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Last year when we were sorting through piles of paper in Grandma and Aunt Ruthie’s attic, I found this: just one leaf from a tablet my Grandma Longenecker began as a diary. She may have intended to add more.

 

 

Grandma’s Diary: the unedited transcription:

Wed., Apr 1, 1931. Today is a day long to be remembered. It blowed and rained all night. All the chickens were stolen out of the chicken house, and hens and two roosters were in the barn and that’s what left. Also 9 of Rays rabbits are gone. Two State Troopers were here to investigate.

After recovering from this shock, H. R. [my Grandpa Henry] accompanied E. F. Groff [Elmer Groff, a neighbor] and wife to E-town and this property was transferred to us. To sooth our sorrows we [Anna G. and I] made Easter eggs, our success was fine. In the evening Clayton Nolt was here from Bird-in-Hand, and on top of all our luck (hard and otherwise), sold H. R. and Son 12 Cloverhill Brand Rabbits. I am quilting Ruthie [my aunt] a little pink quilt.

Apr. 2, Ironed and mended this a.m. also quilted a little, after dinner H. R. and I plant 6 cherry trees, 3 sour & 3 black. Norman Rutt gave us the trees, Hope this one and many generations can enjoy them.

 

My thoughts: Theft of any kind was rare in those days in rural Lancaster County. Imagine: State troopers responding to a stolen chicken/rabbit call! Also, I remember Grandma referring to Grandpa as “H. R,” who died when I was five. I wonder if such a formal reference reflected her esteem of him, or the age difference, her husband fifteen years her senior.

 

Ruthie’s Diaries and More . . .

We found Aunt Ruthie’s diaries near the bottom of her painted chest in the bedroom. They present a quandary, however. Most of them are written in pencil, the script fading over the years. How to retrieve, restore? That is the question.

Nevertheless, I discovered some intriging “finds” paging through the diaries: two 4-leaf clovers, some corny cartoons, and drawings in the article “Make Your Own Bird Houses” from Ladies Home Journal, March, 1932.

 

Mennonite Women Write

Author Siegrist, one of my students at Lancaster Mennonite School, published this well-documented volume in 1996.

 

Joanne Hess Siegrist, in her book Mennonite Women of Lancaster County: a Story in Photographs from 1855 – 1935, remarks that “Journaling, diaries, and intimate conversation were far removed from their thinking or practice.”  (7, 8)

A lot of women did talk freely with each other, but they were insistently private about “in house” subjects. “In house” usually meant husband/wife or parent/child conflicts. In their social circles and family gatherings, women covered a wide range of issues and feelings, yet they usually upheld the “in house” standards. Some burned family diaries when their relatives died, believing that they were too private even to share with extended family and close friends.

 

Some women were depressed, despondent, and dysfunctional, and they carried their anxieties privately. There were saintly, healthy women who took their Christian faith so seriously that they shied away from church sewing circles for fear of gossiping as they sewed their relief projects. They visited homebound sick and elderly persons and read the Bible to them.

 

 

A Rule from author Abigail Thomas I’ve Broken

Thomas’ Thinking About Memoir

Abigail Thomas’ moment of truth in Thinking About Memoir, back cover

Rules of diary keeping   Don’t read anyone else’s. Don’t leave yours lying around. There should be stuff in your diary that is nobody’s business but your own. (14)

 

What I Read Last week . . . You are invited to read my review here with an explanation for the odd title . . .

 

 


 

Do you keep a diary or journal?

Is it locked?

Can you add to Thomas’ rules about diaries?

Are you holding on to family diaries? Do you have suggestions for restoring faded pages?

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