Interview with Susana Miller (née Doerksen) 1.1

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Interview with Susana Miller (née Doerksen) 1.1


labor (work)
house chores
social interaction







Oral History Item Type Metadata


Kampen, Christine, Thiessen, Angela


Miller (née Doerksen), Susana

OHMS Object Text

5.4 Interview with Susana Miller (née Doerksen) 1.1 2005-091-4747 33:20 G23 Local Cultures labor (work) house chores pregnancy social interaction Miller (née Doerksen), Susana Kampen, Christine, Thiessen, Angela wav 2005-091-4747.wav 0 Other audio English 5 Clothing, farm life, school (Susana Miller née Doerksen was born September 12, 1916 in Reinthal, Manitoba.) Miller starts the interview with a picture taken when she was 12 years old, in 1928. It depicts her and her sister, she doesn't know when it was taken (she obviously looks at another picture). The interviewers ask her to talk about the first picture. Miller recalls that she was wearing an old dress, it had all faded out, and then they had dyed it black. Her mother had made her a little pig tail in her hair to keep it out of her eyes. She wore a pair of stockings, they were 95 cents at that time but she got them for 50 cents. They seldom had shoes. Later, her father bought a little acreage 5 miles out of Winkler. They moved to Winkler in 1927. She liked to work in the garden, pick potato bugs, and all little odds and ants. They had a garden with all kinds of quack grass. Miller asked the interviewers if they know what quack grass is. It is a grass that has long roots, it's hard to kill. Some people say you can kill it with salt. After rain, you can get the roots out when you dig around. it was so much fun pulling these roots out. They had piles and piles of them, she and her brother did that. They had a wonderful garden after that because all of the bad stuff was out. It could grow just like everything. She loved to be on the farm there but then they moved to town. Miller attended school at Winkler for only two years. She wasn't fit for the school year, her clothes didn't fit. She had just one school dress, but she was at school all week. When she came home for the weekend, her mother washed and patched it wherever it needed patching, and next week she wore it. Once a girl at school asked her: &quot ; Susan, you've got only one dress?&quot ; Miller replied: &quot ; No, I have an old one that I put on after school because they did not wear their school clothes at home.&quot ; They did &quot ; all kind of dirty work where you could get them spoiled or even torn or something.&quot ; Once, a friend made her and her daughter a red Gingham dress with checkers, she made them the same dresses. She was proud of the dress but maybe the girl was jealous, and when Miller wore the dress, she said: &quot ; Oh, you've got Katherine's dress on. And when she (her friend) wore her's, she said: You got Susan's dress on.&quot ; They never wore them at the same time, she doesn't know why. Her friend didn't want to look like a twin. 49.181667, -97.939722 12 Interview location: Winkler, Manitoba. Obituary of Susana Miller (née Doerksen). 231 Working for Jewish families in Winkler, Manitoba ; working for farmers in Roland, Manitoba Miller states that she enjoyed her life, &quot ; I enjoyed my life very much&quot ; . They lived right next to the synagogue, the Jewish synagogue. She didn't have a picture but she described the building and someone drew it (obviously, she has shown that drawing the interviewers). It was a Levenger building. Miller does not know why there is no picture to be found anywhere, at least she can't find that. She lived next door, the doctors lived there. According to the Jewish religion, there were things they could do and things they could not do. On Friday night, they couldn't shut the lights off, blow out candles or things like that. The church (obviously: synagogue) was next door, and when they had church there, they came to their place and asked her to blow the candles out and switch the light out. She got a nickel for that: &quot ; That was cash, I didn't get much cash those days.&quot ; Miller got six cents a night cash for sleeping at this Jewish lady's house when her husband was out in the country with a pedal wagon. Miller enjoyed that but the lady wanted her to spend more time with her but she couldn't, she had other places to go and help. On Saturdays, they weren't allowed to light a fire, so she had to light a fire in quite a few places, and then she had to check if the fires were out, they weren't allowed to add to them either. When it burns down, you add some (fire wood) but they weren't allowed to do that. If the fire was out, she had to make a fresh fire. She also got a nickel for making the fires. They killed the chickens for a penny and a half a piece. When they sold them, they never got cash, they always had to take goods in the store. In those days, they never had refrigeration. Sometimes, they had to go at midnight, they (the people they worked for) had an old house at Mountain Ave. They had to go at midnight, she and her five brothers, and then there were other people too. She told her father that she didn't want to go, there were no other girls there, but she was told that she had to help and to see that her parents didn't starve, they had to support them. They killed chickens there from 12 to 3. Then they went home &quot ; as lousiest as we could be because the chickens were just full of lice&quot ; . When they came home, they would strip themselves, and all the lice would be in their hair. They lived for an hour, and after an hour they could go to sleep, the lice were gone, they were dead. There were &quot ; such poor chickens, you know, very skinny, just scrap chickens.