May’s Diaries

May’s diaries, with a photo of May, Amy, May’s mother Olive, and Amy’s son Ethan (ca. 1923)

I’m fairly certain that my great-granny May (1879-1933) would be astonished, and pleased, to know that I have published her diaries:  “No Place of My Own”:  The 1920s California Diaries of May Ripley Diddy Maylone. (Lulu Books, 2010)

I never knew May, but as a girl I was fascinated to read the three diaries she kept between 1925 and 1928.  She lived a very hard life, following her second husband George Maylone from one venture to the next:  homesteading, mining and even piloting a riverboat.  My mother, Ruth, and my grandmother, Amy, both talked a lot about May.  I knew that she was a very creative and clever woman, and a real survivor.  Her daily record of life shows that she was also very funny, and had a philosophical outlook that kept her happy to be alive.

As I edited May’s diaries, I also wrote an introduction outlining May’s family history.  I was amazed to discover a great deal about May’s family background via the internet.  One cold winter’s night, in my kitchen in Scotland, I even stumbled upon a long-lost secret regarding the man that May’s parents made her marry when she was 19.

May’s diaries give us a valuable insight into life in Northern California in the 1920s.  She and George lived and worked in El Dorado county, Shasta county, and on the Sacramento River.

The book contains 12 family photographs, the earliest from 1879.  It also has two maps, and a family tree.  I have posted more family photos on this website:  click on the links under “Pages” at the top of the bar on the right.

Here is an excerpt from 1927, when May and George were homesteading near Igo.  May is hunting for the corner stake because she has 40 days in which to claim her homestead:

Oct. 29, 1927

Yesterday while hunting for that corner stake I saw rings of old land slides.  Those hillsides are steeper than a house roof, so steep I am sure a person could not walk there were it not for the little trails animals have made every few feet.  These trails run around the sides of the hills [like] the hoops on a barrel.  Any way I thought how easy it would be for those hills to slide right down into Clear Creek. I think this point on which the house stands has one time slid out of these high hill[s] north of us – any way it looks so and today I got the thrill of a lifetime.

I heard a terrible cracking rushing sound.  The dog yelped crazyly and I rushed from the house to see a huge yellow dust billowing down those north hills, a roaring grinding snapping wave of Something.  To[o] scared and amazed to run I just stood there and I was in the direct path – or so it looked to me – of the thing had it kept coming – but it stopped on a sort of bump on the hillside and the dust settled and I could see it was a huge Oak that had fallen down and rolled over and over down the steep side of the hill taking several other trees with it.  I walked up there and saw it is a tree I walked under last week and peered up its half hollow trunk.  How near we walk by Death and brush against its skirts unheeding.  The earth was fairly plowed for two hundred feet, and broken limbs thrown many yards away.

May’s last diary, written when she and George were living in a tent and at their most penniless, was kept in a ledger book from 1910.  May wrote in the blank spaces left around the notations of mining-related expenses:

A page from May’s 1927-1928 diary, kept in a 1910 ledger book

The book is available on Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and Lulu.com.  You can find out more and read another excerpt in this post as well.

There are also links in the sidebar to four pages of photographs.

Responses

  1. I can see that the knack for writing has carried over through the generations in your family! What a strong woman May appears to have been, while still remaining soft and insightful. Your book is sure to contain many lessons on the content of character that is as necessary, if sadly more rare, today as it was one hundred years ago. Thanks, and best of luck on the success of your book!

  2. Dear Country Mrs.,
    Thanks so much for your kind comment. I’ve definitely inherited a love for writing – not always sure about the knack! Yes, I’m really in awe of May’s fortitude and sense of humour. I’m not sure if I could have coped with all that she endured, and certainly not as gracefully. The book has been bought and read by so many people, I’m really amazed. And I think May would have been completely amazed!

  3. What a beautiful turn of phrase “How near we walk to Death and brush against its skirts unheeding”. Pure poetry!

    • Dear Lorna,

      May really was a poet. There are poems from 1908 at the start of the book where she later began her 1925 diary. My uncle told me she actually published some of her poems, but I haven’t been able to discover them.

      She was such a talented woman, living a very difficult life. If she could come visit me in my house, she would think we were living the life of royalty. Heat at the push of a button, hot water ditto, nice snug rooms, books and music, and a husband who cooks and is caring. When I think of her, I see how incredibly lucky I am.

  4. What an amazing treasure. May’s diary recalls for me The Grapes of Wrath. Heartbreaking, cruel times those were….
    Thanks for sharing.

    • Yes it really is a treasure. What amazes me most is that the diaries themselves survived all the moves, tents, fires, and general upheaval in her life. Whenever I have a hard day, all I have to do to feel better is to think of May.


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