Thursday, March 15, 2007

A Sad Loss in Southern Illinois: Jim Jung

Last night I was tired and did not have anything special to write about and needed to finish another writing assignment, so I decided I'd blog tonight instead. I knew tonight was our Southern Illinois Writers Guild meeting, and I was looking forward to hearing Dr. Ronald Ray Schmeck speak on his novel about the Pennsylvania Dutch--the fancy Dutch that he grew up among, so I figured I would have lots to write about.

It was indeed a good meeting and the program very interesting. I learned a great deal. It turns out that the "fancy Dutch" are Lutheran or Moravian, and the "plain Dutch" are the Amish. The German origin seems to be their connection. I have just checked out Dr. Schmeck's website--by following his instructions and googling his name, which took me to his website. I had not realized until tonight that the Pennsylvania Dutch were as distinctive as they were in language differences. It was only after I'd heard Dr. Schmeck talk about his book at the Union County Writers Group fest that I knew there were "fancy Dutch."

Some of the cultural differences that Dr. Schmeck talks about did not strike me as that different from the rural culture here in Southern Illinois. Many of us related to the hog butchering chapter in his book that he read from. And the thriftiness and making things last and enjoying hard work.

But these Pennsylvania immigrants seemed to have hung onto their language differences more than many have done. People occasionally spoke German in my mother's home too, but there was no trace of it in her speech. Perhaps because her father had left his family behind in Evansville, Indiana, and with her mother's early death, the father did not have occasion to speak much German.

Although much younger than me, Dr. Schmeck sounded as if he went to college with a very distinct dialect. Now he has reproduced it for us in his novel. Our Amish friends in Marion, Kentucky, speak beautifully perfect English even though their family language in the home is a form of German, and their children do not learn English until they start grade school.

My heart was very heavy tonight, however, so it was difficult to enjoy our meeting in the normal way. We had just gotten word from Ruby Jung that her husband Jim Jung, publisher of the local nature almanac, passed away at 11:30 this morning. Ruby, our treasurer and our anthology editor for the past two or three years and one of our most diligent and faithful members, had let us know not much over a week ago that Jim had finally gotten a diagnois: Stage 4 lung cancer. Last week he had completed his first two chemo treatments, and I had dropped by their house to pick up covers for our latest anthologies to keep Ruby from fretting about them. I did not stay very long because she was listening for Jim every minute I was there and then friends came by--one of them a young woman who was one of the 21 "nieces and nephews"--children of friends that Jim had mentored down through the years. Jim loved children. He had just completed his latest book and the new almanac was out. Many hearts are heavy tonight at this great loss in our region.

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