Wesley Peters writes in the March 27, 2020 issue of Steinbach Online: “A former microbiologist and Steinbach resident, Dr. Glen Klassen, conducted research on the pandemic back in 2008 at the Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg. […] What he found, he says, was startling. ‘The death rates for Mennonites were pretty well double the death rates of non-Mennonites.’
“Klassen goes on to explain how some of the different socializing patterns Mennonites engaged in potentially played a role in those disproportionate numbers. ‘If you were in a French Catholic parish, you would probably go to the same church every Sunday and meet the same people. The Mennonites were different. They had a moveable church service. One week it would be in Kleefeld, and the next week it would be in Blumenort.’
“Mennonites were not only meeting for church services says Klassen, but also socializing at pig slaughter parties and faspa. ‘I haven’t proven this, but it’s my hunch that this kind of accelerated order of extreme socializing had something to do with it’.”
If you read my blog post “Play with your food,” you would be familiar with pig slaughter parties:
“Of all the cast-off parts, I loved the bladder best. My mother washed it off in clean water, tied off the ureter with a double knot, and tossed it to me. […] Kid to kid, we hurled the bladder as hard as we could huck it, in hopes it would splatter and spill its pee on someone. No luck.”
“That’s from Carla Funk’s story ‘Butchering Day,’ or, in Low German, Schwein schlachter. Before the pigs’ heads were simmered, the “eyeballs had already been cut out and given to us to play with, our fingers working the stiffened lids and long lashes to make them blink like our own eyes.”
“If you had land just outside of town, with room for a logging truck and a garage and shed or two, why wouldn’t you raise pigs? Grandparents, bachelor uncles, extended family and children came together one Saturday every fall, using every bit of the animal possible. Shot, scalded, scraped, organ meats inspected, then the pig was broken down into chops, roasts, ham and ribs. Boiled heads were for headcheese, Grandma using her sharpened paring knife to get “every scrap and shred of flesh and fat, […] every edible fleck found on that cooked skull. She’d mix the meat together with some of the hocks, adding salt, pepper, and spices, then let it set in pans like a jelly until firm and ready to slice.”
Now, Faspa: John Loghurst wrote in the Winnipeg Free Press on March 27, 2020 quoting Klassen. “Added to this was the “constant visiting between relatives from many locales,” such as Sunday faspa, a late afternoon lunch and visit held after church in various homes. They were ‘promiscuous in their socializing,” Klassen said of how the desire to maintain community contributed to the spread of the flu virus’.”
The Mennonite Heritage Cookbook (2007) explains: “Faspa meant the gathering of family and friends, usually at 4 p.m. Sunday, for a light meal and fellowship, with an emphasis on fellowship. The meal always included zwieback, coffee and might also include cheese, cold cuts, and jelly.” Finger foods. Pass the zweibach.
The Taste of Home website says, “When Mother baked zweiback rolls—which means “twice baked”—she’d guard them, lest they disappear quickly! She would bake them on Sundays when friends came by for ‘faspa,’ a meal of cold meat, cheese, jelly and coffee.”
These are my peeps. They travelled to East Reserve, Rural Municipality of Hanover (now Steinbach, Manitoba) in 1874, from Prussia/Russia because they were promised religious freedom, to be allowed to teach their children and hold church services in Low German, build their houses or house barns in a many-streeted village, with a shared pasture across the main road. But the Great War made governments nervous about newcomers speaking “enemy” languages.
Vanessa Quiring writes in her master’s thesis about the broader cultural forces: “Government regulations created hesitancy and wariness amongst the Mennonites in matters related to public health. Government press censorship, conflict over education and schooling, the appointment of health officers and bans on meetings and church services all created tension, and arguably contributed to the distinctly higher mortality rate amongst the Mennonites of Hanover.”
The local newspaper was forced to switch to English, which a third of the population couldn’t read. There were few trained medical practitioners, with midwives also acting as traditional remedy dispensers and as undertakers, travelling from village to village, house to house, dead, ill and well. Attending funerals in large numbers. Care for the ailing depended on family, neighbours, and community, including the church.
I am very glad my relatives were shunned from the church in 1898, and we became urban entrepreneurs and tradespeople, not church-going farmers.
Longhurst, J. (2020.) “Century-old lessons echo for retired scientist.”From https://www.winnipegfreepress.com/special/coronavirus/century-old-lessons-echo-for-retired-scientist-569152512.html
Mennonite Heritage Museum cookbook “From Pluma Moos to Pie.” 1st edition 1981 and revised in 2007 at https://www.goesselmuseum.com/what-is-faspa-
Peters, W. (2020.) “Why Mennonite Death Rate Was Double Average During Spanish Flu.” From https://steinbachonline.com/local/why-mennonite-death-rate-was-double-average-during-spanish-flu?fbclid=IwAR0THqWTH1n0QtNbJU5xQZl1lnCNKIEHMsiDHUW0hq4TbsSzQYdown6gVpY#.Xn6q2nDDoPE.facebook
Taste of home. (n.d.) Recipe here: https://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/grandma-s-zwieback-rolls/
Toews, C. “Hangry February 21, 2020. Play with your food.” At https://charcancookketo.food.blog/2020/02/17/hangry-february-16-2020-play-with-your-food/
Quiring, V. (2015.) “Mennonites, community and disease: Mennonite Diaspora and responses to the 1918- 1920 influenza in Hanover, Manitoba.” At https://mspace.lib.umanitoba.ca/bitstream/handle/1993/30724/quiring_vanessa.pdf?sequence=1