A few weeks ago in a fit of overweening vanity I assembled all of the blogs I had written for www.niebuhrgathering.com  into a book.  As a rational restraint on my vanity, the print run was one copy. 

The process of assembling, formatting, etc., was, however, salutary.  I didn’t keep a precise count, but in those blogs I mentioned MANY times that I felt a sense of urgency about getting through the list of family history projects which I had set myself to complete.

It is true.  I do feel urgency.  But seeing the repeated reference to this feeling in material written for public consumption left me uncomfortable.  Age is having its toll, to be sure, on both body and mind, but surely I did not need to inflict my concern in that regard on any chance reader?

Rather than apologizing for my feeling I want to delve into what is going on.  Yes, I’m getting old.  Yes, with age has come a lengthening list of acute and chronic health issues.

Tennyson’s Ulysses has given me the words to express my emotional conundrum.

I am part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untraveled world whose margin fades
Forever and forever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end.
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breathe were life! Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
Little remains; but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

It seems, not for the first time, that a poet has expressed more powerfully than I could, what I feel:

How dull it is to pause, to make an end.
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!

Working on family histories gives me the feeling of shining in use, rather than rusting unburnished.  I recall my beloved mother-in-law talking about not feeling useful, and my quoting to her a passage from Carolyn Heilbrun’s book The Last Gift of Time, to the effect that the use of the elderly is to demonstrate to younger people that there comes a time when the tempestuous times of youth and middle years are ended and a state of calm and serenity is achieved, all storms passed.

           But that doesn’t feel to me like enough. There has to be something more than just serenity, and for now at least it feels that the something should be productivity, in some form.

The books I produce, in which I make the lives of the family past and present accessible to the young of the family, may not even be read by the young.  That doesn’t seem to be relevant.  But  there might be someone, a great-grandchild perhaps, in the next century, who will feel as I do about the value of making the past accessible.  That is a feeling I have had myself about material which came to my hands from almost two centuries ago, written by my great-grandfather.  Making it and similar material from all sources accessible is worthwhile, and I do not in consequence rust unburnished.

And then there was my paternal grandmother who said to me when I was a child,

Count that day lost whose low descending sun

Views from thy hand no worthy action done.

I have no attribution for that couplet.  Wikipedia says the author is anonymous.  Too bad.  This too captures my feeling, that every day there must be something accomplished which does not have to be repeated tomorrow.  That is, something which moves my life forward day by day, not just living through the same day over and over.

            The feeling of urgency arises from the sense that I waste more and more days as time goes on, living the same day over and over rather than moving forward.  Clearly I am not ready to seek that achievement of serenity praised by Heilbrun.  So I will go on writing.

                                                                                          Roberta Rivett

 

Earlier in this space I have referred to my ongoing work transcribing my English great-grandfather’s diaries. I have months of work left, possibly something like a year and a half, and that may be optimistic, but expressing concern about that is not my present purpose. No, now it is my purpose to complain about something that should be obvious to any WOMAN who undertakes to make the diaries of a MAN accessible to his descendants. So here is my complaint: My great-grandfather writes his diary entries from his own point of view. Obviously!! Of course! Why didn’t I think of that? Doesn’t EVERYBODY??

What this means is that he RARELY makes mention of the activities and events of the home front. Here’s an example. There are many others, of course.

The year is, perhaps, 1860. He might mention paying the weekly charge of the woman who does the family laundry. In some entries when his children were babies he even mentioned the number of pieces of laundry, from which one might infer that the laundress is paid on a piece-work basis. But I don’t know if the laundress comes in and does her work in the home, or does it in her own home. Where does she get the water? What kind of soap does she use? Does she do ALL the family laundry or just some of it? Does she do the ironing? What kind of equipment does she use for the laundry and ironing?

These are matters that were unimportant to him, and so did not get mentioned. For myself I would find these details, and a multitude like them - such as everything to do with food preparation – fascinating. And because they impinge insufficiently on his awareness, or at least his writing, I am doomed to frustration.

Thinking about this, I remembered some years ago working on my mother’s book. She wrote at length about laundry day, when homesteading on the Saskatchewan prairie in the early years of the last century. My mother was a granddaughter of Elizabeth Niebuhr Thiessen so I am comfortable in including HER words in niebuhrgathering.com, confident that this is a rightful place for them, while at the same time alleviating to some extent my frustration with my English great-grandfather.

WASHDAYS AS I REMEMBER THEM (Published in Rempel Stories II, privately printed in 2002, editor Roberta Rivett.)

1926 Great Deer, Saskatchewan

Doing the laundry in 1926 was much easier than it used to be. Time was when my older sisters had to melt snow in the wash boiler on the kitchen stove. They carried the snow in, in chunks if it was hard enough, otherwise in buckets. Now in 1926 we were living in the big new house, with a cistern built against the basement wall. We could not get to the lovely soft water from the basement; it was reached through a trapdoor in the back entry on the main floor. The rain fell on the roof of the house and then by drainpipes was led into the cistern from the outside. The cistern thus filled would give us all the laundry water we'd need until spring or later. This water was soft, nothing like our well water, which was hard and would curdle the lye soap, or any other soap.

The large cast-iron cooker stood in the basement on the cement floor. There was a firebox under it made of metal, vented into the chimney stack. You made a fire under the cooker to heat the laundry water.

The cooker was also used to make lye soap. When a steer was butchered, all of the tallow was saved to be used in the making of soap. The lye came in round tins, and was caustic; you simply never let your hands come into contact with it; it could burn your skin dreadfully. Four pails of soft water were poured into the cooker. The cans of lye were put in, and then the tallow. The fire under the cooker heated it all. The lye dissolved the tallow and it all simmered slowly for some hours, until it was of a smooth and even consistency. Then it was poured into pans, where it cooled and became quite firm. It was cut into suitable pieces and stored. It would likely last until the next steer was butchered in the fall. If we ran out of lye soap we would have to buy laundry soap from the store.

To do the laundry after the soap was made was a good idea, as there was much soap adhering to the cooker. At other times, a piece of soap was sliced thinly and put into the cooker when it was full of water for the laundry.

Now we come to Day One of the laundry. The water was drawn from the cistern with a bucket which had a rope tied to the handle. The rear hall was not only a place to enter by the back door; it was a place to hang outdoor garments on the good hooks that were provided, attached to a board on the wall opposite the door.

Below the hooks and in the corner was the trap door into the cistern. You lifted the trap door and leaned it against the wall.

It was interesting, looking down into the cistern full of water, seeing your reflection. We were always cautioned to be careful and not fall in, as that would almost surely mean death. Now and then there was talk about getting a pump for the cistern, but as there were so many other demands on the money, it never came about.

My oldest sister Tena and I became quite efficient at hauling the water up, pouring it into another pail, and then carrying that pail down the basement steps to be poured into the cooker. When one of us came up with the empty pail, the other would have a pailful ready from the cistern, waiting to be poured into the empty pail, and so on until the cooker was filled.

Tena sorted the laundry into suitable piles for the washer to handle. There was a huge pile of wood in the basement, which was used for the kitchen stove as well as for heating laundry water, so that was no problem.

