Alice Kanewischer, aka I-Alice is a 94-year-old to be admired.
After retiring from ‘the farm’ near Schuler, her writing career started. By her mid 70’s she had enough stories to publish a 375-page book. At first, everything was done in long hand. By age 80 she had learned to type and now uses a word processing program on her computer to continue writing after the initial publication.
She has graciously permitted us to share those stories with you.
The early stories are mostly about her great-grandparents, their life back in Russia and the hardships they endured when they immigrated here. Through her gift of story-telling we feel the pain and empathize with their dilemmas.
Then through each of the stories that follow, she helps us experience her growing up years in the 1930’s using conversation, intimate details and intense emotions. Through a child’s eye, we can’t help but feel what life was like for her. Through her remarkable story-telling she also gives insight into the lives of her parents and grandparents.
By purchasing ‘I-Alice Embrace the YesterYears’, you are supporting MHCP. Contact us today for your copy.
The first of Alice’s featured stories is below. Each month we will post another, with the latest on top of the list.
Alice passed away in 2022. See Empty Saddles page.
After Alice’s passing, a reader sent us this message, which reinforces the importance of sharing our stories:
I just finished the book by Alice Kanewischer “I-Alice Embrace the Yester Years” and I see Alice passed away just recently. I wanted her to know her book gave me new insights into the lives and struggles of both my parents and grandparents, so I thought I would share my reflections with you. I see how much you helped her.
My Dad’s family immigrated from Denmark (via USA) in 1906 and homesteaded in Milo, Alberta. Mom’s family has been in the USA (from Ireland and England) for several hundred years but her parents homesteaded close to where the Schulers must have been.
While reading the book I saw for the first time just how hard it was for that first generation. I remembered my Dad’s mother having a complete breakdown and refusing to go back to the homestead after her family was grown. Now I can see why!
Dad absolutely refused to carry on farming after he grew up. His father was so disappointed. The first generation born to these pioneers did not have much of a childhood. My dad never learned to play or know how to have some fun.
When I was about eight years old my parents decided to move to northern Alberta and take over an abandoned log house with no running water or electricity. As I child I was enchanted with the whole adventure and amazed that they knew how to live this lifestyle. Now I realize this was their childhood – just like Alice had.
I have new eyes on my own family history now thanks to Alice. I thought you would like to know how a book just keeps on giving.
Sincerely, Gail Sherley
The Yesteryears of I-Alice
Story #9 Halloween and its Beauty
Story #8 Huge Pink Curlers Saved Our Day
Story #7 Gary’s First Card From Daddy
Story #5 I Rode a Wild Heifer One Spring
Story #4 The Gutsy Chicken Pluckers
Story #3 Tale of a Special Brother
Story #2 The Useless Gift
Story #1 SILVER SANDALS
by Alice Kanewischer
World War II had ended and to my delight new stock began to arrive in the business shops downtown in Medicine Hat. Sunday came and our entertainment for the day was to “Window Shop”. This often took me back in time to the days when the Eaton’s catalogue arrived at our farm and there was no money because as the saying goes “money was scarcer than hen’s teeth”. Nothing impractical was ever bought. So I would often lay out on a blanket, watch the clouds roll by and dream, and with my dreams came those wishes for the more beautiful things from the Eaton’s catalogue. Now here I was away from home and earning my own money working at The Pottery.
As a child, my first wristwatch was cut out from the catalog, glued onto cardboard paper with paste made from flour, sugar and water and an elastic band to hold it around my wrist. At the age of seventeen, the nicest birthday gift I ever received was my first wristwatch from Edwin, my best friend. The sparkling diamonds decorated the face of the wristwatch, making it the most beautiful piece of jewelry I ever owned. I was a dreamer, and it seemed that somehow in time and with patience my dreams would materialize.
Peace had come to land and so did the warmth of spring. The return of the soldiers from overseas caused a stir of excitement in my young heart. Esther and I once again walked downtown to do our favourite pastime, of “window shopping”. Through a large glass window I fell madly in love with a pair of toeless Silver Sandals. My heart skipped with delight knowing that if I worked overtime, I would someday be walking down this same street with Silver Sandals on my feet. All my life I wore ankle high boots suitable for working out in the fields; now I was still wearing them working in The Pottery. I had one other pair of black oxfords that I kept for very special occasions.
Wearing Silver Sandals with an open toe completely encompassed my young mind; being practical completely left my mind. My money from the factory was all tied up paying $20.00 a month board and room at Grandma’s and any extra money I could save was being invested in a bedroom suite and a Hope Chest. The Silver Sandals would be perfect for me to wear with the white wedding gown in the big Eaton’s catalogue I had been admiring ever since Edwin came home from overseas. I had hoped to wear that dress early that summer.
An ad in the newspaper caught my eye. “Earn extra cash, pick weeds, 35 cents an hour”. That’s a chore I was familiar with because Mama always planted a large garden out on the farm. After work I went hoeing and weeding for a Chinese gardener. The weather was hot and it was boring with no one to talk to. All the other workers were foreigners. Walking a three-quarter hour to the garden, then weeding for an hour and a half almost defeated me, but whenever I was about to call it quits, visions of me wearing the Silver Sandals flashed before my eyes, giving me the strength to carry on. Three agonizing weeks of sore muscles and swatting mosquitoes went by. My young heart leaped with joy when I finally received enough money to pay for my footwear.
