For 100 Days Elfrieda Schroeder woke me up in the morning. She never forgot to write her New Beginning entry into the 100 Day Challenge Contest. I missed her after the days were over, and I want you to meet her. She wins the prize for internalizing the idea of that challenge. She inspires me. I expect she will inspire you too.
Elfrieda has lived an amazing life. Here she is with her family in Paraguay in 1948, the year I was born.
For Elfrieda Schroeder, the word “home” has many meanings. I asked her to answer some questions about her life, the same questions I asked Mary Lou Weaver Houser, the winner of the random drawing for the 100 Day Challenge Prize.
Tell us about your own Home Place?
That is a good question for someone like me who has been a wanderer for most of her life. I was born in Ukraine in 1943 in a little house my Dad built when he and Mom got married in 1940. In October of 1943, when I was four months old, the invading German army was defeated by the Soviets and all those of German origin began their trek to the West. Fortunately, my whole family was able to go by train. For four years, we were homeless refugees, always in danger of repatriation to Russia.
In 1947 we boarded the Dutch freighter, the Volendam, and settled in Paraguay. Our little whitewashed mud house with straw roof is the first home I remember. It was bursting at the seams since my parents now had six children. The kitchen was a separate building. My mother baked in an outdoor clay oven and cooked over an open fire. We got water from a well and there was an outhouse.
Five years later, our family immigrated to Canada. Our later homes were very different from that little house where I formed my first memories! I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to return to my former village in Paraguay in 2009 and to Chortitza, Ukraine in 2012.
Q: Describe yourself. In relation to place, stage in life, passions, etc.
From my earliest childhood, I have been fascinated by words. I loved to memorize songs and poems and recite them. I enjoyed reading to my siblings. I recently read in an old letter my mother wrote to my grandmother how I could lie in the hammock for hours and put rhyming words together. My mother did not understand this preoccupation I had with words. Her practical Mennonite mind and her upbringing taught her that this was a total waste of time. She wanted to teach me how to sew and cook and take care of babies, but as soon as I learned to read I always had a book in my hand, no matter what else I was doing. My mother wanted someone practical at her side to help her with the myriad tasks that needed to be done each day, and, as the oldest girl in a family of eight children, that task fell to me. But I was useless to her because I was a dreamer and rhymer of words. My father was more like me, and my mother was exasperated with him as well!
I must have married Hardy because of our mutual passion for words (especially the Word of God). We spent many years in Africa, where Hardy worked in Bible translation, and I worked at being the mom of three daughters, learning new languages, and learning to live in a culture very different from the one in which I grew up.
We returned to Canada (Kitchener, Ontario) in 1984, where Hardy worked with the Canadian Bible Society and I fulfilled a dream by enrolling at University of Waterloo part time while our three daughters were in school. When I entered university, it suddenly dawned on me that I got paid for reading books. I could spend my life with words and it was a respectable profession! I actually called my Mom and told her that.
Eventually I enrolled as a full time student and obtained my PhD in German Languages and Literature, then taught part time at universities in the Kitchener/Waterloo/Guelph area. I also enjoyed tutoring international students privately and classroom teaching at Rockway Mennonite Collegiate.
My husband and I are now retired and have moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba to be closer to family. We have eight grandchildren.
What prompted you to enter the 100-Day Challenge?
I have been contemplating writing my life story, if not for publication, then at least for my family. Shirley has been sending me tips and provocative questions to get me started. Her 100-Day Challenge had me sitting down every day and at least writing a few sentences. I have been doing it ever since.
What was your New Beginning?
When Ray Dirks, the curator of the Mennonite Heritage Centre Gallery, announced a new project, Along the Road to Freedom, I was intrigued. With this project, Ray wished to honour the lives of women who fled the Soviet Union to freedom by telling their stories through 15 paintings focusing on the strength, faith, love and suffering of the mothers. I wanted my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother to be part of that focus.
My niece, Leanne, set the whole idea in motion by suggesting that our family should commission a painting. My sister Irma provided some of the photos and I was the storyteller and writer. There was so much to tell, but space was limited. This gave me the desire to write our family’s stories and how they have affected me. In other words, the idea of a memoir was born. But it seemed like such an insurmountable project.
Shirley, with her email promptings on writing a memoir and her 100 New Beginnings Project, has helped me to get started by breaking it down into smaller components. She has also helped me to put into writing what it is I want to do, so that it doesn’t just remain an idea in my head.
Elfrieda has read Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World!
Here’s her review:
Where were you moved, inspired, challenged as you read?
What I really like about Shirley’s book is that her writing becomes for me what Anne Lamott verbalizes in her book for writers (Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life):
Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious. When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation that we have all had too much of. (pp.225f)
Who else might enjoy this book?
My four sisters and I have formed a book club and I will definitely recommend your book. Several times we have invited an author to join us (Dora Dueck, Wilma Derksen, Arthur Kroeger, Wally Jansen) and these meetings have been the most enjoyable.
Shirley, wouldn’t you just love to come to Canada and promote your book in person? I’m sure, McNally Robinson Booksellers in Winnipeg would be happy to launch your book.
Thank you, Elfrieda, for this generous sharing of your life, your project, and your review of Blush. I know that you will continue recording stories and sharing them with those beautiful grandchildren. My guess is that you will find some new fans of your work in places you haven’t imagined.
Keep working those Magical Memoir Moments. Readers, if you want to join Elfrieda, you can subscribe to Magical Memoir Moments on the top right corner of this page.
And I’m going to remember that invitation to come to Canada! I’d love to do that. Readers, please offer Elfrieda a word of encouragement for her life, her faith, her fortitude, and her imagination below. Or describe your own New Beginning. Remember, I’m lonesome for them.