I-Alice 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 cooking.

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 goodness.

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.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller