Archive for the ‘from an old diary’ Category
My new writing project, ‘growing and gathering’, focuses on local foods and finding food close to home.
A source of information and inspiration for me is the set of my great-aunt’s diaries, written from 1943 to 1972. From her diaries, I have a very good idea of how they obtained their food, and how they used local foods to supplement their needs.
Most of their food was obtained from the grocery store – in 1957, there was at least one grocery store in the community, and by 1967, they had an IGA. There is no doubt some goods came from ‘away’. For example, my great-aunt wrote about making coconut and pineapple squares for a Women’s Missionary Society meeting (Sept. 30, 1957).
Local goods, however. were used whenever possible. For example, my great-aunt bought eggs from her sister, and chickens from her brother. She also obtained vegetables and raspberries from her brother’s farm, apples from friends and relatives, deer meat from friends and relatives, and lobsters from Wallace, a near-by community. By 1967, my great-aunt and great-uncle also kept a garden at her brother’s farm, a few miles away.
Obtaining local foods included picking local berries. In July and August of 1957, my great-aunt went four times for wild blueberries. Her gratitude and pleasure at getting these berries comes through in her words: ‘ got quite a few’ (July 31, 1957) and ‘got a nice lot.’ (Aug. 21, 1957). She also wrote about picking grapes and currants.
Some of the berries were eaten right away – for example, my great-aunt made a blueberry pie on August 1, 1957. The rest was preserved for the winter. On August 16, 1957 my great-aunt put up 5 quarts of blueberries, to supplement the applesauce, pears, peaches, sweet cucumber pickles, and tomato chow she mentions preparing on other days. Others in the family also made preserves and shared them with her – in 1967, her nephew (my uncle) brought her three bottles of peach, apple and choke cherry jelly he had made.
an offering of berries
she stands on the stoop
offers a box
a brimming pint
I take her hand, we ripple
through the pasture, strew
blue ribbons over bushes, stir
a blueberry jelly sky, dance
she waits on the stoop
her brow a riddle, please
take this gift, blueberries
in a simple
Warning: 1. never eat any plant if you are not absolutely certain of the identification; 2. never eat any plant if you have personal sensitivities, including allergies, to certain plants or their derivatives; 3. never eat any plant unless you have checked several sources to verify the edibility of the plant.
© Jane Tims 2012
My great-aunt’s diaries are very easy to read. Her handwriting is neat and her words, though brief, clearly convey her meaning. Occasionally, she uses unfamiliar words. What do you think these words mean? My answers, assisted by the Internet, are given below…
April 18, 1957 She washed the curtains and ‘tidies’ from the upstairs rooms.
The Free Online Dictionary defines a ‘tidy’ as ‘a decorative protective covering for the arms or headrest of a chair.’ ‘Tidies’ could also have been her name for the hold-backs on curtains, or the small linen cloths used to cover dressers and other surfaces.
March 12, 1957 She bought a ‘silence cloth’ for the table ($2.00)
The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines a ‘silence cloth’ as ‘a pad (as of flannel or felt) used under a tablecloth.’ This cloth would have protected the table from scratches and marks from dishes.
July 31, 1956 She and her husband sat out on the ‘pizza’
This was a frequent entry. I think it was her word for ‘piazza’ and referred to the front porch or a small sitting area in their side-yard.
Feb. 1, 1957 Her Red Cross group made a ‘layette’ for a local woman and her baby.
Wikipedia says this is a collection of clothing for a newborn and can include many items, including sleepwear, cloth diapers, wash cloths and receiving blankets.
June 29, 1967 She received ‘snaps’ of their anniversary party.
I know this one, but some in the digital generation may not. It is short for ‘snapshot’ and refers to processed photographs.
December 18, 1967 She made a ‘snow pudding’ and took it to a neighbour who had a sore tongue.
I am not a cook, so many recipe names are not familiar to me. I looked at the Internet for a modern recipe and found the following:
2 T. unflavored gelatin
1/4 C. cold water
1 C. boiling water
1/2 C. lemon juice
1 C. sugar
3 egg whites
soften the gelatin in cold water;
dissolve the gelatin in boiling water;
add lemon juice and sugar and stir until the mixture thickens;
add stiffly beaten egg whites;
beat until the mixture ‘stacks’ (holds firm peaks).
The finished dessert looks like snow, hence the name. I don’t know if using raw egg whites is OK today, but the equivalent from a carton of egg whites would be safe to use.
