97: The Journal

97: The Journal

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Amazing Mom

The Journal

By writing personal and family histories, we are helped immeasurably in gaining a true, eternal perspective of life.

~John H. Groberg

Some of the world’s most talented and beloved authors are never published. Margaret Peterson was one of them. She will never make The New York Times bestseller list or host a book signing, but her words are cherished, read and re-read, and then passed on to others all the same. She was my grandmother, and she left us one of the most personal gifts of all.

In 1940, Margaret started a journal in the pages of a brown spiral stenographer’s notebook. Maybe she meant it to be something else—more of a log book to mark notable dates, or to keep track of the family’s farm expenses—but it became so much more. When my grandmother started writing, she was already thirty-eight years old. She was the wife of a blacksmith, and they owned a small farm. Five of her six children had already been born. In the initial entries, she wrote about logging and farming. She wrote about her family, which would later include two additional generations. And she used her pen to document world affairs and a war that would affect everyone.

For fifty-four years she wrote daily. Some of the entries were merely a sentence recounting the temperature of the day, an unusual measurement of snow or rain, or a mention of how nice it was that one of the neighbors had come to call. Sometimes, she remarked on the high cost of gasoline, and noted the date and price if they were lucky enough to purchase a new piece of farm equipment.

If someone in her growing family did something notable—whether good or bad—they might warrant their own personal comment in a sidebar. She would use the pages of her life story to deliver a soft scolding if someone had misbehaved or embarrassed the family. And she would use those same places to thank her family for Christmas gifts and birthday parties, and would always note her surprise that so many people cared.

Throughout the years, she would chronicle heartbreak, too.

Three of her sons were required to register during wartime and were called to serve. In separate journal entries, she wrote of each of her sons’ enlistments and call to active duty. She described how afraid she was for them, and in later pages she would note who had sent word for them with one of the neighbor boys home on leave, or who was able to send a letter or a gift and news of the war.

In March 1944, her third son was called to serve at eighteen years old. Grandma wrote often of his whereabouts, a glorious trip he made home that July, and the many cherished letters he had written while he was away.

Within that year, my grandmother would log an excruciatingly painful entry. A letter had come to tell the couple that their son was missing. And then, in multiple entries, she wrote her prayers. She prayed they would find him, and that he would return to their little farm safely. On a cold night, a terrified mother wrote of her hope that wherever he was, her son had found a way to stay warm. Word had reached them that the conditions they were fighting in were terrible.

Sadly, just pages later, my grandmother would write another painful entry. With a broken heart, she wrote in her journal that her youngest son, who had been gone from home for only a year, had been confirmed killed in action. Laid to rest temporarily overseas, he would be sent home following the war for a proper burial. Though they later received his Purple Heart, it was little consolation to a mother who had lost one of her sons.

There were many happy times documented as well. She enjoyed words and had a wicked sense of humor. She delighted in telling stories. “Margaretisms” are sprinkled throughout the pages.

In November 1963, Margaret wrote of the President’s assassination. In 1974, when her husband passed away, there was an entry to both assure and warn her children. “I’m fine,” she wrote. “I will stay in my own home. ’Til I get lonesome. Then, watch out kids!”

As she entered her eighties and nineties, and arthritis began to cripple her fingers and make it hard to spend as much time writing, Margaret’s entries were often shortened to one or two lines. But still she managed to give readers a sense of the times and anything of note.

My children have fuzzy memories of their great-grandmother. My daughters remember visiting, as preschoolers, and that they would sit on her lap or perch on the arm of her rocking chair. They remember her coming to their birthday parties. I was wearing maternity clothes the day I attended her funeral. I always feel bad that my son doesn’t have his own memories of her. But as future members of her family are born, each generation is getting to know her. They are able to hold in their hands the book that took her fifty-four years to write. When they are ready, they, too, will read the tangible, cherished gift to her family that is what we call The Journal.

~Sheila Helmberger

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