Self-Portraits with the Flower Women (Las Mujeres Flores, Yo, and Eunice Adorno)


One time I watched Willy Zacharias’ mom lift a refrigerator above her shoulders and into the bed of an F150. Engalander teenage boys, friends of her son, stood stupid, slack jawed with a dolly and bungee cords in their fists, as she swatted them back with her neck. Wiping her hands in the pleats of her dress, she tipped her head back pursed her lips and said, well, guess I’ll get supper started.


After supper, the men talked in the living room while Leah and I scraped the last bits of baked potato into the trash. Stacked towers of flowered plates on the counter. Filled the sinks and turned on the coffee maker. Three scoops of Shure-fine regular, not decaf. My turn to wash. Her turn to rinse and dry. Flicking soap bubbles in her ear, I ducked as she splashed back. Leah’s mom, Mumkje Dyck, looked up from her dust pan. Careful girls, if your stomach gets wet when you wash dishes your husband is going to be lazy. When Mumkje looked back down Leah stuck out her tongue.


Steel pop as we soaked sausage casings. And spread them to dry. The coffee pot sputtered. Josiah must have killed the pig dead with just one shot. Mumkje Froese nodded, sharpening her knives as her sons hung the hairless mass up by the hooves and split the ribs with an electric saw. Hog, headless, hooked and swinging from the shop ceiling. I knocked on the propane tank under the Gröpe where we would boil the fat, kidneys and heart. And any other scrap meat. Sounds like it’s full. Should be able to run it most of the day. Mumkje handed me a wooden post. You can stir it first. I’ll need to watch it once it gets thicker. Grüewen, pig crystals. Spread on top of hot rolls the morning after the slaughter, while hams packed with salt hang inside the barn. She sipped her coffee and smiled. Neita, she called to the woman testing the vacuum sealer. Tell the rest of the ladies they can come over now and bring their husbands too. It’s processing time.


The Trajchmoaka’s trailer had a red 5 spray-painted on the side. Two boys with trucker caps and pants tucked into their boots chased each other around number 7. Boards nailed over window holes of number 11. We didn’t have to knock. We watched her watching us from the kitchen window. She ground down her cigarette, shifted her Duäk, and reached into her black slacks for another bobby pin. While she pressed Leah’s vertebrae with open palms, I sat in the corner watching a telenovela flicker on a black and white TV with the sound turned off. Photographs of her dead husband between the rabbit ears. Do you want her to massage your back? She says it’s only five dollars.


Mennoniten in Mexiko 1922-1962. Leah’s grandma is in that book. Smiling next to a washing machine in her parent’s front yard. Barefoot. Hand on the crank. The same age as us. The first time we looked. A sleepwalker for life. Every night for two years before she got married she woke up standing under the moon. A full bucket sloshing, on her nightdress, drops of milk.


When Zeusa brought The Mennonites2 to Taunte Neita, they sat at the kitchen table sipping Tim Horton’s and munching on Faspa. She waited for Neita to smile when she recognized the Darp where she grew up. But instead, she threw the book on the floor. Look at us! He should be ashamed at the way that he shows our people! He must have found every poor, desperate Mennonite in Mexico and taken pictures!


Neita told a story once. About when she was newly married. She, her sister, brother-in-law and husband all stuffed into a single cab truck. For their yearly trip to El Paso. Shifter stuck between her knees as her husband wound around the mountains. Halfway between Cuauhtémoc and Juárez. At a bodega. Middle of Nowhere. The men stopped to stretch. And pay for the outhouse. The women stayed inside the truck cracking windows. Wiping sweat from their temples. The men came back. Frosted. Glass bottles pressed to their lips. Neither of them said a word. Jamming the keys in the ignition her husband reached between her legs. To shift into first. She watched the last of the brown liquid slide down his throat.


A strip of dough hung past my elbow and swung before I pinched it in half between my thumb and forefinger. And twirled the two ends together with my other hand. Slow, but with the patience of a sixteen year old. Mumkje Froese looked up from her rows of baking sheets and laughed, if you want to get married soon you have to make kringel like this. Two flips of the wrist. Each notch in the braid exactly the same. No thumbprints.


In Redekop’s Old Colony Mennonites3 Appendix I read a footnote about two Mennonite women who became prostitutes among Mexicans. An apparently mentally marginal woman and another who was considered brilliant.


Long hair is a woman’s glory. Zeusa’s shorn close to the scalp. Star tattoo poking her ear lobe. At work her empty gauges slack. Facing bills behind the teller desk. Jappa turned seventeen this week but she didn’t see it. Until he snuck away from the high school at lunch and parked his truck in the drive-thru. She squinted through the tinted glass as he scrawled on a deposit slip. Pressed send and rocketed the tube toward her. I miss you Zeusa. Mom is wrong but maybe someday she’ll get over it and let you come back. She doesn’t say much but I know she feels bad. Slipping the note back with a click, she bit her lip knowing that she wouldn’t hear him laugh when he popped the top. A lollipop rainbow bursting from the tube.

1. Las Mujeres Flores, published in 2010, is a collection of photographs taken by Eunice Adorno in Old Colony settlements in Mexico.

2. Larry Towell’s collection of photographs of Mennonite migrant workers in Mexico and Canada published in 2000.

3. Redekop’s Old Colony Mennonites, published in 1969, is one of the definitive ethnographic texts about the Old Colony communities in Mexico.

About the Author

Abigail Carl-Klassen

Abigail Carl-Klassen is a writer, researcher, poet, educator, translator, and activist living in El Paso, Texas. She grew up in the oil fields of the Permian Basin alongside Old Colony Mennonite immigrants from Mexico and has worked in education, language services, community development, social science research, and agriculture in a a variety of contexts across the USA and Latin America. She earned an MFA in Bilingual Creative Writing at the University of Texas El Paso, and her work has been published widely in English and Spanish, appearing in ZYZZYVA, Catapult, Cimarron Review, Rhubarb, Guernica, Aster(ix) Huizache, and others. She has published two poetry chapbooks, Ain't Country Like You (Digging Press) and Shelter Management (dancing girl press) and her full-length poetry collection, Village Mechanics, is forthcoming from FlowerSong Press in 2023. Recordings of her oral history project, “Rebels, Exiles, and Bridge Builders: Cross-Cultural Encounters in the Campos Menonitas of Chihuahua” can be found on the Darp Stories YouTube channel.