My Grandfather’s Journal

Illustration by Ryan Miller.

My grandfather tended a daily journal the same as he tended his evening kye, his plow, his morning fire. I have his collection of journals (they were called “daily journals” because that is what journals were supposed to tend).

Once the other newspaper in this town was called the Daily Journal, to which that stickler-for-truth Bill Berry (at least I’m blaming Bill) decided Daily was redundant and the name changed to plain Journal. Personally I thought the change lost a certain hometown quaintness, never mind it was more correct. Who’d not want to live in a place with a hometown brag called the Daily Journal?

The journal is a family trait for I, too, keep a journal. My mother didn’t, at least not exactly; instead, she kept recipes like King Midas hoarded gold and about to the same purpose. Far more recipes than she could ever attempt, hundreds, probably thousands of recipes, 99.99 percent she never tried, much to my relief as her experimental animal. Recipes ought to have been cited in Exodus along with adultery as disruptive to the household. Thankfully our mama was a four on the floor, four-wheel drive kind of farmhouse cook.

Never in that childhood did we have pizza, not once hamburgers, only when the dietary onslaught was unstoppable did we have French fries. Our meals were of real dead animals, real chicken, real beef, no disguise. Mama didn’t camouflage food – sauces were camouflage with the intent to hide things, like as not inedible things. At the farmhouse we ate like proper carnivores and every meal beyond our daily ration of oatmeal acknowledged this. What we ate, we looked in the eye.

My great-grandfather namesake kept a journal (Mr. Justin Manchester), a journal of his childhood on the banks of the Little Plover in a village named Springville. Plover was down the road. The year was 1871 and in his journal he records he and his father on January first were felling red pine to make into steering sweeps for lumber rafts. His hand was crisp and neat to think this journal was a Christmas present. He ceased his journal keeping soon after, thinking as most people do regarding a journal, what they have to say is of no importance, he just another kid in the Pinery. As we all know, my great-grandfather was wrong.

George, my grandfather, was dutiful to his journal. In my library is a box containing his collection of journals. Altogether 60 years’ worth of daily notes, if basically a sex journal:

Sow got of 25 Dec April 15

Black sow 18 Dec Apr 5

Old sow 23 Dec Apr 13

Lenny L. sow Jan 16 May 7

Largest young sow Jan 16 May 7

On the next page written sideways:

Pet star 16 Jan

Underneath is written:

Pet steer 16 Jan

Seems erratic spelling is something of a genetic marker in my family line.

In his journal is a thing we don’t see much of anymore – a longhand, arithmetic calculation to whit grandfather sold something at 2,567 units at 7 cents each, to guess a pound equaling 179.69 to which was added 9.31 equaling $189 even, to which was added 66.82 and 64.90 to equal $320.72, adding 229.16 equaling 549.88. As said, a longform hand calculation. I checked out his math on my digital desk calculator. A fair share of his journal is his math.

He records addresses of a number of persons without notion as to why: a Roy Kammern, of Grand Rapids; a John Holman, of Parfreyville; a Sam Nelson, of Blaine; whether farm customers, or a card game assignation at the Simonds mill.

On the following page were his entries to Class 13 at the Amherst Fair:

½ bu Bliss Triumph potatoes

Same measure for Early Ohio potatoes

In Class 15, a jar of home made butter

Specimen of butter imprint (perhaps he was referring to a butter mold)

A show of pickles

Two pages later he records 7 dollars 25 in fair winnings, the pickles took second of show, his sweet corn best of show as did his popcorn, at a dollar each.

The year was 1905.