Embrace the Yester Years
Review by Carol Just Halverson
Katherina, Alice. I-Alice Embrace the Yester Years. Edited by Jeanette Zollner. Clagary, Alberta, 1996.
Germans from Russia (cataloging in process). (not available
on interlibrary loan).
Growing up in the first third of the twentieth century in a family
locked in the ways of the old world while making a future in a new
one, Alice (Schuetzle) Kanewischer has shared her years in the Medicine
Hat area of Alberta, Canada with poignant honesty.
Few females have given voice to the struggles of emigrant farm
families. Kanewischer does it successfully in almost 400 pages that
could easily have been four different books. Through it all she
successfully blends her ethnic German-Russian and family history
with common experiences pioneers and new emigrants faced trying
to build new lives in North America.
The early chapters deal with her grandparent's decision to come
to America and the experiences that followed..... always with a
sympathetic look at the female experience in a patriarchal "son
oriented" society. Once in North America, Kanewischer addresses
the enormous expectations of women on the prairie. From the physical
hard labor, lack of medical care and reliance on home remedies (most
often administered by women) to fear of death in childbirth, grieving
styles, funeral practices, families taking care of "their own,"
and the unrealistic expectations of children by their parents. These
truths provide stark reality of an era that succeeding generations
can only imagine.
With a noble attempt at separating the various names that cross-over
and blend as first or second cousins marry into one generation or
another, Kanewischer faces the problem many genealogists encounter.
I recommend readers forget trying to figure out who is related to
whom and focus on Kanewischer's good storytelling.
The book includes fine photographs and vivid verbal descriptions
of prairie experiences. Hunting coyotes for pelts, the arrival of
new "horse power" called John Deere, first pair of ice skates, frantic
visits to the "bonesetter", dangerous trips to find coal to heat
the tiny overcrowded home, harvesting as a family affair, and prairie
school education. The author shares the parenting philosophy of
her childhood in complete opposition to modern parenting conventions.
Most of Kanewischer's generation will relate to the verbal and physical
punishment, parental intolerance of behaviors common to children,
the expectation of "doing a man's job" in spite of being small and
slim, and the problem of being forced to take on those farm tasks
without proper training, putting everyone in harm's way.
Kanawischer balances her honest portrayals of the burdens and
frustrations of first generation struggles with glad experiences
that large families are known for; singing, dancing, field picnics,
older siblings raising the young ones, and, of course, Mom's good
The book bounces around chonologically but is definitely worth
reading. It is 400 pages filled to the brim. The author's identity
as "I-Alice" is distracting, but only if the reader allows. I urge
all to read this book a few chapters at a time to absorb the full
Carol Halverson - storyteller, writer and oral historian, grew
up on a farm in LaMoure County, North Dakota. Her company, "Lifetimes,"
a video-communications business, helps others identify and document
their family stories.