Happy New Year, Iris Davis–whoever you are


My American grandmother’s journal is tiny (3” X 2”), her writing small, mostly household accounts and a record of her work days. I have three of these. One is from the year I was born but there is no mention of my birth. For a woman who had six children and, by this time, nine or ten grandchildren, I suppose birth was a routine event.
It’s been repaired with ancient tape and filled with tiny writing chronicling much of one year in a life that lasted 103 years. There is, however, scrawled across the page of March 25-30th,
“Dad had stroke
age 43—
died age 56, 1935”
The dates and ages don’t match but the numbers, originally written in pencil, are reinforced with pen. I take “dad” to be her husband as she was born in 1888 and I doubt her own father would have lived this long. 1888 was undoubtedly a lucky year for the Chinese because of the three 8’s. Alas, Gram was not Chinese and she was not lucky. Her ancestors came from cold northern European countries and she had a father so strict that she married at 18 to get out of the house. Women like her (poor, uneducated and guileless) had little recourse in those days. She raised six children on a tenant farm without modern conveniences, and baked bread to supplement their income. Her husband died when her three youngest children were still home and my mother, oldest of the three, had to quit school to help support the family.
On the page before (March 24-27), she wrote,
“Went to work Friday and resigned. drew my last pay. What a grand and glorious feeling—“
I believe this job was doing woman’s hair as she and my mother worked in a “beauty parlor” after her husband died and they had to leave the farm.
She didn’t stay retired, however. I remember her working until I was nearly a teenager. I thought it odd that she was a “companion to an old woman” as she herself was an old woman.
There’s a great deal of writing in the first part of the journal, work days recorded, men coming home from war (my father, neighbors, her youngest son), money loaned (mostly to Francis who is consistent in paying her back). There’s not much after March until the very end where she enters some addresses including “US Navy hospital, ward 14 in Portsmouth, VA.” Women are listed as Mrs…except for an Iris Davis (?).
Some of the days are only checked off (as in, got through it, on to the next).
I look for something revealing, shocking, inspiring. I find, “letter from Asa.” “7 dollars on food.” “Mrs. Worheim EM-9499.”
It’s my hope that we all find something revealing, shocking, and inspiring in 2019, and that we check off days only because they are the peaceful quiet ones that we savor for ourselves.

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