. There was snow and slush on the highway when we left the rest area. I followed a truck so as not to have to make a new track in the slush, but when he passed a vehicle I had to battle the slush for a few feet until I was ahead of the slow vehicle, so we did a bit of slipping and sliding, which is scary on the interstate. We followed the truck up I-81 and off at an exit on I-84, because it seemed like a good time for coffee. He picked the best breakfast place we could have imagined. Talk about appreciating a cup of coffee and a plate of hot food! (Twin Rocks Restaurant, Exit 5, near Hamlin, PA.) The road improved rapidly after we left there. From New York to Maine, the road was clear and dry. We were home by 4 P.M. to find it was still autumn in Maine. The storm hit that night with sleet and snow, but soon changed to rain. We had three inches of rain overnight and a bit of wind.
Looking back on our trip, it seems very worthwhile. It keeps me in physical touch with my family, and my need for travel satisfied for another while. There is something about traveling that fills me with energy. It's akin to weightlessness on a psychic level. Weighing less, in any case. When I'm traveling, I feel light and easy. Its expansive and exhilarating to pass fields, forests, and rivers under changing skies. It's a medicine that I need occasionally. I think I'm related to the migrating birds. Oh, and by the way, an eagle crossed our path! It happened on Friday as we were leaving Forest River traveling on icy Highway 18, two miles before it meets Highway 2. The eagle was flying east. So were we!
My father, Leo Dreher, was a very unique person who never wanted to run with the stream. Often he was in trouble for not doing things in the prescribed way. I think he enjoyed being out of line and rebellious at times. I came to realize, after we were kicked out of the commune, that the servants looked on him as a disgrace because he was a child born out of wedlock.
After my mother, Trautel, passed away, he was devastated. He really forgot to take care of his eight children. Often he would sit in his room and write poems or stories. His poems are a real treasure, but one feels they express a very lonely heart. After he remarried, his life seemed happier, but somehow he still did not fit in. When one of my sisters on the outside needed him, he told the commune that he had to go and help her. Even at an old age, he still had the courage to follow his own heart and feelings. He never regretted leaving.
In 1991, Adolf and I went to Switzerland for two weeks to visit my father. We just felt we had to see him again. It was a wonderful trip and we will never forget it. We felt this would be our farewell to him -- and it was. So we said good-bye and felt in our heart that this was it. He seemed very content and, as always, enjoyed good food, strong espresso, beautiful flowers, and sharing all that he had.
As the next few years passed, he became weaker and weaker. He couldn't do as much any more. His love for flowers was always there, however. He had the most beautiful flowers. His favorite flowers were orchids, but each of his flowers would bloom for him. His life was a road which went up and down a lot, but through it all, his understanding and listening stood out to everyone who met him.
So now he will rest in peace, and I am thankful that he always remained himself, did not conform, and stood up and spoke out during his lifetime. Thank you, Papa, you will leave many good memories behind, for me and many others.
Spoon River Anthology
Edgar Lee Masters
In late Spring, Wendell Hinkey's garden is resplendent with tall, purple columbine, delicate, pink, bleeding hearts, foxglove, spiderwort and fiery, orange poppies huge with petals so fat and brilliant they look crafted out of crepe paper. Moving like a teenager, eighty-year-old Wendell springs along the stone wall that contains his garden's ground cover of European ginger and Bishop's weed. Dressed in white Reeboks, khakis and a worn denim shirt, he pauses here to break apart the stem of a bloodroot to reveal the sticky, orange fluid that gives the plant its name and there to expound on the difference between the flat, flail petals of "true" geraniums and pelargonium, the fleshier flower often mistaken for them. As he leaps from flagstone to flagstone, he names each flower and shrub, recalling every species -- the giant onions, the perennial butterfly bush, the Korean dogwood -- never faltering to remember their correct names.
His eyes, almost as blue as the Johnson's blue geraniums at his feet, shine with delight as he announces with his customary mirth, "As you can see this is all the result of careful planning -- Wendell-style. I brought home all the flowers I love and plunked them down anywhere there was room." When there was no room, he goes on to explain, he simply made more by heaving the surrounding wall, stone by stone, outward onto the ten acres that surround his 18th century farmhouse in Rhinebeck, New York.
Although he didn't really turn 80 until January 18, 1996, Wendell threw his birthday party the summer of 1995 so that all of his friends, many of them half his age and most of them women, can enjoy the pond on his property, the adjacent Finnish sauna that he built himself, and the fruits of his gardening efforts in full flower. There is probably no setting more fitting since Wendell Hinkey, like Candide, has cultivated his life much like his garden. It is a symphony of exuberant color, rich variety and spontaneous joy that just keeps on growing.
In the past few years, he has stretched himself again, leaving behind a twenty-year career as a botanist and biology teacher to become a professional woodworker and furniture maker. Along with his Rhinebeck neighbor Lewis Krevolin, he now spends five days a week helping to design and build museum-quality tables, beds and mirrors out of new and antique window sashes, balusters and parts of the roof, porches and eaves of abandoned and deteriorating homes in the surrounding Hudson Valley area.
In the last three years, Krevolin's company Archatrive (a name made by blending architecture with contrive) has developed into a very successful furniture business whose fanciful designs sell for as much as two and three thousand dollars apiece at furniture trade shows and chic specialty shops around the country. This past spring, one Krevolin-Hinkey collaboration, a king-sized bed, elaborately composed of old porch siding, hand-lathed posts, a sliding bed table and an antique-style birdhouse perched on the footboard to discreetly contain a small television set, was the centerpiece of an exhibit at the American Craft Museum in Manhattan.
"All my life, I've always figured that if somebody can do something, I can do it too," Wendell says simply.
Indeed, he is not a man given to searching for complicated explanations for his inspirations and motivations. By his own admission, he is "more of a doer than a watcher." If he seems matter-of-fact, however, it may be because he has been "doing," designing or crafting one thing or another, for most of his life.
The dining room of the farmhouse he and his second wife, Bonnie, bought 17 years ago, offers a worthy testament to his efforts. The centerpiece is an Eastern white pine dining table that was modelled after an antique tavern table, the top of which slides behind the base to form a wingbacked chair. Behind it stands a Shaker-style grandfather clock whose handpainted face and dimensions Wendell meticulously photographed and copied from a clock in a Shaker museum in Old Chatham, New York. An equally impressive assortment of Early American tables and a dresser fill the remaining available space on the wide-planked pine floor that he and his then-80-year-old mother stripped and cleaned themselves.
"I've always loved to build things. Both of my grandfathers were craftsmen. One was a decorative plasterer who learned his work in Germany and brought it to America when he settled in Cincinnati," Wendell explains. "My other grandfather also came from German ancestry. He was born in Connecticut and eventually bought a farm in Northern Ohio. He loved to do woodworking and, when he wasn't farming, he spent his time restoring antiques."
