A Year of Gifts
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
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!