It appears that there were limited spots on the boat that was meant to take the box of books from the printer to the publisher.
And being a Mennonite book, my unassuming little tome deferred its place and humbly let others take its spot in the shipping container.
Or something like that.
There are rumours that it slept in and was nursing a hangover after going on a bender the night before.
But I call that malicious gossip.
At first glance, it often seems as if we Mennos were left out of many of the great events of the past. It is generally assumed that we missed the boat on the Enlightenment, Romanticism, and even the invention of cocktails. A little research shows that some of us were, in fact, participants in the Enlightenment. There may well also have been some scribbling Mennonite poets in the nineteenth century who knew better than to hang out with Lord Byron and Shelley. But I am still convinced that, despite our history as distillers of whiskey and fine brandies, we totally missed the boat on pre-prohibition and speakeasy cocktail culture.
But, of course, we didn’t miss the boat at all on all sorts of historical controversies that never made their way into the mainstream history textbooks. When historians decide that the most compelling controversies of the modern era related to the form and practise of baptism, it will be seen that we didn’t just not miss the boat on modernity — we steered that steamship!
But enough about metaphorical boats.
Taken more literally, I think it is true that Mennonites have missed many boats over the course of our history. Really. It’s par for the course when one’s history is jam-packed full of migration stories. It should be remembered that for every group of Mennos who got fired up with righteous indignation or fear of persecution and hopped on a boat from Switzerland to America or the Netherlands, from the Netherlands to Prussia, from Prussia to Russia, from Russia to Canada, Germany, the US, or Central Asia, from there to Mexico, Paraguay, Bolivia, Belize, Chile and everywhere else, for all of those groups, there were other groups of Mennos who missed the boat and stayed put.
With very few exceptions, all of us who have Mennonites in our ancestry have ancestors who at some point in the past missed one boat or another.
And lots of us have “missed boat” stories as a result.
One of the best stories of a missed boat was the story of the Swiss Brethren who intentionally missed the boat in 1711 when they refused to board the same boat as the Amish, whom they had not forgiven for the disrespect shown in their days of schism, eighteen years earlier. This boat was to have taken them to safety, out of persecution in Switzerland. It had come about based on intervention by the Dutch Mennonites who sought to help out their beleaguered fellow Anabaptists to the south. But many of the Swiss Brethren preferred to miss that particular boat and face the worst that the Swiss authorities would throw at them rather than sail alongside their rival Anabaptists.
There’s nothing quite like missing a boat out of obstinacy.
The stories from my own freundschaft were more of missed boats due to indecision and illness.
Some are tragic. I knew of one family in Russia who couldn’t decide in 1923 whether to immigrate to Canada and so they sent one son to check it out and report back. But, the window of opportunity was small and political circumstances shifted while the family awaited the son’s report. So they missed their boat and the son never saw his parents again.
The missed boat was a happier story in my family. My grandmother was sixteen in 1923 and middle child in her family. She and her family came from the Chortitza Colony where my great-grandfather had been town clerk and a small land-holder before the Russian Revolution. Oma had had an older brother who had dreamed of studying art and an older sister who wanted to be a teacher. But she herself had been young enough that she’d not yet made plans and aspirations that revolution, famine and disease could shatter. Her parents didn’t consider breaking up the family. They made their decision, traded their house for a pocket watch, gathered up a few of their belongings and set off as a whole family to start over in Canada.
They planned to board the ship in Bavaria after stopping for a few months at the refugee transit camp at Lager-Lechfeld.
My grandmother missed that boat.
Her mother and three of her siblings caught it but Oma, her father and her brother Henry had to stay back another few months because they didn’t pass the medical exam, which checked their eyes for trachoma and held back anyone with redness or, in my grandmother’s case, a stye.
She didn’t mind.
For her, it was the best of times. She had escaped hardship in Russia and, for a few days, even the hustle and bustle of her own big family. So missing the boat for her meant a brief holiday there in the Mennonite refugee camp with her father and brother and the friends she had made there.
Eventually they were cleared and Oma, Henry and her father boarded their own boat. It stopped in England to pick up other passengers and there they were surprised to see the familiar faces of the family members who had gone on months before. A bout of measles had caused the other part of the family to be delayed and quarantined in Southampton. And by chance, the measles and the styes cleared up at exactly the right time to bring the family together again.
I never asked my great-aunts and great-uncles about their layover in England — whether it was dreadful and tedious or a happy holiday. But the family found itself reunited on the ship and arrived safe and sound and all together in Canada a short while later. It didn’t matter that they had missed the boat; or it mattered only in that it afforded a piece of the family a much-appreciated vacation.
So I am hoping that my box of books enjoyed its little holiday while it was forced to stay behind. I have been assured that the book is definitely in transit now and should be available in stores everywhere by (Canadian) Thanksgiving. And then it will be ready to begin its new life offering up bits of knowledge about Mennonites and tasty cocktail recipes in a new land.
- 2 ounces Tequila
- 1 ounce Triple Sec or another orange liqueur
- 1 ounce fresh lime juice
- 1/3 cup frozen watermelon cubes (seeded)
- 1/2 ounce simple syrup
Put all ingredients into a blender and puree. Serve in a coupe or martini glass. Alternatively, if using fresh watermelon, puree watermelon and use 1/4 cup of puree, shaking together with the other ingredients and ice until chilled.