I was sent the most unexpectedly moving gift a few weeks ago when my aunt mailed me a box containing some of my paternal grandmother’s diaries and cookbooks. Grammie died when I was very young, so I really didn’t know her at all. I didn’t give much thought to the books before they arrived; I expected that they might hold some of her favourite recipes and notes about important village events. I wasn’t expecting anything quite as delightful or moving as what I received. I opened the first diary in the pile to September 1953. My father was a year and a half old and had already survived meningitis. The TB bus visited the school. A department store had a fire. Some people would absolutely find the entries dull at best - borrowing Florence’s upholstery cleaner to clean the couch, washing everything in the dish cupboard, so-and-so stopping in for the evening, the day’s weather.
I had the most magical feeling of sacred time travel as I read through pages of births, deaths, and illness alongside the more mundane details of daily life. The sense of community life in a tiny fishing village, and the joys and sorrows of being human are all captured in these two or three lines per day. A couple whose baby died at 3 months old later adopted an infant. After someone’s house burned down, a relative was collecting door-to-door to help them out. A relative who, now in 2019 recently moved to a nursing home was mentioned on the day he left for university. Family picnics and visits with friends. Funerals and Christmas church services when my grandmother took her Christmas cactus to the service to sit beside the decorated tree. And then there were the other things that Grammie did - “trimmed'“ birthday cakes for friends and neighbours, was vice-president of the sewing circle (oh, I would love to hear those conversations!), and cut everyone’s hair. People I remember and know from growing up in the community, preserved forever in those words.
Maybe it’s informed by her relatively sudden death when I was very young - the overwhelming sense of life being so very short and meaningful is what makes reading these so special.
I became interested in capturing the details of daily life around the time we moved into our first house and shortly before Phillip was born. Sites like Flickr (the Habit group in particular) and 3191 Miles Apart felt so important to me somehow - I felt this deep sense of the meaning of the moments that were making up my days. As Annie Dillard wrote, “How we spend our days, is, of course, how we spend our lives.” It sounds so obvious and maybe even trite, but it is all we have - these days, these moments here. Somehow, capturing them and giving them attention helped me to pay attention to every other moment, too. And as the wonderful Mary Oliver wrote, “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work".
I will leave you with a recipe for bran muffins that was heavily used, judging from the layers of dried batter on the pages. I haven’t made it yet, but think I will this weekend.
2 cups white flour
2 cups bran
1 cup sugar
2 tbsp molasses
2 tbsp shortening
1 tsp soda
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups sour milk or buttermilk. If sweet milk is used, use 3 tsp baking powder in place of soda. Bake at 375 for about one half hour. Helen Wetmore
What makes up our days makes our lives. And I am so grateful that Grammie captured these moments.
A special note to my niece, who reads my blog and has requested a new post: these diaries and recipe books that I have were your great Grandmother’s! Maybe when you’re here to visit we can look at some of them if you want, and make one of her recipes together? xoxo