&quot ; They (the owners of the chickens) wanted them to take to Winnipeg early in the morning, that was the reason why they had to kill them at night. They had no refrigeration. They had to kill the chickens, clean them, &quot ; have them all nicely cleaned&quot ; , and then they had to wrap the head in brown paper, and tie it up so that they wouldn't bleed onto the others. The boys (her brothers) would do it (kill the chickens) in the barn and then bring them to the kitchen table and then Miller's mother and she would pull out the pin feathers and put the wings in the dining room. They had to put saw dust on the floor so that the blood would leak on there until they got there. They tied the heads up later before they sent them back. Miller recalls that she did &quot ; all kinds of stuff&quot ; . She did washing, for some Mennonite people too, but mainly for Jewish people. One lady said to her: &quot ; Would you work for me, I'll give you two dollars a month, and you come everyday to our's.&quot ; Miller could come every time that suited her. When she washed, she went from 8 to 12. She could do other things in the afternoon, like cleaning the upstairs or making the boys' beds, washing the kitchen floor, &quot ; all these little odds and ends I had to do, but then everyday&quot ; . The lady said: &quot ; If I will be satisfied, I'll give you a little present at the end of the month.&quot ; At the end of the month, Miller was very curious what she would get. They (the people she worked for) had a store, they let her pick up material for a dress. She picked out some bright green dress with big white dots. Then she had a dress made out of that. Miller worked at three Gladstones. She also worked for the Danzkers. Later, when she was married, she lived at a rented place where they could rent for two dollars a month. They didn't have any money, there was no money to be earned at that time. Miller did a couple of jobs in Roland, Manitoba, working for English people. At one place, she worked for five dollars a month, she had to do all the spring work, like flattening the garden, whitewashing the chicken barns, milking, everything, to do the whole house cleaning: &quot ; They were not very kind people, they weren't very kind.&quot ; Miller had to get up at 5 in the morning, and lots of times she had to work until 11 at night: &quot ; The lady wasn't very kind.&quot ; The lady always had porridge in a cast iron pot, and the girls (obviously: the lady's daughters) would sleep late, and the pot stood at the stove, and the porridge would dry on. When it came doing the dishes, Miller was out in front of the house, on her knees, trying to get that porridge pot clean. The lady said: &quot ; Oh, you must really take it hard, down on your knees doing the porridge pot.&quot ; Miller was seen as &quot ; this little piece of chore girl&quot ; , and she repeats that she had problems to get the dried on porridge off. Miller stayed there for one month. One day, it was very windy, and the lady had an old tin pail, the ones that were small at the bottom and wider at the top, and the lady sent her for a pail of water, and they had a pump, it was very hard to pump. She hung at the pump and she couldn't pump with one hand, so she took both hands to pump, and it fell off and was damaged at the bottom. And the lady scolded her so hard although the pail had lots of mendings at the bottom already, it had been fixed with many mendings with little screws. Miller said she would pay for the pail but she should stop scolding her. The lady let her go home. That was one place. At another place Miller worked long hours like that. The lady was different but it was threshing time. There were potatoes to be peeled, they were going to get threshers. Miller had to do the washing by hand, with hand power (she shows a picture: &quot ; you can see my little machine there, with a rocker&quot ; ). The lady was going shopping to town and said that Miller wouldn't have to make dinner if the lady's husband didn't come home. They had a big pot of gravy for beef, and the lady and she ate that. Miller did all that washing by hand, wrought it, hanged it and brought it in, and she was supposed to peel those potatoes. Miller prayed that the lady's husband wouldn't come home. She didn't know what to make for dinner, she was only 15: &quot ; Then he didn't come home, and I thanked to Lord that he didn't come home.&quot ; When the lady came home, she asked if Miller had peeled the potatoes. Miller said no, she had done all the laundry, had brought it in to the living room. The lady said that Miller had &quot ; no business going into the living room.&quot ; Miller asked her where she was supposed to put the laundry: &quot ; I don't think you want me to put it in my room, and in the dining room we have the table set for the threshers.&quot ; Miller didn't know where else she could put it, she didn't go into the room, she just put the laundry around the door at the chair. The lady scolded her for that. The lady was very fussy, when someone came over for company, she wouldn't look what she had on the stove. If she had something cooking, and Miller had to go milking: &quot ; She yelled at me, I let that burn on the stove, I said, well, I had to go milking, I didn't know what she had on the stove, she wouldn't stir it while somebody is there.