Today I’m borrowing a “Gift” from a chapter title in my second novel, Tangled Beginnings. The novel will be out soon, stay tuned, but today I thought it would be fun to share snippets from one of my most prized possessions. If you are familiar with my book Whispering Pines and series Celia’s Gifts, you may have noticed my comments about my great aunt, Mary K. Nierling. Aunt Mary was the inspiration behind my series.
Years ago, while helping my mom clean out my grandparent’s house, I came across a diary of sorts. It had belonged to Mary and captured highlights of her high school years at St. John’s Academy. Mary was my Grandma Onie’s oldest sister. Grandma and her siblings as well as Mom and her sisters all graduated from the Academy. Both of my brothers and I attended through sixth grade as well, after it was converted to a grade school only. My mom wasn’t particularly sentimental and was happy to have me take it. I put it in a box, along with other family treasures, and didn’t think about it again for some time.
Later, I stumbled upon the box. Pulling out the old book, I grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down on the couch to take a look. Imagine my delight as I found an astounding collection of pictures, invitations, newspaper clippings, and more dating from between 1915 and 1920.
Mary was born in 1903, died in 1992, and lived an extraordinary life during the years in-between.
As I page through her diary now, I take great care not to damage anything in this nearly 100-year-old book. I’m struck by both the similarities and the differences to modern day life.
The first few pages are filled with black and white photos, mainly of somber faced young women. No selfies here! Everyone is wearing dresses, most are wearing hats. Despite their formal stances and clothing, you can feel a sense of friendship coming through the old photographs. Mary is on the far right.
Another page lists the class officers. It comes as no surprise to me that Aunt Mary was the Senior Class President. The class motto read “Climb through the Rocks, Be Rugged”.
Next come pages and pages of beautifully handwritten notes from classmates. So few people write in cursive anymore and most kids aren’t even taught the skill these days. This saddens me.
There are pages of fancy invitations to dances, play bills, musical recitals, luncheons and graduation ceremonies. There is a type-written slip of paper that reads “Kavanagh Tennis Club Dance, Monday, May 3, 1920”. Eighteen different songs are listed and each one is labeled with either the fox trot, waltz or one-step. I have to wonder if maybe this was a dance my aunt helped plan or if lots of these were typed up, one for each guest. I smile at the formality of it all.
There are even pressed flowers with a note:
from 8th Grade
June 12, 1916
A graduation program lists “Honors and Prizes”. These ranged from a $10 award for “the highest average during the four years of high school work”, to numerous volumes of books by classic authors, to a “gold locket and chain, presented by St. John’s Academy for ladylike conduct”. What?! My how scholarships have changed over the past 100 years!
There are written notes of congratulations from various teachers, most of them nuns, and a listing of graduation gifts Mary received: twelve pairs of silk stockings, dozens of carnations, two camisoles, a cameo ring, three gold pencils, pens, handkerchiefs, combs, lingerie clasps, a bottle of toilet water (aka cologne), candy, and even crocheted ends for a table runner. Reading the list is like taking a trip through a vintage boutique.
But my favorite thing of all is Mary’s recounting of a day of fun with friends. I want to share it with you, exactly as she wrote it, misspellings and all:
Our Trip to the Lake, June 8, 1920
Terese, Bessie, Mallick, Lucky, Kennelly and myself went in Graben’s car. The Seniors were entertaining the Juniors at a picnic.
We started from the Academy about 10 o’clock. Of course we all just happened to get in the same car. We were the first ones out there. We danced and fooled around and some of the kids went boat riding and it was slightly rough I guess.
We ate dinner in the pavilion. Some feed take it from me. We didn’t do anything very exciting in the afternoon. It began to look like a storm so everybody started home. We were one of the first cars to start back home. But not the first to get home by any means. Instead of going home we went about 5 miles the other way and then turned around when we thought that everyone was gone.
There was a dance at the Lake and we were going to stay for it. When we got back to the Lake one car was still there and so we said we had to look for Lucky’s hat. Well we started for home again. Not because we thought we were going to get there very soon but we started. We got just past Fried and it started to storm like the duce so we drove u to Wojicks and put the car in the barn. Talk about storm. It was the worst one of the summer. I will never forget the time we spent at the Wojicks and all the calling up and stalling around that we had.
We went back to Fried to see how the rest of them were coming. Tried to persuade Bartley and that bunch to go back to the Lake but nothing doing. We stuck around the big city of Fried and finally started for the Lake again. We got there but the roads were so bad I didn’t think we would ever get back that nite. We sat around and then found out there wasn’t to be any dance. We were undecided whether we would start back or camp there all nite. We started back and had to stop about every half mile to let the engine cool off. We had more fun then. Everybody was feeling so crazy. The mud was something terrible but we got home safe about 11:30 and surely had a swell time.
