Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Keeping A Record of Our Days

Post # 500 in my blogging venture.

Morning's Minion is a few months short of marking its 4th year.
When I created this on-line journal I didn't expect that I would post every day;  I did think I would add at least a few lines and photos every other day.
Its not that I lack inspiration for entries--it is the old bug-bear of quality time which defeats me.
I have 'written in my head' for almost as long as I can remember.
By that, I mean that stories, commentaries, observations, play through my mind while I work at other things, in something the way that music can play externally in a room  while we
sing along absent-mindedly.
I doubt that my family, friends, or blog followers feel any lack regarding the thoughts which don't move from the back of my mind to the computer screen.
It is I who feel cheated in some obscure way when I fail to record the thoughts, impressions,  and small happenings of a day.

The journalistic essay has long been one of my favorite forms of reading.
Often the authors of such books [usually fairly small and following a yearly or seasonal pattern]
have published work in other writing genres.
The most appealing of these authors have a gift for keen observation, combined with a rich vocabulary and
and a knack for presenting the details of 'everyday' in a way which befriends us, makes us feel that we are involved, wanting to know the sequels, the outcomes of the writer's trials and joys.

Several of Grampa Mac's diaries.

I made several attempts to keep a diary--hasn't every young girl?
I don't recall that I ever made it through a full year.
Entries might have veered from self-focused recitals of teenage angst to pedestrian accounts of homework assignments to utter daydreaming..
One could never forget that 'Dear Diary' might be subjected to discovery and ridicule!

My Grampa Mac kept a diary for most of his long life.
I suspect he may after taken on the habit after the death of my grandmother when they were in their early 40's.  I have several which belonged to her.
Surprisingly, her entries were almost as lacking in emotion as his.
Grampa Mac faithfully recorded the weather---important to a farmer.
He made particular mention if the weather or season seemed to be out of kilter.
Here again, this may have been deliberately done for practical reasons.
Any number of times when I fumed as a child--protesting that spring was delayed, winter arriving too early, the weather too cold, too hot, too wet--Grampa Mac would select several diaries from the stash in the living room cupboard, and opening to the relevant date would make comparisons.
Flipping through the pages, reading aloud, passing another volume over for me to decipher his penciled scrawl, he would usually conclude that there was 'nothing new under the sun'--his record proved that the seasons were progressing pretty much in their usual way.

Grampa Mac's entries noted the weekend visits of relatives from 'across the lake,'
his own infrequent [by today's standards] trips to the bank, the milkplant, feedstore, or the twice monthly outing to buy groceries in the nearest town of some size.
He recorded when gardens were plowed, seeds sown, crops harvested and put away. He mentioned the 'freshening' of a milk cow, the necessity of calling the veterinarian, the amount of milk shipped, the cords of wood hauled in and stacked for winter.
My two younger sisters and I, living next door, were in and out of his house whenever we weren't in school, yet our presence was noted and written down if we stayed over for supper or kept him company on his round of farm chores.
Often, paging through his cryptic entries I find myself encountering memories I haven't revisited in years. A single line opens the wellspring of long ago days and nights, completely furnished with details of sight, scents, heat or cold---almost the sound of loved voices.
[Reading one of the entries for April 30, I learned these many decades later that our old dog, Muffin, called 'Mutt' by Grampa Mac, had been struck and killed by the milk truck.  We were told none of the sad details, only that she had died and been decently buried.]

