Monday, October 02, 2017

Susan's Notes

Still plowing through my great great grandmother’s dairies.  This is Susan in 1887, three years before here death at 47.

I am continually blown away by her writing.  It turns out I am not alone….and she did not write just for herself.  She had doz
ens of articles published in Ladies Home Journal, American Housekeeping, newspapers, etc.  One of her diaries popped up on Antiques Road Show….the family tried to buy it from the owner…..He is demanding $10,000.  Prick.

Also it turns out she suffered from crippling rheumatoid arthritis her entire life.  She started writing at age 10 in 1852, but we don’t have copies of her diaries until 1855.  From there she has a continuous body of work until 1885 or so, when she probably could no longer hold a pen.

Susan was a dedicated enough writer that her diaries are written on almost anything she could lay her hands on.  Paper was not always available, nor ink.  She made her own, sometimes sewing together checks and writing on the backs.

Time writing had to be “stolen” from her regular day….early in the morning or late at night.  At times it was so cold in the house that the ink froze, and she had to relight the fire to thaw it out before she could start.  Her with arthritis, trying to hold a pen.

She lived for 48 years and had thirteen children.  Her two oldest died in her arms: one burned to death and one from rabies.  She never really got over them.  She constantly blamed herself, and constantly talks about how she is failing God, her family, her community and herself. 

She had plenty of help feeling like a failure.  Her husband George was a domineering prick who constantly demeaned her and humiliated her in front of her family and visitors.  Prick.

Starting in 1882 when she was 40 she started going back over her old work and copying, editing and commenting on it.

Here are some random bits

Re-copying this, I wonder that I have lasted so many years, through so many babies, through my never-ending pain of rheumatoid arthritus, and the peculiar habits and demands of my parents and husband. My only consolation has been my writing, and the writing in my Journal in particular.
            I wrote on blue foolscap with ink that on many occasions had to be thawed by the fire before I could use it. But I remember with solemnety the uncontrollable joy I felt when my father presented me with my first JOURNAL.
            Now, I think there is sometimes a better employment for a girl than journal writing, if like this one, it is done at late hours and in a morbid state of mind. For some reason I cannot regret having written what I did. How an old journal revises one's memory. Some of my forgotten faults are recorded to teach me some humility I might have forgotten. Some pleasant things of others told that blunts some unpleasant remembrance of them. The singleness of purpose of my early days stimulates present devotion and some of the mistakes of youth bid me be patient and kind to m own children, but yet I perceive that while I wrote what seemed to me the most worthy of record, I only incidentally expose the deep feelings that stayed longest and most influence my memory of the time.
            I think I was thoroughly earnest and honest in what I wrote but some things I did not understand in myself or they were too deep for words or too private for record and description. I feel tempted now to add a word of comment sometimes, but fear it might not be fair and I hope in making extracts to choose those that are truly representative.
The most remarkable things noted are the steady endeavor to be merciless to my own faults, the great amount of work; school, meetings, writing and lovemaking to which I was assigned; poor health, late hours, loss of independence of thought, love of reading, etc. These things I note in 1882.

Reading over my old Journals sometimes gives me great pain and brings tears to my eyes - for many different reasons - and there have been times when I went for years without writing in them at all.
            I am very tired tonight. I am sick, too, and never again may be even half well. I struggle to note things in my brain so that I may put them in my latest Journal, which may be my last. I have many things to say, but no time to think. Human things occupy my time, my attention, care and work. I want to convey to my children how they should live even when I am no longer here to help them. The mistakes I made, I wish them to avoid. It is nowhere easier to blame myself than in my journals, unless it be in my prayers.

(Her daughter Margaret Amanda Tallmon was born January 30, 1878.)

