Edna Staebler: A Life
I have a little book in my library entitled Sauerkraut and Enterprise. It contains a series of stories around the lives of a family of Old Order Mennonites in the Kitchener-Waterloo area of Southern Ontario. The author of the book was Edna Staebler, who was best known for writing a series of cookbooks with the word Schmecks (roughly meaning tasty, yummy) in the titles.
One day I was browsing the recommended for you section on my Kindle. In it I came across a biography entitled: Edna Staebler: A Life. The book, by Veronica Ross is subtitled, To Experience Wonder. The subtitle was what caught my eye. Edna Staebler’s life kept me captivated.
To Experience Wonder:
Edna Staebler serves as a great example of the idea that if you want to be a good writer, the most important thing you can do is write. Staebler wasn’t marked out as a literary talent from an early age. Those closest to her never figured she would never become one. Her marriage was difficult. Her husband was for most of their married life an alcoholic and serial cheater. Yet in many ways she fulfilled the role of the ideal, supportive wife.
Being a supportive wife meant being involved in community functions. Through these, Staebler, who made friends very easily, developed many friendships. Most of these friendships endured. Her ability to forgive was one of the reasons for this. Although, not everything in her life could be forgiven.
This showed through in the ending of some of the friendships. One in particular was the changing point of her life. When Earl Bailey one of her friends, misunderstood the intent behind her letters to him, Staebler ended up at the village of Neil’s Harbour, which became her inspiration as a writer. Here she truly experienced wonder. A wonder than shone through in her writing.
While her writing about Neil’s Harbour was very good, Edna Staebler had trouble finding a publisher. Yet, she kept on writing. Gradually she found her writing being published in magazines. Most of here stories involved her time spent in various communities. There were Hutterites, the people of Neil’s Harbour, among others. Most importantly there were the Old Order Mennonites around Kitchener-Waterloo.
At the age of 60, the first Schmecks cookbook was published, and Staebler became a literary star. What made the books so popular was that readers felt an intimate connection with Staebler even if they had never met her. The ability to feel wonder, shone through in Staebler’s writing.
Yet Staebler wasn’t naive. She had a sharp business mind. She would track the performance of her books. She tirelessly promoted her books. Even to the point of asking bookstores, why they weren’t being carried, or why they weren’t more prominently displayed.
Edna Staebler didn’t receive much support as a writer in her early life. Yet in later years she received great recognition. Along with this she gained the friendship of such noted writers as Pierre Berton and Margaret Atwood. Once she achieved success, Staebler was generous in helping other writers. She established the Edna Staebler Award for creative non-fiction. She also was constantly meeting visitors at her cottage outside of town.
Driven by her sense of wonder, Edna Staebler became a role model for all writers. She wrote because she felt she had to. She persevered when few believed in her. She was generous to all other writers she met.