Although he was born in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1916, not far from his current home, Wendell spent most of his childhood in a suburb of Cleveland where his father got a job teaching Commercial Studies in a local high school. His father liked to design and make blueprints for houses and, over the years, the Hinkey family, Wendell's parents, Wendell and an older brother and sister, lived in several of Hinkey Sr.'s designs.
Wendell says he never formally learned woodworking from his elders, but his natural aptitude for spatial relations and his ease with machinery and tools was obvious to his teachers. "I remember being bored in art class in elementary school," he recalls. "The teacher sent me down to the basement to work with the school janitor in his shop. They had me building a model Tudor manor house to keep me out of trouble." In junior high school, he was the only one of his fellow students to design and build a table in shop class. Later he and his friends crafted a canoe out of the wood they found at local construction sites and successfully paddled it along the Rocky River that circles Cleveland.
Simultaneously with his woodworking interests, Wendell developed a strong interest in Science and Botany, an interest that would ultimately carry through college and inform his career choices in the years that followed. Too poor to afford college tuition, he pinned his hopes on receiving a high-paying scholarship. His grades were good. "I always believed that you should study a subject until you know it well enough to teach it," he insists. "I frequently tutored my classmates after school and even tutored a few courses I never took in school."
As it tumed out, he passed up an offer from Yale University for a bigger scholarship from Oberlin College where he majored in Botany and minored in Art and Geology. He continued on to graduate studies at Cornell University, where he completed the course work for his Ph.D. in Botany in just two years. Driven by the kind of irreverence for authority that would ultimately infect many of his choices later in life, Wendell left Cornell without a formal degree. In the 1940's the university was unwilling to grant honors to any student after only two years of study and Wendell, satisfied that he had gathered the requisite education and experience, was simply in too much of a hurry to hang around for formal accreditation.
While he was in graduate school, Wendell met and married his first wife, Pepper. He had become a Quaker in college and Pepper, also a devout Quaker, fully shared her husband's pacifist sentiments just as America entered World War II. She supported him when he declared himself a conscientious objector who refused to play any part in the war. As America's involvement in the war heated up and patriotism reached a fevered pitch, acts of conscientious objection were anathema. Wendell received a two-and-a-half year sentence, the longest sentence ever given to a conscientious objector up to that time.
Ever the optimist, however, he managed to tum his sentence at a minimum security prison in Danbury, Connecticut, into a positive experience by teaching English to illiterate inmates and received parole within a year. "I think I may be the only guy I know who had fun in prison," he says, reminiscing about those years. "It was probably the most educational year I ever spent."
After jail, Wendell reunited with Pepper and landed his first teaching job as a biology instructor at a conservative prep school in Iowa. "That only lasted a year," he explains, a by-now familiar, mischievous gleam in his eye. "I guess I got fired for being too much of an iconoclast. I was teaching my students about the reproductive habits of bullfrogs, and I brought a tank containing some mating frogs into the dining hall for my students to see. The administration didn't appreciate any talk that had anything to do with sex, even of the bullfrog variety, and I was promptly asked to leave."
Shortly after that, Wendell joined the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker relief organization. He spent the next four years helping to develop the Quaker work camp program. This volunteer program, a precursor to the Peace Corps, was designed to help underdeveloped communities in the United States to establish health and educational services.
The couple took up residence in an intentional community in North Carolina, when Pepper's sister told them about the Society of Brothers, a new utopian Christian community that was establishing itself in Rifton, a town in New York's Hudson Valley. "The Society of Brothers was not driven by philosophy. They were a religious group and that was what attracted me at first," Wendell reflects. "Equally important, the Brothers were developing Community Playthings, a company that had begun producing educational play equipment. I didn't know much about educational toys but I had a lot of ideas. The Brothers allowed me to go to all the neighboring schools, like Vassar and the University of New Paltz, and I learned a lot about childhood education and building toys that would help children learn. I spent hours crawling around the floor and playing. It was great fun."
Wendell lived with the Brothers (which eventually became known as the Hutterian Bruderhof ) with Pepper and their seven children for eight years, building toys and getting involved in the design and construction of several of the community's buildings. "Many architects have told me how lucky I was to have had the chance to talk to people about what they needed in a building and then come up with a design, be part of the building process and actually get the chance to use the very buildings I designed," he says of his early years in the community.
Before long, however, his independent spirit began to balk at the kind of religious fervor required of the Bruderhof's members. "As time went on, I realized that the Society was run by a ruling clique that was engaged in all kinds of power struggles to maintain their position, and I realized I didn't adhere to many of the community's basic tenets," he explains. "Basically, I think I got too much pleasure out of life and the leaders didn't like that. I had too many creative ideas, and they believed that made me guilty of not relying on God's strength. If it was my job to repair shoes, I would do my job and then start designing handbags for the ladies in the community. If I was asked to paint blackboards, I had fun by inventing a quicker method for painting both sides by suspending the boards from a frame. They would put me in the basement workshop and I would hum and just generally have a good time experimenting with the machinery and equipment. Then I was admonished for being too jovial. I tried to stay on for the sake of my family, but I was being hypocritical. My wife sensed my feelings and reported me to the leaders, and eventually they kicked me out."
The brothers gave Wendell $50 and dropped him off in the nearby city of Kingston, New York. Although he says his "positive and upbeat attitude" helped him land a job with a cabinet maker almost immediately, it barely helped him deal with the fact that communication with his children was all but forbidden by the Bruderhof for the next twenty years. "I wrote them letters, but they never wrote me back," he recalls with characteristic reticence about his inner feelings. "I suspect they never even received my mail. It wasn't until so many years later, when the community began to encourage more involvement with the outside world, that we got back in touch."
Perhaps his lost contact with his own children was a factor in Wendell's decision, at 45, to turn to teaching, a career choice that had beckoned to him since college and which took him through the next twenty years. He began teaching biology students at a high school in Wappingers Falls. There he met his second wife, Bonnie, a Social Studies teacher with two small children of her own. The two stayed married for close to fifteen years until Bonnie took off for Maine and Nova Scotia about ten years ago, according to Wendell, "in the hopes of writing the great American novel."
After five years in Wappingers Falls, a colleague told Wendell he really should be teaching at the college level. He took the suggestion seriously and landed a job at Dutchess Community College in Poughkeepsie, a job that lasted through the next fifteen years.
"I challenged many of the traditional teaching methods," Wendell says with his usual glee in having gone against the grain. "I took my students on lots of field trips and tried to give them as much experience as possible. We went ice boating on the Hudson in the winter and during school breaks I chartered sailboats in the Virgin Islands and took students and anyone else who signed up on sailing and snorkeling trips to leam something about marine biology." (In fact, he still makes these winter excursions to the Caribbean.) With a sly smile, Wendell admits that he was "teased a lot" for the almost exclusively female clientele that signs up for these sailing adventures and is quite nonchalant about the assortment of color photographs displayed on his walls, most of them depicting a tan, white-haired Wendell and various young women snorkeling, cracking coconuts, or wielding fishing rods in the nude. "I was quite popular at the college," Wendell adds earnestly, obviously feeling no need to explain the choice of learning attire favored by his students, matriculating or otherwise. "My courses were always over-registered."