Feb. 24th, 1878. I come to my journal as to a confidential and helpful friend, though in it I suppose, I "only commune with myself."
            I have a baby girl, not deformed or defective, so far as we can see, and I am very slowly recovering from a slow but not difficult confinement. For a few days there was no change in my state of mind. Since strength begins to return, though, I feel as if I were going from my darling Ada by returning to health, rather than by dying; still I am recovering slight ability to rest in faith in God and Heaven and Immortality and Christ for which I thank God, and so I come nearer to her - my poor dear child, my Darling!
            I have prayed earnestly for FAITH; for HELP; and now I ask for WISDOM and STRENGTH in the duties I must consider especially mine. My duty to my husband, owing to his peculiar disposition and training as well as mine, though perhaps not what I once thought them are as important as any and I pray to perform them aright. My duty to my 7 diverse healthy living children no mother could ignore. Their souls, their habits of feeling and thought, their mental growth and social culture and bodily welfare will be near to me, but God has taught me I am not strong enough to bare HIS responsibility.
            What other duty have I, if any - except to keep myself well, that I may do my work properly!

March 1st, 1878
Been up several days. Feel very lame and rather discouraged. How very dirty the house seems, and I feel as if I never would have strength in my back to do anything. It hurts me even to carry my little six pound baby, poor little darling. She weighed four pounds at first and is so much smaller than the other babies that I know.

I have been reading a tribute written about me by Clara. In part, it reads, "Being often sick, of course, she is sometimes sad, yet she strives to keep trust in her heart and not to drive out hope, and by the way, as we go she gathers up many a basket-full of the crumbs of comfort 'that nothing be lost.'
            I could not speak after hearing Clara read that tribute and felt that I was not worthy of her praise. She looked up at me with such love that my only reaction was to kiss her soft cheek.
            It is true that I am often sick, as she has said. My neighbors usually and my husband at times do not like to think of my illness as a sickness and in fact, I try to emphasize the humor in the situations which rheumatism causes. Someday I shall write an essay on that subject.

It is not unusual to spend a day such as one not long ago . . . With Charley helping me, I cleared out the rubbish, the corn, oats, etc. upstairs - removed the carpet and bed from the sitting room, made up a new bed in the clothes press, put one in Charley's room and ours in the bedroom. After George had retired at night, I swept, mopped, churned, packed a barrel of pork, etc. I made 14 pies a week ago. There are none left, now. Am baking bread and ironing today. Had a late breakfast and I did not begin to iron much before noon. At 1 p.m. George came in and asked if I was not going to get any dinner. I asked if he was hungry and he said "No, not particularly." I was about to stop ironing and get his lunch when I remembered that I was scolded on Monday for not making overhauls and jackets; on Tuesday for not mending coats and on Wednesday for not mending drawers and stocking, and I said to myself I had a right to choose what I should be scolded about and never having tried the way of telling him to eat a lunch when I was busy, I let him do it today.
            Somehow I feel more independence every time I take my own part in these quarrels. I long for the time women shall vote. Her common opinions will carry more weight, even if no more worthy than now.

1858. She was 16.  Let’s just say her mother was distant and judgemental.

            I vowed, after I was married, that none of my children would feel so far from me and that their problems should be brought to me so that I might help in a constructive way. My wish for them was that they might be educated where they wanted to be and to have an open and happy life.
            I remember each morning I would have such a hard time waking up because I had stayed up too late at night writing or reading, usually without my parents' consent. My trundle bed was pulled out from Mother's, just by the curtain into our living room. When she got up, I had to get up, too. I tried to dress fast, but it nearly always took me a half-hour. Then, before I was ready to read in my testament, I was called to my work.
            After milking, I could eat breakfast and then drive the cattle to the end of the lane near Mr. Neal's; return, wash dishes, comb my hair, dress for school and get there after it had commenced and spend recess playing ball for "exercise," noon hour, writing compositions or studying, and after school hasten home to help get supper or milk and wash dishes.
            We had prayer-meeting three nights a week and sometimes an extra meeting of some kind, and if the weather permitted, I went and returned between ten and eleven. If I stayed home I had sewing or letters to write. Papers were sent me that I must read until as a usual thing, ten or eleven o'clock when the others would retire. Then, my BIble and my Journal. But Father would tell me I should not write and very often I neglected writing for several days. Every night I read my three chapters for the good of my soul and then, extinguishing the candle, I knelt and tried to fix my mind on things above. Too weary, wanting sleep, sad, and feeling dreary (half-sick) I would pray that I might not perish.
            On Sundays, too, if I attended meeting at Linn Grove school-house, I stayed to class, returned home, helped get dinner and afterwards went to Sunday School at the Amity school-house without having my lesson prepared to teach my class. Then I came home to read, write in my diary for several days' news, and if there was a prayer-meeting or preaching at the school-house, attend, and after this make an analysis of all the sermons I had heard.

