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A Day in the Life of a Young Hutterite Family

Aksamit, Nichole. "A Day in the Life of a Young Hutterite Family." Forum, 16 November 1999, sec. A7.


The modest women of Spring Prairie Colony share a quiet moment in the early morning sun on a trailer behind a tractor headed for a cucumber field northwest of Hawley, Minnesota.

Spring Prairie Colony, Minn.

The first bell rang five minutes ago, and Eva Wipf's youngest is crying.

Between whimpers, 3-year old Jonas sucks on his index finger and tugs at Eva's skirt while she tucks Janelle's blonde hair into place and fastens a bonnet on the 5-year-old's head.

Eva pats Janelle's shoulder and rocks Jonas for a moment before sending them out the door to the kindergarten, where they'll wait with the others to go to the children's dining hall.

The 27-year-old Hutterite wife and mother has been up since 5:45 this Saturday morning, doing her family's laundry in the washhouse at this colony northwest of Hawley.

Crisp white shirts and colorful skirts hang on the clothesline when Eva straightens her kerchief and heads to the adult dining hall at 7 a.m. for a breakfast of pancakes and herbal tea.

Her husband, Arnold Wipf, the turkey manager, also has been up since dawn. Before he eats breakfast, he has to make sure the turkeys in the barns southwest of the colony have been fed.

Like all Hutterite couples, Eva and Arnold do not sit together at mealtime, but at opposite sides of the colony dining hall with those of their own age and gender.

When they finish breakfast and the closing grace, Arnold grabs his hat and heads back to the barn. Eva heads for the baker next to the kitchen, where every six weeks she takes a turn helping the baker.

When the buns for Sunday are out of the oven, Eva returns to her house, which like the others here has a dining area and a pantry but no kitchen. She brings from the dining hall some turkey jerky, crackers, cheese and herbal tea for the 9 a.m. "lunch."

Arnold takes off his hat when he comes in. He washes his hands, sits down with Eva and says sarcastically,"Mmmm, more tea." They eat quickly, talk little and say grace once more before returning to work: Arnold to the turkey barn that he and a few other men are cleaning; Eva to her bathtub, where she fills a dishpan with water.

She washes the dishes from the morning snack, makes the beds, and goes upstairs to the sewing room.

Using dressmakers' chalk, Eva traces a brown paper pattern onto pastel-printed flannel.

It's getting colder and she must make warm winter underclothes for Janelle.

She cuts the pieces and, without any pins, swiftly sews them together on her electric sewing machine: shoulders first, then side seams, then the hem.

She finishes the neck and armholes of the little slip with a trim of mint green cotton and smiles at Janelle, who is playing with a dollhouse nearby.

For girls her mother always said, you have to make it strong.

Eva's mother, Matilda Waldner, taught her how to copy the patterns and make the same kind of underwear, socks, stockings, pleated skirts, aprons, tailored vests, long pants, shirts and jackets that have been worn by generations of Hutterites.

Matilda is getting older and doesn't sew much anymore, so now Eva does it for her.

Eva doesn't mind.

If she had her free will, she thinks, she'd sew all day. And she feels lucky to live at the same colony as her parents - unlike the majority of Hutterite women, who marry men from other colonies and have to move away from the only home they've ever known.

She is lucky to have met and married Arnold at Spring Prairie.

During the noon meal, Eva glances at Arnold from across the room, but they do not speak. She peeks into the children's dining hall before leaving and observes Janelle, who grins from behind her Schwan's sundae cone.

Humming the hymn from last night's church service, Eva takes down her laundry and sweeps the floors. While the children nap on mats or bunks at the kindergarten and the schoolhouse, she returns to her sewing.

Shortly before 3 p.m., Eva walks to the dining hall to fetch some potato chips and ice cream cones for the afternoon snack. She makes instant coffee with an electric pot in the pantry.

Jonas and Janelle, fresh from their afternoon naps, join them for this snack. They fold their little hands while Arnold says the closing prayer. Eva asks how his work is going. "We're almost done," he says, flashing her a grin on his way out.

Eva wipes the ice cream from Jonas' chin and sends him back to his baby-sitter. Janelle runs up and down the stairs. Eva gently admonishes her - "Stille, stille" - and washes the dishes.

When Arnold returns, the house is clean, Janelle is dressed for church and Eva is sitting on the plain sofa in the living room, wearing her black jacket and a clean, pleated black apron.

Arnold washes his hands, puts a black jacket over his plaid work shirt and sits at the desk, holding his hat. Janelle swings her feet from the couch. Arnold and Eva look out the window and up at the clock, waiting for the 6 p.m. procession to church.

Inside the stark church, the family is once again segregated. Arnold is seated at the middle of the left side with the young married men. Little Jonas, too young for church, is at the kindergarten with his baby sitter.

Eva sits in the middle of the right side with the young married women. She can only hop Janelle, who is at the front with the other children 5 years or older, is behaving herself.

After the half-hour service, the family returns home. Eva asks Janelle if she was good at church.

The little girl smiles and nods her bonneted head vigorously, telling her mother in Huttrisch (an evolved version of a nearly extinct German dialect called Tyrolean) that another little girl cried too much and had to leave, but that she, Janelle, and all the other were very good.

Just then, Jonas toddles in the front door and Eva exclaims, "Jonas! Mein Honig!" (Jonas! My honey!")

She hugs him tightly, patting his back and biting his cheek affectionately. She has missed him today.

When she smoothes his hair and tucks in his shirt, Jonas squirms out of her arms and toddles to his father. Arnold gives the boy and orange plastic hammer. Jonas pounds it on the desk once, then sticks it in his mouth.

The family, reunited, laughs at little Jonas and his slobbery hammer and waits for supper, when they will part again.

With a full stomach, Arnold heads back to the turkey barn to finish his chores.

Eva takes the children for their evening stroll. Jonas climbs into the wooden pram and she pushes him around the perimeter of the colony. He makes marks in the gravel road with a stick while Janelle skips along behind.

Other women and children are walking, too. It's good to exercise after supper and before bedtime.

Eva and Arnold walk together with the other couples on Sundays - the only days they don't work after supper.

But today is Saturday, and Eva doesn't complain. Waiting, she thinks, only make Sundays nicer.



Jannelle Wipf waits in the colony wash house.
Fresh buns cool in the colony bakery, where each Spring Prairie woman takes a turn helping the baker.

EvaWipf cuts flannel she will use to make winter underdresses for her 5-year-old daughter.

Reprinted with permission of The Forum

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