I Know My Onions

18 February 2015

I Know My Onions: Homesteading North of the 53rd
by Ileen Boechler
Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing
Review by Keith Foster
$16.95 ISBN 978-1-927756-30-0

Imagine reclining in your favourite armchair and reading a good book beside the fireplace on a cold winter evening. Then, having finished the book, laying it down and basking in the memories it evoked. Ileen Boechler’s I Know My Onions: Homesteading North of the 53rd is this type of book.

The title comes from an expression that people who were well read, articulate, and possessing great general knowledge were said to “know their onions.”

The author relates experiences from her growing-up years with her three sisters and their dog, Sport, on the family farm near Carrot River, SK. Trees were abundant in this northern area and she helped her parents build their log house. She still loves working with wood. To her, a building supply store is “like a toy store is to a child.”

Ileen says she felt safe and secure in her childhood. Even in the midst of the Great Depression of the 1930s when times were tough, the family made do by being resourceful. They’d use the waxed paper lining from cereal boxes to wrap food or shine the kitchen range.

Ileen injects a liberal amount of humour into her narrative. One day at the Meadowcroft country school, the teacher told her that her printing exercise had been rushed and poorly done, so she must do it over. Ileen knew that her printing was as good as she could make it. Instead of redoing it, she handed in the same paper. The teacher said it was “much better.”

After training at Normal School (now Teachers College), Ileen taught at Limestone Hill School, fifteen miles south of Allan, SK. When she met the man who would become her husband, well, let’s just say she made quite an impression on him. As she raised her own children, she found her “perfect” offspring were not quite as perfect as she thought, learning they’d thrown crab apples, with great accuracy, at the neighbour’s bathroom vent.

Ileen supplements her narrative with more than two dozen black and white photos of her childhood and adult years with her family. She also uses some intriguing chapter titles, such as “How I Met Your Father” and “Married with Children.”

You can always tell when you’ve read a good book – it’s the one that leaves you with a warm afterglow. I Know My Onions is one of these books. As Ileen powerfully demonstrates, she does indeed know her onions.


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