In the fall, Andrew and I treated ourselves to a visit to the Mennonite Heritage Archives in Winnipeg. While we were there, archivist Conrad Stoesz showed us a few documents of interest. Here’s another! Well, for this one you’re going to have to look at the feature photo. Can you spot the difference?
I know. It’s difficult to read that slanted, elegant script.
The above reads: “The differences with my wife continue. It is now already three weeks that we have had no intercourse with each other.”
Whoa whoa whoa. I was NOT expecting to read that in a Mennonite man’s diary from the 1800’s. Or ever, really.
So, the diary is naturally all in German… except for that one line, written in English.
Conrad told us the story. This was written by a man who left Prussia to come check out North America in the early 1800’s. He went all over North America, I think I remember Conrad saying that this man had participated in the California Gold Rush, and had also lived in Chicago for several years, before returning to Prussia to finally settle down and marry a good Mennonite wife. Evidently he picked up English pretty well, and it became his secret diary language; as soon as he had something he needed to vent about but didn’t want anyone to understand, it was entered into the diary in the secret language of English, whereas everything else, the usual day-to-day, was German.
It’s interesting peering at such a diary because, well, the only language I truly know is English, and so all this man’s biggest secrets are the only things in that diary that I can read. They jump out at me.
I can’t really imagine what it would’ve been like for this man to leave the Mennonite enclave and show up in the midst of the United States’ financial boom times…then return to the rural religious village life and settle down…likely there were just some things he and his wife could not see eye-to-eye on.