“Can’t you go alone?” I asked.
“Don’t be rude. You were invited and said you’d go, they’re expecting you,” David said.
It was minus twenty and my only day off that week. An obligatory visit to my boss on his farm to do an oil change on his truck and ‘enjoy a nice supper’ was not how I wanted to spend the afternoon.
“We won’t stay long. Andreas really likes you,” David said.
“He doesn’t even speak to me. And we will stay long, we always do.”
The last time we visited Andreas at home he cloistered me in the kitchen with his wife Elvira while he and David discussed the new fleet of Peterbilt trucks he planned to buy. Andreas owned and operated five tractor-trailers out of Winnipeg. David and I drove tandem for him all over Canada and the US in truck number 17217.
“Please don’t leave me alone with Elvira again,” I said.
The first thing Elvira ever said to me was that she couldn’t understand why I, a woman, would drive a truck. The second thing she said to me was that she couldn’t understand how I, a trucker, could be vegan. She made both pronouncements before I crossed the threshold into the kitchen. I didn’t enjoy the visit and neither did she from what I could tell.
I moped and gazed out the window as we drove south on Pembina, past the University of Manitoba, the campus crisp in the snow, and past the St. Norbert Arts Centre, housed in an old Monastery. We merged onto Hwy 75 South and sped onto the glaring white prairie.
Andreas and Elvira Dyck’s property sprawled over 100 acres. They rented most of the property to commercial farmers in the area and the last time I visited the whole county stank of pig manure.
“At least the land is frozen and it doesn’t stink like manure,” I said.
David shook his head. “We won’t stay long.”
Andreas and Elvira Dyck welcomed us inside. A misty portrait of a stern gentleman stared from the wall in the kitchen. We filed into the bright room beside the kitchen. A small table and four chairs positioned in a circle were the only furniture in the space.
“We will have some yerba mate tea first,” Andreas said. Elvira nodded and retreated to the kitchen.
Andreas and Elvira were born in the jungles of Paraguay to Low German Mennonite parents. Yet all of Andreas’s and Elvira’s grandparents were born in Steinbach, Manitoba. In the late 1800s and early 1900s the grandparents and several hundred Mennonites from Manitoba relocated to Paraguay. They joined the Nueva Germania colony. After only two generations, many families like the Dycks returned to the icy Canadian prairies.
Elvira entered with a tray. It held a horn cup, a package of yerba mate, a golden metal straining straw and a plastic jug jiggling with water and ice cubes. She slid a tray onto the table beside Andreas. I like yerba mate and I hoped they would make the “warm” version. They didn’t.
Andreas stuffed the yerba mate tea into the ivory cup, poured ice water onto the leaves, and mashed the brew with the metal filtered straw. He sucked on the straw, gulped hard and topped up the glass with ice water. He passed the cup to me. The bitter tea numbed my mouth, froze my throat and iced my stomach.
“Mmm,” I said.
I passed the cup to David. He took a sip and passed the cup to Elvira. Andreas topped up the ice water. A sunbeam shattered through the window. The tints on Andreas’s and Elvira’s glasses darkened. I couldn’t see the blue of their eyes. We passed the yerba mate around again.
“Now we will do the oil change. You can stay here. Elvira will show you pictures of the boys,” Andreas said to me. He spoke to Elvira in Plautdietsch. Elvira nodded. David and Andreas clopped through the house and slammed the door to the garage shut behind them.
“Pictures of the boys,” Elvira said. Elvira loaded two plastic binders of photographs onto my lap. I flipped open the first book. Four images of a motocross track with helmeted racers filled the page. Elvira pointed to a red suited racer and said, “Marcus, young son.” She pointed to a blue suited racer and said, “Michael, older son.”
For fifty-five minutes I gazed upon faceless, blurry images of Michael and Marcus Dyck racing their motocross bikes around a dirt track.
“I will put the ribs on. You rest here,” Elvira said. I stared silently out the window onto the prairie. I drifted off to sleep.
“We will eat now,” Andreas announced from the kitchen.
I trotted to the counter happy to be free from the desolate prairie and photographs of the helmeted Dyck children.
“Ribs!” said Andreas. He drew a rack of sizzling ribs from the oven and a tray of baked potatoes from the stovetop.
“No ribs for me thanks,” I said.
David, the Dycks and I sat down to lunch. They chewed on sinews, blood and flesh. I ate a baked potato.
“You should eat meat,” Andreas said.
“Oh, I’m okay. I’m pretty healthy.”
“God has given us dominion over animals. You should be grateful and eat some meat,” Elvira said.
“I guess I have a different ethos than God regarding meat,” I said. “But I am grateful for the potato.”
David cleared his throat and narrowed his eyes toward me. Elvira offered Andreas another rib. Andreas tore at the rib, its juices splashing onto his moustache. Andreas spoke Plautdietsch to Elvira. She responded and Andreas clapped his hands.
“Elvira wants me to tell you about my hunting days. I used to hunt in Paraguay.”
“Okay,” I said. “I don’t have a problem with hunting out of necessity for food. Many cultures hunt. They used to hunt buffalo right here on the prairies…”
“One day I went into the forest with my gun and killed many birds,” Andreas said. “Many many birds.”
Andreas pushed away from the table and lunged into the empty space by the counter. He opened his legs wide, crouched slightly and cradled his arms as if holding a large gun. His left hand pointed toward me, then David, then Elvira.
“Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta!” He swayed. He spun and shot imaginary bullets out the window, into the frozen pastures, into the living room and back to the table. “Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta!”
“Guess how many birds I shot one day,” Andreas said.
“Fifteen,” I said.
“Thirty,” David said.
“No! Three hundred!”
“Three hundred doves,” Andreas said.
“Three hundred doves,” Elvira said.
“I had an automatic rifle! My brother was with me. We both had automatic rifles in the jungle,” Andreas said. “Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta!” He swung his invisible automatic rifle at David, Elvira and me.
Andreas sat down and grabbed another rib from the rack. David cleared his throat. Elvira offered me a potato. I thought of white feathers falling in a faraway forest.
*The names of the people in this story have been altered to protect the identity of certain individuals.