I only did this once before, but here is another Mondays with Bean post. Enjoy!
A couple of weeks ago, I shared some excerpts from my great-great grandmother’s journal. Her name was Emma and she lived in western Massachusetts. The journal starts in 1888, and I’ve been retyping May, June and July today and thought I’d share some interesting tidbits.
The very first entry in the journal listed everyone who lived in Emma and her husband Frank’s household. After listing their five children, as well as Frank’s mother and his stepfather, Emma states that there is also a “foreign man and woman.” I don’t know if it’s class snobbery or what that keeps her from referring to them by name in that first entry, but she names them in later entries: Mary and Ferdinand.
Mary and Ferdinand do not appear to be a married couple as I wondered at first. Indeed, only a few weeks into the journal, Emma remarks that “Mary has not been in good humor the past week” and by the next week, Mary announces that she is going to Amherst after a new job that pays $3.00 a week.
Ferdinand sticks around until June 5, 1888, when Emma writes, “Our hired man, Ferdinand, went away today – he intends to go home to Russia and return with his family next spring.” I do not believe that he shows up in the spring of 1889, but I’ll have to keep an eye out and see if his name is ever mentioned again.
In the meantime, Frank and Emma start searching for new hired hands.
[Wed., June 13, 1888] A beautiful day. I have been to So. Hadley to see about getting a girl – but did not think best to take her. I have had a delightful time – left home little before eight and took the 8.20 tr. for Northampton where I stopped to do a little trading then went on to S.H. took dinner at Mr. Lewis Porter’s – he is the Steward at the Fem. Sem. there, then Mrs. P. and I called on Frank Porter’s wife – then went into Williston Hall and the Sem.
At 3 ½ o’c we went to see Miss M. Judd about the girl and met the high school teacher, Mr. Kelly. Miss Judd’s mother is an invalid cannot get about only as she goes in a wheel chair. I left Smith’s Ferry at 5 ½ P.M. waited in N. an hour found Prescott and papa at the depot waiting for me. Mattie stayed at home from school and did her best to help Grandma take care of Susie.
The “Fem. Sem.” is referring to the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary; in 1888, the institution was actually called Mount Holyoke Seminary and College.
In the end, Frank goes to New York and hires a married couple, setting their wages at $25/month, and they are to stay on until December. Similar to her initial journal entry, Emma does not give the couple’s names at first. But then there is this entry a week or so later:
[Mon, July 2, 1888]
Our woman has taken the washing and done it entirely without our help. The first hired help we have ever had that could do their work without being told how at every step.
The very next day: “Louisa has done the ironing.” Apparently her laundry feat earned her a mention by name! A week or so later, and Emma’s mother-in-law gives Louisa lessons in washing clothes in kerosene (19th century dry cleaning). I still haven’t come across Louisa’s husband’s name, but I’m sure that will happen at some point.
Not related to the hired help storyline, but this was a recent intriguing entry I retyped today:
[Fri. July 13, 1888] Cool out of the sun. The children have built a stone fort out by the scales and put up three flags – I suppose they are Harrison flags.
Not quite so windy today. We have been reading of snow-storms on Mt. Washington and damage done by wind and rain on the coast and all about the N.E. and Middle States. The counsel of ministers met in Conway yesterday to decide in regard to the disturbance there. They decided that Mr. Thomas should leave in three months. They had a long meeting lasting until late in the eve. Aunt Fannie called. Mother is not very well. Frank has a lame back. Mowing “lugs heavy” with him. We have used green apples twice this wk. I have been doing mending.
I’m not certain, but the “Harrison flags” could be a reference to President Harrison’s 1840 Presidential campaign. That campaign was before Emma’s birth, but it was the first presidential campaign where a candidate used flags and posters and other such tools to promote his run for office.
I was also curious about the ministerial “disturbance” at Conway (the town where Emma’s parents lived). I imagine it as an American version of the church politics featured in Trollope’s novels. Unfortunately, Emma did not see fit to follow up with more details on this incident and a search through The History of Conway through Google Books did not reveal further details.