On the Second Day, the first thing in the morning the fire was lit under the cooker, and the washer was placed where it would be convenient to transfer hot water into it from the cooker. Five buckets or so were poured into the washer. The white clothes were done first: white men's shirts, pillowslips which were made from 100-pound flour bags. Aprons, tea towels and sheets also were made of flour bags.

Considering hundred-pound bag of flour we used in a week, there was a lot of this strong white material available. It was quite a task to get all of the printing out of the bags, but soaking them in separate warm water and lots of lye soap followed by a good hand rubbing did wonders. After this they were boiled in the wash boiler on top of the kitchen stove, not forgetting to put in extra lye soap. Now you had new material; even underwear was made from it. The sheets were made of four opened bags together, seams sewn flat, and one more halved, sewn across the bottom.

The washer lid had a dolly. I don't know why it was called that but it would have made as good a job by any other name. The dolly was a round, heavy piece of wood about twelve inches across with four pegs about four inches long fastened into it. When the washer lid was closed, the dolly plunged into the laundry, and when the handle was pushed back and forth, the laundry was swished about in the hot soapy water. This was continued for about fifteen minutes, then laundry was put through the wringer and into the laundry tub. Hot water from the cooker was poured on the laundry in the tub.

The wash board came next. The water must not be too hot, because we had to use our hands to lift pieces of laundry out of the water and onto the scrubbing board, where we scrubbed it, up and down, up and down. We had to be careful to scrub the washing only and not our hands. We made sure the ball of our hands would not get in the way and also get a rubbing. Blisters arose and were very painful, taking days to heal. We learned to scrub only the laundry, and not our hands.

Our hands held the laundry, and piece by piece it got a second washing. This procedure took place with all the washing: washer first, then through the wringer, into the tub, scrub it over the washboard, then another fifteen minutes in the washer and through the wringer. The wringer was made to turn by a handle and a handhold. Around and around, one piece after another. Just watch out and don't let your fingers get caught along with the wash. Right hand turns the handle, left hand feeds the wringer. And then the wash was ready for rinsing the next day.

While I would get another load into the washer and apply womanpower to make it go, Tena would sort out the white things that really were not white enough and must be boiled in the wash boiler on the kitchen stove. And don't forget to put in some lye soap. When ALL the laundry had been through the washer and the wringer and the scrubbing board, it was ready for rinsing in cold well water the next morning. Before that could happen, the washer was emptied again, the water carried up the back stairs and thrown out well away from the house. The wooden washer was thoroughly cleaned and made ready for the rinsing water.

The Third Day, the rinsing water was carried from the well and poured into the clean washer, the lid closed, the handle pulled back and forth until we were sure all the soap was rinsed out of that lot of laundry. Then each load of wash was put through the wringer a final time and piled on the table, covered against dust. In the summer the wash was hung out on lines, but in the winter it was carried upstairs through the kitchen, and up the second stairs in the dining room and finally up into the attic by way of a ladder. The wash hung there on many lines until it was dry. This would take a number of days as there was no heat in the attic.

There were some things that needed starching after rinsing. Some of the men's shirts, dresses, blouses and aprons were starched. The starch was made by putting a mixture of flour and water into a pot of boiling water on the kitchen stove. The mixture was then strained through a twenty-pound sugar bag, just in case there were any lumps in it. When it was cool, the articles that needed starching were dipped into the starch water and wrung out by hand.

The articles that needed ironing were dry before the heavier things, and we might get to ironing them by Friday, but mostly the ironing was left for the following week. The ironing was quite a job by itself. You laid a folded flannelette sheet across the end of the dining room table, and used sad irons. Why sad irons, I don't know. They were made of solid iron with a nice shiny bottom. They were put on the stove to heat. There was one handle made of wood, which would clip onto the iron. You ironed away with one iron until it seemed to need reheating. Then you unclipped the wooden handle and traded the cooling iron for the hot one from the stove.

I remember Mother sitting in the kitchen mending or knitting and being a part of the day. It was a good feeling seeing her there.

The sheets and towels had to be made smooth in the old-fashioned way. You got the five-foot-long bench from behind the table - Father had made it years before and the boys sat on it when they ate. On ironing days there was another use for the bench. A two-foot-long roller made of wood was used to make the sheets and towels lovely and smooth. Towels or folded sheets were wrapped tightly around the roller. Then came an item called a rubble. The roller with the sheet wrapped around it was placed on the bench, and you took hold of the rubble and placed it on the roller, which was on one end of the bench. Now you put pressure with the rubble on the roller and rolled it until you came to the other end of the bench, and then started over again. This was hard work and hard on the bended back, but when you unrolled it, it was a joy to behold. When all the towels and sheets were finished they were taken upstairs and put in the linen cupboard.

The next week there was NO laundry. The next week we had much other work to do, and if we got all the ironing done this week, we were free of the laundry until the week following - it was a big washing every second week. There were eight of us at home at the time I am writing about. Helen and Olga were working as live-in housekeepers. My oldest brother Jack was going to boarding school at Rosthern, Saskatchewan. I was sixteen years old at that time. Now I am past eighty years. When I read this, I can hardly believe it. We are in a push-button age now.

Susanna Rempel Hinde 1990 (Born in 1909 near Borden, Saskatchewan. Died in 2004, in Victoria, British Columbia.)

My retirement was only a few years old when I arrived at what Carolyn Heilbrun, in “The Last Gift of Time,” refers to as the passion that is necessary for every person to find with age. She describes it as a necessity, in age, to become utterly absorbed in SOMETHING – doesn’t really matter what – in order to experience continuation of the sense of achievement which was available to us in our working lives.

I had thought when I retired that I would take up the interest I had identified many years earlier – working in some manner with adults who had difficulty with literacy. I applied as tutor in a literacy program, and for ten years tutored adults to help them improve their literacy. It was demanding work,  challenging and rewarding. Through that ten year period a broad interest in family history had begun to make itself felt, and when it came time to move on, I knew where I was going – toward producing books of family history.

Several realities underlay this new direction. Retirement had given me the whole 24 hours a day to use as I chose; I had acquired grandchildren; I had extended my interest in and use of computers. The time needed to apply myself to the growing interest was there; the motivation generated by the acquisition, through grandchildren, of ancestor status, was there, and the computer was there, without which the making of family trees is difficult to impossible. Further, I learned – poking about in relatives’ mental and physical attics - that many of my forebears and my husband’s had left scattered bits of their history behind them – letters, diaries, memorabilia. My husband’s uncle had put together a family tree on his mother’s side. A first cousin once removed on my mother's side, ditto. My father had written stories about his life.

Putting all these together and I could see the possibility of moving forward with making family history accessible to the younger generations.

This didn’t happen as a concrete, everything-laid-out-in-an-orderly-manner kind of way, it happened in bits and pieces, moving forward in a lurching fashion, but one day a dozen years ago I found myself with a Project List. On the list were the family history projects I would like to work on to produce volumes which could be shared, and family-related continuing activities, each with a rough plan as to the steps needed to move it forward, and the projected completion year for each. The first project was assembling my father’s book of stories into a coherent, edited, footnoted volume. My project list records that the first project was completed in 1999, thirteen years ago. Since then I have averaged two books a year, now with 27 completed, and about 35 still on the project list.

About 35? Yes, about that. From some of the raw material now in hand, I don’t know how many books will emerge.

I didn’t start out with this many projects on the list. I had no idea that this was going to take up so much of my life. It seems that’s what happens when you find your passion. It becomes all-absorbing.

Recently I connected with a professional genealogist I had commissioned to trace some forebears which my limited search skills could not find. Reviewing her work, I realized that my strategy for collecting family history material bears little relationship to the work done by a professional genealogist, for whom if it isn’t documented, it isn’t a fact, and that’s the case even at times when it IS documented.

No, my strategy is more like that of an orb spider who builds her net, then waits for the insects to fly into it.

Four years ago I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and experienced the usual shock and enhanced awareness of my mortality. This did not, however, result in a higher productivity of family histories, in fact, the rate of production slowed, perhaps understandably, but with the possibility of limited time to work on my projects, the sense of urgency became anxiety, further impeding productivity.

No excuses! The work was there to be done, I had the tools to do it, and surely once the malaise, the “cancer brain,” subsided, work could resume.

In due course it did subside, although my mental acuity has not fully recovered. The fact that four years have passed and I am four years older probably has more to do with that than the cancer.

And so the sense of urgency resumes.

2011 was a good year. Early in the year I caught up with the work on hand of my great-grandfather’s journal. Much remains, but I have gone as far as I can with the material for now. Other much smaller projects came to the fore – five of them, and through the year all came to the boil at the same time, “the boil” being near-readiness to print and bind. As always, they were much bigger than anticipated, but all of them should be DONE early in 2012. Now others are calling out for attention. I think 2012 will be a good year too. I will pass my five year point with the cancer, with no recurrence; I am learning strategies to deal with my failing memory and I have sharpened skills with the computer, meaning I can work more quickly and accurately.

The five 2011 books are numbers 28 to 32. And strangely, about 35 remain due to some strange arithmetic  I don’t understand.

I’ll keep going.

Autograph Books

 My work with family history goes through a cycle, the pattern of which, now, after years of being in its thrall, is becoming discernible to me.  I listen for a particular project to form itself in my head, and hear it begin to call out to be done.  I put it on the project list, and make estimates about what is required to complete it,  in time and ink and the assistance of others.  It sits on the project list until a gap forms between other projects, and then it calls louder, demandingly, becoming raucous.

            At hiatus stages of other projects, caused by delays in receiving the input of others, or delays in necessary material coming to hand, these calls become irresistible, and I answer the demand.

            Recently I finished transcribing and footnoting the eleventh of my great-grandfather’s journals, and while waiting for the remaining seven to arrive, digitized, from an English archive, I resumed work on my brother’s story of his experiences on the island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean, getting the pictures sequenced and captioned.  Now he has gone off to write the  narrative to link his “Letters from Reunion” and I am left with tidying up odds and ends of data entry, catching up on postal correspondence, attempting with a notable lack of success to organize both my computer files and my paper ones, and yearning for the time when in my working life I had a secretary. The odds and ends done, the demands of THE AUTOGRAPH BOOK became thunderous and now I must yield to them.

 When I was in public school 65 years ago, there was a great fad of collecting classmates’ and relatives’ messages and signatures in little notebooks with pastel pages.  I don’t know what became of mine, but my sister kept hers and it provides a fine example of the autograph books of that time, with a few entries from older connections being holdovers from a past era.  The verses typically are silly or sentimental or punning.  The older generation also was very big on moral aphorisms.  Most entries are dated.  The dates provide clues about the lives of both the writer and the recipient.

             It seems that my notion of autograph books being a fad of my childhood days is in error.  Once I started looking, I found family autograph books dating to a century ago, and one of a friend dating to the later years of the nineteenth century.  There is an extensive Wikipedia article on the history of the autograph book, which will appear in my book of autograph images.

            The book that now demands to be made will present for the most part the images of the pages, rather than a transcription of the words.  The images too offer clues about not only the writer but the era, as well as the life of the recipient of these messages. 

             Everything is connected.  In one of my great-grandfather’s diaries he quoted an aphorism, unattributed, which gave me a frisson up my spine.           

“Count that day lost whose low descending sun

“Views from thy hand no worthy action done.”

             The Internet tells me the couplet was found in Bartlett’s Quotations, and was anonymous.  But it wasn’t anonymous to me.  It connected me, with a shock, to my grandmother.  She was about eleven when her father, my great-grandfather,  wrote that passage in his diary, and its familiarity convinces me  he had quoted it to his children at the time he wrote it in his diary.  And  many decades later my grandmother quoted it to me.

            And the intent of the couplet has been – I now realize – a guiding principle in my life.

            There are many books on the merits and values of tracing one’s ancestors.  I don’t recall this one being mentioned, although its importance means to me that it outweighs all the other benefits.  This sudden sense of kinship – of inhabiting the same mental landscape as my grandmother and her father, was profoundly moving.

            And so I will spend my time with the autograph book images my husband scanned for me, captioning them to show the family relationships reflected therein, and imagining the lives that were being lived when the verses and drawings were made.

 Earlier in this space I have referred to my ongoing work transcribing my English great-grandfather’s diaries.  I have months of work left, possibly something like a year and a half, and that may be optimistic, but expressing concern about that is not my present purpose.  No, now it is my purpose to complain about something that should be obvious to any WOMAN who undertakes to make the diaries of a MAN accessible to his descendants.  So here is my complaint:  My great-grandfather writes his diary entries from his own point of view.  Obviously!!  Of course!  Why didn’t I think of that?  Doesn’t EVERYBODY??

What this means is that he RARELY makes mention of the activities and events of the home front.  Here’s an example. There are many others, of course.

The year is, perhaps, 1860.  He might mention paying the weekly charge of the woman who does the family laundry.  In some entries when his children were babies he even mentioned the number of pieces of laundry, from which one might infer that the laundress is paid on a piece-work basis.  But I don’t know if the laundress comes in and does her work in the home, or does it in her own home.  Where does she get the water?  What kind of soap does she use?  Does she do ALL the family laundry or just some of it?  Does she do the ironing? What kind of equipment does she use for the laundry and ironing?

These are matters that were unimportant to him, and so did not get mentioned.  For myself I would find these details, and a multitude like them - such as everything to do with food preparation – fascinating.   And because they impinge insufficiently  on his awareness, or at least his writing, I am doomed to frustration.

Thinking about this, I remembered some years ago working on my mother’s book.  She wrote at length about laundry day, when homesteading on the Saskatchewan prairie in the early years of the last century.  My mother was a granddaughter of Elizabeth Niebuhr Thiessen so I am comfortable in including HER words in niebuhrgathering.com, confident that this is a rightful place for them, while at the same time alleviating to some extent my frustration with my English great-grandfather.

 WASHDAYS AS I REMEMBER THEM  (Found in Rempel Stories II, privately printed in 2002, editor Roberta Rivett.)

 1926  Great Deer, Saskatchewan

Doing the laundry in 1926 was much easier than it used to be.  Time was when my older sisters had to melt snow in the wash boiler on the kitchen stove.  They carried the snow in, in chunks if it was hard enough, otherwise in buckets.  Now in 1926 we were living in the big new house, with a cistern built against the basement wall.  We could not get to the lovely soft water from the basement; it was reached through a trapdoor in the back entry on the main floor. The rain fell on the roof of the house and then by drainpipes was led into the cistern from the outside.  The cistern thus filled would give us all the laundry water we'd need until spring or later.  This water was soft, nothing like our well water, which was hard and would curdle the lye soap, or any other soap.

The large cast-iron cooker stood in the basement on the cement floor.  There was a firebox under it made of metal, vented into the chimney stack.  You made a fire under the cooker to heat the laundry water. 

The cooker was also used to make lye soap.  When a steer was butchered, all of the tallow was saved to be used in the making of soap.  The lye came in round tins, and was caustic; you simply never let your hands come into contact with it; it could burn your skin dreadfully.  Four pails of soft water were poured into the cooker.  The cans of lye were put in, and then the tallow.  The fire under the cooker heated it all.  The lye dissolved the tallow and it all simmered slowly for some hours, until it was of a smooth and even consistency.  Then it was poured into pans, where it cooled and became quite firm. It was cut into suitable pieces and stored.  It would likely last until the next steer was butchered in the fall.  If we ran out of lye soap we would have to buy laundry soap from the store. 

To do the laundry after the soap was made was a good idea, as there was much soap adhering to the cooker.  At other times, a piece of soap was sliced thinly and put into the cooker when it was full of water for the laundry.

Now we come to Day One of the laundry. The water was drawn from the cistern with a bucket which had a rope tied to the handle.  The rear hall was not only a place to enter by the back door; it was a place to hang outdoor garments on the good hooks that were provided, attached to a board on the wall opposite the door.                                                             

Below the hooks and in the corner was the trap door into the cistern.  You lifted the trap door and leaned it against the wall.                                                   

It was interesting, looking down into the cistern full of water, seeing your reflection.  We were always cautioned to be careful and not fall in, as that would almost surely mean death.  Now and then there was talk about getting a pump for the cistern, but as there were so many other demands on the money, it never came about.

My oldest sister Tena and I became quite efficient at hauling the water up, pouring it into another pail, and then carrying that pail down the basement steps to be poured into the cooker. When one of us came up with the empty pail, the other would have a pailful ready from the cistern, waiting to be poured into the empty pail, and so on until the cooker was filled. 

Tena sorted the laundry into suitable piles for the washer to handle.  There was a huge pile of wood in the basement, which was used for the kitchen stove as well as for heating laundry water, so that was no problem.

On the Second Day, the first thing in the morning the fire was lit under the cooker, and the washer was placed where it would be convenient to transfer hot water into it from the cooker.  Five buckets or so were poured into the washer.  The white clothes were done first:  white men's shirts, pillowslips which were made from 100-pound flour bags.  Aprons, tea towels and sheets also were made of flour bags.

Considering hundred-pound bag of flour we used in a week, there was a lot of this strong white material available.  It was quite a task to get all of the printing out of the bags, but soaking them in separate warm water and lots of lye soap followed by a good hand rubbing did wonders.  After this they were boiled in the wash boiler on top of the kitchen stove, not forgetting to put in extra lye soap.  Now you had new material; even underwear was made from it.    The sheets were made  of four opened bags together, seams sewn flat, and one more halved, sewn across the bottom. 

The washer lid had a dolly. I don't know why it was called that but it would have made as good a job by any other name.  The dolly was a round, heavy piece of wood about twelve inches across with four pegs about four inches long fastened into it.  When the washer lid was closed, the dolly plunged into the laundry, and when the handle was pushed back and forth, the laundry was swished about in the hot soapy water.  This was continued for about fifteen minutes, then laundry was put through the wringer and into the laundry tub.  Hot water from the cooker was poured on the laundry in the tub.

The wash board came next.  The water must not be too hot, because we had to use our hands to lift pieces of laundry out of the water and onto the scrubbing board, where we scrubbed it, up and down, up and down.  We had to be careful to scrub the washing only and not our hands.  We made sure the ball of our hands would not get in the way and also get a rubbing.  Blisters arose and were very painful, taking days to heal.  We learned to scrub only the laundry, and not our hands. 

Our hands held the laundry, and piece by piece it got a second washing. This procedure took place with all the washing: washer first, then through the wringer, into the tub, scrub it over the washboard, then another fifteen minutes in the washer and through the wringer.  The wringer was made to turn by a handle and a handhold.  Around and around, one piece after another.  Just watch out and don't let your fingers get caught along with the wash. Right hand turns the handle, left hand feeds the wringer. And then the wash was ready for rinsing the next day.

While I would get another load into the washer and apply womanpower to make it go, Tena would sort out the white things that really were not white enough and must be boiled in the wash boiler on the kitchen stove.  And don't forget to put in some lye soap.  When ALL the laundry had been through the washer and the wringer and the scrubbing board, it was ready for rinsing in cold well water the next morning.  Before that could happen, the washer was emptied again, the water carried up the back stairs and thrown out well away from the house.  The wooden washer was thoroughly cleaned and made ready for the rinsing water.

The Third Day, the rinsing water was carried from the well and poured into the clean washer, the lid closed, the handle pulled back and forth until we were sure all the soap was rinsed out of that lot of laundry.  Then each load of wash was put through the wringer a final time and piled on the table, covered against dust.  In the summer the wash was hung out on lines, but in the winter it was carried upstairs through the kitchen, and up the second stairs in the dining room and finally up into the attic by way of a ladder. The wash hung there on many lines until it was dry.  This would take a number of days as there was no heat in the attic.

There were some things that needed starching after rinsing.  Some of the men's shirts, dresses, blouses and aprons were starched.  The starch was made by putting a mixture of flour and water into a pot of boiling water on the kitchen stove.  The mixture was then strained through a twenty-pound sugar bag, just in case there were any lumps in it.  When it was cool, the articles that needed starching were dipped into the starch water and wrung out by hand.

The articles that needed ironing were dry before the heavier things, and we might get to ironing them by Friday, but mostly the ironing was left for the following week.  The ironing was quite a job by itself.  You laid a folded flannelette sheet across the end of the dining room table, and used sad irons.  Why sad irons, I don't know.  They were made of solid iron with a nice shiny bottom.  They were put on the stove to heat.  There was one handle made of wood, which would clip onto the iron.  You ironed away with one iron until it seemed to need reheating.  Then you unclipped the wooden handle and traded the cooling iron for the hot one from the stove. 

I remember Mother sitting in the kitchen mending or knitting and being a part of the day.  It was a good feeling seeing her there. 

