Mary-Ann Kirkby is a respected journalist with a secret. She was born a Hutterite, a conservative religious community 45,000 members in 400 colonies in the northwestern United States and Canada. Her childhood could be described as idyllic, with strong friendship and family bonds, work and religion, delicious food, and a sense of belonging.
But it all changes in 1969 when Mary-Ann’s parents decide to leave their community. 10 year-old Mary-Ann and her six siblings are promptly thrown into the “English” world where foreign things like pants and sack lunches suddenly become important.
Everywhere Mary-Ann goes, her clothes, accent, and behavior are a target for teasing and suspicion. Ashamed of her way of life for the first time, Mary-Ann tries to bury her past and become what others want her to be.
But as she says in the forward, “Until we embrace who we are and really value the power it is meant to bring to our lives, we cannot realize our true potential.” I Am Hutterite is the direct result of Kirkby’s final acceptance of her past, as well as her attempt to understand who she is as a result of that past.
Jacob Hutter founded the first Hutterite community in Moravia in 1528; property was shared among all members, and everyone worked together for the common good. Hutterites are pacifists and believers in adult baptism, and show their faith through good works, and are not to be confused with Mennonites or Amish.
After God, Hutterites love friends and family, food, and music above all else.
A wonderful memoir
I have always been fascinated by communities like the Amish, the Shakers, and the Mennonites. But I’d never heard of Hutterites until I heard about this book. Kirkby describes her community’s traditions, beliefs, and daily life, as well as some of the people, mostly women, who collectively raised her.
She also talks about her father, Ronald, for whom life in the Fairholme community was not easy. Ronald’s father had abandoned the Hutterites years before, and the stigma was passed onto his son. Fairholme’s minister and leader Jake Maendel, upset at his sister’s marrying Ronald, made life difficult, and refused to give Ronald credit for all he did to make Fairholme a thriving community.
Writing a love letter
The amazing thing about our past is that we can’t escape it. We can change our clothes, the way we speak and behave, and the way we live our lives; but in the end, the culture in which we were born, and the people who raised us, will always be there.
Mary-Ann spent a lot of time hiding her heritage, and not speaking out when others criticised or made ignorant statements about Hutterites. Her memoir is a final acceptance of her past, a love letter to and for the community that made her who she is. It’s also a gift for her son, a wish that he will embrace his heritage, and the history that will help him do so.
Who or what made you who you are today?