I have a collection of books, amassed from many hours spent studying the bookshelves of the local MCC Thrift shop.
I’ve spent more time collecting, than reading, to be honest.
Now that the collecting option is off the table (as the MCC is currently closed), the reading ought to begin.
One of the many books on my shelves is Not Jacob, a memoir by Dennis Giesbrecht, who had been a Steinbach physician for many years.
I thought it would be an interesting read, so I was keeping it on my shelf alongside all the others potential interesting reads.
One day Andrew came home from work with a book he thought I’d be interested in reading: Not Jacob.
I trotted over to my bookshelf and pulled out an identical volume. Now we were both holding the same book in our hands.
“We should read the book at the same time!” I declared. “Like a book club!”
I couldn’t help but notice he began reading before I did. This fired up my competitive spirit. I know he reads faster than I do (I tend to re-read, or linger, over passages.)
Every time Andrew put down the book and left the room, I’d check on his progress, as if we were racing to the finish.
I thought for sure he’d win, but in the end, I was the one telling him about the end of the book.
And now I will tell you!
First, it’s a slim volume, because Giesbrecht only takes us through his childhood and teenage years.
He prefaces the book by saying, “Don’t ask me why I’m writing this story. My experience growing up in a Mennonite family was probably not that unique and may not be that entertaining. You had to be there.”
With such a frank dismissive tone, I was actually interested. I think it’s the wry honesty or something.
Giesbrecht peppers the text with many earthy turns of phrase that often had me guffawing.
I thought his take on the history of Mennonite Collegiate Institute in Gretna was brief and entertaining and ought to be used to promote the school. Perhaps others would not agree. But it’s a school he knew well and seemed to have affection for, as his father taught at MCI when Giesbrecht was a small child, and he later attended the school himself.
Other themes include MBs versus GCs. “My parents were from different religions,” explains Giesbrecht. “Well, different Mennonite churches.”
Anyone from Plum Coulee ought to read this book, as Giesbrecht’s take on the community is highly amusing. Perhaps it wouldn’t be to folks from the place itself, however. His review of the town’s website is something to behold. “Plum Coulee – it was the kind of address you’d be proud to put on your application to Harvard Business School,” reflects Giesbrecht sarcastically.
He has a knack for digging up fascinating, sometimes odd old stories and bits of history to enhance the telling of his childhood memories. There’s a sort of affectionate mocking tone to many of his stories and reflections, which, to be honest, kept me reading at a good clip.
On a personal note, I found it interesting to read about his experience growing up on the same farmyard as his grandparents, as this was my experience too. My memories from the 1980s and 90s are often rose-gold coloured by now, but it appears Giesbrecht’s memories from the 1950s certainly were not. It makes me question my own memories, regarding family politics.
This book makes a short, fun read. And, for the record, I finished reading it before Andrew did.