Despite his popularity, however, budget cuts required that the dean of Dutchess County Community College asked Wendell to retire when he turned 65. "Even though I had reached retirement age, they never blamed it on my physical strength," he recalls. "They really offered no reason. I resented it at first and managed to hang on another four years, but then I learned to accept it. It was time to move on to something else."
And move he did, continuing a habit of travelling around the world that began when he and Bonnie were first married and travelled from Greece to Scandinavia in a VW bus. In the last decade or so, Wendell has made at least one trip a year to places as far away as India, China and Papua New Guinea, sometimes by himself, sometimes with a group and sometimes with a friend, usually much younger than himself. "I like seeing different places," Wendell says of these experiences, adding that he always travels light, uses carry-on luggage only and tries to avoid making too many plans or reservations. "I try to be as spontaneous as possible and let the places and the people tell me where to go. I think travel is probably my deepest source of inspiration now."
Fortunately, Wendell taught himself photography decades ago and constructed his own darkroom, and his large color landscapes of the Great Wall of China, the markets of Kashmir, and gloriously lit landscapes from the mountains of Oregon to the lakes of Switzerland are prominently displayed all over his farmhouse. Each year, he selects one to mount on the handmade calendars he sends to his friends at Christmas time. These unique calendars are annotated not only with the traditional holidays but with uniquely Wendell-like bits of information such as "check the early peas" on June 28 or "first cicada equals high tide of summer" on July 17 or "force some forsythia" on January 21.
"I always tell people I'm 80 going on 39," Wendell replies when asked about growing old. His stamina, enthusiasm and sheer love of life may well cause him to greatly overestimate the energy of most people half his age. After all, how many 39-year-olds are able to spend five hours a day working as a carpenter, woodworking designer and consultant and still have the time left over for freelance teaching trips, worldwide travel, exercise, and visits with his children and friends that include monthly train rides to Manhattan for the museums and the theater?
"I think I've had a lucky gene pool. I picked good ancestors," he adds to modestly explain his remarkable health and unflagging joie de vivre. "But I also watch what I eat and exercise. I ride an exercise bike six miles every other day and exercise my muscles on one of those resistance things. I must say I stopped doing a few things last year. I finally retired from windsurfing and hang gliding because my coordination and balance are starting to go. But every winter I haul out the ice boat I built myself and keep in the barn and I take it out on the Hudson. It requires strength, but not so much balance, and I love to bring my friends out on the ice. Ice boating is very much a Hudson River sport, and I like to show people how its done. It's very rigorous and it's pretty cold out there, so I tell people simply to wear everything they've got."
Wendell's love for the Hudson Valley and the life he has created there seems to spill out of him as he strolls around his house and property. He has a fact-filled speech to accompany every photograph he's taken, every piece of furniture he's crafted, every flower or tree he has planted and every item in his antique "bet you can't figure out what this was used for" tool collection, a collection that includes such obscurata as a brass lobster measurer, an English wooden tie press, and a heavy iron trapezoid that, he explains, was formerly used as a horse anchor. A natural teacher, every conversation he conducts is a lesson in history, geography, anthropology or the natural sciences. He rarely forgets a fact and, when he does, attributes it with a casual shrug to what he calls "early Altzheimers."
Three years ago, Lew Krevolin, who taught ceramics at Dutchess Community College, had a business restoring homes in the Hudson Valley and came up with the idea of Archatrive. He approached Wendell for his expertise in woodworking and his collection of tools and machinery, and asked him to work as a consultant to help make and modify pattems and designs. As orders for the hand-crafted mirrors expanded to include tables and beds, beautifully hand-painted in an antique wash of subtle colonial colors, the two men expanded the work areas in their respective homes.
A trip to the garage that Wendell now uses for constructing Archatrive pieces reveals a well-lit room he renovated himself using tall casement windows that once graced a local sanitorium for tuberculosis. The windows overlook the pond, the sauna he built out of walnut and Smithsonian pine and the "Hinkey dip," a device he constructed himself by attaching handbars to a pulley and extending a rope between two poles about ten feet above the slope of his land. Wendell's summer visitors can climb on a wooden horse to grab hold of the handlebars and then swoop across his property by means of the pulley, letting go just above the pond for a refreshing dip. Those that brave the ride earn a t-shirt emblazoned with a silkscreened portrait of a nude women splashing into the water and the words: "I Survived the Hinkey Dip." Taking what seems to be pretty innocent pleasure in the aesthetic appeal of his growing circle of female friends, Wendell adds by way of explanation, "She is wearing the favored choice of costume around here for anyone who comes to use the pond, the sauna and the dip."
In an adjoining workroom in Wendell's garage is a Shaker-style worktable he built himself. Its base gleams with a rainbow of 25 drawers, each constructed from a different kind of American wood from pale apple and pear to golden bird's-eye maple to darker Kentucky coffee. The nearby Dutch barn that he also renovated to house more workspace contains a more extensive lumber collection -- rows of corbels, the decorative pieces that hang under the eaves of Victorian houses and that have been collected by Lewis Krevolin, shelves crammed with planks of white pine, oak, walnut and cherry, and a varied assortment of old tauntins, mullions, lintels and random porch parts. "People around here know I collect wood," Wendell explains. "So whenever there's a house coming down, they call me up and ask me if I want the lumber. We use it all eventually for the Archatrive pieces. As Lewis always says, 'If you stand still long enough, we'll make a table out of you.'"
Wendell sees no particular changes in his immediate future. "Up until I began teaching at Dutchess Community College, I changed jobs and homes almost every five years," he reflects. "All of that moving has finally levelled off. This is the first time I've ever lived in a place that I've put so much of myself into. I always tell people that there are only two things in life that are worth much -- love and joy -- and you can't have either without the other. And I mean that in the broadest sense. You should try to take joy in your work as well as in people. I'm like Lucinda Matlock in the Edgar Lee Master's poem. She loved life.
"There's very little in life I don't like, and in many respects, for me life is more pleasant, relaxing and fun now than it has ever been. I remember my spunky grandmother who, at the age of eighty, was taking care of an 'old lady of seventy.' She went to the doctor one day because she was feeling 'a little doubtsy.' The doctor said to her, 'May, at your age perhaps it is time you took it easy and slowed down a bit.' Gram said 'Lonnie, you know that's a lot of hayseed' -- and I believe she had another agricultural product with the same initials in mind. Life is meant to be lived full tilt, and that's the way I aim to live it'."
