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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

My grandmother's diaries with excerpts from 1909

The Wide Awake Loons made Finalist in the Children’s/Juvenile Fiction category of the 2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards.



It’s been a hard year for loons in the upper Midwest.  Our winter was one of the longest ever, beginning early, and then without abatement, record snowfall kept our spring beginning until well into May.  After that, black flies swarmed the lakes and they made nest-sitting impossible for loons.  Many of their nests were abandoned, although there was time for them to try again.  Last week, geese were flying over Duluth and that was odd since their migrations are usually earlier.  Then I saw the report about the loons HERE


My grandparents had a cabin in northern Minnesota and our family traveled from southern Minnesota each August.   To remember childhood vacations is to remember the loon call.


Since my mother died, I have acquired her mother’s diaries which range from 1905 into the 1950s.  My grandmother was the daughter of a Lutheran clergyman who came from Norway in the 1870s. 

Emilie Eggen grew up in Mower County where I grew up, worked in Minneapolis for some years, and after she married, lived on the Iron Range, in Virginia, Minnesota.  We had been told that a man she cared for died of tuberculosis.  She met my grandfather while he was working his way through law school, and eventually married him at the age of thirty-three. 


She worked as a matron at Thomas Hospital  in Minneapolis, established for tuberculosis patients.  She also was involved with acting, as her father had been in Oslo.  From her diaries, it seems that her first paid performances were recitals at Masonic Lodges in Minneapolis.

My grandmother when she was young


The diaries before her marriage are lively and wonderful to read, too little of them for me, while the diaries after her marriage are regular diary entries.  I will glean them for historical information and the possibility of writing a book with excerpts and the Minnesota history that surrounded her. 


Her diary about being a matron at a tuberculosis hospital was written in pencil and often with haste.  I typed out the whole thing and sent it to members of my family.  One saw how I could write a fiction from it, however I don’t know if I could write fiction about my grandmother.  Here are a few excerpts:


“Olsen came down to look at the books and took me with him when he went to Angaards where I stayed til nearly suppertime. -   Of course there had to come a new patient when I was gone. – I knew there would!  I never go out but I feel I ought to be in.  But then I suppose that is one of the 1000 things I have to put up with as a ‘matron.’  How I hate the very word.  Catch me being it if I did not have to. – It is not the position so much as the feeling of being it – ish!”


“Last night Dr. Brey asked me to go for a walk and we went down in the park.  We had both of us felt terribly blue all day on acc't of Miss Holten for Dr. Bell said there was a congestion in the right lung tho it may be from a cold only. - But it made us so sad and worried.  Then when we had walked a while Dr. Brey told me he did not think he would be back in the winter and asked me not to get mad at him for it.  He said he was scared.  That he did not consider this place safe especially his work of it.  You know the heavy feeling that comes sometimes! - It came there. - It was one of these storm-portending nights and the wind rustling and bending the trees and the lightning flashing dully across the skies guiding us across the grassy plots out and in among the trees.  I like Dr. Brey.  He has meant much to me here.  At best it is not such a very cheery place, and he has been quite a streak of sunlight here.”


“A great day all right.  Margaret Haley is quite a society girl here and nurses more for the joy of it.  She has a friend who lives near Lake Harriet – Clyde Ricken, and he owns a canoe so she asked me if I cared to go canoeing this P.M. – Well as it happens I am crazy about it so I said “yes” on the spot.  Margaret has taken a sort of “shine” to me as they say, tho I hardly know why.  We are not really congenial either  - anyhow we went.  I in my white duck suit & a borrowed sweater, she in her workaday clothes. – He was waiting for us by the pavilion and we pushed the little slender thing in the water very carefully jumped in.  A canoe is perfectly safe if one is careful, but dangerously unsafe if one is not.  Mr. Picken & Margaret paddled as there was quite a strong current & I laid back on the cushions and watched them & the water & the skies.  It was a perfect day and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  We crossed the lake and then drifted along the shore in very shallow water. – Then Margaret came & sat by me and they began to fight over a paddle & before I knew what was happening  Mr. R was in the water and half the lake was soaking in my clothes & the cushions.  Of course Margaret being on the other side hardly got one bit wet but I was soaked to the skin up to my waist about.  Well he scrambled in again and paddled to shore.  We put up the canoe and walked up to his house – a pretty trio I promise you -   Mrs. Ricken furnished me with skirts that reached somewhere between my knees & ankles & had me lie down on a great big soft couch & threw a cover over me & brought me a chicken sandwich and some fruit while Margaret hung up my things & phoned for the orderly Jim Martin to bring over my clothes & a suitcase.  And when Mr. Ricken had gotten dry he came down & played for us – I have never seen such a beautiful home in my life.”


That all happened in 1909.   I will have to share the diaries somehow, besides planning to eventually donate them to a historical society.


My grandmother and me in the 1950s



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