[Cover shown is of a different edition]
This is the fourth book I have read by Lee Smith. Generally, I am not diligent about going through the backlist of authors, but Lee Smith’s storytelling abilities have given me confidence that no matter what I pick up of hers, I will be in good hands.
Saving Grace is the story of Florida Grace Shepherd, daughter of a snake-handling itinerant preacher named Virgil Shepherd. Florida’s mother had been a dancing girl in Atlanta, with three children already from a previous marriage, when she met and married Virgil. The story gets its proper start when the family’s car breaks down in the Appalachian region of North Carolina and Virgil takes it as a sign that he should take up his ministry there, up by a place called Scrabble Creek.
In Saving Grace, as with her earlier books, Lee Smith just nails it when it comes to capturing her main character’s years of girlhood. Through Florida Grace’s eyes of credulity, the world is filled with many wonders: her father handles snakes and drinks poison at his tent meetings and once she sees a little girl raised back to life in her family’s kitchen. But Florida also is wary of her father’s religion, and fears that her father will die of snakebite. She tries to establish a normal childhood at school, and covets the life of her best friend Marie. At Marie’s house, the two girls create elaborate horse stories and drink Coca-Colas while watching the television.
These early years are filled with an evocative timelessness. Though various references vaguely place the story in the mid-20th century, it is not until Florida’s engagement to a man in Tennessee that a specific date is mentioned, a date that demarcates between her childhood and her life as a wife and mother.
Florida Grace remains likable throughout the book, though it is no surprise that her parents’ neglect of her as a child leads to an ill-advised marriage and other unwise choices as an adult. I was sorry at first to leave Florida’s childhood behind, as tragic as it was, and leap forward to thirty-three year old Florida, who is on the brink of another bad decision. But Smith’s writing carried me through this plot turn. (Side note: I like how Smith lets her characters be of their time and place, with all the tastes and opinions you would expect of someone in that era.)
As with the other books I’ve read by Smith (and I don’t consider this a spoiler), the book ends with her protagonist returning to her home place, Scrabble Creek. I found the ending to be fitting, except for its abrupt switch into stream-of-consciousness narrative. In an interview included in this edition, Lee Smith said that Florida’s choice at the end of the book was not one that Smith personally wanted for her character, but it seemed the likely decision that Florida would make.
Seeing as how I have mentioned Smith’s writing a number of times, it seems like I should include an excerpt.
People in the Spirit will often act like children – laughing out loud, giggling, patting their feet or clapping, sometimes talking baby talk. I saw old Mrs. Duke Watson, who had to be almost carried into meeting whenever she came, get up and dance the hula. I saw Lily’s mama get up and throw her new baby at the nearest woman she could find, then grasp a copperhead in each hand. I saw my own sister Evelyn dance right down the aisle with a yellow rattler, popping her gum and grinning. Later, she wouldn’t talk about it much. “You do it, Sissy,” she said. “Then you’ll see.”
But I had never been anointed and prayed that I never would be.
I always sat way in the back with Lily, watching what all went on. We played tic-tac-toe on a little pad of paper when things got boring. A lot of the time I got to stay home and keep Troy Lee anyway. Meeting was not really the place for children. God would send for you when He was ready for you.
Excerpts from other’s reviews (all three were culled from Goodreads, as I couldn’t seem to find other book blog reviews):
Lenore – “It’s a book about spirituality and frailty, about how our beliefs shape us and affect our decisions, but it’s also a loving portrait of rural life in the South, told by Grace in an uneducated but compelling narrative. I could almost hear the soft drawl in her speech.”
Sassy – “I love that Lee Smith will write about a character like Gracie and not try to “class her up” so that her tastes or beliefs or thought processes will be socially acceptable for readers who have more money/education/experience. She just is who she is, and she’s probably not like you, the reader, but you will love her and root for her and ache with her anyway.” [This what I was trying to say in my review's paranthetical side note, but Sassy says it much better.]
