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Review of the book Growing Up in North Dakota: A Memoir

Book review by Dorothy Hoobler

Pritzkau, Philo T. Growing Up in North Dakota: A Memoir. North Dakota State University Libraries, Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, Fargo, North Dakota, 1996.


In Growing Up in North Dakota, Philo T. Pritzkau gives a vivid account of pioneering and farming on the prairie in the first 20 years of this century. In that era of what he calls "horse-powered machinery," farm chorse included seeding, plowing, haying, harvesting and threshing. The long hours and the arduous nature of the work--admirably portrayed here--are testimony to the determination of spirit of Pritzkau's parents, who were German immigrants from Russia. Pritzkau describes daily life so clearly that even people who have never farmed (or been in North Dakota) can share his youthful memories.

For those accustomed to today's shopping malls, it will be interesting to learn what stores were like back then. A horse-and-buggy trip into town was needed for such modest purchases as clothes, sugar, salt, bologna, bacon, and sausage, but it was topped off with the purchase of ribboned candy in a paper sack. Virtually everything in the stores was unpackaged, and the store clerks had to wrap and sack the purchases. The wealth of detail is delightful, providing a contrast with life today.

Best of all, I enjoyed Pritzkau's stories about going to school with his sister, Lillie. The one-room schoolhouse was cold and heated only by a pot-bellied stove. The lack of indoor plumbing meant that a trip to the outdoor privy in wintertime was not lightly taken. The teacher had all eight grades in one classroom. Despite all the difficulties, the children received a good education. In the small school, students participated in plays, holiday programs, and fun and games as well as learning. Pritzkau himself grew up to become a college professor and author of several texts on education.

In his memoir, the reader learns about growing up in a Russian-German home--the foods and treats and holiday celebrations. Pritzkau provides concrete details that brings these happy occasions to life. For today's readers, his book is a precious glimpse of a bygone time.

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