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Daughter of the Spirit Wrestlers — A Story About Doukhobor Settlers©
(an excerpt)

by Faye Reineberg Holt

 

doubhobor women

This photo inspired the story Daughter of the Spirit Wrestlers.
In 1903, Saskatchewan Doubhobor women pull the plough.
Saskatchewan Archive Board S-B 4260.

 

download   complete pdf version of short story adobe pdf image

 

 

 

 

 

Contact:
fholt@telusplanet.net

 

 

 

 

Daughter of the Spirit Wrestlers — A Story About Doukhobor Settlers© (an excerpt) by Faye Reineberg Holt

"I will not do animal work," Dunia said.

Marya's eyes widened in surprise. Her sister, Dunia, had never before spoken in anger to their mother.

"Listen to the voice inside you," Mother whispered. "Then you will do what is right."

"I work hard, Mother. I scrub clothes and help with meals. Didn't I cut and fit sod for our house? But I will not pull the plough!" Dunia spoke in the Russian of their mother tongue. She untied her kerchief and then tied it more tightly under her chin. Her round face glowed in the early morning candle light. Her ankle length black dress and brown apron were spotless and unwrinkled compared to the dresses of their mother and aunts.

Dunia was fifteen, already an age to marry, and six years older than Marya.

Still, Marya could hardly believe her ears.

Her aunts listened silently, busying themselves washing the morning's porridge bowls and wiping crumbs from the newly made wooden table.

Last night, Grandfather had pounded the last leg to the table. His gnarled hands made small circular motions with the precious sanding paper across the table top and down the legs. Everyone had felt so proud as he stood back from his work, his eyes bright and smiling. He set the loaf of bread, cellar of salt and jug of water at the table's centre and then he began the songs, as if setting food and water on the table had guaranteed a tomorrow for the colony.

The songs had made Marya feel warm and secure and she had snuggled close to Dunia who stood rocking their baby brother in her arms.

After the long ocean trip, and the train rumblings, and the days in the huge waiting halls, and walking along the corduroy trails that were the prairie roads, their lives as Doukhobors in the new land had really begun.

This morning the room was filled with tension instead of joy, and Marya wished there was not the terrible calm from her mother and the angry strength in her sister. As she waited for their words and the changing moods to be mirrored from their eyes and faces, Marya stretched her arms across the clay oven that had been built as a mound against the sod wall of their home.

Under the skimpy blankets, she had felt chilled in the night, and a little quiver ran down her spine as her body began to soak in the heat.

"We work or we die," Mother said coldly to Dunia. " But you should do it gladly. Work is not only a duty. It is an honour."

"I'll work, Mother, at some other job." Tears were in Dunia's voice.

To read full version of story download pdf document

This work may be used for private study or in the classroom. It may not be published, broadcast or distributed in any other manner, including electronically, without the written permission of the author. Contract her by email at fholt@telusplanet.net describing your request.

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web site revised: Dec 2, 2016   |   copyright: © Faye Reineberg Holt   |   photographs: W.H. Holt   |  

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