The sheets and towels had to be made smooth in the old-fashioned way.  You got the five-foot-long bench from behind the table - Father had made it years before and the boys sat on it when they ate.  On ironing days there was another use for the bench.  A two-foot-long roller made of wood was used to make the sheets and towels lovely and smooth.  Towels or folded sheets were wrapped tightly around the roller.  Then came an item called a rubble.  The roller with the sheet wrapped around it was placed on the bench, and you took hold of the rubble and placed it on the roller, which was on one end of the bench.  Now you put pressure with the rubble on the roller and rolled it until you came to the other end of the bench, and then started over again.  This was hard work and hard on the bended back, but when you unrolled it, it was a joy to behold.  When all the towels and sheets were finished they were taken upstairs and put in the linen cupboard.

The next week there was NO laundry. The next week we had much other work to do, and if we got all the ironing done this week, we were free of the laundry until the week following - it was a big washing every second week.  There were eight of us at home at the time I am writing about.  Helen and Olga were working as live-in housekeepers.  My oldest brother Jack was going to boarding school at Rosthern, Saskatchewan.  I was sixteen years old at that time.  Now I am past eighty years.  When I read this, I can hardly believe it.  We are in a push-button age now.

Susanna Rempel Hinde   1990       (Born  in 1909 near Borden, Saskatchewan.  Died  in 2004, in Victoria, British Columbia.)

  For more than a year now I have been working on transcribing the journals of my great-grandfather.  Before I got my hands on his journals - the record he kept of his life, his work and his family for more than half a century - I knew a little about him, mostly from my father’s memories of his grandfather, and my grandmother’s memories of her father, although those, heard in childhood, had become unclear, leaving me with a rather fantastic image of a mythical being.

Now, deciphering the words written by his own hand and  walking with him and his family, living his life in Victorian England, I feel I know him as I have known none of the other kindred who have been subject of my family books.

I believed from these family stories that his wife Lydia died – of ruptured appendix – when her youngest child, my grandmother, was six, and that her father had employed a neighbor lady with a young son to look after his home and the children still at home.  I believed that he had adopted his housekeeper’s son when he married her, and that they had had two sons together both of whom died in their teens.

I knew, I knew.  This was the myth.  I had thought, as in my transcribing I approached the year I had understood to be Lydia’s death, that I would learn the reality.

It didn’t happen.  The diary ceases months before the time I had understood to be Lydia’s death, and resumes, only sporadically, years AFTER her death, until much later when it is resumed more regularly.  There is a brief passage regarding his dear Lydia’s funeral, with a drawing of her coffin and the placement and names of the pall bearers.  There is, written undated, a brief passage quoting Lydia’s words as she lay dying.

From the scant information my great-grandfather leaves during the years after Lydia’s death, I can only infer the heartbreak.  From the date of Lydia’s funeral I know that the myth of the year she died - when her youngest child was 6 -  is out by two years.  She – my grandmother – was said in the family stories, which I will now call myths, to be six when her mother died, and eight when her father remarried.  The scraps of journal indicate that little girl was almost 8 when her mother died, and eleven when her father remarried.

What can we trust of the family myths?  My brother has words for this, which are often quoted in the family to help understand this recurring puzzle.  I believe I have quoted him before in this blog.

 

I started to write this three months ago, and then, delving further into the thousands of pages of my great-grandfather’s diary yet to transcribe, I discovered that although he had put a few isolated entries into the earlier diary, he had continued unbroken from the regular entries of that one into a new one, which now, in the middle of March 2011, I have just finished transcribing.  This diary covered the period from August 1877 to June 1881, during which time the details of his wife’s death, and three years later his remarriage and his first child with his new wife, are all recorded.  This later journal combines entries about his family and his daily life with his business dealings.  In consultation with my sister Mary, my constant companion in this process of uncovering family history, I decided to transcribe only those entries which related to his personal life, his family, friends and fellow Quakers, and omit transcription of his daily multitude of business dealings, and also omit such items as the weekly purchase of milk and the seasonal purchase of coal.

There is a gain in taking this approach – the transcription reads much more like a story and less like an account book.  There is also a loss in that the account book entries describe the items passing though his hands in the course of his business dealings.  He was an antiquarian – would he today be called an antique dealer?  Perhaps.  The items include ancient books; footnoting those has been a study of history in itself.  I had not known, for example, that there were MANY translations of the Bible, between the invention of moveable type and the King James Version.  I had known little about Roman Britain.  I had known little about the coinage of all ages of Britain, although I had inherited from my great-grandfather four of his Roman coins. My great-grandfather had a particular interest in the books of the early Quakers, so in footnoting them (Google prolifically providing me with information and remarkably often, complete texts of these books) I became much more conversant with the time of the Reformation.

In the early diaries  I transcribed everything, and everything was footnoted.  Now in 1881 his life story is the focus, his work being referred to only glancingly in what I choose to transcribe.  But I have not  discarded the printouts of the full diaries; they can be re-examined at any time, and I have also, naturally, kept the disks on which they came to me from the firm in London, England, which photographed and digitized the diaries for me.

Today I am contemplating making  a worksheet of the tasks remaining to be done to make my great-grandfather’s life accessible to his descendants.  I am feeling qualms.   Is it best just to putter along, and NOT be clear about the mountain of hours still required?  Or should I face the reality squarely?

Perhaps a hot chocolate and a half-hour of watching birds at the feeders will produce an answer.

Storytelling

My brother Barry says “The instant  after we live an event, we start re-writing it in our minds, and we keep re-writing it until it suits us, until it feels right.  We rewrite it to make us look funnier, or smarter, or more dramatic.  We have very little awareness that this is what is happening.  Everybody does it.

My purpose (relating this to family history) in “making books” is making our forebears accessible to our younger generation.  I have to recognize that it is very difficult even in the best circumstances to get at a dependable picture of  the lives of these forebears.  Earlier I wrote of a great-aunt, a Niebuhr descendant, of whom I had five photographs, a few letters and a quantity of the memories people had of her.  Then there was my grand-father-in-law, of whom there are records, many of them official ones, but so contradictory as to date and name and place that the truth of the matter is elusive.  There have been many other sources of material for others of my family in my history-writing efforts, and I find it is possible to rank the probability of their revealing the character of the subject in the following ways:

  • Family legends.  Memories. These are probably the least dependable; legends even more than everyday memories evolve in the telling and with the passage of time.  The legends that make a forebear larger than life are sometimes borne out by subsequent evidence, but especially in detail, that’s not the way to bet.  I have mentioned in an earlier blog the family legend of the naming of my Aunt Daisie not holding up to documented fact.  This of course assumes that the “fact” will hold up better to the standard of “truth” than the preferred legend.
  • Letters.  Only rarely are both sides of a correspondence preserved.  I made a book of the only such set of letters that has come to my hands.  One sided letters by their nature tell only half the story, but are valuable if that’s what is available.  I have both sides of the correspondence of my mother’s younger sister and her fiancée, covering a couple of years before they were married.  Transcribing these letters emphasized for me how much of the meaning of the relationship would be lost if only one side of the correspondence were available.
  • Account books.  I have the account books of several forebears.  They don’t make very interesting reading without a vast effort in researching the context, and I have yet to try that.  My sense is that they become the more interesting the older they are.    My great-grandfather wrote his journal in the unused pages of his father’s record of his work as estate bailiff at a wealthy  banker’s country home.  These entries, dating to the early nineteenth century, reflect the life and times, but only in outline. The entry,  “Toll for hay wain tuppence,” carries a mass of information but calls for decoding.
  • Diaries – that is, of the limited-space five year kind – are likely to record only the minutiae of daily life, especially so if they are used as a record by more than just the writer.  My best example is found in my Aunt Elsie’s diary.  She recorded my birth as follows:  “Baby came before doctor.  Boys hauling wood.”
  • Journals.  I distinguish these from diaries by the length of the entries, and by the entries being less dependably daily.  Five year diaries strictly limit the amount of content that can be recorded.  For journals there is no such limitation to entries, which can be from a line to a page to nothing.  Journals are much more likely to contain intimations of the writer’s mental landscape.

