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He Writes From Harvest of Memories

Goossens, Anna-Maria. "He Writes From Harvest of Memories [Philo Pritzkau]." Daily Hampshire Gazette, 23 July 1997.


When Philo Pritzkau recalls his childhood in North Dakota, he speaks of haying and seeding and threshing and harvesting and milking.

What comes out more than the hard facts of this life, though, is his joy in it. "We were happy," said Pritzkau, now 95 and living in Leeds. "You had a sense of being. You forgot about the work."

After decades of sharing those stories only with his family -- including his daughter, award-winning children's author Patricia MacLachlan, who says they influenced her writing -- Pritzkau has recorded them in a memoir, "Growing Up in North Dakota."

The 103-page paperback volume, featuring photographs of Pritzkau and his family, was published this winter by the North Dakota State University Libraries.

Pritzkau's parents, Johann and Elinor Pritzkau, were Germans who lived in the Ukraine, north of Odessa, before immigrating to an area near Burnstad, N.D., said Pritzkau.

"The soil of southern Russia is the same as North Dakota. It's beautiful soil," ideal for growing wheat, said Pritzkau.

Pritzkau's recollections of farm work there offer descriptions detailed down to the brand names of the haymowing machines.

His parents, Johann and Elinor, he said, "were diversified farmers. We had a ranch, more so than a farm."

That meant a lot of work for the children -- young Philo Pritzkau had 20 cows to milk.

"I never want to do anything like that again-it was tedious work," he said.

He's still full of admiration for his family, describing his mother's superior skill at raising the hens that laid eggs to sell and eat and provided food, and his father's efforts to farm the land.

Pritzkau remembers the importance of horses-one of the liveliest chapters in the book is one called "Horse Power."

"Much care was given to proper feeding and grooming. One could take pride in having handsome, strong animals; any farmer who had lean horses with backbones sharply visible was either pitied or looked upon with disdain..." he wrote.

Pritzkau laughs even now as he speaks of Jack, a nervous, rather silly horse who literally scared himself to death -- startled by a chicken, he reared, hit his head on a beam, and fell down dead.

"I have never heard of a horse psychologist or psychiatrist, but if there had been one, Jack would have been an excellent referral," wrote Pritzkau.

Although it took until now to publish Pritzkau's memoir, some of what he writes about has been in print before -- in his daughter's books.

"Lots of things he used to tell me as a child end up in my books... His landscapes are in my books, in 'Sarah Plain and Tall'," said MacLachlan, who lives in Williamsburg.

He's always treasured books, she said, and he used to act out stories with her as a child, showing her the value of books from a young age.

"I owe him a lot for my being a writer," she said.

Pritzkau started writing down his recollections several years ago.

"I wrote by hand, with a little old hand and a pen. I would sit in bed and write little by little," he said.

MacLachlan, who encouraged her father, helped connect him with Northampton editor Anna Kirwan who edited the book.

The book was printed at North Dakota State University Libraries in Fargo not only because Pritzkau lived in the state originally, but because it has a Germans from Russia Heritage Collection -- a description that fits Pritzkau's parents and many others in that area.

Pritzkau has tentative plans to visit the school in the fall to promote the book and attend signings in nearby towns.

Reprinted with permission of the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

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