In 2015, I wrote this "Read My Book" piece for Regina and Saskatoon newspapers to introduce readers to the fascinating anthology Cream Money: Stories of Prairie People:
We can learn much from the people around us. Whether they are family, friends, acquaintances or people we have just met, there are stories to be told and lessons to be learned. This concept has been a driving force in my work as a freelance journalist for more than 30 years and has followed me into the field of book writing, editing and publishing.
In 2011, when I began working with the Saskatoon German Days Committee to help them create their book Egg Money: A Tribute to Saskatchewan Pioneer Women, I commented that they could also publish a book called Cream Money, since cream money was another important income source for farm women in days gone by. Of course, their Egg Money book is based on a statue of that name in downtown Saskatoon, so “Cream Money” did not make sense as a project for them.
So in 2014, my husband and publishing partner Al Driver and I decided to invite writers to send us their stories of selling cream and other interesting tales from past decades of farming on the Prairies. We collected 29 short stories and two poems from 30 Prairie writers, including myself.
My mother, Sabinka Staszewski, came to Canada from Poland in August 1929. She was two years old and made the 12-day voyage by ship with her mother, father and three siblings (ages eight years, six years, and six weeks - see photo below). After arrival in Halifax, Nova Scotia, they headed west by train to what would become their new home in Athabasca, Alberta, 95 miles north of Edmonton.
The family spent their first two winters living in a hole in the ground. Literally.
During the First World War, my grandfather had seen houses that were dug into the hills of Romania. There were no hills on the Alberta farmland he’d purchased, so he adapted this idea and created the first dugout house anyone had seen in that region. Their dugout house was four feet deep, eight feet wide, and 14 feet long. A small wood-burning cook stove and oven was used for cooking and warmth. Their large trunk was their only other piece of furniture until my grandfather constructed a long bench.
One of the first items my grandparents purchased in town to add to their meagre possessions was a young Holstein cow named Jenny, to supply the family with milk. Cow’s milk was an essential item on every farm in those days, especially for a growing family.
Other parts of my family’s story include the fact that my father, also an immigrant, and his siblings were punished for speaking Ukrainian in school. Until they could afford their own cow, my grandmother helped milk a neighbour’s cows so she could bring a quart of milk home for her own family each day.
These are lessons that we can learn from and stories which need to be told to preserve not only our history but to teach the next generation. Other stories within the pages of Cream Money tell of hard work, of children and mice falling into milk cans, of saving cream money for essential items such as teeth repair, of sending the cream cans to town by train, and relishing the rich desserts made with farm-fresh cream.
On days when I am tempted to feel gloomy, I remember the story of the dugout house. Life in Canada is good. Let’s keep sharing those stories.
Cream Money: Stories of Prairie People is available from www.driverworks.ca, McNally Robinson Booksellers, Chapters, Indigo, Coles, and other select retailers.
Here's a link to my blog with photos and stories about the fun book launch we had for the book!