Sunday, 14 February 2016

I Guess I'll Always Wonder...

My title sounds like it could be a line from a sentimental song, maybe there is one I don't know about. Just the same, it's also a good fit for this post.

My sister-in-law sent me this picture a while back, obviously because she knows I love books. But no, I never got a truck load at the time, not even when Hutterite Diaries first came out.(:

The picture took me back to an interesting thing that happened to me some years back. I was in contact with a German professor from Montreal, Herfried Scheer. He had studied our Hutterisch dialect for many years and wrote about it. One of the books, Die Deutsche Mundart der Hutterischen Brueder in Nordamerika (The German Dialect of the Huttterian Brethren of North America) he wrote was sort of like a dictionary. It's a compilation of Hutterisch words that he found interesting. He added pronunciation, told where the word originated from (our dialect has German, Russian, English, Polish and possibly a few other words as well) and how the word is used.

Ours is a German dialect, so many of our words are used the same as it's used in High German, but some, interestingly enough, are used differently. Herfried Scheer sent me a copy of this book, soon after I contacted him. Needless to say, I found it fascinating and read it cover to cover, and learned a few things about Hutterisch, the language I'd been hearing/speaking all of my life. I'll always be grateful for that!

About the same time I got a similar dictionary from a different professor in Austria, and read that one through as well. Hutterisch is a Carinthian dialect, originating from the province of Carinthia, Austria, which incidentally was Professor Herfried Scheer's homeland. This dictionary had many of our words in it, thus my interest in it.

One day I told a friend that I was reading dictionaries. She responded with, "Linda, are you aware that it's not normal to read dictionaries from cover to cover?" I laughed and told her I was fine with the fact that I'm not always going with the flow. I reminded her of the German song, Nur die toten Fische schwimmen immer mit den Strom. (Only dead fish always swim with the flow) But who determines what normal is, anyway? :)

But back to my original story. When I first came in contact Professor Herfried Scheer, I was saddened to learn that he was battling cancer. He was still doing fine at the time, though. He loved talking about our Hutterisch dialect and how much he enjoyed studying it. He chuckled when he told me about his first encounter with Hutterites. He was living in a back-woodsy area in Alberta somewhere - "the Alberta wilderness" he called it - when one day there was a knock on his door. He opened it and found some Hutterites trying to sell him some "Pulsten" (feather pillows). It was that word that started him on this journey of studying Hutterisch, 'his life-long passion'. After that visit, he and his wife, Helga became good friends with the Hutterites. They stayed in contact with them for some years, even after they moved to Montreal.

Many years later, when he was already retired, I heard about his study of Hutterisch and contacted him. Even though he was sick, he was happy to share what he'd learned about Hutterisch, and talk about his friendship with the Alberta Hutterites who came to his door that day, all those years ago.

Just before Christmas of 2008 I received an email from one of Herfried Scheer's sons, telling me that his father was on his deathbed and wanted to talk with me. To say I was perplexed as to what he might want, would be an understatement. And his son didn't know what this was about either, at least not at first, but said he was going to visit his dad in the hospital and would ask. Shortly after I got this message:

I'm lying in my hospital bed and dictating this to my son who is here with a mini-computer. The most important: printed material, there are about a thousand pages. (most likely to do with his study of Hutterisch) Talk with Mother Scheer, Mrs. Helga Scheer about this. Can you come to Montreal and Chazy, NY with a truck in the next little while?
Liebe Gruesse, Friedl
Yes, somewhat vague, and also obvious how sick he was. It's a very strange feeling to get an email from someone who's on his deathbed. I honestly didn't know what to think; this was so out of the blue. But he obviously wanted to get these books into the hands of Hutterites, and I was the only one he was in contact with at the time. I also know it meant a lot to him that I was using his book and sharing it with others.

I didn't go to his home in Montreal, or to his cabin in Chazy, a town in northeastern Clinton County, about 8 miles from Canada. Apparently he had some of his books there. I just wasn't sure about this and had so many questions swirling in my head: How many books were there really? What were they about? Would they be useful? And with their dad so sick, I also didn't think it would be an appropriate time to meet his family, even though this was probably one of their Herfried Scheer's last wishes. But, I felt very honoured that he would consider giving me some of his books.

Six days after Herfried Scheer wrote this message, he passed away. Through other emails with both his sons, I learned that besides his own work, the printed material he mentions in the message, there were many old books, he wanted me to have.  They told me they'd sort through everything and send me a list. In one email Helga Scheer told me they haven't sorted any of his stuff, as 'it was just too hard', which I totally understood. She also sent me his obituary. Sadly, we lost touch and I never heard from them again. I guess I'll always wonder....

Interesting, how pictures or songs sometimes conjure up certain memories. Unplanned as this was, I enjoyed writing about those intriguing days. Does that ever happen to you, where something unexpectedly triggers an old memory... and maybe like me, you feel compelled to write about it. 

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