Being an adolescent in a very strict Christian community setup, where everyone knew everybody, was not an easy feat. Privacy was hard to come by, and expectations on the part of the grown-ups were high. Watchful eyes seemed everywhere. Parents, teachers, brotherhood members and non-members -- they outnumbered us young ones, or that's how it felt. In order to escape this constant surveillance and their consistent attempts at control, the only way out from under their scrutiny was to join them -- to become one of them, an adult.
Apart from escaping their ever-watchful eyes, to become a grown-up person seemed to promise a great number of additional advantages. I would be allowed, for one, to have my own choices in a series of matters where so far I had no say.
Take school for example, a very sore area. Once that was done with, it would be up to me to go on studying or to call it a day. Oh, how I hated school! I couldn't wait till it was over!
The last years had been difficult. Well, not all the time. It really depended on the teacher and on the subject being taught. The troubles began in the fifth grade. Until then, my relationship with the various teachers had been a source of encouragement. I enjoyed learning, it all came easy, and praise wasn't spared for those who did well. Then the teachers' behavior seemed to change. They appeared to have become more difficult to handle and to please.
Fred, for example. He wasn't a trained teacher. There weren't enough professionals to go around, so they used all sorts of other people instead. Fred taught Geography and History. He enthralled us with his tales. He had a fantastic gift for holding our interest and attention. He made it truly believable that the world was a globe. He cast a net around it, and he cast a spell over us. It was a magic carpet ride when he took us everywhere and back again, carrying us along with him into prehistoric times as if we were time-travelers for real.
Although we looked forward to his lessons, we also feared him. He could throw sudden ferocious, volcanic anger at us. He was a big man with a huge belly and a rich, resounding voice that filled the classroom, seemed to burst its walls, spilling out and spreading into the surrounding school area, the School Wood as we called it. Our faces became pinched and white, our eyes transfixed, our intimidated bodies hardly breathing or daring to have a heartbeat. We never quite knew what would trigger the thunder and lightning of his fearsome outbursts. The only time that I induced his wrath, I burst into terrified tears, and in no time -- and to my utter amazement -- he changed totally, becoming gentle and comforting, and showing a contrition which I hadn't thought him capable of. That was Fred. He was terrifying, but we secretly adored him. We wanted so much to please him.
My problems with difficult teaching situations continued. There was that time when Father had injured his back and was put into a cast. It covered his whole torso. As he could neither bend down nor lift anything -- couldn't even sit on a chair -- he had to stop working at the saw mill, where he usually spent his days. He was asked to teach instead. Geometry and Physics. That was during my seventh grade, and dreadfully embarrassing. I felt as if I had to apologize for his shortcomings as a stand-in teacher. But I soon felt relieved. He handled himself and the lessons pretty well. His best performance came when he drew a picture of a steam engine on our blackboard. He explained how it made steam and this was converted into power and electricity. It was easy to understand what all those beautiful pistons and gadgets did to make such magic as electric light. For once, Father seemed very knowledgeable and smart.
There was Reg, another problem teacher. He was from England, but had to teach in the German language, which he spoke with a terrible accent. Despite this predicament, he was always pretty cheerful, his smiling face peeking out from above his red beard and his blue eyes twinkling. He didn't mind so much about Arithmetic, the subject he was supposed to teach. He gave us good marks if we drew pretty pictures in our exercise books. That made things easy, of course, but I secretly looked down on his inadequacy. It was so obvious that this was not what we ought to be doing.
No-one, though, could beat Aaron, the young American in his mid-twenties who taught Physics and Chemistry in my eighth and ninth grades. He wrought total and absolute disaster. I hated and loathed him, and had no scruples in letting it show. There was a constant battle of wills. He just did not manage to win my respect. I could not understand how my fellow-classmates allowed him to apply his humiliating punishments, sending fourteen and fifteen-year-olds into a corner to stand facing the wall for the rest of the lesson. Demanding that they stretch their hands out in front of them so that he could hit their palms or fingers with a ruler. Or, worst and most revolting of all, standing in front of the class, next to his desk, arms crossed, silent and unmoving, staring at the mischief-maker for minutes on end. It didn't matter so much, I thought, if he was staring at a boy. But when he stared down one of us girls, it was like being scorched. It was torture. You wished you had no face, no breasts, no waist or hips, no thighs. You just wished you were a gap, a space. It was so acutely and painfully embarrassing, it was totally unfair.
I wouldn't have any of that. I just left, escaped through one of the open windows. I would then try to get my own back. There was a young tree growing not far from the bungalow-style school house which held our class room. Its branches were flexible but it was safe for climbing. I'd clamber up as high as I could, then swing to and fro, singing at the top of my voice, calling out loudly to distract my fellow classmates who could see and hear me, and making them giggle. Or I would sit among the clover just outside the school room window, out of arms reach but within earshot, winding pretty wreaths while making rude remarks to disrupt the class, and taking the mickey.
I never got away with it. A report was promptly made to Therese, the head teacher, who in turn reported posthaste to my parents. School misdemeanors were at that point handled by my father. Mother must have given up on me. Father tried everything: the hated Aussprache, those sessions during which one was supposed to tell all and bare one's heart and soul. He tried coaxing, threats, he even thrashed me with his leather belt. To no avail. It only made matters worse.
It was at that time that I discovered a most precious and effectual defense system: silence. I simply kept my mouth shut. I remained stone silent. I had never expected that such a trick could be so effective, but silence and passive resistance worked wonders. After sitting at the table with me for hours on end, without getting as much as a grunt, father had to give up. He was just not getting anywhere. Sessions were ended by him with either threats, warnings or sometimes friendly, encouraging words, but the moment he was gone I'd let forth a silent howl of relief, a yell of victory. I had to be careful, though, not to look too smug, because it could provoke another nasty reaction.
These occasions obviously worsened my attitude to Aaron, because in the end it was he who had to answer for all my tribulations. My anger was so deep and so recalcitrant, that at the end of my last school year I refused to sit the Chemistry and Physics exams. I was unbending, unrelenting. I would not participate.
I failed in the two subjects, of course. There would forever be a blemish on my school records, a nasty stain, a blot. I would probably have some explaining to do later. But that all lay ahead in the far distance, and for the moment I was determined not to worry.
On the day that our official exam results were announced and final school certificates handed over, parents present, I was "expelled from school". It was to be my punishment. Being the end of my compulsory schooling, this made it look rather odd. But the teachers probably needed to go through with my expulsion to redeem and rid themselves of their own embarrassment, and to brand me as a rebel, heaping all blame on me.
It did not break my spirit. This was nothing. The great life of after-school lay before me now, beckoning, and there would be no looking or turning back, never ever!
Just this in itself was worth growing up for. But of course there were other advantages. Some were major, other had minor significance. Coffee drinking, for example. It was one of the minor privileges, but it still counted for a lot.
When Peter, my oldest brother -- older by a year and a half -- turned fourteen, it was deemed that in certain respects he was from now on to be treated like a grown-up. This meant among other things that he was now allowed to drink coffee, with the adults, on Sundays and special days, whenever there was coffee. We normally drank maté, a green and bitter tea made from the leaves of the native yerba-shrub, which was pleasant enough if we were given something to sweeten it.
