When I get discouraged about my writing, especially the unrelenting everyday-ness of it and its ultimate solitary nature, I think of my great aunt Hattie. Her Great Plains diaries span the years 1920 through part of 1957. During that time, she wrote literally every single day. No exceptions.
For whom was she writing? That is a question that has plagued me as I work to transcribe and write about her life’s words. She raised no children. As far as I know, while she did not keep her diaries a secret, she also did not share them widely.
Not until doing this blog series did the answer—which was there all along—become clear: She wrote for herself. Because ordinary life matters.
For family and friends and anyone interested in history, I post daily excerpts from her diaries at “Hattie’s blog.” This year, I’ve been sharing her entries from 80 years ago, 1934, a year of Depression and the Dust Bowl, a year between a Great War still fresh in people’s memory and a Second World War yet to come. On this otherwise uneventful day (below) we learn about the weather (always the weather), “fixing” plums, dark everyday dresses, the Farmer’s Wife magazine, clothes needed to protect workers from mowing and raking thistles during a dust bowl year, farm machinery, family birthdays, and how long it took for Hattie to begin to recover from having broken her leg 15 month prior.
I am convinced that Hattie wrote to remind herself of the details of everyday, ordinary life that are so easy to forget and take for granted but that can matter more than anything else. Maybe that’s why I write, too.
1934 August 29th, Wednesday
Cool night, a south breeze all night and continued strong this a.m. but bright until towards eve clouded but no rain, only a strong S.W. wind and some dust. I fixed the plums, started to put through colander for butter but too slow so I pitted them and cooked late p.m., also slept in p.m., looked at catalogs a lot as I want dark everyday dresses and read late p.m. the Farmer’s Wife. Maggie got meals, cleaned the kitchen and front room, baked bread and baked a lemon-pie, cleaned kitchen windows, ironed and put curtains up on same also got dinner for Hank (Henry) and George Haukaas who came for the body of Wm Whiting’s car, also Thomas Whiting stopped where they were working. A car passed going to B. J. Wagner’s. Mr. Chauncey, Billie and Fritz mowed and raked thistles. Mr. drove tractor. Fritz on trail mower. Billie raked. Elmer and Will tried stacking with slings but nothing doing so came home for stacker. Elmer and Billie go clothes at home to protect from thistle thorns. It was 15 months today I got my leg broken so walked considerable without crutches, to-day also Louise’s and Papa’s Birthday.
Lisa’s Note: Learn more about The Farmer’s Wife at “Celebrating The Farmer’s Wife Magazine” and “This is YOUR Magazine”: Domesticity, Agrarianism, and The Farmer’s Wife,” and browse a 1932 issue of the magazine below.