Reading Shirley Hiebert’s Book, ‘Trüdyt’s Daughter’

Lately, I’ve been reading Shirley Hiebert’s book, Trüdyt’s Daughter: A Mennonite Woman’s Memoir. This vivid, unflinching account takes us from the east end of Steinbach in the 1940’s, to Winnipeg’s north end in the 50’s, then back to Steinbach again. It’s a little like time-traveling!

I first heard of this book at the MHV’s author’s evening this past February. At the time, it had been entitled The Captain’s Widow. But when Shirley knocked on my door and handed it to me herself in person this summer, the name had been changed to Trüdyt’s Daughter. I’m pleased to see this, because it’s a female narrative, and begins and ends with Shirley’s mother, Trüdyt.

I enjoyed reading this book! It’s given me a fascinating glimpse into a side of life in Steinbach that I’d never heard about before. Particularly Hunga Wäa Die (Plautdietsch for “hunger: beware!”) which was apparently Steinbach East. I loved reading Shirley’s recollections of her younger years in Steinbach, complete with insulting nicknames and a longing to live “a sinless Mennonite life”.

Peppered with memories of the Tourist Hotel, the sewing factory, Ridgewood South School, and the Playhouse Theatre in Steinbach (before it was shipped off to Ste. Anne), Shirley takes us along on a vivid tour of the mestacka (dump), before darting directly into services at the church in Chortitz, and stepping inside lively debates between traditionalists and evangelicals.

In the world that Shirley shares with us, no one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes…some are forgiven, others are not. She writes in a straightforward fashion about herself, because that’s the lens through which she views the world. We learn about how the surrounding community’s reaction to her illegitimate birth shaped her life; it was heartbreaking to learn how cruel people were.

With humour and without malice, wide-eyed and frank, Shirley writes without judgement. Even the uncle who tried to snuff her life when she was a baby, she comes to appreciate him later on in life. “People change”, she states.

In the book, her account of time speeds along…then slows…then comes the blow. Shirley faces the death of her husband head-on, remaining keenly aware of the tragedies that others experience. Her early widowhood pushes her into independence and startling new experiences, as she (literally) learns to fly, bonding her to the indigenous communities of the north.

There are many themes in this book, including faith and guilt. Security, and upheaval. Safety, and trauma. Blending in, and standing out.The Gesangbüch, hymns, and rock ‘n’ roll. Salvation. Revivals. Crusades. Stability. Family. And feeling “good enough”. Love. Violence. Obedience. Expectations. Identity. Gender roles. Survival. Connection. Death. And un-doing “the Mennonite in us”.

You can purchase this book right off the shelf at the Mennonite Heritage Village gift shop. I suggest you do just that!