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.

Elfrieda was five when this picture was taken.

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.

Elfrieda and Hardy's 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.

Elfrieda and Ray Dirks and the painting

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.

 

Shirley Showalter

14 Comments

  1. Marian Beaman on October 29, 2013 at 7:45 pm

    Dear Elfrieda, you have found some kindred spirits already here on Shirley’s blog and in her book. Wonderful! There are so many things to admire about your story: your love of words, your love for the Word of God, your fortitude in overcoming many obstacles. And most of all, for never giving up on your dreams.

    Best wishes as you move forward with your book club and with writing your memoir. You have quite a story to tell! By the way, in 2011 my husband and I had the privilege of ministering in Kiev, Ukraine and outlying towns as well as enjoying a short vacation in Crimea. You have a beautiful homeland, or as they say in that country, Motherland. Shirley, thank you for featuring Elfrieda in this inspiring story.

    • shirleyhs on October 30, 2013 at 3:31 pm

      Here’s another set of friends who have found each other. I constantly rejoice when this happens. And look at your many connections.

      Wonderful.

      Shirley

  2. Dora Dueck on October 29, 2013 at 8:07 pm

    I’m a good friend of Elfrieda’s, here in Winnipeg (also in the same congregation) and although I know much of her story, it’s good to see it set down this way, and to hear you two wonderful and inspiring women talking together via interview.

    • Elfrieda Schroeder on October 29, 2013 at 8:55 pm

      Dora, it was you who introduced me to Shirley’s blog and who encouraged me to begin one of my own. Thank you, dear friend and fellow writer!

    • shirleyhs on October 30, 2013 at 3:38 pm

      Dora, you were present in our conversation because you are the one who put the two of us together. And now Marian has joined in. Marian, you must visit Dora’s blog also!

      How small the world is.

      Thanks for your visit, your example as a disciplined and accomplished author, and your generosity to other writers.

  3. Elfrieda Schroeder on October 29, 2013 at 8:44 pm

    Shirley, it is so kind of you to make me feel like a winner, even though someone else won your 100 Day Challenge contest! I loved doing this interview with you.
    I didn’t say much about your book here, but I do mention it in my last blog post as well, and I will be reviewing it for Rhubarb magazine. It is such a good read!
    I can’t wait until you come visit us here in Canada!

    • shirleyhs on October 30, 2013 at 3:42 pm

      I’m thrilled that you are doing a review of Blush for Rhubarb magazine, Elfrieda. I probably need to re-subscribe. 🙂
      An excellent journal. I’ve always loved the name.

      Thanks for gracing this space with your story and for your inspiring example. Your New Beginnings are always passionate examples of your faith and your honesty.

      BTW, I should have asked for a link to your blog. Please provide. And are you the little girl seated on the right in the 1948 photo above? Wasn’t positive about that.

  4. Elfrieda Schroeder on October 29, 2013 at 8:50 pm

    Marian, thank you so much for your kind words. How long were you in Kiev? I’ll never forget my visit there in 2012. The Ukrainian Orthodox Churches were a marvel to behold!

    • Marian Beaman on October 30, 2013 at 9:22 am

      We were in Kiev, Zhitomer, and small towns like Irpen for 3 weeks in April 2011 when my husband did art and music presentations on a large easel in churches and public schools.

      Ukrainians have a natural bent toward the aesthetic. Like you, I marvel at the artistry in the churches, certainly rivaling the best I’ve seen in western Europe.

  5. Elfrieda Schroeder on October 30, 2013 at 6:17 pm

    Shirley, yes I’m the little girl seated on the right.
    My blog link is below. I did send a notice to your email when I published, but maybe you didn’t see it yet.

    http://ens-intransit.blogspot.com/

  6. Joanne Hess Siegrist on October 31, 2013 at 8:18 am

    Last evening Don & I arrived home after 1,000 miles to visit 8 family members in Madison WI and Elkhart IN.

    A good, good trip… and W October 29 we were attendees of this event – Paraguay Primeval by Carol Ann Weaver at Rieth Recital Hall, Goshen College Music Center. While her music is not my favorite style, we certainly did enjoy remembering the early Paraguay stories of the early Russian Mennonite women who settled in the Chaco.

    I love today’s post and I sure will be glad to get direct contact #s for Elfrieda. Her commissioned painting reminds me of early work by Mary Lou Weaver Houser… both holding amazing visuals to like the generations of mothers. I’d like to share with Elfieda my 6 generation piece, the last page of my book, Mennonite Women of Lancaster County, a story in photographs 1855-1935. Cheers.

    • Elfrieda Schroeder on October 31, 2013 at 1:13 pm

      Joanne, thank you for introducing yourself. When I was at Mennonite World Conference in Paraguay in 2009 Carol Ann talked about this musical rendition, honoring the women settlers, but I have yet to hear it.

      How can I get your book?

      • Joanne Hess Siegrist on October 31, 2013 at 5:43 pm

        Google my name for many added details… and then order from Amazon.

  7. Shirley on October 31, 2013 at 8:28 am

    Joanne, good to see you here again! Your trip sounds wonderful.

    You and Elfrieda would have much to talk about!

    Gotta go. Heading to Seattle and door is closed.

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