Mennonite at a Murder Trial

I did something on Friday that I’ve never done before. I went to a murder trial. On one hand, it wasn’t exactly an item on my bucket list. On the other hand, considering what happened to Barbara, it’s still on it. This trial has no legal link to Barbara Struncova or to Bill Ulmer, BUT it does have a personal link to them for me. I consider it to be one of the places Barbara has lead me. It happened like this:

Barbara disappeared, so I can’t very well ask her my questions in person. On my search for answers about what happened to her, I’ve had to follow in the footsteps of Bill. Those footsteps lead, as we all know, onto a plane with his brother Wayne’s passport in hand, and back to the USA. December 2010. Within months, those footsteps climbed into a semi and drove into the chaos of the oil boom in North Dakota. And there they stayed, more or less, hauling water back and forth to fracking sites, until the end of 2013.

I didn’t know anything about fracking and oil drilling. It’s never been a subject of interest for me. I find it all sort of violent, horrible, and terrifying—even minus the actual violent and terrifying human beings that seem drawn to it. So I called up my good friend Google with his sidekick Google Maps and we started chatting. Mother of God, did I get schooled. And meet some interesting folks.

Enter Lissa Yellowbird Chase. Click on her name and look at the link about what she does.  I don’t want to re-write the article when you can read the original. Lissa looks for missing people—passionately, furiously, even somewhat madly. So I wrote to her. What did I have to lose? She answered me back. I didn’t expect she was going to tell me what happened to Barbara, but I reached out to her anyway. Some days I feel like I’m spitting into the wind with this, and I guess I hoped for a little hand-holding from a real bad-ass body-searcher.

I’m getting my hand held alright. Turns out that the case she’s worked on for the last 4 years, regarding the disappearance of Kristopher “KC” Clarke in 2012, is coming to trial NOW and only a few hours from where I live. So on Friday, I went with her to the first day of the murder-for-hire trial of James Henrikson. Click that link. This is the first time I’ve ever even entered a courtroom. I had no idea what to expect.

The defendant, James Henrikson, was unrecognizable. Did you see the picture of him on the link? Looking all buff and competent? The guy sitting at the table between two dark-suited lawyers was gaunt and yellow. I have never seen a human being that color. I swear. It was frightening. Terrifying.  Sick.  He kept his clearly-calculated demeanor calm and interested. Never flinched or demonstrated any reaction whatsoever during the entire court session. Smiled at his lawyers. Looked at Lissa and at me. I don’t have a word for that that glance felt like. “Chilling” is what I’m tempted to say, but that’s not quite right. It made me want to put my clothes in the washer and take a shower.  I met KC Clarke’s mom.  What do you say to a woman who has to sit there and listen to the story of how her son’s head was beaten soft with the handle of a floor jack?  I came up with, “Nice to meet you.”

It was all quite a lot like courtroom scenes on tv, but with no glitz and no drama. Tom Cruise was nowhere to be found. No shouting, no crying, or anything like that. Lawyers on both sides mispronounced things that even I knew were wrong, and demonstrated a disappointing lack of basic acting skills. The judge, who was much less somber and intimidating than tv judges, gently scolded one of the jurors for nodding off.

Then they called in the first witness, a man named Timothy Suckow, who murdered Clarke (allegedly) at the bidding of Henrikson for 20,000$. I’m still trying to get my head around the experience of sitting in the same room with a man who is forced to admit out loud that, essentially, he knows he is going to die in prison no matter what the jury’s verdict is. He wasn’t the least bit surly, like you’d expect the burly tattooed guy in his mugshot to be. He had the high voice of a boy, the demeanor of an old man, the expression of something mortally wounded.  He told us he has two teen-aged children.

I won’t be going back for the rest of the trial. I’ll be going to work as usual, learning about the proceedings from Lissa and from the media. Part of me is sorry to miss the intrigue. Most of me is relieved to have an excuse not to sit in the room with so much pain, sorrow and injury. Justice is so terribly painful. So necessary and so gut-wrenching.

It took me back to my History of Theatre class at Goshen College in the 1990s.  I could hear Dr. Lauren Friesen’s voice explain to us the difference between modern melodrama and classical tragedy.  In modern melodrama, when bad people get the bad things they deserve, we feel relief and even delight.  In classical tragedy, the execution of justice fills us with fear and pity.

