I am amazed and very pleased to be able to announce the worldwide publication of my great-granny May’s diaries from the 1920s. The book is available online through Lulu.com,* Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, all other Amazons, and in the US also through Barnes & Noble.com. It’s published on a print-on-demand basis. Lulu and Amazon will both have the book to you within 2 or 3 days. (*this link may be only to the UK Lulu site; if you’re in the US and the price comes up in pounds sterling, go to http://www.lulu.com)
May lived a very hard life, but despite being constantly on the move she managed to keep her diaries safe, and pass them down to my mother and eventually to me. The front cover of the book shows the diaries, as well as a 1923 family photo with May at top left, my granny Amy next to her, May’s mother Olive seated, with my uncle Ethan on her lap.
The diaries cover three winters. The first, from 1925, was written when she and her second husband George were homesteading in Fairplay, El Dorado County, California. When she kept the second diary, in 1926-1927, she and George were working on a riverboat on the Sacramento River. The next winter found them in Igo, Shasta County, California, homesteading and mining once again.
May also wrote poems, some of which she published in the Sacramento Bee. I’ve included her poems after the diaries.
When I first began the project of publishing May’s diaries, I had quite a bit of family history information from notes I’d taken when my granny Amy was still alive, as well as from talking to my mother. I decided to do more research, and this became a three-year-long detour. I was amazed at what I was able to find over the internet. One discovery in particular had me gaping at my computer screen in our kitchen in Scotland: I found the connection between May’s parents and the older man that they married her off to when she was 19 and fell in love with the wrong sort of boy. This was a connection my mother and I are fairly sure my granny was unaware of – we’ll never know whether May was as well. In the end I was able to find out a great deal about our family’s roots. Like most American families, we come from generations of very hard-working people who lived off the land. After having looked at hundreds of census forms with Occupation “farmer,” – and often for the women of the house “no occupation”! – I was keenly aware of how fortunate I’ve been in my life to have had the opportunities and education that I’ve had.
I’d always heard stories about May from my granny and from my mother. My mother adored May for her creativity, lovingness and sense of fun – although my mother was not yet four when May died, she retains vivid memories of her. My granny spoke proudly of May’s courage in daring to divorce her first husband in 1918 (when my granny was 15), but I also understood that it had been a very difficult step to take, for May and for her children. May’s second marriage was not all she had hoped it would be, but she made the best of it and always looked for the good in life.
There are 12 photographs in the book, as well as maps and a family tree. I’ve also posted a number of family photos on this website, under May’s Diaries (listed under “Pages” on the right). The May’s Diaries page itself contains another excerpt, as well as a photograph of one of the pages of her diary. I think the book will be of interest to anyone wanting to know about life in California in the 1920s, or those interested in women’s history.
Here is an excerpt from October 1927, when May and George were homesteading in Igo, Shasta County, California:
About 1:30 it began to pour down, I rushed into a rain coat and grab[b]ed the hoe. A perfect sheet of water was pouring of[f] the hillside… and [I] headed toward the well. I ditched around it on the jump and just in time to[o]. I only had on a dress and step-ins and below my raincoat which hit me just below my belt I was as wet as water will make you…
At that I got a free bath, came in and … put on dry clothes and felt like I was as young as most people wish to be. I would not mind being thirty but no younger. Even at that age I did not have right good sense, I had to be forty years old to realize my mother is a wiser woman than I. Still it is a good thing children are Cocksure, this world would be awful hard on them if they didn’t think they knew it all. I have a hard time some times to remember to play dumb, while children by nature and by law tell me how it is done and why. (Weds. Oct. 26, 1927)
Thank you, May, for keeping your diaries safe for us to read!