It is  my observation from examining a great many family materials dated over the course of two centuries that  of all sources, journals have the best shot at conveying the mind of the writer.  Letters (when both sides of  a correspondence are available) may come close, but there seems always to be a part of the writer’s mental processes held back, edited, monitored.  With a journal such as my great-grandfather’s, both the details of his daily life and his thoughts about the details and the wider physical and mental landscape he inhabited are available.  It becomes possible, through transcribing and footnoting his journals, to develop a sense of the realities of his life and the lives of the people of his time and station in life.

And how odd it is, the significance a century and a half ago, of that “station in life.”  Class structure, while not as rigid as in earlier centuries, was nevertheless still rigid.  Through education and striving, working class children could break into the middle class.  Odd too that through Britain’s possession of a vast and mostly empty land, it called to its citizens to populate that land.  And so it was that many of the children of Henry Thomas Wake became owners of land for ten dollars and three years’ labour, through the Canadian Homestead Act, and found themselves in a nominally classless society.

 

Diaries and Journals

Many times have I alluded here to the transcription of my great-grandfather’s journals, this being my family history labour since February 2010.  In the course of the transcription, often challenging to decipher and requiring use of a magnifying glass,  often baffling as to strange abbreviations and archaic terms, I have frequently thought about the nature of diaries and journals:  why people keep them, and what they might convey about the mind of the writer.

Whole books have been written about how to write journals and diaries.  There are in them lists of the reasons for the writing, examples of  the styles of writing, and the processes of getting the words on paper.  My sense is that they are all just about useless, except for one thing:  they do suggest to the person who has the impulse to start one that on the whole it’s a good idea, if that’s what you feel like doing.  The rest is just filler.

My great-grandfather, Henry Thomas Wake, hereafter referred to as HTW, began one when he was 21, at which time he  had been on his own in the big city, a boy from a country village, for four years.   It seems to have been a sort of dare with his friend, that they both start diaries.  In June 1852, he wrote the reasons for starting a journal  or diary; he used the terms interchangeably, but  I define journal loosely as a record of a life made roughly daily, without space limitations , and a diary  as a record of a life made within the limitations of the few lines in book ruled for five years of entries on a page.

Here are his reasons:

“…before we parted Watson and I resolved each of us to keep a Diary of passing events, etc.  Our motive for so doing was in the first place to assist the memory by recording such facts and speculations, connected with our own observations, as we thought worthy or remembrance.  2ndly  it would be an exercise for us in English composition, and perhaps be a means of improving us in that branch of literature.  3rdly and lastly,  to preserve correct dates or remarkable events which are so soon forgotten unless noted with pen and ink.”

By 1866 – the year I am now working on -  HTW had several times noted his anniversaries of journal-writing, (“This concludes my first month of diary writing;”  “This is the tenth anniversary of my diary.”)  He makes, however, no reference to whether his friend Watson had been similarly successful.

Started thus, HTW continued his daily entries  until he was in his seventies. At this point – the end of September 2010 – I have transcribed fourteen years’ worth of his entries, more than four thousand of them.   His entries will continue until a few years before he died in 1914.

A blog is a sort of diary or journal – with differences.  A blog entry may be unrelated to the date, and while it is often connected in some manner to what is going on in the writer’s life, it more usually arises from the life of the writer’s mind, rather than of the writer’s quotidian experience.  In consequence of my interest in the “mental landscape” as described by Ursula LeGuin in “The Language of the Night,”   I follow a number of blogs, in addition to making irregular contributions to this one.  Blogs usually are written around one subject, and can be understood outside  the context of the physical life of the writer.

It is difficult now to picture how precious were books and indeed the paper they were printed on, a century and a half ago.  Nothing was wasted.  HTW through the first decade of his diary is working up toward what will become his life’s vocation of antiquarian bookseller.  If he came upon a battered book that was of some interest, though falling apart and missing pages, he got his hands on a complete copy and HAND-PRINTED the missing pages, often the  title pages, and rebound it.    The implicit paradigm is strange to us now, we who discard and recycle a slightly battered book as being too poor for inclusion in a used book sale.  And space in notebooks too was valued.  Two of HTW’s early journals were contained in  the unused pages of notebooks of other people.  One of these was his father’s notebook containing his record of his buyings and sellings and daily activities as farm bailiff and head gardener on the country estate of a wealthy London banker.  Scattered through the notebook were empty pages, which HTW used for his journal.  His father’s farm record is worthy of transcription on its own, and might call for even more Internet research to understand the references.  An entry like “Tuppence for hay wagon toll,” evokes a picture of even farm tracks being toll roads, in a world where the user paid  directly for WHATEVER he used. 

Another of HTW’s journals  was written in the unused pages of  a notebook which had first been used by a Bishop in the North of England to record notes for a botanical work he was writing.  Again, HTW filled the unused pages with his journal.  And in addition, wherever there were blank spaces on a page – anywhere in any of his journals -  he would enter short notes on a wide range of subjects, whatever interested him at the moment, and usually date the entries.  Thus a journal nominally for the period  of April 1861 to May 1863 might contain entries dated any time in the next decade or more.  This practice has made decisions about the use of these entries a considerable challenge, and after much thought and with my sister Mary’s help, the decision was made to place the “non-journal” entries in proximity to the journal entries by date, but set out in another font to make clear their being other than regular journal entries.

Beginning his diary when he was 21 as he did, HTW’s entries might be expected to change over time, and they do.  I made one abortive effort to keep a journal, unwisely beginning it shortly before the birth of my first child.  Her arrival put a stop to spending time in that manner, it seems, but having kept those early efforts I can now be embarrassed at myself when young, in the ponderous self-consciousness of my writing.   HTW’s entries reflect his maturation, and also his changing focus as his life changes, from being single and on his own in London, to being married and becoming a father; from  being spectacularly concerned with the cost of EVERYTHING,  to costs disappearing from his journal when he obtained a “Cash Book” whereafter, presumably, his concern with costs continued but  was not reflected in the journal. 

