Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Brown Notebooks

I came across two brown spiral-bound notebooks as I was sorting through some of my mother’s things. They interested me because one was her diary– just a few notes about daily living – beginning Oct. 6, 1938. The last entry is Jan. 8, 1940, with a note to go to another notebook, which cannot be found. The second book discovered was her English class notes.

The brown notebooks -- 74 years old.

I consider these two notebooks be a “find.” I have been browsing through them with fascination the past few days.

“Monday, Dec. 12, 1938:  I went to school and made a speech in Miss Whitehurst’s class about the Student Council. The yearbook staff met. I sent Henry his Christmas present.”

“Thursday, Dec. 15, 1938: The Senior II’s played the Senior III’s. We won. I got a letter from Henry and he sent some pictures. Signa, M.N. and I went to the pictures on the bus. “Little Miss Bro9adway” with Shirley Temple was on. Mildred, Hildred, Pearl, Ralph and I sat together.”

“Things I bought in the Senior III class at LCHS for the year beginning Monday Sept. 11, 1939 (note: in those days the Senior Class was called Sr. III; Junior Class Sr. II; and Sophmore Class Sr. I).

(Note: I'm not listing everything from the notebook; just a sampling of her entries)
Notebook and paper -  $ .10
Ice cream                      .05
Ring               7.00 (her class ring, which she gave me a few years ago; my sister has our father’s class ring)
Picture show                   .05
Dress pattern                  .15
Football Banquet              .15
Dress and buttons          1.57 (fabric for sewing a dress)
Transportation for trip, cabin and Kodak film     $2.20
Spending money for trip    1.50
Class picture                     .10

(Oh my, can you believe the difference in then and now?)

The 1940 class ring -- worn thin from many years of wear.
As you can see, the entries were just the daily comings and goings of a 16-year-old-girl. There are many mentions of school activities; parties; visits with friends and family; riding the bus to the movies; working in the field; girlfriends she spent the night with and those who spent the night with her; dates with Henry. And then on Oct. 16, 1938, simply “Henry left.”

What she didn’t say was that on that date, Henry (my father) joined the Civilian Conservation Corps and was sent to Oregon to work on a forestry project along the Columbia River. The Corps was a New Deal program of the Great Depression that put young men to work on natural resource projects.

He was painfully homesick, and from her dairy I learned she received a letter from him each day while he was away! She still has those “love letters” tucked into a little carved wooden “cedar chest” with a mirror in the top and a tiny lock to secure it – the kind once sold with candy or stationery inside. (She recorded that the little chest was a Christmas present in 1938 from her grandmother.)

My sister and I got in big trouble one day when we were kids because we picked the lock on that chest and read the letters!

My mother didn't reveal any of her “feelings” in this diary – that she missed him. I’m sure she did but didn't record it.

He stayed in the Corp only six months before returning home to resume his courtship with my mother and they were married immediately after she graduated from high school, in 1940.

I love getting a little peek into my mother’s life when she was a girl. I took the notebooks to her house today and started reading to her from them. This made her smile, as she remembered many of the incidents and practically all of the people mentioned (she’s 91 and has a better memory than I do at times!) And then she would remember another incident associated with the little entry I read her. Amazing!

Reading to her from her diary brought so much happiness to her that I plan to continue until we reach the end of the book.



  1. I hope you don't mind my popping by today to leave a comment. The long lasting work of the CCC is still appreciated today by those of us who hike in the Columbia River Gorge and responsible for much of what we enjoy there, the scenic road, paths, beautiful stone bridges and of course the timber cleared in order to accomplish that. I have often wondered who those young men were. Thank you for the reminder they were not all local, and I wanted to let you know their work still stands. The icon picture is from a family hike in August of this year overlooking the river.

    1. Patricia, I am delighted you stopped by! Your comment has made my day. In fact, I got teary-eyed reading it, knowing that young men like my dad did so much good work and that it endures to this day. He always talked about the beauty of your area, and how much he would like to go back and visit. But he never got to.

      We have some of his camp's newsletters, which he sent to my mother. When I read them a few years ago, I thought about how neat it would be if we donated them to a CCC museum there, which I researched and found there is indeed one in the area he was assigned. I think I will contact them and find out if there's any interest in the donation.

      One of the delights of blogging is that you often find a connection, albeit small, with someone out there. Thank you for writing that you are today enjoying the fruits of the CCC's labor in your state.

      I have in mind that one of my future posts will be about the time he spent there. We have several pictures he took.

      Thank you again, Patricia, and please visit more often!

  2. Hello, I have enjoyed strolling through your blog - this post was so very sweet. I am happy to be your newest follower,

    1. Kathy, welcome to my blog! It will be great getting to know you through your visits and comments. I am very happy you signed on to follow the blog.


  3. If you can figure out where your father was in Oregon, you should go there and check it out. (Summer only, trust me.) And then do a drive down the Oregon Coast, one of the most scenic places in America. It's a very easy drive, too.
    You asked about the tradition of high school rings, and I can only tell you that my children's high school in Seattle didn't offer them. They were always a huge expense - ($7 in the 30's was probably almost 70 hours of babysitting) and I was kind of relieved that they weren't an issue, what with all the other expenses of their senior year. But at the same time, I just love that you have your mother's.

  4. I have been going through the records and can identify exactly where he was: Cascade Locks, and their work in 1938-39 was primarily at Eagle Creek, near Bonneville Dam, on the campground, construction of the lookout station and parking area. I would love to take that trip and perhaps I will in the near future.

    Re the rings, I know they were offered when our kids graduated 10 plus years ago, but neither of them were interested in having one. They were around $300 if memory serves.


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