Monday, June 26, 2017

My Grandfather, the Diarist

This is my grandfather, Daniel Webster Johnson, Sr.


This photograph doesn't do him justice. He was a very handsome man. He looked a little bit like Henry Fonda, only with softer features.

Granddad had many interests. He was a pioneer in the synthetic fabric industry, creating and designing microscopic drills. He repaired watches and clocks. He loved insects, flowers, and gardening. He liked to hunt squirrels.

How do I know all of this? Well, I know all of the above except the squirrel thing from talking to my grandfather, watching him work, and seeing the fruits of his labor.

The squirrel thing I got from his diaries.

Yes! My grandfather Johnson kept a daily diary from 1936 until 1948! That's a long time! Think of it: Granddad kept a diary right through the Great Depression and the Second World War. Talk about a primary source!

It gets better. I, Anne Johnson, own all of those diaries.

I've perused these diaries many times, but only in a cursory manner. Today I sat down with them to take a closer look. I was particularly in search of information about my grandfather's older brother. I also wanted to know more about the house Granddad built on the family farmland, round about 1939.

My grandfather was a dependable diarist. He wrote down something almost every day. And that something ... that something ... was an observation of the weather.

Sometimes he notes when he visits someone, or someone visits him. But only after he has noted the weather.

"Fair and warm today, got cool at night."

Multiply that by 300 and you get the spring portion of Granddad's diaries.

Another thing my grandfather noted punctually was his church attendance. He abbreviated Sunday School "Sunday S." On Wednesday nights, he attended the Knights of Malta lodge (abbreviated KofM). This is always noted after the weather.

He did note the birth of his youngest son, who was born in 1937 (weather report was first). He did not note the high school graduation of his two older sons, in 1942 and 1944 respectively, although every day in June of those years have entries. Only once, at the 15-year mark, does he note his wedding anniversary. After the weather. Grandma's birthday? Once or twice ... after the weather.

He does hunt squirrels, though. I found about 40 entries mentioning squirrel hunting. Seems his best day was eight. Sometimes he got one, sometimes none at all. After the weather.

He mentions the construction of the house. "Worked on cabin." Then "spent first night in cabin." Then "spent the day at camp." Then "spent the weekend out at camp." Then "painted the house." Occasionally he notes what he was planting in the garden "at camp." Every entry that includes this begins with a weather report.

On December 7, 1941, Granddad noted that the weather was cloudy and cold. Then he added, "The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor." That is literally the only piece of world news I have found in his diaries from any year.

If he was alive today, I would tease him about this. I would say, "For the love of fruit flies, Granddad, why did you always write down the weather?" And he would say, "Well, Anne Janette, you see ... it's a small notebook, with only a few lines for each day. The only thing that will fit is the weather. And I was busy living my life -- I didn't have time to go into more detail."

Well, bless his sweet heart, my grandfather kept diaries. They reveal nearly nothing of his personality, his relationship with his family and siblings, his challenges at work, or his creation of an iconic, hand-made homestead in the Appalachian Mountains.

The moral of this sermon is that I must have inherited something from my mother's family. Don't you agree?

8 comments:

anne marie in philly said...

your grandfather certainly was a handsome man. did he note any temperatures with his weather observations?

e said...

My dad keeps a sort of diary. It started out as a chronicle of his blood pressure and heart rate. Now it has morphed into short cryptic notes about his doings. I say a 'sort of' diary because it's a large desk calendar that he keeps on the dining room table. I hope he is saving them... his grandchildren might want to know what his blood pressure was when he was in his 80's!

Anne Johnson said...

anne marie, he recorded the numerical temperature when it was extreme. Anything above 92 and below 10.

Janie Junebug said...

He was a creature of habit. I think he was quite good looking.

Love,
Janie

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Gosh, I thought only Canadians were obsessed with the weather! It's all we talk about up here.

Davoh said...

O, Anne ... we all become elderly. have no 'family' to speak of. At this point am trying to alert my estranged son to the existence of the "Yellow Tin Trunk". Can't leave him great financial wealth - but within that Yellow tin trunk .... all his/my family history. Photographs, video, physical memorabilia.

Whether he comes of the age to see it all important, is any ones guess.

Davoh said...

P.S. Apparently my only son is homosexual - so do not expect grandchildren .. meh.

JACKIESUE said...

I imagine back then weather was important..it dictated your movement..and activities..