HTW became an antiquarian bookseller in the 1860s, and made his living thereby until the end of his days.  With the help of my search-skilled daughter Allegra I have been delving into the references found on the Internet about his business.  So far – and my search is by no means complete, I have found his advertisements to buy books appearing in half a dozen periodicals.  I plan to include these references in the journal, in the relevant time period.  He didn’t advertise to SELL books; for that he put out a monthly catalogue illustrated with his tiny drawings.  I have several of these catalogues,  and full sets of them are in the Archives of the British Museum, and in the Derby County Archives, Derby being his county of residence for the last decades of his life.

Reflecting about this process of getting into the head of my great-grandfather through his journals,  I have been struck that the time-travelling I am doing – back a century and a half  and an ocean away – is a eerily uneasy experience.  My great-grandfather doesn’t know that he and his Lydia are soon to have their last child – my grandmother, and that six years later Lydia will die of a condition that would not have killed her now.  That two years later he will remarry and will have two more children.  That four of his children will die before he does.  In 1866 he doesn’t know this, and I do.

The emotional toll of a death in the family is predicted.  We all know and expect the grief, the sadness.  And we all deal with the grief and sadness in our own way.

These are givens.  What surprised me was the physical exhaustion, not occasioned alone by the fact that there were physical tasks to be accomplished outside the daily round.  No, it seemed that the grief itself was a physical load to be carried, generating physical weariness.  Awareness that this is what is happening is minimal, until, looking back, it is realized.

At some point comes the need to pick up the threads of a life that was fully lived before the deaths and acknowledge that it will, in time, be fully lived again even though there are these vast holes in the warp and weft of that life's fabric.  Then it becomes needful to work with deliberation on  - not MENDING the holes, but - figuring out how to work around them, until the holes by imperceptible stages, heal.

We will all undertake this in our own way.  And the way we choose will probably arise from our own passions and interests and ways of life.  Words, deeds - and memories.

I assemble family books.  I don't say I write them, because there isn't much of my writing in them.  I put them together and distribute them to the family.  That is my passion and my interest.  So from the recent family deaths, books have arisen and will arise further.  I arrange memorials.  I make accessible the ephemera of lives now lost, in order that the departed remain with us through their thoughts and images.  

David's mother had an elegant music box, in the form of a white porcelain dove.  The tune it plays is the theme from the movie "Love Story."  He plays that music box every morning while he is getting ready for the day, and remembers his mother.  I quilt, and remember that she got me started in quilting.  I got to know my brother better than ever before when I kept him company when undergoing treatment at a cancer centre far from his home.  I listen to the music of my son-in-law's brother, so happily available on the Internet.

I write about the family, or rather I assemble material about family members and make books which give the extended family access to the lives of their kin and forebears. And - I arrange ceremonies to mark the passing of those we lost.  Next month the extended family will gather for the installation of plaques in memory of the three of my family we lost in the past year - my brother, whose obituary is on this web site as a Niebuhr descendant, my mother-in-law, and  my son-in-law's brother.   The plaques will be added to those of our family already memorialized there.  We will light candles and share memories.  And then we will feast.  It wouldn't be a Mennonite event without the feast.  Forget tea and dainties!  We will EAT!

And every time we sit in the gazebo,  with the birds and bees and the scent of flowers, we will look at the plaques and memories  of our lost ones will  be renewed,  to the end of our own days.

I have just experienced loss of the first draft of this blog, and I know not how so it could happen again.  In my frustration I let out a yowl of dismay, to which David, fortunately just arisen from his blameless sleep, responded with a comforting ginger chocolate.  So now I have to try and reconstruct what I said, which I thought was brilliant and insightful.  As it is lost, the brilliance and insightfulness will have to be taken as givens, because NEVER have I been able to recreate lost posts.  Therefore what follows is my ordinary pedestrian prose.

Recently there was a documentary on television, the Time Travel episode of Stephen Hawking's series, "Into the Universe."   In it, Hawking reviews the many actual and possible forms of time travel (and a few impossible ones as well) but in my view he omits two forms:  one being the fact that we all travel in time -  one day at a time - into the future.  The other is the time travel we do in our minds.

In our minds we can also go into the past.  If we have a suitable vehicle, that experience of the past can be extremely vivid.

I'm not talking about science fiction, or any other kind of fiction, or indeed science fact.  I am talking about my great-grandfather's journals.  He began keeping them in 1852 and continued for most of the rest of his life.  I have (with some effort and indeed cost) got my hands on all of his notebooks, and have been transcribing and footnoting them, and because of the style of his writing and the nature of the content I have been time-travelling to (at the moment) September 1859.

In September 1858 he wrote this:

"15th  III   The late Inspector of the East and West India Docks, William Thomson, told me today that just off the Trinity Corporation's premises at Bow Creek, a sunken Vessel, apparently of about 200 tons Burden, has from time to time become visible at low water.  He says that now the Vessel can be plainly traced out at low water, and it has been found out that at that particular point a number of Vessels were sunk to block up the Thames (so that only one or two ships could pass) at the time of the Spanish Armada was feared in 1588, and this Vessel, which has lately made its appearance, is one of the sunken Ships, as is thought."

My great-grandfather, Henry Thomas Wake, time-travelled to 1588, about 280 years before his time, through this evidence of that era.  I time-travelled back to his time a century and a half ago, and then further back with him to 1588.  This would not be possible were it not for the vivid detail with which he records his life both the physical and the mental landscape.  Working on the writings of others tt has often been necessary, as with the diaries of HTW's granddaughter, my aunt Elsie Hinde Ingram,  to infer states of mind  because the text gave little indication of anything except the PHYSICAL landscape of her life.  

With HTW, I walk the streets and lanes of London - finding that most of those streets remain on present-day maps - and reflect on his annoyance at forgetting his umbrella when it comes on to rain, and  his concern about the putrid state of the Thames - an open sewer - and  share his delight in his children and his fatherly concern for their welfare.  Time travelling.  And now, through the laborious but highly rewarding process of transcribing his journals, I am making them accessible to the immediate family, and those of the extended family who might be interested.  Making their forebears accessible to my grandchildren has been my central purpose in all my family history efforts.  

I suspect that several books will arise from the transcription and footnoting of his journals.  I am on Notebook #4, with more than 400 typed pages resulting.  And many more notebooks await transcription.

Jonathan Haidt in The Happiness Hypothesis wrote something so telling about the human condition that I remember it vividly while the rest of the book, although I remember the pleasure of reading it, I do not at all recall.  The memorable passage referred to the expectation, when a task is completed or a challenge met,  that there will be an abiding sense of satisfaction, even joy.  He goes on to describe the failure of that expectation.  Instead of lasting satisfaction, the positive feeling is of remarkably short duration, to be followed almost immediately with "What's next?"

This hit home powerfully for me.

This morning I finished a task - two tasks actually - projects in my never-ending list of family history books.  One was the last stage of work on a book about the farewell party we had here for my brother.  He had asked for a family gathering to be organized, knowing he had little time left and wanting to see everyone while he could know them.  We took a great many pictures, and together with captions, and a few pictures from his earlier life,  and memories of him written by several of the family, a book of the event emerged.  The book was printed off in 20 copies, and yesterday David finished binding the copies.  

