Now the world can read about Hettie’s life on Amy Cohen’s blog, Brotmanblog: A Family Journey, beginning with Part 1 and share our delight in these accounts of a long-gone way of life in simpler times.I thank distant cousin Amy for finding our family and pulling so many resources together into a compelling story.
As you can see from the graphic below, excerpted from Hettie’s story (which I gratefully borrowed back from Amy’s blog), the writing is as primitive as a Grandma Moses canvas in both form and message. As Hettie explains in her story, she chose to leave school after eighth grade (in 1898). Her reasoning was that like other women of her day, her lot in life was to marry and raise a family, and no housewife needed more book learning than she already had, so why exert herself?
This lack of formal education shows in her writing, but that did not deter her for a moment. Thank goodness! This humble, unaffected story reflects her authentic heart, big as all outdoors, and the fact that she wrote it is the sign of a satisfying life. She never had material wealth, but what she had was enough. I have never met a kinder, more positive person. Hettie loved everyone with childlike enthusiasm, and was always up for an adventure. I feel blessed for having been part of her family.
Hettie decided one day to write these stories. She just sat down and did it, though it took her months to finish each one. She wrote each story in the form of a letter to that grandchild, warmly laced with references to memories of “your mother” and “the time you and I …”. We have not seen the volumes she wrote for her two granddaughters, but presumably they cover much of the same material, customized with slightly different words.
She wrote for my husband. She died in 1987, more than a decade before I preserved her work for the family and the world. Now it’s treasured by great- and great-great-grandchildren and will hopefully be passed down even further.
I often mention her amazing accomplishment when I’m encouraging people to write. “If Hettie could do that, anyone can. You don’t need to produce a literary masterpiece. Whatever you write is better than nothing and will be treasured by generations to come.”
Hettie wrote by hand, on the simple paper she had. She made a manila paper folder to hold the pages and fastened it all together with brads. Even without those manila covers, in only a few years, the acidic notebook paper had begun yellowing. Scanning put a halt to that process.
If by some amazing coincidence, you decide to write a legacy manuscript by hand, acid-free paper is easy to find today. More likely you’ll sit down at a keyboard and print acid-free copies. But even if you write on unfolded paper bags or the backs of envelopes, your descendants will treasure your work.
Points to ponder: If you’re trying to get traction, what obstacles prevent you from “just doing it”? Are you concerned that you writing won’t measure up and your family will laugh or sneer? How good is “good enough”? If you are well on your way toward finishing a story, ponder how satisfying that feels.