© Jane Tims 2012
Some of the most interesting entries in my great-aunt’s diaries concern the cost of living. She often recorded the prices of food, goods or services they obtained. I read through her entries for 1954, 1955, 1957 and 1967 and noted some of these. By comparing the amounts for the same items in the 1950s and 1967, you can see that prices were on the rise!
|Nov. 22, 1954||chicken||$3.00 per chicken|
|Nov. 10, 1967||chicken||haircut (barter system)|
|June 30, 1955||eggs||$0.40 per dozen|
|Dec. 14, 1957||eggs||$0.50 per dozen|
|July 12 and July 14, 1967||strawberries||$0.35 per box|
|July 19, 1967||strawberries||$1.40 for 4 boxes|
|Oct. 22, 1967||oysters||$2.00 per pint|
|Nov. 17, 1967||box of chocolates||$1.29 per box|
|June 5, 1957||lobster supper at church||$1.00|
|June 7, 1967||lobster supper (community function)||$1.50|
|November 1, 1957||turkey dinner (community function)||$1.00|
|October 25, 1967||turkey dinner (community function)||$1.25|
|Feb. 13, 1954||Valentine Tea at church hall||$0.60|
|June 22, 1957||tea in church hall||$0.50|
|July 9, 1957||show (movie theatre)||$0.50|
|May 7, 1957||T.V. from Simpsons||$269.95|
|March 12, 1957||‘silence’ cloth for table||$2.00|
|Sept. 10, 1954||new shoes||$6.95|
|April 23, 1957||black Oxfords (White Cross)||$9.95|
|June 14, 1954||shingles for barn||$50.18|
|May 17, 1967||house shingled||$163.00|
|May 17, 1954||wood for stove||$40.00 (probably total for year)|
|July 8, 1954||hair permanent||$4.00|
|Dec. 16, 1957||hair permanent||$3.25|
|Sept. 20, 1967||hair permanent||$6.00|
|March 13, 1957||tailoring – a ‘Black Watch’ skirt||$4.94 for material and sewing|
|Sept. 6-10, 1967||vacation accommodation (room in house)||$8.00 per night|
|Sept. 6-10, 1967||vacation accommodation (motel)||$14.00 per couple|
© Jane Tims 2012
In her diaries, my great-aunt wrote about her own health, as well as the health of others. She was a nurse, trained at McLean Hospital in Boston, so her interest in health is not surprising. Her diary entries are filled with her visits to the sick. She often brought either ginger ale or ice cream with her when she visited, and these must have soothed many a sore throat and helped to get needed fluids into the ill person.
In May of 1955, a flu went through the community. Through the diary entries, you can follow as different people become ill. On May 6, 1955, my great-aunt came down with the flu, probably contracted as she visted the sick. She was in bed for eleven days. In those days, the doctor made house calls and he came twice to see her.
flu in the community – 1955
-response to a diary entry for May 16, 1955 and entries for the previous two weeks
Mon cloudy cold. Katie M.
came in P.M. brought ice-cream [and] gin [ginger] ale.
I am feeling better. I cleaned up-stairs
some. R.C. called too at noon.
took Madge ginger ale
took Mrs. B. ice-cream
combed her hair, made her bed
should stay away
but ginger is good for what ails you
and ice-cream soothes the throat
I’m a trained nurse
chills, fever 103
Doctor saw me twice
nine days, in bed
I hear comings and goings downstairs
most won’t come up, or stay
afraid of flu
better today, out of bed
puttered around upstairs
brought me ice-cream and ginger ale
a little gossip
remedies for the flu
© Jane Tims 2012
Among the events recorded in my great-aunt’s diaries were holidays.
Here are some of the activities she recorded for those special days in 1957:
New Year’s Day (Jan. 1, 1957) – they had her brother’s family to dinner.
Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14, 1957) – she sent her grand-daughter in Saint John a Valentine.
Easter (April 21, 1957) – they went to the Presbyterian Church in New Glasgow to see the ‘3000 Easter lilies’ on display. She also sent a box of gifts to her grand-daughter.
Canada Day (called Dominion Day before 1982) July 1, 1957 – not mentioned in her diaries.
Halloween (Oct. 31, 1957) – ‘seven children for Halloween’ Interesting … our modern conversations about Halloween are often to compare the numbers of children who came trick-or-treating!
Thanksgiving – the day before, she ‘did some cooking for Thanksgiving’ (Oct. 12, 1957) and on Sunday, she had her sister (my grandmother) and my uncle for a chicken dinner.
Christmas – my great-aunt belonged to an ‘Xmas Club’. They had their Christmas Dinner together (Dec. 2 , 1957) and exchanged gifts. My great-aunt’s gifts in 1957 were a pair of pillow cases and a pair of gloves.
Part of Christmas meant sending parcels to family and friends. In 1957, my great-aunt mailed Christmas parcels to her son’s family in Saint John on December 14, 1957 and to others on December 11 and 16.
On Christmas Day, they went to her brother’s house for Christmas Dinner.
On December 29, 1957, they went to see the Christmas pageant. There were also other community events, since on December 24, 1954, they went to see the community Christmas tree.
She makes no mention of Christmas decorations in her own home, but I still have a few of the ornaments from her tree.
New Year’s Day 1957
-response to a diary entry for January 1, 1957
Tues nice day, quite cold. C.