Immediately I walked downtown to buy my open-toed Silver Sandals. I slipped my slender foot into the sandals. This gave me an unbelievable thrill. They felt so cool and the fit was perfect. I admired them on my feet from every possible angle in the mirrors at the shoe store. I-Alice dreaded putting them back into the shoebox but I knew my grandparents would think they were not sensible, nor practical, so I carried them home, hidden under my jacket. Walking home, I could hardly control my giddiness, knowing that another one of my dreams had been fulfilled.
Here I am dreaming again. How I hoped the marriage date could be set soon so the weather would be warm and I could be seen from every direction walking down the aisle wearing my Silver Sandals. But that dream was put on hold. The wedding was planned for November because only then could we take over the family farm. Every morning I’d look out the window and heave a sigh of relief because it hadn’t snowed, but I knew from years gone by that cold and snowfall was definitely in the air.
Back at the farm, the night before my November wedding, I slept on the hard linoleum floor by the living room window with my youngest sister Ruth and brother Carl. Early in the morning I lifted my head off the pillow and looked out the window to see large droplets of rain falling. “Oh No!” I lamented, “I don’t want it to rain today. It’s my wedding day.” Disgruntled I gave the skimpy quilt a good tug to get my share of the covers, as the room was freezing cold by now. The pot belly heater had been moved out to the garage to make room for the invited guests. I covered myself over my head to dream of a bright sunny day. But the threatening clouds remained dark and ominous.
The smell of the frying liverwurst and onions activated my taste buds and gave me the willpower to crawl out of bed. I-Alice had been accustomed to this delicious breakfast when I lived on the farm. (Staying in the city over a year, I was never treated to liverwurst.) Momentarily, I forgot that the sun wasn’t shining on this, my wedding day.
Looking out and beyond the fields, I saw dark threatening blue clouds rolling in. “It isn’t going to snow today, I hope,” I mumbled so Mama could hear. Mama looked none too pleased either about the dark clouds that made the day dreary enough for a funeral. With a forced smile Mama reminded me, “Snow is bound to come; after all it is November.” By noon, down floated trillions of the biggest snowflakes I-Alice has ever seen. The flakes covered the bleak countryside with sparkling beauty, but all I could think of was of my Silver Sandals hidden safely under Mama’s bed.
It was later afternoon when the bridal party was getting dressed. All four of us crowded into Mama’s tiny bedroom, the only room that had a mirror on its dresser. When I pulled my Silver Sandals out from under the bed, everyone in the room gasped “Ohs!” and “Ahs!”. “Open-toed shoes” they cried out in unison. “Awesome” and “Beautiful” were the delightful words that chimed like majestic music to my ears. My long gown hung beautifully down my slim body but not far enough to entirely cover my Silver Sandals for I wanted the whole world to see my hard-earned purchase.
That is everyone but Papa for I knew he would throw a fit the moment he laid eyes on them. I-Alice tried to slip past my papa. Instantly his observant eyes detected my Silver Sandals. His hands flew up and he gave out a scream of “Heaven help me! Am I seeing things? You bought shoes with a hole in the toe? Look at your toes!” he bellowed. “They are sticking out. You’ll freeze your feet; damn it, it’s winter! There is a good eighteen inches of snow already covering the ground!”
As I jutted out my lower lip, I was defiant. “Papa, today is my wedding day and I’m wearing sandals even if the sky opens up and fills every valley, dale and hilltop with snow.”
“Eih yiey yeih” my papa wailed, “to think that I raised you, child. You go out a waste money for shoes with holes. All these years I slaved to keep shoes on your feet so you shouldn’t freeze your toes, and this is all you learned?”
It was dusk when I saw he had mellowed. He was out there in the freezing cold with the wheat scoop shovel and the corn broom clearing a wide path to the car. That car would take me and my husband-to-be to the country church eleven miles across country from our farm.
Giggling, I whispered into Edwin’s ear during the long slow drive to church. “I upset my papa with my shoes.” Having said that, I lifted my skinny leg up high enough so he too could admire my gorgeous Silver Sandals. He in turn gave me one of his mischievous grins, nodding his head in approval. I knew he approved my choice of footwear.
The car motor was roaring and labouring harder and harder to push through the deep drifts of snow that had filled the hilly countryside. There was no heater to keep us even slightly warm. Several times the driver was forced to back up and take a run at it so we could plough through the snow drifts. My toes were freezing. The thought did occur to me, “How would I ever tippy-toe through all that snow into the church?” but not a murmur of complaint left my chattering lips.
The car finally came to a growling stop by the steps of the church. Out stepped my best friend and what Papa didn’t see in the moonlight was how Edwin ever so carefully lifted me from the car seat and carried me over the deep snow. Gently he set my feet on the wooden porch of the tiny country church. A feeling of naughtiness encouraged me to lift my gown ever so slightly so all those around me could see my shining Silver Sandals. My eyes dazzled with excitement for they glowed even more beautifully in the moonlight.
It was then that my thoughts were interrupted by the musical strains of “Here Comes the Bride” from the treadle pump organ. Joyfully I-Alice walked down the aisle wearing my favourite footwear, the Silver Sandals.