Can’t you just picture their antics that day? She references a pavilion. I remembered mention of a pavilion at Spiritwood Lake so I did an online search. Sure enough, my search returns a wonderful picture of a two-story building, packed with well dressed people, dated 190_. This is the same lake we visited with our own kids for ten years, although, unfortunately, the pavilion is now long gone. The “big city of Fried” she mentions (pronounced Free’ed) lists a population of 151 as of 2016. I love it!
As I study the many pictures, stories, and trinkets my aunt saved, I can’t help but wonder what happened to all of those people. What did they go on to do with their lives? Did any of them remain friends through the years? Who died young? Who lived long, full lives? We can never know how each of their lives evolved; however, we are reminded that they lived because of this small book Mary took the time to fill with her treasures, all those years ago.
Maybe we should get some of our many photographs out of our digital devices and convert them into something tangible, something later generations can look back upon and wonder how we lived our lives.
Here’s to the “good ‘ol days”! Thank you for the inspiration. Kim
One of my favorite weekend get-a-ways are girl’s shopping weekends. In fact, I’m looking forward to another one right now.
These trips have evolved over the years. As young women, we’d leave the kids home with the dads and head to Minneapolis for lots of shopping, laughing and wine. Back then, we had to go to the bigger cities to find our favorite stores. Friendships were strengthened during those trips. There was laughter, sometimes tears, lots of sharing and plenty of memories made. It was rare to steal time without kids underfoot or guys around, so those were special times.
There were also a few trips where we tried to bring infant and toddler girls along. One outing involved newborns, nursing moms, poop on an outlet store floor and an overheated Suburban. That is a story for another day! Another trip included a tea party at the American Girl store, complete with dolls and ponytails. Lots of fun but not much true “shopping” and not nearly enough wine.
Then the trips morphed into traveling around the kids' activities. Still fun, and still squeezing in some brief shopping, but not the kind of girl time we’d come to appreciate. Everyone was too busy for a “ladies only” weekend.
Now those little girls we used to shop for during our weekends away are finishing up their high school and even their college years. They are blossoming into beautiful young women and are so fun to be around. Our upcoming trip will include my two sisters-in-law, four girl cousins, and two hotel rooms (because we will all appreciate both togetherness and space).
So, what is it about these weekends that make them so fun to look forward to, a blast to experience, and a source of wonderful memories? I think it’s all about the companionship. It’s a chance to reconnect, to visit, to share. Our girls are growing up fast and going off in different directions. We have to make the most of these special times.
I think it is so important for women to celebrate our relationships, support each other, and nourish each other’s’ strength. As a writer, I like to weave themes of strong women into my stories. One of my all-time favorite quotes embodies this sentiment:
Now, take a minute and re-read those words. I truly feel all women should strive to be strong role models for the younger generations. If I were given the opportunity to sit down over a cup of coffee or glass of wine with a young woman, I’d love to share some of the things I’ve learned through my many years. Things like:
* I would be honest about some of my own mistakes so that perhaps she would learn from me and not repeat them herself.
* I’d tell her to work to surround herself with a network of family and friends so she wouldn’t find herself alone on the dark days and have others to share the good times with too.
* There are all kinds of strength in this world. No one’s life is perfect. Strong people battle through the difficulties in life and come out on the other side.
* I’d encourage her to strive to be an individual, not a conformist, to design her own life and don’t let the dreams of others derail her own.
* Help build other women up. We all make choices every day and we aren’t operating in a vacuum. Others are watching. It isn’t so much caring what others think about us as it is showing them how wonderful life can be when you make good choices. Be the example of what is right and good in this world.
* Be the heroine, not the victim.
* It’s okay to cry, but when you’re done, pick yourself up, find your smile, and move on.
* Decide what it is you want to focus on in life and then get started. No excuses.
* Manners are still important. Say “please”, “thank you”, and always hold the door for others.
* Stay classy. That in itself will make you unique.
* If you are going to let loose and maybe drink a few too many, don’t do it in public. Surround yourself with friends you trust to help keep you safe. And don’t do it often.
* It seems everyone is getting a tattoo these days. Be careful where you put it and never permanently scar your body with someone else’s name (of course the name of your own child or grandchild might be an exception). I hear it hurts more and costs more to take off a tattoo then to put it on so don’t be rash.
I could go on and on, but suffice it to say, having the chance to spend time with some of my favorite girls this weekend will undoubtedly be a joy. I’ll try to sneak in a few words of wisdom, and likely receive a few eye-rolls in return, but we should never forget the younger girls are watching.
Set a good example, straighten your crown and stay classy! Kim
Kimberly Diede Author
Hello everyone and welcome to my blog! My name is Kimberly Diede and I'm a fiction author and family girl. When time permits, I am happiest with a great cup of coffee in one hand and a book in the other. I love to alternate between reading and writing. Winters here can be long, dark and cold. Summers are unpredictable, lovely and always too short. Every season of the year, as in every season of life, is a gift. Let's celebrate it together!