The Storekeeper's Daughter: A Memoir
Book review by Edna Boardman, Bismarck, North Dakota
Wiebe, Katie Funk. The Storekeeper’s Daughter: A Memoir. Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1997.
Katie Funk Wiebe was born in Canada to parents who had come from
Chortitza and Rosenthal, South Russia about 1923. These villages
had been the headquarters of Nestor Makhno, the bandit who raided
and murdered at will for several years before the communists consolidated
their power. Katie tells of growing up as a child in Blaine Lake,
Saskatchewan, where her father Jacob Johann Funk managed his own
grocery store, the OK Economy Store, and her mother ran a good home
on limited means. Blaine Lake was an ethnically mixed community,
and Mr. Funk could speak in Russian with other recent immigrants.
Eagerly-awaited letters arrived, but many contained stories of hardship
and death in her maternal grandmother's family, the Janzens, whom
they left behind in Russia.
Wiebe alternates the events of her childhood with the stories
she heard of life in Russia from her parents. There was a strong
tradition of storytelling in her family, but one of the most significant
events--the story of Mr. Funk's arrest for siding with the wrong
revolutionaries and wartime service helping with the care of horrendously
wounded young men--she heard only once. She also tells how her father
showed amazing courage and stamina in his rescue of the Janzens
from a situation in which they endured incredible poverty.
The Funks had been landless in Russia. Though Mr. Funk's father
owned a flour mill before the revolution, landlessness assigned
them a kind of second-class citizenship. Left-handed and therefore
branded as stubborn at school, Katie's father was apprenticed to
the local grocer. The description of the grocery store in which
he worked in Russia is so rare that it alone, for its historical
value, makes the book worth its price.
Katie recalls the depression which struck Canada in the 1930s.
The hungry people who appeared at their door reminded her parents
of the homeless who wandered the steppes in revolutionary times
in Russia. Her mother cooked many an extra meal and served it with
grace, using linen and their best china.
Katie reflects on her spiritual journey, coming of age, and becoming
culturally Canadian. In Canada, they attended the Mennonite Church,
with which her parents had a fierce affinity that Katie strained
to understand. But going there required a ferry ride across a river,
so they also attended the United Church of Canada, where the rules
(and the sense of connectedness) were more relaxed. Katie Funk Wiebe
graduated from Tabor College in Kansas and holds an M.A. degree
from Wichita State University. She taught English at the college
level. She has written hundreds of articles and columns and has
written and/or edited fourteen books, most recently focusing on
aging. She is a world traveler and member of the Peace Education
Commission, sponsored by agencies of the Mennonite Brethren Church.
She has four children and five grandchildren.
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