Coffee was a rare treat. We children were not supposed to have any. We stole a sip here and there, of course. It seemed a nice drink and was something more to look forward to. Its obvious attraction was that it stood as a symbol, one of the small but vital pleasures of oncoming adulthood, and a sign that things were starting to change for the better.
So when Peter, on his fourteenth birthday, was promoted to coffee drinking, I promptly held out my mug. "I want some too!" I shouted.
"No, sorry," said Mother. "When you turn fourteen, then you'll get coffee. Not before then."
I pouted. There was still so much time to go before I'd be fourteen, it wasn't fair! It took a long, long time, but one day my fourteenth birthday arrived.
"Today I'm having coffee!" I sang triumphantly and waved my mug in the air as the family gathered around the table for vespers, the afternoon break.
"Well, well, whoever said you would!" Mother replied mockingly.
"You did," I said. "When Peter turned fourteen."
She creased her brow, thinking hard.
"That's when you allowed him to have coffee," I continued, and my voice became slightly petulant. Mother looked as though she didn't believe me. "That's when you said you would let me too, once I was fourteen."
"Nonsense," she replied, "I never said that."
"You did, you did!" I shouted, but she turned away to address one of my siblings. I banged my empty mug on the table, got up and left in a huff.
"You'll get some early enough!" Mother called after me, pouring maté into my siblings' lined-up mugs on the table. "Wait till you're fifteen. Then we'll look at it again."
I went into my bedroom and flung myself on the bed. I felt dreadfully slighted. Here it was again. It was typical. Peter was a boy, that's why they let him have coffee at fourteen. I was only a girl. These grown-ups did and said to girls what they wanted, when they wanted. Girls didn't matter. Girls weren't important. Oh I hated being a girl! It was so unfair!
The Jugend -- the community's youth group -- also beckoned on the horizon of young adulthood. This indeed was a group to which I ached to belong. Their activities were so interesting. They went on trips, boys and girls together, young men and women, unsupervised by Servants of the Word or other authoritative figures. They had song evenings which they spent together singing beautiful love songs. Small groups sometimes went horseback riding on moonlit nights, across the silvery campo, myriads of stars above. They held artistic evenings, enacting theatrical plays, or they sat and read poetry, or books, and then discussed the contents. Then of course there were the dance evenings. During a dance one was allowed to hold a boy's hand, briefly only, of course, but even so. I was counting the days till I would be part of it all.
What was, though, the most electrifying feature of growing up and being in the Jugend was the legitimacy of falling in love, of being in love. It was then that it was not only allowed, but expected, and therefore indirectly encouraged.
To be in love, to me, seemed the ultimate goal, the pinnacle of desires. The sweetness of those feelings, the fervor and passion, the glow and throb were so exhilarating, it was my intention to be in love always. It would lead to marriage, of course, which would be the crowning glory of it all.
There was only one problem with marriage, but at this point in time I wouldn't worry about it yet. Marriage meant having children, naturally, and I had made up my mind about that. I would not have any, no thank you. They were far too great a responsibility. Just look at Mother. She had nine, and couldn't cope. What did she have them for if she couldn't handle them and had no joy and pleasure in mothering such a crowd? Anyhow, it was something for later. When that time came, I would certainly have my own say in the matter. For the time being, to have someone to be in love with was quite enough.
I had no clear idea what I intended to do with myself once I finished school. One bonus of becoming a school leaver was that I would eventually, finally, be allowed to move away from home, from the bother of so many younger siblings, from a bullying mother and a stern, distant and severe father. That control factor would disappear, and how I longed for this new freedom. But how to get there was difficult to plan.
Therese, the head teacher, invited me for a cup of tea one afternoon, to gently point me in the direction of further studies. As I listened to her, I envisaged myself sitting at a school desk again, at the mercy of a host of future teachers, and just the thought tied a knot in my stomach. It was a way to get on, though, I reasoned with myself. But this was definitely not the direction I wanted to take.
"We will even consider sending you to University, if you would want that," she said. "You are bright, you learn easily. What do you think?"
I was embarrassed, though slightly flattered. She is making a bit of a fuss, I thought, so I must be worth it.
"You know, various people have pointed out that you are gifted with children. Why not become a teacher?" she said, then paused pensively. After a brief moment she continued. "There's the college in Asunción, for example."
She looked at me quizzically with her sharp blue eyes. I blushed. She must have realized that I was slightly overwhelmed, and she wouldn't get an answer just then.
"Go and think about it," she said. Then she dismissed me, waving me away with her hand.
I got up and left, feeling awkward. As I walked away, I went over her suggestions in my mind. How embarrassing! If only she knew how I despised school in the heart of my hearts, and how I loathed teachers! I, of all professions, a teacher? She must be hallucinating! What a joke! Anyhow, where was she coming from? First she throws me out of school, then she turns around and comes with this friendly invitation! Where was her credibility?
No. If my choices lay between either leaving home to become a teacher, or staying and not becoming anything, then I knew the answer without having to spend any time pondering the issue. There was no question. A teacher?! No way!
I was left to think it over, and I was determined to take my time. Lots of time, in fact. I was in no hurry. But I did want to grow up and become one of them. I needed to join them. This meant that I had to pull with them and not drive myself constantly into a rebellious state of mind. It required quite a new line of thought and attitude, but I was happy to give it a try.
One of the first steps would be to "ask for the Gemeindestunde, that is, to request participation at their communal prayer meetings. These assemblies embraced the baptized Bruderhof community members, as well as any other adults and youngsters who wished to take part and had been approved by those who made such decisions. The condition was that one had to stick to certain rules. No-one should join in prayer with the others if anything between participants was unclear, if there was rancor or fear, jealousy or impure thoughts or deeds. No talking behind backs, no gossiping anymore. No stealing or lying. No disobedience, no tantrums. The rules were known to me and I understood pretty well what this entailed.
For one, I'd have to work hard on my relationship with my parents, especially my mother. My attitude to her continued to be extremely strained. We did not trust each other. If I wanted to join the Gemeindestunde, I would have to learn how to discuss my trials and tribulations with her, which I thought were just too private, delicate and intimate This was so hard, so difficult. Just to imagine this kind of conversation with my mother made me bristle. But I'd have to learn to do it if I intended to go ahead.
For another, I felt acute embarrassment when I imagined myself standing side-by-side with my parents and all those other people whom I actually didn't know that well, raising my hands in prayer. It was not something I looked forward to. Prayer, or what I sensed prayer should be, was again something quite private. I had never even seen my parents pray, although they said they did.
