London’s Plain People

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Sometimes random words pop up in the papers here that give me pause. Most recently I read an article about Mennonites in London, and how their numbers had dwindled to such a point that they’d had to give up even holding Sunday meetings and prayers.

Having grown up in southwestern Ontario, Mennonites were part of my childhood. To me, seeing a horse and buggy in the drive-in queue in McDonald’s is a totally normal thing. I realise this is not the case for most people, but still, to me, this is how things are done. The Mennonites are part of the community and from my experience are a sensible bunch of people that have advanced skills in carpentry and maple syrup production. They are the people you call when the roof leaks, when you need quality baked goods, or an influx of maple syrup. In fact, one man, Mr Martin, has been selling us our maple syrup since as long as I can remember. To me, Mennonites are part and parcel of home.

Imagine my delight then upon finding out that there were Mennonites in London!

My delight was immediately shattered when I read on and found that their numbers were too small to merit even getting together anymore. I was crushed. It was like finding out that your favourite whatever – shop, meal, book, movie – was gone. It was like an extinction of a kind.

The Mennonites have always, to my mind at least, symbolised some of my favourite things about Canada. They are, on the whole, kind and gentle people, who steward the land and know that treating it well will stand them in good stead in the future.

They live as they do, the Old Order kind, without electricity or any other modern things. They don’t have internet, they don’t have computers, and they don’t have smart phones. In many ways they are role models to me for this. They have successfully eschewed all the silliness that takes up a lot of our time, and have carried on and they don’t appear to be much the worse for wear for having done it either. They don’t Tweet, but you know, that doesn’t appear to have had an adverse effect – at least whenever I’m at home and we go shopping, I don’t see that any of the Mennonite shops have gone out of business. What they make and sell still has value, even if they don’t spend a lot of time growing their brand. They interact with their customers the old fashion way – live, and in person.

They are not showy, they try to avoid being prideful, and work for the good of the community. Oftentimes, I think there is rather a lot we can learn from them.

I was telling The Mom all of this and then decided that maybe I might want to turn up at the last meeting, to introduce myself, and maybe make some new friends, who might then, I thought, teach me the secret to making a good Sho Fly Pie (which is essentially all the sugar you can find and raisins in pastry).

“Dear, you’re confusing the Old Order Mennonites who live near us with the broader idea of Mennonites. You don’t think they actually drive horse and buggies in London, do you?”

“I’ve seen people in Shoreditch on Penny Farthings, so seriously, a horse and buggy would not phase me.”

The Mom drew a blank.

“Hipsters,” I replied.

“Whatever,” The Mom said. “Just if you go, don’t be expecting Mr Martin or someone like him to be there. I wouldn’t want  you to be disappointed.”

And it’s true, I was sort of half imagining some strange hitherto undiscovered part of London that looked exactly like my hometown, replete with buggies, honesty boxes, and pastries.

“And I don’t think they’ll have the maple syrup either,” The Mom added. “I think it’s safe to say that’s just a local thing.”

Finding out about the Mennonites that day made my homesickness flare up a little bit. I decided in the end not to go and see if I could meet the last few London Mennonites, and instead went back to imagining a strange piece of Canada somewhere up near Canning Town.

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