Skip to content

The Complete Tante Tina

Complete Tante Tina

The Complete Tante Tina: Mennonite Blues and Recipes (Pandora Press, 2004) Live CD also available. Book and CD available from the author.

David Waltner-Toews as his poetic alter-ego, Tante Tina.

David Waltner-Toews as his poetic alter-ego, Tante Tina.

For more than 25 years, Tante Tina has been regaling us with tales of her wayward family, Russian and Mennonite history, global politics, city girls and the celebration of Christmas. Her children and grandchildren have occasionally a word managed to get in edgewise, even. Here for the first time, are the complete Tante Tina laments, blues and celebrations, with many poems never before published in book form, and recipes for those comforting, delicious Mennonite foods “with consequences” (no sugar or fat substitutes here!). Read, weep, laugh, eat. This is the promised land.

Tante Tina’s Christmas


 Me it’s not

what they want.

It’s my stories.


Tell us how it was

they ask me, imagine

my boy Haenschen and his little Haenschen

not so long ago just a little knirps

but now already with an anhaengsel. These girls

don’t like me to say it so,

like they are something hanging on, but with names like

Angela and Mary-Jean, what else can I think?

Such names aren’t Mennonite, that’s sure.

But I love them, ja, they’re my Haenschens’.

What can I tell?

So is das Leben.


Christmas afternoon the boys still groan

from too much turkey and potatoes,

eat halvah and play knipsbrat

and the kids go out down the riverbank



It’s the same, like it was.

And before that, even,

Weinachtsabend, after the children’s program

at church – you know little Haenschen

read a scripture this year?

Even with his hair so long

they let him read, praise God – even then,

before the plates for each child

under the tree go, we all sing

“Welch ein Jubel, Welche Freude”,

so nothing new under the sun comes.

I get older only.


 Now they want stories,

how I walked to school in snow,

they want Russlaenda stories

from Opa and Oma.

Once, I tell them, we didn’t all think

we could save the world.

That the Lord’s work was.

Now even the girls go to college,

and what is coming of that?

A world without porzeltche

is not worth saving, or zwieback at least,

or borscht and rollkuchen,

but what do they know of that?


 Ja, well, one time the Machnovites, the bandits, ja,

they came to our house in the Molotschna.

Everyone they would kill, they said, but Mutti

had borscht in a big topf steaming

and the men when they must choose

between their guns and a spoon for the borscht,

every time the spoon wins.

The soldiers ate themselves full

and went away, so you see? The Lord provides.

Haenschen, he likes that story

but his anhaengsel is not so sure.


Then I tell them,

Well that was my weinachtswuensch,

where is yours, and Haenschen, you know,

living in that big house with an Englische frau

he can still say:

“Da war einmal ein Mann

Er hatte eine Pfann

Die Pfann war ihm zu heiss

So ging er auf das Eis,” und so weiter,

so I am happy.

And little Haenschen the grandboy with the hair

he can sing with the guitar:

“Haenschen klein ging allein

in die weite Welt hinein…”


 So there we sit in the grautestov, ja,

my Haenschen in his fancy shoes

and his Haenschen in bluejeans

and the girls with Englische names even.

Who would say we mennonitisch are?


 How we think, even,

is all aufgemixed.

Big Haenschen has his head all full of Conservative,

and little Haenschen preaches the N.D.P.[1],

but you can still see it,

it’s the same, how they walk,

the real Mennonite way,

like bringing in the cows…

except maybe too much sometimes

what was once on the boots clinging

now from the tongue falls, ja?




[1] The New Democratic Party, a social democratic political party in Canada.



%d bloggers like this: