Mennonite manners stop misbehavior

Sunday, May 15, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 8:58 a.m. CDT, Saturday, July 5, 2008

My husband and I are in the midst of building a new house at the Lake of the Ozarks. I wanted a rustic feel in the great room, so we decided to have open trusses in the vaulted ceiling. Our builder found a Mennonite man who agreed to make the beams for us.

I got a call from the builder last week asking if I wanted to accompany him and his designer to see the beams. I agreed to join them. I must note here that the designer brought her 6-week-old son.

After about 30 minutes, we turned into a long driveway. As we approached the house, children seemed to appear from everywhere. By the time we got to the pole barn, we were surrounded by them. The boys were wearing jeans held up with suspenders. The little girls wore flowery-patterned dresses. I noted two things about the clan: They all were smiling, and there wasn’t a chubby one in the lot.

As my builder made the introductions, the children stared at us. None of them said a word. I finally got the older kids to answer a few questions, but when I asked the 3-year-old her name, she didn’t reply.

“She doesn’t speak English yet,” an older sister said.

I turned to the father for more explanation.

“We speak Dutch in the house,” he said. “The children start to pick up English when they hear it from our visitors.”

The builder tried to turn my attention to the massive beams sitting in a stack on the trailer, but although they were magnificent, I was more interested in observing the family. I watched as the 9-year-old boy took a metal chisel and a hammer fashioned out of wood and methodically cut off the protruding ends of the wooden plugs used to hold the truss together.

The back door of the house opened, and out walked a teenager holding a baby.

“That is my oldest daughter, and she’s holding my youngest daughter, who is 10 days old,” the father said, answering the question I had yet to ask.

“Altogether we have 11 — five boys and six girls,” he added proudly.

“Are you going to stop or go for an even dozen?” my builder spat out as the designer and I glared at him.

The question apparently didn’t faze the Mennonite father.

“I think we might,” he said with a wink. His wife was still in the house, so we didn’t get to ask her opinion.

About this time, the designer’s infant decided he had had enough and began wailing. The new mother tried to calm him, and then I tried to calm him, but the more we fussed, the louder he got.

The father of 11 extended his arms and asked quietly.

“Might I hold him?”

Without looking at the mother, I handed over the red-faced, squalling infant. He held the baby in one hand, tummy against palm, swinging his arm from side to side. He patted the baby’s behind gently with the other hand.

I swear, within a nanosecond the child was quiet. I was impressed — but being a seasoned grandmother, I thought he had been lucky. I was wrong. We stayed with the family for about an hour, and during that time, the baby boy became irate twice more. Both times we gave the infant to the man, and both times the child instantly stopped crying.

I also observed that the children never raised their voices to each other. I didn’t see one push or shove, and the children didn’t take anything away from each other. The most amazing thing I saw was when the 5-year-old girl came up to her father while we were talking.

“Dad, Dad,” she said, pulling on his shirt.

She waited about 15 seconds, and when there was no reply, she repeated herself. However, when her father didn’t reply the second time, she didn’t raise her voice or throw a fit — she just walked away. I was stunned!

I wonder if this family is interested in making some extra money this summer by running a camp for non-Mennonite children. I know 14 I’d send.

If you have a comment or want to see a picture of my beams, please e-mail me at

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