I never prayed, at least not as I believed it should be done. What I did was to hold imaginary conversations with God, from time to time. But that was something different. These were fervent and frantic occasions. Without exception they happened during terrifying moments when I was frightened to death by violent thunderstorms that sometimes broke during the night. The thunderbolts were God's voice. He was throwing his wrath and fury at me. I'd lie in bed hardly daring to breathe or move, waiting to be struck down. In such moments I'd frantically stammer all sorts of promises in my heart, for God to let me off just one more time, and I would be a better person as of tomorrow.
All the girls in my group, and even a few younger ones, were already in the Gemeindestunde. Even Lorraine had succumbed recently. I watched them closely after they joined. There was no difference between before and after, in their behavior, that I could perceive. They still acted in exactly the same way they used to. Did this mean, then, that somehow it didn't matter how one was, just as long as one said one wanted to be a better person? Wasn't this kind of dishonest?
Despite there being no obvious change, overall, in the way my age-group behaved after joining, nevertheless, by some strange coincidence it seemed to give them an edge over all those youngsters who hadn't. It lent them a sort of authority, it gave them an air of righteousness, putting them on a spiritual pedestal from where they were able to strike a tone to which we others did not seem entitled. It became a situation of "them and us".
Gradually I began to feel truly left out. I sensed that I was losing credibility among my young friends. This was serious. Go and join, I told myself, it won't matter how you behave. See the others? They haven't changed. If you join, you'll at least get a better standing and reputation. 'Aha,' they will say, 'she's in the Gemeindestunde. She's all right. She's good and white and clean and coming our way. We can trust her.' The grown-ups looked upon the Gemeindestunde-girls with pleasure. I wanted their eyes to rest benignly on my head too. I really ought to do it.
On Sunday mornings, ahead of prayer meetings, they had household meetings where everybody, community member and guest, young and old, irrespective of membership, was welcome to participate. As a start, I thought, I will try and go more regularly to those meetings. So I did.
There were readings from the New Testament. I listened to important words written by people called Blumhardt, Bonhöfer, Schopenhauer. Weird names like Nietzsche were quoted. Texts from books by Eberhard Arnold, the founder of the Bruderhof community, figured constantly. Serious words flowed from the lips of the Servant of the Word over there at the other end of the hall.
I found it tedious, difficult to concentrate. While the droning voice went on and on about all this spiritual stuff, my mind wandered easily. The meetings were an all-important part of the life, that's why they needed to be built into my quest for self-determination But why oh why did they have to be so boring?
There were rewards for staying away from their meetings, of course. The main one was that I could mostly do what I wanted during those hours. I had discovered the charms of the Cedar Wood Sunday mornings were best, but I also often spent my free afternoons there, weather permitting. The Cedar Wood lay on the northern edge of Loma Hoby. It was an area that had been cleared and planted with young trees, mostly cedar. The closest dwelling, and not that close for all that, was another of those huts in which they housed some of Loma Hoby's young single men, but whose proximity posed no threat, as no one ever seemed to be there during the day.
Among the saplings stood a solid wooden bench, firmly fixed in the ground. It faced the campo and the woods beyond. This was a quiet spot, ideal for reading and dreaming, a replacement for my former hideaway which I had lost when my family moved house. Many a poem came into being there, and my diary was a constant companion. Here I found peace. Clumps of grass and small shrubs were beginning to fill the spaces between the young trees. Flowers gently nodded in the playful breeze, and finely arched grass blades trembled. There was the occasional shrill piped warning of unseen danger, coming from thorny tangles further west, where some apereás [guinea pigs - ed] had their little grass tunnels. The distant lowing of cattle mingled with faraway voices of children out and about picking guavas, or Kamp-Mais, that peculiar yellow corncob-like fruit on a long green stem, burning your lips if it wasn't quite ready but deliciously sweet if properly ripe.
The sawmill wasn't that far away. During weekdays, the whining howl and hissing screech of vicious teeth on circular blades could be heard, as they cut up tree trunks that had been brought in by alza-primas, the native log-carrying contraptions hitched up with six oxen, their two enormous wheels groaning in seeming agony, dragging huge logs from the woods, the ox-drivers rhythmically clanking pieces of metal close to the ears of the animals, prodding the beasts to stop them from nodding off while they lumbered along ever so slowly. This racket was accompanied by the alza-prima drivers' far-carrying whistles and shouts, as they plodded along in slow file, the wheels cutting ever deeper tracks into the rutted road across the campo. From the direction of the sawmill came the occasional ear-shattering clatter of planks being thrown, stacked or moved, and the accompanying shouts of the working men, mingled with the other background noises, while the jubilant bien-te-vi, the yellow-breasted birds, called exuberantly to each other from the trees that grew further along the road leading back to the village where, toward the southeast, the hospital lay. The occasional penetrating cackle and laughter of a potter bird would drift over from somewhere beyond the Cedar Wood, and from the row of palm trees on the gently rising slope that lay behind me, between the road and our house, one could faintly distinguish the cries of weaver birds, as they busily fed their young in the small colony they had established there.
The months went by and I couldn't make up my mind about the Gemeindestunde, I had been working with the grown-ups. For school-leavers it was usual to help in the various departments in the village, for months at a time.
For me, the most boring place was the communal laundry. It was situated at the bottom of a gentle slope, between kitchen and School Wood. What dull, silly work! It meant sorting dirty clothes that smelt slightly sweet of sweat and a hodgepodge of body odors. The various garments, according to color and kind, were dropped into immense cauldrons, where they were heated or boiled, stirred from time to time with big sticks. The clothes were then heaved out of the cauldrons with those sticks, and plunged into huge troughs of cold water. They had to be rinsed repeatedly, to rid them of the slimy -- not very attractively smelling -- homemade soap, then wrung out and finally hung on row upon row of wash line that covered the slope between laundry and kitchen, or in rainy weather pegged onto line after line inside the large laundry shed. Once the clothes were dry, they were folded and sorted according to initials embroidered or stitched into them, indicating to which family or person the items belonged. This was a strange department to work in. It was here that one often found members working quietly for weeks or even months, not speaking with anybody, which would invariably mean that they were in the Small Exclusion. So they must have done something bad. On the whole, my perception of the laundry was more of a halfway house to hell, the ideal department for small humiliations. To work there meant more of a punishment than anything else.
Toward the left of the laundry's open air drying slope with its rows of washing line lay the Mother House. This contained the Housemother's stores at one end, and the sewing room at the other. The sewing room was one large bright room with lots of windows, arranged with a row of sewing machines and large wooden work tops, where our clothes were designed, cut and pinned together ready for the sewing. Bales of cloth lay around on shelves and windowsills. Piles of ready-cut garments lay in corners awaiting their fate at the sewing machine.