Vivian – “The first part of the book was interesting up until Grace leaves home. After that, it seemed to move like a run away train. Grownup Grace almost seemed like a totally different character . . . There were also too many absurd characters introduced. The book just seemed to transform from a rural southern bittersweet story into a bizarre twisted Lifetime movie.”
Picking up from where I left off in my last post, our travels brought us to Jordan’s perhaps most famous historical site: Petra. Jen, my sister and I walked from the Siq to the Monastery, with Jen taking a donkey part of the way. Thankfully, despite the previous day’s bout with sickness, we all were able to enjoy our experience of Petra and its many astounding facades, tombs and edifices. This will be primarily a post of photos.
It was definitely a full day at Petra, but well spent.
This trip took place all the way back in April, and I made posts for the first five days and then left off for a while. I feel the itch to complete what I started, even though it’s now November. Part of what drives me to complete is that I really enjoyed my visit to Jordan. The sights were beautiful and almost everyone was really friendly to us there. Jordanian culture highly values hospitality, and we were the happy recipients of that hospitality on multiple occasions.
Links to the earlier posts are located at the end of this entry, but I left off with a description of our visit to Mt. Nebo and the Dead Sea. The day after that trip, my sister, my friend Jen and I drove our rented car down the bleak Desert Highway to Wadi Rum.
Wadi Rum is a protected area full of wondrous sandstone formations. Only three particular bedouin tribes are allowed to operate tours out of Wadi Rum. Wadi Rum looks very similar to some of the American West landscapes, and was a favorite place of T.E. Lawrence’s.
We had booked an overnight tour of Wadi Rum. When we arrived at the village of Rum, we enjoyed some tea in a reception tent before setting off on a jeep tour of Wadi Rum. What the “jeep tour” actually meant was a ride in the bed of a pick-up truck, which had been fixed up with bench seats and a canopy. It was a bumpy ride, but spectacular scenery. Our guide was the tour operator’s nephew and he had us try surfing down a sand dune on a board. (Climbing back up the sand dune after surfing down was extremely tiring and I finally understood the exhaustion of desert travelers in movies, where they are depicted as slogging through the sand.)
Other activities involved scrambling up to some natural rock bridges. My sister was like a mountain goat and did most of the climbing in her bare feet. I was the one hanging back from the more precarious spots. On our tour, we also saw some cool petroglyphs of people and camels – a few were located in this lovely shaded ravine, a spot I particularly enjoyed, maybe because it didn’t involve heights!
Our jeep tour deposited us at our camp for the night. The three of us would be sharing a tent room; each of us had a sturdy cot and plenty of blankets. We enjoyed some tea again, and then scattered ourselves among the neighboring rock formations to watch the sun set over the desert. Dinner was plentiful and delicious, prepared by the guide’s wife who we had had the privilege of meeting earlier. We were joined at dinner by other tourists: a British couple and their adult son as well as a Jordanian man, his German wife, their son and her parents.
After dinner, my sister, Jen and I went out to the rock formations again to look at the stars over the desert. My sister and I come from a musical family and Jen is also a singer, so we felt moved to sing songs out into that big space. I particularly remember that Jen sang Sara Bareilles’ “Once Upon Another Time“ and it sounded very pretty and haunting; I was also impressed by Jen’s memory as she sang the whole thing. I count this time under the stars in Wadi Rum as one of the best experiences in my life.
The next morning, we took a long camel ride back to the village of Rum, with a guide who walked the whole way back next to the camels. My camel was the lead camel. The other two camels wanted to run, but mine was more interested in eating plants out of the ground and I wasn’t enough of a disciplinarian to stop her. We did let the camels run a couple of times but it was a bit too much jostling for my taste.
Our visit to Wadi Rum ended on a somewhat distressing note when the three of us accidentally witnessed an unpleasant interaction while returning from the camel paddock. So we were contemplative and sad when we left Wadi Rum.
We arrived late in the afternoon in Aqaba and stayed with an American family that my sister knew. It was very warm as we walked by the Red Sea. We stopped by an outdoor market called the Souk by the Sea, which had been decorated with lighted paper stars. We lingered to hear some live music and all in all, had a pleasant evening.
