Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Contemplating Adelia

Lately, even though I'm working on a new book--or maybe because of it--my thoughts have been turning to Adelia (from my last book, Remembering Adelia, which came out earlier this year). I finished telling her story awhile ago and it became such a part of MY life during that time that I think I'm a little sentimental about letting it go and moving on to something else.

While I was writing the book, I immersed myself in Adelia's diary and read and reread it many times. I also researched women's lives in general during that time period--the 1860s--in order to become inspired to make some of the quilts reflecting the era. (You should know that I am NOT a quilt historian, just a quilter interested in history who enjoys learning about what the historians uncover.) For some reason, the minute I opened the pages of Adelia's little leather-bound journal several years ago and learned that she was a quilter, I was completely drawn into the 19th century and wanted to learn everything I could about her life. I felt compelled to share her words and make sure that her simple but heartfelt story would be revealed to other quilters and enjoyed for the connection it gives us to our country's past.


In the course of my research, I read portions of other women's diaries that were much more informative about the Civil War and contained facts that probably thrill historians much more than Adelia's simple story of her simple life. But that's what moved me the most about Adelia's diary--the fact that she wrote so honestly about her own life, as ordinary as it was. In so many ways her life was remarkably similar to ours today (she would have loved blogs, I'm certain of it!). I also appreciated the fact that she was not afraid to let her personality (or opinion!) shine through, unlike many accounts written during the same time period. I read somewhere that women of the nineteenth century were not usually very introspective in their journals and often revealed more in personal letters than they did in their diaries, which were sometimes nothing more than daily housekeeping accounts. For a young woman of 19, living in such uncertain times, life could not have been easy and she often spelled out her frustrations and worries in the pages of her diary.

Adelia did not intend that her words would be read by so many strangers so many years later and I hope she wouldn't have minded.  She wrote every day and yet you only get a smattering of her writing in the published version. Remembering Adelia was intended as a QUILT pattern book designed around a diary to give it flavor, and NOT simply a publication of her entire diary. So there wasn't room to include all of her writing and everything else I would have liked to include. I also had to stick to my publisher's 80-page limit.

Quite a few of you have asked me about the diary pages that weren't included in the book, so here are just a few "missing" entries I thought you might enjoy reading that I hope will take you a little further into Adelia's ordinary, nineteenth-century world.

* * *
January 19, 1861

Emma has a very sore throat and a cold. Did a very large washing today with James' help. Got through about three o'clock. Mrs. Bennett called. She was sewing at Alcott's. Got tired of so much noise among the young ones that she came here to get away from it.

Mr. Howard came back from Woodstock. Staid all night and Mother and Father went to hear him preach in the evening. Some little children came in the evening and we made molasses candy.

January 20

Emma sick yet I did not get up early enough to get the work done in time to go to church so Mother, Father, Myron and Elias went without me. After meeting was out Elias and I stole the horse and cutter and went up to Melvira's. Had a grand good visit and made a call at Mr. Armstrong's with Melvira and Dave.

January 21

This morning got up with a very sore throat myself. Emma seems better. Had a high fever and headache all day. Laid about most of the time. Miss Howard came here and stayed all night. Mother, Myon and Miss Howard went to Lyceum in the evening. Father went to the station and brought home Auntie's new bed stead and teapot. Brought a letter from Laura Jefferson.

January 22

We are very busy putting up Auntie's new bedstead in her room. Put the old one in the children's room.

January 23

Mr. Bennett here. Played us some excellent songs. His violin was broken so he borrowed Mr. Lewis Bennett's. It was a poor thing but we managed to play some pretty good pieces together. Mrs. Bennett and Mrs. Town spent the day here. Morris West called. Mr B. sang for him then we played some pieces together. He sang "A Snake in the Grass." Went to singing school in the evening.

January 24

A very cold blustery day. Mr. Bennett went home in the snow. Myron took Maria and Marg up to Huffman's schoolhouse to spelling school. It was so cold they did not have any [school] so they spent the evening at Mr. Towns. Tipped over into the snow coming home. Froze both ears and his fingers.

January 25

Emma and Clara went to Melvira's to spend the day. John Shaver went after her to come to Towns to the dance. Frank came after Jim and I.

January 26

Went to Spelling School then went to take a sleigh ride after. Maria and I did not want to go. The rest acted like fools.

January 29

Emma went to Woodstock with Frank Patterson and Mrs. Town. So very cold that they could not come home. But Emma, Carrie Griffith, Frank and Sellers could go to McHenry and be gone till two o'clock at night.

The wind blew very cold all day. In the evening went to singing school. Came home freezing my ears.

January 30

Carried Charley's stove home and put the dairy stove in the salting room. Frank brought James home, left Emma there. Very cold today. Expected to go to Mrs. Vosburgh's this afternoon to sing with Mr. Bennett. Got ready to go and Mother said if anybody went she should go. When I gave it up then she would not. She said I might go when I got the supper dishes washed. When I got them most done she came in the kitchen with her bonnet and shawl on. Said she was going to Mrs. V—I was provoked then staid at home until Singing School, then went with James.

Adelia (seated), her youngest daughter Grace and their dog "Bob the pug,"  years after the diary was written, probably at the end of the 19th century and just a few years before she died. Wonder if HER daughter was ever "provoked" by her at times?
           * * *
So I think I'll try to periodically "blog" more about her in the future, just to make sure she's not forgotten. I like to think that if Adelia were alive today we might even be friends (although one of us would be VERY old, LOL).


Jocelyn said...

Thank you so much for sharing a little more about Adelia. I have read her story in your quilt book, and it is so fascinating to read of living in a different day and time. What amazes me is how elderly Adelia looks, but yet she was not all that old when she died. I have so enjoyed your book, and look forward to hearing more of her story.

libbyquilter said...

it's amazing how history can come alive when it's a bit more relevant to our own interests . . . i spent one whole winter checking out and reading books from the library about pioneer women with a particular interest in what was written in regards to the history of Nevada. i was born and raised in Nevada and my father was as well so upon reading some of this history i realized just how not so distant the past can really be. it was fascinating but i was a bit disappointed that i didn't uncover more information in regards to quilting. it seems when the ladies first came out west there was precious little energy and time for quiltmaking and they frequently relied on what was already made (prior to their leaving) for the journey itself as well as the first parts of their new lives in the west.

thank you for sharing Adelias history and i'm inspired by the small quilts within the book as well as her life. it's fun to see more within your blog . . . maybe your readers aren't quite ready to part with Adelia either . . .


Gayle said...

Thank you so much for sharing that. I have your wonderful book and it's great to learn a little more about Adelia.

Darlene's Quilts and Stuff said...

I loved reading the excerpts from the diary. It sounds like a rough winter then and it is a wonder people lived as long as they did.

Unknown said...

I just recently found your blog and now I have to order your books! I can't wait to get them and see what I've been missing. Thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

How did you come about finding Adelia's diary? Sue McQ

Kathleen Tracy said...

Sue, when I was looking for antique photos for my Prairie Children book, I came across it at a small history museum in the area and asked for permission to read it and use some of the diary pages in my next book.