July 9, 1935: “I did the big ironing. Took me all day. Had 6 pairs of pants, 24 shirts, 6 good dresses, and all the rest.. Went to band practice. Walter and I went to Brethren ice-cream social to meet Lawrence.”
July 16, 1935: “Did up a big wash today again. Picked some berries after dinner. Darned socks and saw the total eclipse of the moon. Herman Iwinski here for supper.”
July 22, 1935: Did the washing this morning. Back to performance in town. Band played. Stub directed us. A magician performed magic chalk talk and hypnosis, hypnotized Dickie _. (?)
There is a pattern in my late mother’s diary entries. It seems that every 7 days was laundry day out on the farm. The five-year diary, enclosed in soft, tanned leather, with a gold lock, has been in my possession since her passing in 1979. No key was found, but the diary wasn’t locked.
I felt very much like a sneaky thief, infringing on my mother’s personal life and, at the same time, disappointed that there were no improper revelations or deep, dark secrets to be found. Her diary entries began in 1934, when she was 19 years of age, after graduating as Valedictorian from Lewiston High School. Meta Wollin’s final entry was on February 23rd 1937, leaving the remainder of ’37 and 1938 in limbo.
Unfortunately she deserted her 5-year diary 7 months before her wedding day, when she married my father Lawrence Lewis on October 1,1937. She must have been too busy with wedding plans to continue. Her entries reveal that she had worked at the Burmeister Hotel in Winona following her graduation (along with all of that laundry and ironing she did out on the farm.)
In the back of the diary, Mom had recorded her wages in 1937. She received $7.00 a week, minus 12 cents, no doubt for a younger Uncle Sam. The early life Mother experienced back in the ‘30s and ’40s was abundant with simple pleasures and family togetherness, hard work for an honest living, humble devotion to the Lord, and the heartache, grief, and anxiety of war and death during WW II.
Surely a daughter running across her dearly departed mother ‘s diary would find it to be a “gift of words,” an opportunity to delve into a past that she shared no part of during that episode of her mother’s life... but what if the romance of walking down memory lane turns sour and informs the daughter of something she had no right to know, or wishes she hadn’t found out? That’s the risk one takes for being snoopy.
Reading Mother’s diary entries, when she was a young woman, reinforced what I had come to know about her virtuous, unpretentious character. I recently came across this journal entry that I had written on January 1, 2010:
“My life’s experiences began to resemble my late Mother’s more and more. Her example rings true to me now. The tough love, incidental day-to-day occurrences, and flashback scenarios remind me of her. It’s been through these revelations that I’ve chastised myself and admire her more.
I thought she was self-righteous – she was merely concerned about my lack of maturity. I took her advice as criticism – she was only trying to caution and to teach me about life. She came off as judgmental – she wanted the best for me. I thought she didn’t understand me – she knew a lot more than I gave her credit for. The integrity of her silence, as I suffered the cost of living and learning in my adulthood, planted the seed of wisdom within me.”
Most daughters go through a rebellious period of resentment toward their mothers, at a time in their young lives when mothers feel most protective and hesitant to let go. Often a daughter’s long and arduous journey to an understanding of her mother’s good intentions and shortfalls comes after her passing.
A loving mother’s timeless gifts come with no strings attached – throughout our seasons – throughout our years. It’s never too late to make peace.
Janet Burns can be reached at email@example.com