In my keeping are  the diaries of my late friend Esther Jane, a faithful diarist with a flair for writing.
Like Grampa Mac, she noted the weather and seasons. She also listed birds observed, flowers in bloom, books she was reading, the many letters received and answered.
She allowed herself some devastatingly honest comments on the personalities and foibles of friends and neighbors--comments she was too courteous to readily share aloud.
She also detailed the marriage proposal of a recovering patient with the dismissal that men of a certain age were apt to fancy themselves in love with their caregiver!
I knew her when she had retired from years of working as a registered nurse and when she had given up bee-keeping, a venture she had once shared with her father.
Always outwardly cheerful, deflecting queries about her health or welfare, the journals of the last years spent in her own home betray her concerns about the price of coal, the frugalities she practiced, the times when frailties beset her.
My blog, as any reader has discovered, is by my own definition a 'rag-bag' of observations, memories, family stories, the joys and exasperations of my quiet days.
Some of what I consider my better 'journalistic essays' exist as Word Docs on my PC or as printed  pages, a few, rarely, have been kept in spiral notebooks.
Will someone be interested in some future year?
A grandchild, perhaps?
As an amateur genealogist, how I have wished that my mother had kept the letters she exchanged with her aunts and her cousins, competant writers all of them, who knew how to share their days in a manner which strengthened family ties.
I cherish the handwritten notes prepared for me by Aunt Lizzie and the wonderful fragments of stories which have come to me through her son, my Cousin Tom.
Cousin Barb shares newspaper clippings and copies of yellowed old photos from the collection begun by our mutual great-grandmother; it was added to by her grandmother who served as the correspondant for her neighborhood, gathering the details of weddings, funerals, visits, chimney fires--all the goings on a
small rural hamlet.
My digital camera, my PC, the world of internet and blogging would be a puzzle to those faithful scribes who  preserved of their eras, using fountain pen, hand-sharpened pencil,
clattering manual typewritter, pasting newspaper cut-outs into a scrapbook.
Keeping a record of my days, one way or another, is simply keeping up a family tradtion.


  1. Gosh - is it really 4 years since we first "met"? I think you and I could just swop books all day long and both enjoy each other's choices (mind you, some of my favourites came from you anyway!)

    I always try and temper what I write on my blog. Some things make me very angry, but I don't like to share anger on my blog. (House selling might be that exception!!!)

    On the other hand, I cannot write a totally sweetness and light blog, because life just isn't like that. I guess it is a balance.

    Grampa Mac wrote about the things which mattered to him on a day to day basis. Esther Jane could write more openly in her journal (which I would be inclined to do - I could have said some VERY choice things about Next Door when he was being so objectionable).

    I hope that something of me comes out in my blog. Certainly something of you comes across and I just know we would get on like a house on fire if we ever met.

  2. What an interesting post, I'm afraid I'm not the stuff of which journal keepers are made. I've tried every so often but life gets busy and I don't keep it up. Blogging is the nearest I can come and it's more a record of places I've been and the countryside around me than a proper diary. I believe you can have a blog turned into a book and I keep meaning to investigate the possibilities. Every so Often I look back at what I've written and it brings back memories of lovely days with detail I'd forget if it wasn't written down. I see you have some of Gladys Taber's books, I've just ordered Stillmeadow Sampler from Abebooks and intend to get more of hers too. The Hal Borland one looks good too, anything that records the seasons appeals to me and I've intended to look for his books. Both these authors are more difficult to find in the UK of course but anything I really want I'll get from a US seller:) Oh dear - I've written an essay rather than a comment. Sorry about that:)

  3. How wonderful that you have your grandfather's journal. I have a few letters and postcards from the past and would love to have more. I found that my mother had saved all of my letters home from a three-month period that I was a new bride with my sailor husband in Portsmouth, VA. I took the most interesting parts, added photos and made up a binder for my children. Kind of interesting for them to see Mom as a 20-year-old.

  4. Congratulations on making it to four years! I'm grateful that you have shared your lovely prose and images with us. Your blog is nice and calming. Love Gladys Taber, too.

  5. I find diaries fascinating, tried to keep one as a young teenager, my older sister found it and took it to school and read it to people.
    Blogging is my diary, though I don't put as much personal stuff as i've read in other blogs.
    None of my relatives left journals, my Mothe-in-law left some letters, I hope I leave more for my daughter.

  6. Congratulations on four years! I'm not much of a journalist myself; I'm hoping my blog will serve to chronicle the changes in our lives are we move into full retirement mode.

    The Gladys Taber books bring back memories-I was introduced to them by my mother years ago-I think I may re-read some of those!

  7. I have finally ordered Hill Song which you recommended a while ago!
    And I have an Edwin Way Teale book on tap for this summer.
    I keep meaning to read Hal Borland.
    And I do love Sue Hubbell's book.
    I think you do a great job 'keeping up' the family tradition!