Unfortunately, early the next morning, I woke up feeling sick to my stomach. Jen also felt unwell. My sister fortunately felt fine. Since we had all ordered the very same thing at the restaurant the night before, we did not think it was food poisoning. We had planned to go out on the Red Sea in a glass-bottomed boat, but we scrapped all of our Aqaba plans and just lay about our rooms feeling miserable. My sister played nursemaid. I craved applesauce (the one food I can tolerate when I’m nauseated) to the point of fixation, but managed to get down some oatmeal.
While my body was inert, my mind was frantic with the idea that the next day (day 9) was our day in Petra, and I did not know how to make myself feel well. Jen seemed to be coping somewhat better than I, though I don’t think she was any less sick. In the late afternoon of day 8 (which I now think of as the Lost Day), we drove to our hostel outside of Petra. The several hour drive felt tortuous as I tried to curl up in the backseat over sometimes bumpy roads. The hostel owner was very nice and chatty and I wished I could respond with more than baleful looks from the lobby armchair where I had dropped myself.
Later, while I was cocooned underneath blankets in our hostel room, my sister made a little pile of gently bland crackers and tea biscuits on my nightstand, which she had scavenged from a nearby convenience store. She watched Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief on the television set in our room. I woke up several times and began to feel less terrible each time. The next morning, Jen and I, while not at 100%, proclaimed ourselves fit enough to take on Petra, which I will post about next time.
In case you’re curious, here are the links to the other trip posts:
The results are in and #10 was the number picked for the Classics Club Spin event. From my list of twenty books created last week, Peter Fleming’s 1933 travel memoir, Brazilian Adventure was chosen to be the book I will commit to reading by January 1, 2014.
From the Goodreads description: “In 1932, Peter Fleming, a literary editor, traded his pen for a pistol and took off as part of the celebrated search for missing English explorer Colonel P.H. Fawcett. With meager supplies, faulty maps, and packs of rival newspapermen on their trail, Fleming and his companions marched, canoed, and hacked through 3,000 miles of wilderness and alligator-ridden rivers in search of the fate of the lost explorer.”
I first heard of Brazilian Adventure from Jenny’s 2012 review at Shelf Love, and her review convinced me that the book should go on to my to-read list. Excerpt from her review: “Fleming tells his story with style, in an offhand, witty-banter sort of way that makes you feel as if Peter Wimsey at his most urbane were ushering you up the Amazon. He talks as if piranhas are a big disappointment because they didn’t even try to devour him the second he dropped a pinky in the river”.
Based on my enjoyment of books such as Redmond O’Hanlon’s Into the Heart of Borneo, I think that Brazilian Adventure and I will get along swimmingly.
Also, two cool facts: Peter Fleming was the older brother of Ian Fleming, creator of James Bond. And Peter Fleming married Celia Johnson, the actress who starred in the wonderful David Lean film, Brief Encounter.
A check of my local library’s catalog did not yield the book, so I will probably end up buying it used online.
Several years ago, I came across a copy of my great-great grandmother’s journal. My great great grandmother’s name was Emma Tilton Richards and she lived in Williamsburg, Massachusetts. The journal was kept from 1888 to 1902. In 1933, someone had transcribed the original diary on a typewriter and then later someone else made photocopies of the typewritten version. A few weeks ago, I asked to borrow this copy of the journal so that I could copy it over into a Word document. I know that scanning the journal and using some sort of free OCR (optical character recognition) technology might be faster, but it would possibly be less accurate, and frankly, more boring. I enjoy the immersion experience that re-keying the journal provides.
So far I’ve copied through April 1888. In the journal, Emma and her family (husband Frank and five kids, plus Frank’s parents who live with them) often seem to embody the expected vision of hardworking, rural New England life. Frank spends the first few months of 1888 packing the region’s apples into train cars to be shipped to New York City and elsewhere. In the early spring, the oldest son, Prescott, collects sap from a tree on their property and they make maple syrup. Emma’s mother-in-law seems to be regularly making pies, cakes and fried doughnuts. They ride about in sleighs.