            Despite husband George’s pretty terrible emotional abuse, she still loved him.  Here is a letter from late 1881. She was 39 years old.

Dear Love . . . When I went to bed last night leaving the children, I thought I could get up this morning by my warm "stove pipe" and with less noise, write. When I woke I found the air cold, my fire smothered by the damper being shut tight and the house door unfastened if not open. I have called Georgie and dressed myself, putting on a cloak and glove sitting down to write with no fire as I can't spend time to build it, and yet I feel so chilly I fear I do wrong. I have very lame hands and a lame back so that I would have it blistered if only you were here to help me. The girls are kind and ready to wait upon me, but are needed at work.
            When the children came from school last night I had their supper partly ready and they need not have been so late at the work, but I had several errands for them. Angie wanted to write, I had to go to bed, and Clara and Susie must have played a long time. Angie talks of a party still. I don't see how it can be possible without a good hired girl. Work accumulates every day. The mending and the ironing - the house-cleaning, then the extra fixing if she has company. There is new sewing on the machine, waiting and I do not feel able to run the machine. Lucy's birthday dress cost 50c and will cost as much more to make. The picture of the Kindergarten cost 50c more. I thought of getting Susan a small rocking chair for her birthday. She holds and rocks baby and there is no stool or child's chair left now. I don't know what to get Angie. Perhaps a $15 cloak would console her for loss of party. Cloaks and bonnets are very high. Mrs. Kemper sold a cloak for $65.00 a few days ago. Angie needs overshoes, mittens and a hood. If baby is not worse, I must spend a couple of hours at father's this after-noon. I have just glanced over last Sunday's letter from you.
            It will almost pay to have had you away this summer if, hereafter you are more content in consequence to endure the care and pain of us. I consider my helpless hands rather sadly, and think how gladly I would do for you, my dear, if only I were able, but there is no use in wishing or promising or regretting.
            Yes, as you say - love and service are the highest words in earth or Heaven. It may be, it MUST at the last day seem to have been our highest privilege on earth to have shared such motives and work.
            I will say here that I dearly love you and long to see you again at home. Yet, Dear, I truly fear that I am not equal to the duties that I should do and would - oh so gladly -
                                    As ever yours,
If I had known in 1852 that I would be plagued with almost an entire life-time of a lack of suitable paper or that the ink would freeze solid on icy mornings and have to be thawed before use, I am sure I would not have wasted so much time in writing every thought in my Journal. Never once did I suspect that I would become a bride and mother to a houseful of children. Now that I am old without hope of becoming much more than I now am, I should confess that I have hopes that some of my grandchildren will find my life interesting and will not judge my mizerably unhappy expressions during the earlier parts of this diary.
Much of my time has been spent in writing when others thought I should have been doing something important. It was, at times, my only friend, and I suppose I will continue writing in this old friend until I die; telling my Journal all my secret thoughts. I cannot but help to feel that at some future time, some child or grandchild will read these pages and cry with the silly child who cried here and laugh with the grown-up woman who wrote here, and ignoring my mistakes in thought and deed, will learn something about the person I was and have come to be.

You have your wish, Susan.