Mother worked in the sewing room. She taught me how to use the old hand-driven Singer, and when I was dextrous enough on that one, promoted me to the one that functioned by rhythmic treading on a small wrought-iron platform serving as pedal. I was introduced to the innards of those machines, and had to clean and oil them regularly. I was taught how to make garb of every kind. Diapers were most boring, and there were always acres and acres! Also scoring high on the scale of dullness were the knickers There was always a need for many more. But now and then I was given more of a challenge: a new shirt for one of the men, or a blouse, skirt, or dress for one of the women or girls. The more complicated the garment, the more I enjoyed my job. Mother seemed happy to introduce me to the tricks and secrets of the trade. She was patient and kind with me there. It was a nice change.
Work in the children's departments was completely different. I spent some time in the Baby House with the infants of up to a year of age, then I helped for a while with the toddlers. Kindergarten was slightly easier. The three to five-year-olds had enough communication skills to be able to make themselves well understood. The older they got, the easier I found it to work with them.
So it came as no surprise to me that hort-duty turned out to be one of the most enjoyable jobs. It meant helping with the younger schoolchildren in the afternoons when they didn't have lessons. We went for long treks over the campo and into the woods, picking wild fruit or playing pirates and robbers, hide-and-seek and all sorts of adventure games. There were exciting moments when we had to run for dear life to get over the nearest fence when we were chased by a small herd of zebu cows gone wild, probably with a newborn calf or two somewhere close by, behind a guava bush or a mimosa shrub.
In summer we went swimming at the represa, the artificial lake on the northern campo, not far from the Bienenwäldchen, the small wood island harboring a number of bee hives. There was a lot of open air activity, and it was good to be with the children but not one of them, while rightfully playing like them. The children heeded what I said, and their respect was easily won. When at suppertime I spun long, drawn-out tales, extended over a number of evenings, with knights in bright shining armor saving beautiful young maidens, lost and forlorn, threatened by fire-spitting dragons, by terrifyingly ugly gnomes and creatures of the dark, the children wouldn't take their eyes off my face. When my imagination ran dry for a moment they coaxingly suggested a new direction and off I went once more, spinning the web and creating the adventure as I went along. Their enthusiasm was contagious and their memory challenging. Every evening they reminded me, often word by word, where I had left off the night before. It was magic.
Then the children went home, trundling off in small groups, having a lot to chatter about. And after a while the School Wood became quiet again, for the first time since early morning. The bungalow where the children had their meals resembled a log cabin with a thatched roof. Outside, near its front door, a sturdy wooden table had been anchored firmly in the ground. This was where the washing-up was done after each meal. I loved to do it in the evenings. Serenity now reigned in the School Wood, all the clatter and busy noise of the day's activities gone. It left behind a magic silence. The laughter, the shouts, the running noses, the patter of dirty bare feet, the noisy or quiet tears, and all the many secrets, had all disappeared with the children. The singing and reciting, the skipping and hopping, the clapping of hands had transferred to somewhere else. They had left behind just that charm of peace and quiet among the bungalows that housed their schoolrooms, and seemed to weave itself amongst the trees spread throughout the place.
While I stood rinsing plates and cups, I let my eyes drift westward. The great timbó tree stretched its branches wide and far, a dark silhouette against the evening sky. Beneath it, the Morning Circle, the circular roughly hewn wooden benches set into the ground, where the children gathered every morning for song, now lay quiet, the bench tops, polished by many a child's bottom, now glistening and reflecting the sharp light from above. Further on beyond the border fence lay the campo, framed by black woods behind which the sun had recently set. The sky was already changing from its golden sunset colors to azure, and a hint of night air and sweet scents of evening blooms drifted on the gentle breeze. Some cattle called, lowing plaintively. Their outlines were just visible, a long file of gentle animals, moving rhythmically across the grassland. They were regrouping for the night. Then very gently the evening mist began to appear. The clumps of grass, blades as sharp as razor, began to resemble islands rising up out of whiffs of milky sea. From very far away the miserable wails of howling monkeys could be heard. It was an eerie sound. Then the first star began blinking, another one soon followed, and now night fell very rapidly, and I had to hurry up, because the bells calling for supper in the communal dining room were beginning to toll.
During those enjoyable weeks with the children, I could not help but remember Therese's suggestion that I become a teacher. It was good to work with the children in hort. It was a charming place to be, the School Wood, but it wasn't enough to tempt me. I realized that my disdain and contempt for that profession had been etched into me so indelibly that I vowed never to hold such a position of power and authority over children if I could help it. I loved them, I enjoyed being with them, and they appeared to enjoy my company too. But it didn't change my attitude one iota.
Loma Hoby's communal kitchen lay quite central and practically everybody crossing the village had to walk past it, so spending the day there enabled one to know pretty well where everyone was and what was going on. The other area competing with the throb of that village center was our hospital. It lay northeasterly, slightly away from the rest of the settlement. Actually it was there that the real dramas of life and death unfolded, mysterious things of the body were disclosed, unveiled, then secreted away once more, where tensions were truly high, but of a quite different nature. Because of their nature, I preferred the kitchen area and its kind of pulse.
Working in the kitchen was nice. The staff was often made up of members of the Jugend. That meant banter and fun, with its obvious tension-laden undercurrents that would add an indefinable but thrilling tingle. There was lots of singing. Everything could be expressed that way. If someone burst into song, one knew the mood. There was a song for every situation.
At that time, Hans Schmid was in charge. He was in his mid-twenties, in the Jugend, and a brotherhood member. Beatriz also worked in the kitchen. She was roughly the same age as Hans. She had beautiful jet-black hair and eyes, her warm personality and down-to-earth response to all sorts of happenings and problems in daily life made her attractive as a confidante whenever one didn't feel like going to higher authority for counsel and advice. One day I caught Hans and Beatriz looking at each other in that special way. Their eyes interlocked, there was this electrifying moment, and I knew. They were saying without words that they loved each other. A gentle blush began creeping from Beatriz's neck into her face, and her cheeks darkened slightly. Then she dropped the kitchen knife with which she had been peeling mandioca, and the spell was broken. A secretive smile curved around her mouth as she bent down to retrieve her tool.
It was rare to catch out anyone like this, and it was better to keep one's counsel if it happened. Now and then, though, a couple would be so wrapped up in their secret feelings, that they forgot to be careful. During my latter school years, for example, we knew that Aaron and Arlene were attracted to each other. They seemed to think no one noticed, but we all knew. It was written all over their faces, especially Aaron's. He didn't know how to disguise his feelings. He was terribly obvious.
While I was picking up the odd domestic skill here and there during those months of helping in the various departments, I had a sense of drifting aimlessly. I had reached my goal of leaving school, although obviously I would have arrived there anyhow just by the passing of time. Despite being reminded now and then, by Father mainly, that there was a whole huge life stretching out in front of me, and that I could choose to do something, anything with it, I was still in no mood for choices of far-reaching consequences. In a way, it actually suited me fine to meander along. I had my free time and used it to read, to think, to try and sort out in my mind all the questions constantly arising around me. I daydreamed a lot, and just waited to grow up a little more and become more marriageable. I had begun to change from a skinny teenager to a slightly more full-bodied young woman and was proud of what I now saw when I looked along the length of my body. We had no mirrors, vanity was definitely not encouraged, so I used to secretly study the shadow of my profile, stare at it intently and wonder if I was pretty. My nose was not at all to my liking, but as far as the rest went, well, it didn't seem too bad, especially if I compared myself with some other girls. I derived great pleasure from dancing, and loved physical exercise. I secretly prided myself on my stamina and energy. In my fantasies I was a princess. A gypsy princess, I thought. That seemed more romantic. So, being a princess, a good posture was vital, and I worked at it by walking proud and tall.