Those are the right words.

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Reading #3 from “When The Roll is Called a Pyonder: Tales from a Mennonite Childhood”

Birthday month rolls on, and here’s another short reading to celebrate!  In this segment, learn about the danger that geese pose to little girls, discover my brief drumming career and find out how I resolve the dilemma of which is worse:  risking going to hell for having stolen something, or getting spanked for confessing it.

 

Happy Birthday!

The other day, I had the most awesome idea.  Oh man.  It was a great one.  It was such a great idea that it pains me to tell you about it.  But I’m going to.  My book, “When The Roll Is Called A Pyonder:  Tales from A Mennonite Childhood” turns one year old this month, and I thought we should celebrate, somehow.  Somehow that does not involve me jumping up and down, trying clever new tricks to get you to buy my book without realizing that it was a clever trick.  Something that might feel like a celebration.

So, I decided to read to you.  How awesome is that?  Man, I am smart.  I decided to video myself reading from my book–the best and funniest parts–and post it right here.  One, each week through the remaining weeks of August.

I picked passages from the book, divide them into 4, and sat down to video myself reading.  It’s really cute.  I make funny faces when I read that I don’t generally make in the mirror, so it kind of cracked me up to watch it, myself.

Too bad you’ll never see it.  Wordpress won’t upload it.  It says it doesn’t upload that kind of file.

I’m smart enough to get good ideas, but I’m not smart enough to trouble-shoot their technical problems.  There’s probably a way to make it work.  But I don’t know what it is.  So–sorry about that.  I guess I get to keep the birthday present I made you.

As a consolation prize, the following is the short segment from which the title is taken, since everybody wants to know what a Pyonder is.  🙂  So do I!

 

I don’t know what a Pyonder is.  We have a song we sing in Church about When The Roll Is Called A Pyonder I’ll Be There.  A roll is sometimes called a bun but I never heard anyone call it a pyonder.  Or there are rolls like toilet paper rolls or rolls like rolling down the hill and I don’t know which one you’d call a Pyonder.  It’s kind of a funny song.  But I know it’s about Jesus coming back and I know we have to be ready for that any minute.

–from “When The Roll Is Called A Pyonder:  Tales From A Mennonite Childhood” by Diana R. Zimmerman, eLectio Publishing, 2014

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The Laundry Experiment

From The Summer of the Riotous Walls, a work in progress

Before we even ran out of clean underwear or decided something had to be done about the bedding, the kitchen towels presented a problem. At least to me they did. How do you clean up a mess with something that’s dirty? Believe me, I tried. But no matter how careful you are, you only make the mess bigger. We started the summer with three towels, but there were only two left since Sheila accidentally set on one fire. They had to double as hot pads for removing boiling pots from the flames of our gas stove—an excellent way to set their little fringes ablaze, burn yourself, nearly set the house on fire, and destroy a perfectly good kitchen towel.

A coffee spill or two, cooking oil that missed the pan and has to be mopped from the stovetop, milk that landed outside the bowl, then a quick rinse in the sink, and soon the dish towels were crusty, molded, greasy rags, unrecognizable as anything intended for use near food. The classic trip through the washer and dryer wasn’t an option. We didn’t have a washer, nor had we received the revelation that we were living practically beside a laundromat. And yet something had to be done.

Finally a thought pecking at the back of my brain hatched itself into daylight and I knew what to do. The obvious is everywhere you look. Laugh all you want. Nothing I could do was going to make it worse.

In Los Rios, where I woke up on sunny mornings a few weeks ago, my mamá Hilda didn’t have a washer. She had soap, water and a cement wash sink against which she scrubbed our clothes to a fierce cleanliness never produced by an agitating tub of suds. I clicked off the list in my head: I didn’t have laundry soap, but I had various other kinds of soaps. I had water. No cement wash sinks anywhere, but there’s a cement slab at the base of our wobbly steps. Why wouldn’t that work? I filled a bucket with water, and grabbed a small plastic bowl to use as a scoop. I never did this in Los Rios. My mamá did it for me. But I watched, and how hard can it be?