D. D. also K. J. here to
N. Years dinner. had a chicken sponge
cake for dessert. strawberry vanilla ice cream
we went for a drive after C.s left.
new year, basket in the hall closet
empty, mending and darning
done, seven to dinner, everyone
satisfied, sponge cake and ice-cream
no worries about tomorrow, predicted
storms, the need to stay well,
catches in clothing and worn
heels, arm sore from beating eggs
my New Year’s resolutions:
a beater that runs on electricity
no more blue socks darned with red
the chicken was tasty
colourful with carrots
© Jane Tims 2012
My great-aunt’s diary often records her activities as part of her Red Cross group. In the years from 1954 to 1957, and beyond, this group of 4 to 9 women met every Friday to work together on a community project. They worked quickly. On September 17, 1957 they put on two crib quilts and finished them by October 1, 1957 (three meetings).
Sometimes they worked on a layette for a new mother and her baby (February 8, 1957). Most often, they worked on a quilt (for example, March 22, 1957), doing the piecing and quilting as a group. In addition, my great-aunt often took a quilt home ‘to bind’ (for example, March 29, 1957).
Sometimes the group made money for a local cause by selling quilt ‘squares’. On April 12, 1957, my great-aunt wrote: ‘…we took a quilt out. we are going to make one to sell. money for hosp [hospital]. to work on its 10¢ a name.’ The next evening, she called at a neighbour’s house and sold 5 squares. On May 3, 1957, she wrote, ‘…we worked on our quilt blocks – working the names. I took three blocks home.’
More often they made a quilt for someone in the community. On February 8, 1957, she wrote, ‘I took a quilt up to Mrs. C. from R. Cross.’
In 1954, the group worked on a ‘flower garden quilt’, and the story of the quilt can be followed in the diary.
The first step was to piece the quilt. My great-aunt worked on this stage at home, from March 15, 1954 to March 23, 1954, sometimes with a friend. On March 19, she even missed the Red Cross meeting to work on the quilt. On March 23, she wrote, ‘I worked on R.C. flower garden quilt all day. J.B. here in eve. we finished it. ready to be quilted. very pretty quilt…’
The group began quilting the flower garden quilt on June 4, and finished it at a meeting three weeks later (June 25, 1954). My great-aunt brought the quilted quilt home to bind and had help with the binding from another woman (June 28, 1954). On July 12, 1954, she wrote, ‘J. [and] M.D. called to see the flower garden quilt.’ Unfortunately, there is no record of who received the finished quilt.
The ‘flower garden’ is a well-known heritage quilt pattern. It is made up of many hexagonal pieces, laid out in a pattern of concentric circles. I have two quilts made by my grandmother (my great-aunt’s sister) and one of these is a flower garden quilt. The quilt is well-named since the final pattern resembles a garden full of bright and colourful flowers. The individual pieces in my grandmother’s quilt are from diverse fabrics, likely recycled from remnants and old clothes.
In 1957, the women made another flower garden quilt. My great-aunt must have loved working on it, since on March 27, she records going down to the Red Cross rooms after a funeral and working on the quilt by herself. On March 29, 1957, she wrote, ‘…I went to R.C. brought home the hosp. [hospital] flower garden quilt to bind.’ She finished the binding on April 3.
Women still make quilts today, of course, either alone or as a group. I have made lots of lap-sized quilts, best for me due to my short interest span!
Have you ever made a quilt and did you work alone or with others?
© Jane Tims 2012
Letter writing has become an orphan communication in our world of emails and Facebook and Tweets. But in the past, when these forms of communication did not yet exist, and long-distance phone calls were so expensive they were only used for emergencies, people kept in touch by letter.
My Mom and I wrote to one another regularly for 30 years, even after I had my ‘family calling telephone plan’. I still have all her letters and looking at her handwriting makes me feel near to her. Her words, the beautiful way she formed her letters, and the stories they tell, are concrete evidence of her life and interests and her love for her family.
My great-aunt’s diaries show she also considered letters to be an important part of her daily life. In her diaries, letters received and written were an activity she recorded regularly. The mail arrived twice per day in the community where she lived and her diaries tell they went for the mail daily.
Letters from her son or daughter-in-law were recorded with tangible joy. She wrote to them regularly, approximately three times per month, and they wrote as regularly to her. She records her letters as, ‘I wrote to St. John today’ (she is referring to the place where they lived, Saint John, New Brunswick).
During World War II, letters from her son had taken on a particular importance since they signalled he was alive and well.
In 1957, perhaps the favourite letter received was from her little grand-daughter: on November 26, 1957, she wrote, ‘had a letter from b. a.’
The poem below was inspired by that letter, although I do not have the letter itself and the account is from my head.
letter from her grand-daughter
she watches for your
letter, your definite
hand, the dog-eared page
of a book begun, unfinished
creases in paper once folded
as if an envelope could
revive the creak in the upstairs hall
re-clatter the spoon in an empty
jar of jam, jangle the telephone
the trouble is, of course,
you grew, learned numbers
the difference between
‘b’ and ‘d’,developed your signature
went to war
of course, all that
made possible this envelope, addressed
to Grabma, the stamp
licked on sideways, sweet stick-men
and baby words in pencil
from the page
© Jane Tims 2012