But during that period I also became more shy and insecure among the grown-ups, and tended to withdraw whenever I had a chance. My fellow school-leavers were progressing on the spiritual ladder, and here I was, still dithering. It was tough to give up my free time, that last little freedom which I so enjoyed. While they labored at concentrating on what was read to them in their endless meetings, I loved my hours in the Cedar Wood and was loath to let go. I was glad that the "clearances" and "crises", as they called their spiritual turmoil, did not affect me, because it seemed so often that they were going in circles, doing a lot of navel contemplation, losing sight of the wider horizons. The atmosphere would be heavy and unpleasant. Father's eyes would stare into the distance. He wouldn't hear a word of what was going on around him right under his nose, and mother would often cry quietly and seem absolutely miserable. It was sometimes quite difficult to understand why it had to be that way, and this was the life and world that was offered. No wonder, then, that I dithered.
I knew all the while, though, that to "ask for the Gemeindestunde" did definitely not mean a commitment for life, nor was it a confession of faith. There never was a question of confessing a faith. Everything was rock-solid, unquestionably so. There was God, there was Jesus the baby who grew up into a young man and was then killed on a cross; and there was a Holy Spirit, which was the most difficult of the three to grasp. But it was there for sure, because they talked about it very convincingly. There was a Bible to prove it, with its Old and New Testaments. But most of all, here were all these grown-ups, who had been around ever since I discovered I was someone, for whom this was the most natural way of spending their lives. What it meant was that, once I belonged to the Gemeindestunde circle, I would have to pull in the direction that they, the grown-ups, perceived and pointed to as being the right one. It meant becoming an honest and upright member of this gathering, having the right intentions, being a seeker of the truth. This last one was a big name for someone small like myself, but others didn't seem to be bothered about the vastness of it all.
But where were all the boys? I never saw them in any of the meetings. They were probably out and about with their harpoons and Zwiesel, the homemade slingshots, the pockets of their short trousers bulging with the pellets they used as shot, which they had made themselves from dried clay. While my mind wandered, I wished I was with them, trotting across the campo in search of anteaters, three or four dogs yapping around bare, sun-browned legs; or maybe hunting armadillos by aguada-timbó, the watering hole at the edge of the woods down south. The boys never seemed under any pressure. They roamed freely and enjoyed a rough-and-tumble existence, while expectations were much different where we girls were concerned.
I envied the boys, but I knew that it was beyond my power to change things, and I knew well that matters would only become worse if I dwelt on it, I did not know how to argue against it. Anyhow, there were so many other things in everyday life that felt unfair. Who knows, I thought, maybe this is the way things are meant to be? God's will? "Thy will be done," they always said.
One fine day I gathered my courage. I finally had made up my mind. I was going to tell them I wanted to join the Gemeindestunde. I wouldn't draw it out any longer. There really was no other choice. I had to tidy myself up first. So I put on a clean dress, washed my hands and feet, slipped into my sandals with a deep sigh -- it was much nicer to go barefoot, but this was serious and required respectful attire -- and combed my hair, plaiting it neatly into two braids.
With trembling heart I went to see the Servant of the Word in his office, the small hut not far from our house. My heart was pounding when my feet crossed the threshold. I didn't know him well, but he seemed a kind man. Always a bit distant from people like me, of course. He had greater worries. The Housemother was with him when I entered. I did not know if that made it worse or better. I stammered my request. I was hot and flustered. My heart raced.
"Well, Simone," the Servant of the Word boomed with a big voice and an even bigger smile, after I finished my little phrase, "I must say, I am delighted. This is a very special moment indeed. Don't you think so?"
He turned to the Housemother. She nodded and smiled. "Well done, Simeon," she murmured approvingly.
He got up and took my hand into his. "Go now, and speak with your mother and father," he said. His voice was kind. "As far as we are concerned, we are very, very pleased. We will see you tonight in our Gemeindestunde, then."
He shook my hand, and I was dismissed. With rubbery knees I left the hut.
Now came the turn to see and talk to my parents. We sat at the family table. Their faces were solemn. Again I felt very uncomfortable, but my determination helped to ease me into what I had to say.
Meekly I told them about my conversation with the Servant of the Word and that he was happy that I join the Gemeindestunde. Next, in a quivering voice, I told them I wished to apologize for every transgression I had ever perpetrated, and then I asked them to forgive me. I promised that I would from now on try ever so hard to become a better person. My pride had been tightly screwed down in advance, bolted to a heavy plate weighing at least a thousand tons, placed at the bottom of my "I-always-know-better" heart. The whole experience was excruciatingly humiliating, but there was no way around it. Life was also about becoming humble. Mother and father were pleased.
"We want to do it with you," father said. "You see, we are also only human, and we can only try our best at all times."
Then came the most terrifying bit of all. That evening, at the prayer meeting, I had to stand up, all on my own, in front of those many people, mostly adults, some in the Jugend, others in my age group, to publicly "ask for the Gemeindestunde."
Somehow I managed to say the words. I had rehearsed them over and over in my mind. They came out properly. I did not stumble, did not stutter. I just did it. There was a general murmur of approval after I finished, then the Servant of the Word said a few welcoming words, and it was all over.
I swallowed hard. My heart was racing, my cheeks were hot and my mouth dry, but I had done it! I had finally done it! I now was one of them! Oh, what a relief It was over, it was all over. It was done.
As I came away from my first Gemeindestunde, I decided that from now on there was to be a strong sense of purpose in my life. Everything would come right. Life would become good. I sensed that I was finally heading in the right direction.
I did not acknowledge a secret held somewhere in a tiny corner of my heart, which told me that a certain amount of freedom continued to be available. It was like a pact. I did not know with whom this pact had been made. It wasn't anything deliberate, or an act of defiance. It was the kind of thing you had to disown, to keep subliminal for what it was. In essence, it was still perfectly possible to find my own space and time, like my precious Cedar Wood escapades. I simply needed the blandest of excuses. If I said, "I must spend some time on my own, to think something over," or "I am not clear in myself, therefore I don't feel free to take part in the communal prayer" or something similar, I could stay away from the Gemeindestunde and no one would raise an eyebrow. Such vague reasons for staying away were perfectly acceptable, not questioned at all. One was even seen to be in the right, honest, willing and clarity-seeking spirit, which was so very laudable.
I was in, but I was not trapped. That was what mattered.