“What are you doing, loca?” Beth asked when she saw me heading toward the door with my bucket of water and supplies.

“An experiment.”

“What kind of experiment?”

“A laundry experiment.”

“I hope it works!”

“Me too. These towels are terrible.”

“Can I watch?” Sheila asked.

“Sure. Don’t laugh. I’ve never tried this before.”

“Did you learn it in Costa Rica?”

“Sort of.”

I had to fetch the broom and sweep the dirt from the cement slab before anything had hope of getting clean on it. I dumped a scoop of water on it to wet it, then spread the immoral dish towels out and poured water over them, too. I squirted them with a generous amount of dish soap. Then, I commenced scrubbing them back and forth against the rough cement, which—of course—produced more mud, even though a minute ago, it had appeared clean. I rubbed and scrubbed, slopped and scraped, dumped more water, squirted more soap.

“Cool!” Sheila admired.

Not terribly. Two of my knuckles were bleeding. My mamá’s knuckles never bled, whether because they were so toughened by the constant necessity of repeating this task, or because she had learned to do it without scraping them on the cement, I can’t say. I had to keep washing the blood away so that I wouldn’t make the towels worse, instead of better.

Getting the soap out was the hardest part. I had to send Sheila up to the kitchen for another bucket of water and I was making an enormous mess. I somehow managed to soak my shirt, and a puddle of mud had formed around my bare feet. I wrung and rinsed, twirled and twisted, beating the suffering towels up and down against the cement with one hand while attempting to pour water over them with the other. Mamá made it look a lot easier than this. If I had to wash bath towels and work jeans this way like she did, I think I would cry.

The dish towels looked a heck of a lot better, believe it or not. They weren’t exactly white, but they were a lot less brown. Sheila had to get me another bucket of water to wash my feet, and then I walked up the steps and draped the dripping towels over the banister in the sun.

“There,” I said, when I walked back inside.

Beth looked up at me over top of the book she was reading.

I shrugged my shoulders and went to look in the medicine cabinet to see if, by chance, we had any band-aids.

Open Book Test: May (18 years ago), 1997

When: May (18 years ago), 1997
Where: Santa Cruz, Guanacaste, Costa Rica
What: I’ve been married to my first husband for 5 months.  Every day I go to work in Tamarindo where I oversee a little tourist information center.
Age: 26

Hey! It’s Friday and me and G haven’t had one argument all week! That’s marvelous. Peace on earth.

This is one big old Indian Summer. It’s hot and dry and windy again. Hello. Well, I imagine that when the rainy season comes de verdad, it will come with a huge dumping aguacero. Hope this holds up at least long enough to wash out clothes one more time!

I crack myself up. I I’m going to give my friend Candy some clothes tomorrow and I am so excited, I can hardly wait. You’d think someone was giving them to me. I keep wanting to tell her, but I’d better not. Then she might get excited and have to be disappointed when she sees them. Plus there’s nothing like a happy surprise. It’s so nice to have a nice friend. Candy talks a lot and doesn’t ask much, but I like her. I’m a little cautious about deciding I love people I’ve just met, but she’s growing on me.

There is something in me that cannot or will not believe that G is mine. I wake in the night, I go to the bathroom and come back to the bed and there he is: sprawled in the gale of the fan with the sheet tangled around him. Something somewhere in me cannot or will not believe that he is really mine, that no one will take him from me, that he himself will not leave.

Sometimes I feel really furious about something. I feel really furious with my parents for being the good upright Christian people that they are. It screws up my whole life. How am I ever going to write anything publishable? I guess being married helps a little, but sometimes I think what a great book sections of my diary would make and I’ll never do it because I write about love and sex and true guttural things and I swear and marry a man with children. How can this be? I hate it. Why can’t I be a rebel? Why do I not have it in me? Why am I so nice? It depresses me because I love my parents and I want them to live long lives but I can’t write a thing until they and their siblings are dead. Oh, pain. It makes me feel like giving up. I mean, I guess I can still write it, but all it does is lie around in fat notebooks. How annoying. If you’re making up tales that’s one thing, but if you’re writing about your life, that’s something else.