At the same time, between the children and the adults, someone is usually not feeling well. And Emma shares in the universal woes of parents everywhere, as she expresses in one entry: “This has been one of the days I’ve accomplished nothing. The children have all stayed indoors.” They also must contend with the great blizzard of 1888:
[Tues., Mar. 13 1888] Wind blows fearfully all the time. We are drifted in completely; between the house and barn drifts higher than a man’s head and in front of the house it is so high that we cannot see out unless we look through the upper sash. The roads look as though we should not see many travellers at present.
[Fri., Mar. 16, 1888] Pleasant. Grandpa has walked to the village this P.M. but no mails in yet – only as they have been brought by hand. General blockade of business all over N.E. and York State – even as far So. as Washington the storm was quite severe.
[Sat., Mar. 17, 1888] Pleasant and not very cold. Mother baked bread, and ginger snaps and fried doughnuts. Grandpa walked to the village again this P.M. One team passed here today that had been all day coming from Conway. Frank came tonight giving us all a surprise. Left his horse in Huntington. He was blocked in Chester Hill until Thurs. P.M.
Emma’s life was touched by tragedy early on (before the time of the journal) when the Mill River flood of 1874 claimed the lives of a younger brother and her maternal grandmother. And in November of 1890, her nine-month-old baby Ruby died after a period of sickness. Though I haven’t copied over that part of the journal yet, I have read it. The journal goes silent after Nov. 9, 1890 and does not resume until Dec. 1st, when Emma then writes a long, sad entry about Ruby’s death. The sadness of the entry stands out especially because Emma’s ‘voice’ in the journal, while never unemotional, generally tends to stay very New England practical. Here is an excerpt of that entry:
“. . . I kept thinking she would better if we could only keep her strength up – so Mon. morn the 24″ I wrote to mother that Prescott and Ruby seemed better. But Ruby breathed her last at about 10 o’c that A.M. . . . She has gone up higher. The medicine did not work on her at all as the Dr. hoped it would, and I do not know as any human power could have saved her.
I know “it is well with the child,” but seems as though the lonesomeness and heartache would kill me. She had grown to be so lively and pretty. She would put both little hands on my face and kiss and love me and say mam- mam, mam -
We all felt fairly stunned by the blow, but we went about making ready for the funeral. Grandpa took Mr. Sanderson’s horse and drove to Conway & Frank went to Florence to get a casket and to make other arrangements. Mrs. Sanderson came up with things needful to do some baking.
Grandma washed Ruby and laid her out. I stood by and held her head and gave her the clothes. Then I made up the cradle clean and mother put her in and we carried her into my entry where it was cool.”
Re-reading the above journal entry is even more moving now that I’ve been copying over the journal, because I feel quite familiar with and fond of my ancestor, her family, and her neighbors.
As a way to experience history, reading this journal has been a fascinating portal into late 19th century American life. I probably would be faster at copying over the entries if I didn’t keep stopping to research some term, event or person online. I’ve learned that the apples they harvested were likely dominated by the Baldwin variety, which was very popular at the time. Emma proudly mentions opening up a barrel of Baldwins with “not a decayed one to be seen.” The variety waned in popularity during the early 20th century and then a hard winter wiped out most of the great Baldwin orchards in the 1930′s, though it is a variety that still exists today. My dad, who has cultivated apple trees, said he had a Baldwin once.
The Prohibition movement is mentioned several times – I know Emma mentions a rally, and I think in 1889 she mentions that there is a vote on the issue for the Massachusetts state constitution. Nearby Smith College was still quite a new institution and is referenced a number of times in the journal. A minister mentioned in passing – a Mr. Thorndike – was likely, based on time and place, the father of Edward Thorndike, a man I hadn’t heard of before but who is apparently considered a pioneer in the field of educational psychology.
Delving into this journal has been an exciting project – to the readers out there, have you also come across an ancestor’s diary or letters? What cool things have you learned by reading them?