Grain farm operator says some 100-year-old perceptions about women still exist
Anne Lazurko grew up in a large family of girls who believed they could do anything they wanted in life.
The Weyburn, Sask., writer soon separated fact from fiction but used that experience in her first novel, Dollybird.
The story follows the trials, tribulations and triumphs of a young, pregnant, unwed Moira.
Banished from her East Coast home to Saskatchewan in 1906, the destitute aspiring doctor becomes a dollybird or housekeeper for an equally troubled widower, single parent and homesteader named Dillan.
“My sisters are not afraid to take things on. Moira is a bit of that.”
Lazurko, a farm journalist, freelance writer, playwright, poet and former dairy farmer, operates a 2,000 acre grain farm with her husband.
Despite her work history and the century that has passed since the black and white world that Moira inhabited, perceptions about women persist, she said.
“I’m involved in the farm, run the equipment, but still get the phone call asking ‘can I talk to your husband,’ ” she said.
The novel’s dollybird gradually wins acceptance from the community despite suspicions about her.
“The nature of that term has different connotations,” said Lazurko. “They needed these women to help them on farms but still had the reputation, questions about who and what they were.”
She began work on the story after a visit to a cemetery, which sparked a desire to learn about how they died.
“I was astonished how many young people were there,” she said of the headstones from the homesteading years.
Lazurko, a mother of four, also grew up in a small prairie town hearing the elders’ stories from past days.
“A lot stays with you,” she said.
Lazurko ping-ponged between the male and female characters’ points of view for a broader understanding.
“It helps to explain each other’s story,” she said. “It’s about real people experiencing real life and real emotions. People really had to survive this shit.”
Their burden is somewhat lightened by genuine acts of kindness in the prairie community, said Lazurko.
Writing small market regional books can be daunting, said Lazurko, who is targeting historical and agricultural societies and farm communities for her book, published by Coteau Books in Regina.
“Beginning was not that hard, keeping at it was hard,” she said of the eight-year-long process to write and publish the tale.
Nik Burton, Coteau’s managing editor, said the story, which has appeal for “history aficionados,” will also benefit from Lazurko’s presence in social media and farm journalism circles.
Burton said the decision to choose this book as one of the 12 titles published annually reflects the company’s desire to support first-time authors and the Prairies.
“It was very well written and very accomplished for a first time author,” he said. “We try to bring new voices to the attention of the public.”
Carla Braidek of Big River, Sask., was drawn to read the book because she grew up near where it is set and was curious about the title.
She said the book packs a lot of detail about life in those early days, particularly for women, something not readily seen in other accounts of the period.
Women were put in their place and confined in their roles, said Braidek.
“Moira was determined not to fall into that,” she said. “It took a strong willed woman to break out of that.”
Lazurko’s next book will draw its inspiration from her father’s experience as a Dutch soldier in Indonesia.