Wednesday, 10 February 2016

An excerpt from Hutterite Diaires for I-Love-to-Read Month

Since this is I-Love-to-Read month, I thought I'd share an excerpt from Hutterite Diaries, that has to do with a book I wanted some years ago.  I'm sure most people have books they long to own, or read, and may even have interesting stories about how they found them. Once Upon a Lifetime was one of those for me, but the story that unfolded while I was looking for this particular book, gave the title a whole new meaning.

                                                            A Circle Not Unbroken
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. Ecclesiastes 3:1
On a crisp winter evening, my Night Writers group met, like we do every month, to critique and celebrate each others work. One of my writing friends brought Patricia A. Williams’ book Once Upon a Lifetime, and we passed it around. Full of ideas for recording events in one’s life, this book appeared to be an excellent writer’s tool, and I decided to try to obtain a copy. A page in my friend’s copy provided the ordering information.
When I dialed the phone number, however, it led to an answering service with an empty promise: “Please leave your name and number, and we’ll call you as soon as possible.” The web address drew a blank, and the email address was a virtual boomerang.
At $19.95, the book was reasonably priced—if only I could find someone to take my money! But somebody clearly forgot to tell online booksellers what this book is worth. They offered used copies for $181.31. As much as I wanted it, sacrificing a year’s worth of coffee and chocolate wasn’t an option. Five stores in Winnipeg informed me the book was out of print.
Now that electronic connections give us information at our fingertips, I decided to try some e-magic. I googled the book’s name until I felt cross-eyed, with no magic in sight. The information highway left me wondering why I was so driven to find this book.
Finally, I found an online review of the book by a John Melchinger. It was a long shot, but I fired off an email to him asking if he knew where I could get a copy of this book. He replied that he might have some copies, and perhaps an audio version as well, but he would have to check first. He told me that he also happened to know the author very well. Touchdown! I now knew I’d get a copy of the book.
The story continued to unfold, however, like something from Chicken Soup for the Soul. In fact, it gave the phrase “Once upon a lifetime” a whole new meaning. Upon learning that I live in Manitoba, John Melchinger informed me, “My wife Jayne is originally from Oakville, Manitoba. We make our home in Tampa, Florida now.”
Living in the  Oakville area, I was naturally curious. So I replied: “Small world! I live on a Hutterite colony just five miles from Oakville. Perhaps we know Jayne’s family.”
John wrote back:  “My wife, Jayne Alford-Melchinger, is the younger sister of Bette Holliday, who still lives in Oakville. Their mother used to teach at a nearby Hutterite colony.”
My family had known the Alfords in Oakville, but we had lost touch over the years when some of the family died and others moved away. But I wondered if my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Audrey Alford, might happen to be Jayne’s mother.
“Audrey Alford was indeed Jayne’s mother,” John wrote. “She taught at your colony from 1968 to 1970. Jayne said one of those Christmas Eves a Hutterite family’s home burned down and she donated her favorite dolly to a little girl. Small world indeed.”
John’s answer took me back to a tragic time for my family. Yes, it is a small world, and he didn’t even know how small when he sent that email. The time of the fire was not quite accurate, but that detail wasn’t so important. The multi-family house fire happened on an extremely cold January evening. Nobody ever learned how it had started. The fire affected me more deeply than John knew; it took the lives of my two little brothers and left my sister with severe burns. She had to be hospitalized for many months. I was at the children’s dining room having supper, so was not hurt.
At five years of age, I was also too young to have a real sense of this loss and what it meant for my family and the other families who lost their home. One thing I clearly remember from that tragic day is that, while the house was still in flames, my friends asked me to come to their house, as it was too cold to stay outside for long. There, one of the girls suggested we pray. So a circle of little girls knelt down on that hardwood floor, near the coal stove in the living room, and prayed. We asked God to help us and ended our petition with the Lord’s Prayer.
Dad, Mom, and I lived at my grandparents’ house until another home was built. That part was comforting. In addition to Grandma and Grandpa, there were five aunts there to dote on me, especially since my parents had to spend a lot of time with my sister at the hospital.
I was in grade one at the time. And as you may have guessed by now, I was the little girl to whom Jayne gave her favorite dolly. I remember it well; tall with dark hair, which I always fondly called ma Alford Puppela (my Alford doll).
In the end, John Melchinger generously sent me a copy of the book that had taken me on an interesting and emotional virtual ride. Then, after many years, against obvious odds and thanks to an electronic connection, I was able to thank Jayne for her noble gift. That doll meant so much to me in those sad days, for I had not only lost all my toys but also my home and, worst of all, my two brothers.
As John so eloquently put it: “All of life seems an endless array and disarray of circles that cross every which way. This circle is not broken, although the way it came around to be whole is quite amazing.”

If you still don't have a copy of Hutterite Diaries just click here. Or ask for it at any bookstore. If you live in my area, you can get an autographed copy directly from me. Just leave a comment and I'll get back to you. 
Have you ever looked for a particularly hard to find book? I'd love to hear about it!


  1. That was an interesting post. When someone I loaned my "The Journey Home by Dr. Bill Bright" kept the book I needed another copy. It was hard to find but I finally found a gently used copy cheaply priced on the internet. It is a book I enjoy revisiting now and again.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Michelle! I've experienced that too - loaning a book to someone only to never see it again. I'm glad you found a good used copy, though.


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