Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

This Book Will Make You Laugh

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress is a memoir about Rhoda Janzen returning  to her quirky Mennonite family after her husband of fifteen years left her (for another man).  Shortly thereafter she was involved in a serious car accident.  In the book she delves into her relationships with men, parents, her siblings, and food.

This book is hilarious, and not just because I could relate to some of the things she mentioned.  The book is written with wicked humor that will have anyone laughing out loud. 

There’s a chapter where she describes her “shame-based foods” (hot potato salad and even Borscht) which she had to carry to school in a vinyl bag on a long strap.  What she really wanted was a “Josie and the Pussycats” lunchbox. 

I figured that Josie and the Pussycats would magically make up for the knee-length homemade skirts or the blonde tails braided with neurotic precision, like Heidi on crack.

However, Mennonite circumstances beyond my control required me to carry a mature navy vinyl bag on a long strap. It was obviously designed for adults, and I have since wondered if it wasn’t a diaper bag.

(Rhoda Janzen. Mennonite in a Little Black Dress (Holt Paperbacks, New York, 2009), 107.)
Boy, can I relate to that. This book resurrected a slew of  childhood memories.

My family immigrated to America from Germany when I was in the first grade. Actually, they had moved back and forth between countries, so both my older and younger sisters were born in Germany and I was the first generation American, born in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Growing up, we were obvious foreigners and had to learn the language and culture of our new home. There were many times we just didn’t fit in. We stood out in our little dirndls and our funny bicycles that folded in half. 

Lunchtime was probably most awkward for me in elementary school. There I was with my sensible little red plaid lunchbox when all I really wanted was a Snoopy lunchbox, like my classmates had.

Adding insult to injury, my German mother had yet to learn
the nuances of American gastronomy.  All through elementary school my sisters and I, with our matching homemade outfits, brought things like peanut butter and butter sandwiches.  Peanut butter was a novelty to my mom.  There was no such thing in Germany, so logically she paired it with a thick layer of butter, not knowing that whole jelly secret. We were probably the only kids in school who actually used their little matching thermoses.  We got hearty homemade Hühnersuppe  (chicken soup). On special occasions we got cooked hot dogs bobbing in thermoses of hot water. With that, we got a packet of mustard, a fork and
knife, but no bun. Then there were always the stinky liverwurst sandwiches which made other kids scoot away and turn up their noses.  All we really wanted was a cardboard slab of pizza oozing with the melted cheese-like product. And don’t you know—every once in awhile we talked her into letting us buy one. Ah, those were the good days!   

Check out Mennonite in a Little Black Dress.  Just wait till you read her description of Borscht!

Happy Reading,

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  1. OMG!!! Knowing all about the peanut butter & Butter sandwiches, I can't wait to read her book. Sounds fabulous!!! Thank you.

  2. I just love your blog, very funny ! keep it up.