&quot ; &quot ; She was mean to me, and after two weeks, my feet were so sore, and I asked her if she could buy me just a cheap pair of shoes so that I could rest my feet. No, she wouldn't, she said maybe she could find a pair from her girls but she never did. That evening, they got company, and I found out that I had a ride to Winkler.&quot ; Miller told the lady that she would go home. She was supposed to get eight dollars for the two weeks, and the lady said: &quot ; I'm giving you nothing, and she never did.&quot ; Later, Miller heard that she never paid her people anyway &quot ; but nowadays you go after it, then, in those days, if they don't pay, they don't pay.&quot ; This was also in Roland, Manitoba. Miller &quot ; never got nothing&quot ; and was scared to go home as her father was waiting for money, she would come and always had to give her money to him. Her mother said that Miller should better stay in town and work here and there and help her in the house, &quot ; that's much better than being out on the farm. If I would have known how to get home, I would have walked home.&quot ; Miller repeats: &quot ; She said, I'll give you nothing.&quot ; The lady used to tell her to put the potato peelings in the garbage, she told her that they always used to give them to the cows. One day the lady said to her: &quot ; Why do you put the potato peelings in the garbage when you can give them to the cows.&quot ; Asked about how Miller got the job, she recalls that people came to town and she doesn't know exactly how she got it: &quot ; Some people came down and wanted somebody to help on the farm. Of course my parents didn't have much, we were quite poor.&quot ; Miller didn't know the people she would work for before. Miller was glad that she was back home and could do that (working for Jewish families). She also did cleaning for her mother and helped her: &quot ; That was very nice, I liked it much better.&quot ; Miller didn't mind the chicken cleaning either but she didn't like to go out in the night, &quot ; just me among all those men, I didn't like that. 49.181667, -97.939722 12 Locality: Winkler, Manitoba. Pioneer Jewish Settlers of Winkler Monument in Winkler, Manitoba. The names of several families Susana Miller worked for are mentioned there. 1030 Halloween Miller went out &quot ; Halloweening&quot ; with friends. They didn't say just &quot ; Trick or treat&quot ; , they would go in and sing: &quot ; We'd sing for them, we'd earn our treats.&quot ; They always got apples. At Dr. Weed's they got 25 cents cash for the seven of them. The cop's son said: &quot ; Let's give it to Susan, she can buy candy and divide it in seven parts, and bring them to school. Oh, I thought, I was big cheese, you know.&quot ; Miller felt proud of herself. She did that, and they all got their shares. 1085 A burning accident in 1928, parental home in Winkler, MB Miller had an accident in 1928 when she helped her mother to wash. Her mother boiled the laundry first. They had a step outside that was three feet deep, and there was a hole in it, and her mother put a board over the hole so that Miller wouldn't step in there and fall in to her hip: They knew what would happen. The board moved, and Miller fell in, and she scalded her whole leg. They had neighbours that just came that year from Russia. One of them said: &quot ; Susan is so happy, she is jumping around in the yard.&quot ; In reality, if was out of pain. She has deep scars on her leg, she got deep blisters on there. Her mother was never educated, she just lived &quot ; like a slave cleaning houses for others&quot ; . Her mother didn't know much about anything like that, so she sent Miller's brother to the clinic to Dr. Weed. The doctor gave her brother a little brown envelope with powder in it, he didn't write anything on it, and didn't say anything. So her mother &quot ; naturally thought&quot ; that she would have to sprinkle it onto the blisters that were wet and scummy. When the doctor came over, he said: &quot ; Are you ever dum. You were supposed to dilute it in water and wash it with that. Well, couldn't he have said that? He should have said that or write that on there!&quot ; When the doctor examined her, he said that he could not save her, &quot ; he gave me up to die&quot ; . Her mother fanned her with a straw head as Miller's leg burned so much. Her mother put oil over her sore with a chicken feather, and it healed up. Miller spent two weeks in bed, she used a chair with a hole. It was very painful. Some school children came over, and they played post office. The people across the street, an old couple which had the first store in Winkler, and they had no daughter at home during the day (she was going to Winnipeg), so Miller was ask to come over and to comb the lady's hair and fix her food and &quot ; kind of take care of her of them for the day&quot ; . When the accident happened, the old store keeper came over and brought her all kinds of food, although Miller had no appetite. His name was Ben... (not audible). They tried their best to recuperate her. She loved prune plums, they made mouse of them but she had to go to the can all the time. One day, her brother and his wife came over. She had a little bag with jelly beans she had bought, and Miller ate one after another, there wasn't that many. When they had moved to Winkler from their farm, they hadn't known the big stores before, they were just &quot ; flabbergasted&quot ; . The house they moved in had &quot ; electric things&quot ; and had push-buttons for the light switches, it were generator lights because there were no lights in town, there was no power. The doctor had to have power. (Miller is reminded by the interviewer that she has a picture of that house that they bought, and doctor Thiessen was to live there.) Miller recalls that her father had bought that house for 1,200 dollars with everything in it except their personal belongings. Later, they learned that they had made an auction sale and sold half of their stuff. Miller says that they never complained and loved there to be. The house had a veranda (porch) that can be seen at the picture. She has another picture of her standing there. The house had three rooms downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs, and a hall. After her parents' death, the house was sold for 600 dollars, and then it was moved to Second Street, and what happened later, Miller doesn't know. They never had had stairs before, they had to go out to climb up to the attic. They were flabbergasted that they had an upstairs, &quot ; an a walk-in closet even indeed. That was news to us too&quot ; . Miller's mother died in 1951, and her father was taken to a nursing home, so Miller's one brother that was left moved to a hotel and worked there and had a place to live. The house was bought in 1927. &quot ; Here was the wood&quot ; (Miller points at the picture):. &quot ; The boys&quot ; (her brothers) would go and saw wood and sell it for 25 cents a cord. The picture was probably taken around the time Miller's parents bought the house. There was &quot ; an old barn-thing yet at the back there&quot ; . They had a cow and 30 chickens when they moved. The moved the cow tied on a hayrack with some feet on there. She walked long ways to keep the cow going. 1559 School years, married life, children, pregnancy in Steinbeck, MB Miller didn't like going to school in Winkler, she didn't fit in. Another thing: She started school at age six. Miller had &quot ; bad eyes&quot ; , and the nurse said, if she wouldn't get glasses she could be blind but she never got glasses until after she got married. Her class mates said that they didn't want to play with her because she wouldn't see the ball. There was one girl who was from a poor family, she was very kind to her, they were good friends until the end: &quot ; Most of them, you know...I wasn't good enough.&quot ; There was one similar (house?) in the blue block, the 75 block, the Epps lived there, the one who thought that she was so happy when she jumped around following her burning accident. She had another picture, she took it to Michigan, because she moved to Michigan after she married. She had a big place there (she lists the rooms in her house). They could earn more there, they had eight children: &quot ; We moved wherever we got a job after we got married, you know.&quot ; Miller recalls that her son who lived next door was born in Steinbach, Manitoba. She recalls that it was a very lonely time at the Steinbach hospital because she didn't have to do anything. There was a lady next to the hospital who took women in that were pregnant. She was allowed to stay with that lady although Miller didn't have any money, they were living in a shack. The lady had three beautiful children, two boys and a girl: &quot ; The were just so good.&quot ; The oldest boy who was 14 took care of the pail they used as a toilet, he said that this was his job. The second boy, Jake, who was 12 took care that the wood drawer wasn't empty. The lady's mother had a gallstone operation, and Miller doesn't remember anymore whether the lady's mother was 88 and had 80 gallstones or 80 and 88 gallstones. The mother stayed there for night, and one morning, she made dough to bake, and she wouldn't let Miller do any hard work but she let her wash dishes and things like that. Miller was asked to make buns but she never had done that before, and she made it different the lady expected them. The lady's daughter, Emily, was eight, and said: &quot ; Mrs. Miller, I can dust the stairway for you.&quot ; Miller compared the children's behaviour with that of children nowadays: &quot ; Would they offer to do something if they wouldn't have to? Most of them wouldn't.&quot ; Miller repeats how kind the children were, they immediately accepted when they weren't allowed to do something, &quot ; there was no dirty faces&quot ; . The lady's husband was a mover, he moved buildings. The lady always bought lots of material. When she stayed at the lady's place, she would also visit her cousin's wife living next door. When she was invited by another lady for dinner, her water broke and she had to go back where she lived. The lady was so excited because Miller's first child had taken only 20 minutes (that was her second child). The lady said: &quot ; If I had a plane, I would send you across the street with a plane&quot ; . This was 10 minutes to six, and at six o'clock, Miller had a 8.9 pounds boy. Miller said: &quot ; Is this soon enough?&quot ; The doctors never got ready. First, they thought that she must had have beans for supper, she said: &quot ; I didn't have supper yet.&quot ; When the lady came to the hospital at about 6.30, she asked her what she was doing. Miller wrote a letter to her husband to let him know that they had &quot ; a big boy&quot ; : &quot ; They couldn't get over it. Others stays for days.&quot ; No transcript. audio 0



“Interview with Susana Miller (née Doerksen) 1.1,” Local Cultures, accessed February 6, 2023,