The Retiree: March 19, 2014


Recently I described my royal ancestry. Nobody cared. Now I'll try Wife's side, where you find solid Mennonite stock.
They had royal roots, too. Most of the royalty was similar to Gypsy royalty, having its roots in the imaginations of the participants more than in history. After all, who were its people? They got batted all over Europe like a shuttlecock, eventually ending up in Mountain Lake, Minnesota; Kitchener, Ontario; rural Pennsylvania; and a few other hotbeds of religious fanaticism.
Menno Simons, a Dutch Roman Catholic priest converted to Anabaptist, helped overcome the excesses of the Anabaptist Kingdom of Munster (1534-35), led by Fred Munster, played by Fred Gwynn on 1970s TV. He moved around the Netherlands and Holstein—black and white cows—and the lower Rhine and the Baltic, leading his progeny to keep moving as much as possible, usually pursued by fanatic anti-fanatics. They were looking for a place to live simple, honest, loving lives like the earliest Christians, some of whom were eaten by lions.
Most of the Mennonite ancestors of my in-law family wrote the Dordrecht Confession of 1632, which defined Mennonite theological principles, and kept the family from causing trouble on the streets of Amsterdam or Düsseldorf. Some of those rascals had familial ties to Prussian Army generals, even though they claimed to be pacifists; those savage traits were carried through the generations and surface in times of family strife. The latent violence in the family shows up in things like fruit soup, borscht—cabbage soup, not the Jewish version—and other high-volatility foods with exotic, unspellable names. The traits may be absorbed in the bloodstream from the food and are not, strictly speaking, genetic. So beware not only of the soup; beware also of the consequences of the Prussian Army on your own disposition or that of your children, regardless of whose family we are discussing.
Mennonites emigrated to the American colonies (1683), to Russia (1788), and, in the 20th century, from Russia and North America to Latin America. It’s hard to avoid them, since they look a lot like you and me. Fortunately, they are tolerated nowadays.
While running around Europe, Mennonites crossed the Ukraine once or twice. Hard to verify but easy to imagine another tie-in with the modern day family. Practically everybody has a tie-in with a civilization that entertained Romans, Greeks, and Byzantines during the first millennium. The Cossack insurrection under Bohdan Chmielnicki in 1648 brought some additional background to the family. When the peasantry joined in revolt against serfdom, almost everyone’s ancestors were there. Some of the most revolting people . . . well, the family was there. And the thought of a Cossack, riding on a wild horse, swinging a scimitar, machete, mattock, sword, or saber, whacking and bashing Poles and Jews and Mennonites—well, it brings back memories of the Terrible Twos and toilet training.
Wife will deny most of what I just wrote, so don't ask her. She might have just eaten borscht.
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