At the same time he bound the smaller number of copies of "my" book on Angkor Wat, Cambodia.  This is a book of the pictures taken by my brother Barry when he visited Angkor Wat in October 2009.  It has always been a place of fantasy for me and I asked him to be lavish in picture-taking for me as well as himself.  My thought that only one copy would be made - for me - had to be discarded;  several were made at the requests of various members of the family, and now this book too is printed and bound and into its mailing packages.

The point here is that my joy and satisfaction at completing these two projects were indeed momentary emotions.  Jonathan Haidt hit the nail on the head.  I have thought that perhaps there will be a more substantial feeling of satisfaction once I complete ALL the family projects on the list, but every time I shorten the list by one, or by two projects as today, three or more arise, demanding my attention.

I suppose I could just tell myself that nothing will be added to the list until all present projects are complete, but I don't seem to be able to go at it that way.  While I am working on one project (more likely several) I do NOT  resist discovering new areas of family history and realizing that books need to be made about them.  In consequence the list never shortens.

While writing today to cousins delinquent in sending me their memories of our shared grandparents  (this is the next of "What's next?") I realized that another book is crying out to be made, of the letters my mother and her siblings exchanged after they had all married and gone their geographically but not emotionally separate ways.  So there it is, two books finished, a new one identified, and still 22 more in the list in various stages.

So why is it that I cannot take more than the briefest of pleasure out of finishing two books.  With the total completed now numbering 25, all I can see is the 22 on the list yet to be written.

These reflections lead to some serious questions about my expectations with respect to RETIREMENT!  This is retirement?  I work at my projects for at least 8 hours a day (scattered over 15 or 16 hours.)  I will be 75 this year, and while I am in reasonable health I find that my cognitive sharpness is declining.  How long am I going to be able to continue working on the family books I so powerfully see as my mission in retirement to produce?  The sense of urgency is at times overwhelming, and is not helped by being still in my first five years after cancer treatment.  AS Omar Khayam has it, "The bird of time has but a little way to flutter, and the bird is on the wing."

The Great-Aunt Mary book was mailed off today, not without qualms on my part.  I hope that some of the recipients will feel free to make additions for a possible future edition; the story of her life is certainly incomplete.

And as always, when completing a project, I feel not exhilaration, but a species of let-down.

Fortunately, while the HTW Notebooks issue is still in limbo, awaiting the response to my plea to the Archivist at Friends' House, London, England, Package #5 arrived from my kinswoman in Ontario, giving me the relatively mindless task of transcribing the interviews with my kin in the seventies to be done.  I made a start this afternoon, and as always find the CONTENT to be fascinating.  The first one I am working on is Betty Ward's interview with my second cousin, who was reflecting on the survival - or otherwise - of the Quaker Meeting in Borden. This is a second cousin who has been most helpful with clarifications of agricultural terms for footnotes, explanations of events and much other valuable assistance in the making of a number of books.  He is now in his eighties, and at the time of the interview he was still  farming in the Borden area, but no longer a member of the Quaker Meeting.

Hmm...I should date my entries.  A lot of water under the bridge since I wrote the above.  Part of said water will be reflected in a later post entitled The Game's Afoot III; for now I will comment further on transcription of the fifth and final package of the Ward Archive.

I should indeed date my entries.  The last one completed and posted was in October 2009; this one and another sat in my draft box until now. Since October, My brother David died (November) and my mother-in-law entered her final illness and died (January 2010.)  It is obvious that my mind has been elsewhere than on family history for some months, but I trust the challenges and tasks presented by the loss of these loved ones will soon be dealt with and life will resume its normal smooth tenor.  I expect, however, to continue to feel uneasy at nine in the morning - the hour when for many years I telephoned my beloved mother-in-law...

As I type, the last copies of my book about my husband's grandfather is printing.  Later today I will bind one of the copies, so as to have it ready to give his daughter, my mother-in-law, at lunch tomorrow.  She is almost 98, and increasingly frail.  

This project, like most of mine, has been in the works for several years.

And once again I experience  NOT the feeling of elation for having completed a long project, but a momentary feeling of "That's nice," followed by "What's next?"

And what's next is the book about my great-aunt Mary.   Having decided  few days ago that I was NOT going to wait for certain information to come in, but rather to finalize the book now, print and bind and mail...with each copy a plea being made to send me anything that should have been included, for a future edition.

"The game's afoot" is what Sherlock Holmes said to Dr. Watson to entice him to join in a search for clues to a mystery.

In July 2009, my second cousin Christine in the south of England told me that in about 1989 she had donated our shared great-grandfather's notebooks to the Derby County Archives.  She had, as she said, lugged them  from attic to attic in her moves across England, and it was time.  She passed them over to a connection who was traveling to Derby (this being Great-Grandfather's home county for the last many decades of his life) and would see them safely into the hands of the archivist.

Apparently that didn't happen.  I contacted the Derby County Archivist, who searched and did NOT find the notebooks.  I had it in mind to arrange for them to be photocopied, and then I would produce a companion volume to the "Victorian Antiquarian..."  book I finally finished last winter. The archivist recommended consideration of the Derby County Library system as a possible repository of the notebooks, and undertook to make inquiries.  

My lack of results was duly reported to my second cousin, who undertook to make some inquiries of her own, and a few days ago emailed in triumph:  the notebooks have been located!  There are fourteen of them; at about 200 pages each we estimate between us that photocopying them would cost in the neighborhood of two thousand dollars.  This is daunting, but not an insuperable obstacle.  Now I await further word from Christine, who awaits word from the archivist at Friends' House, London, England, where the precious notebooks ended up.  The Archivist is to send Christine scanned copies of a few pages from the notebooks; she will forward them to me, and leave it with me to negotiate about  photocopying the whole.  

Having transcribed the three notebooks which found their way to Canada and included them in full in the Victorian Antiquarian book, I know their value.  They are partly diaries, partly records for Great-Grandfather's antiquarian business, partly his ruminations about life, the universe and everything.  The Crystal Palace of England's Great Exposition in 1851 is a historical fact with many references including illustrations available on the Internet.  But it it is another matter entirely to read my Great-Grandfather's thoughts upon seeing it.  Christine said she had remembered the notebooks as being mostly about business, but it had been decades since she had looked at one of them;  the Friends' House Archivist told her they were much more than that. I am looking forward breathlessly to see the rest of the notebooks.

Several days on and Christine has forwarded the scans of several pages of the notebooks sent her by the Friends' House Archivist.  The sample page included reference to my great-grandmother's imminent delivery of her fourth child, Annie, grandmother of Christine. I MUST HAVE THIS MATERIAL! The most immediate obstacle to getting it is the Archivist's word that Friends' House does not have the resources to photocopy this much material - he estimates 2500 pages - and that it would cost 600 pounds to have it microfilmed.  

My next task will be to contact the Archivist directly and see what I can persuade him to do!  Meantime I will look into finding a microfilm reader.  I am prepared to argue that if he can send out the precious notebooks to be microfilmed, maybe he can lend them to me (under a suitable bond) and I can do the photocopying myself.  I am further prepared to "bribe" him with a copy of my first Henry Thomas Wake book, and will start the negotiation by sending him a copy of the index.

To be continued.