My dad left a cedar chest on my mom’s front porch on Christmas Eve, 1941. A few weeks before, he asked her if she would like to have one. Nothing else was mentioned. When my mom arrived home on Christmas Eve, the chest was a promise of marriage.
Of course, they couldn’t have known, but close to eighty years later, their family has grown large with children, spouses, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. My mom and dad had six children, but she never met any of her grandchildren, as she died young at the age of forty-seven. She had one married child when she passed away, and I was the youngest, at age seven. She had one daughter, Audrey, who joined her in heaven a few years later.
That cedar chest is sitting in my bedroom. It holds mementos from my mom and dad, and things I’ve added over the years. It still has a nice cedar aroma, but the lock is broken and the top has some water stains. My mom’s many years of diaries were stored in it and never touched until about fifteen years ago. They seemed too sacred. My two sisters and I decided to take them out and they each took one third of them home. Even then, I seldom read the ones I had.
Years went by, and occasionally we’d wonder what happened on a certain day, or read surrounding our own birth dates or mom’s pregnancy with us. A question would arise about the date of a family event or when a relative visited the farm and we’d look it up. But I didn’t read them straight through. My mom wrote mostly factual accounts, with some feelings mixed in occasionally. They weren’t journalistic in nature but as daughters we could often “read between the lines.”
My mom began writing in 1936, when she was just 14 ½ years old. In the early years, she used a fountain pen which she dipped into a glass ink jar. Later on, she used a fountain pen with replaceable cartridges. She wrote every day, except for spotty writing over a three-year period in 1936-1938, when she was age sixteen and seventeen. The years following, she never missed a day. Most of thirty-three years, she documented her life. Stuffed in between pages are newspaper clippings of the times. In the back of several diaries she listed possible names for her babies, and described the contents of her photo rolls. She continued writing until her death in 1969.
I recently spent many months scanning each of them. We wanted a back-up in case they would become damaged or lost, and also to give a copy to my brothers. Now we each have a preserved replica of the entire collection.
Every New Year’s Day, when the cold wind blew, she placed another volume into the cedar chest and turned to the first page of a new little book. She recorded ten thousand days of her life. This enabled us to know our mother by her precious words.
Today our family has blossomed to forty-nine people. I imagine my mom’s eyes would sparkle if she could embrace the smallest great-grandchildren on her lap.