A recent article in the New York Times described the sale of several lots of Amish diaries. The author of the article posits what people choose not to write about is unintentionally revealing.
The sale was held at Horst Auction Center in Ephrata, PA, just north of Lancaster in the heart of Amish country. A dozen bidders spent $3,000 for all the lots, which ranged from 1850s day books and medicine and dessert recipes by one Christian Lantz Fisher ($130) to Sarah King’s 1930s-1990s annotations ($25) that the Horst catalog described as “weather, company for supper, visiting, quilting, baking, household chores, stitching rose chair cushions, painting door stops.”
The diaries did not describe the feelings of the writer, but instead noted each day’s rounds of chores and events, like collecting duck’s eggs, cleaning stables, boiling pear butter, taking a sleigh ride, or attending church.
Meticulous diary keeping “has been a fairly common practice since at least 1800,” said John Parmer, a historian in Akon, near Ephrata, who is writing a book about the Amish fraktur tradition of writing and illuminating family trees and religious manuscripts.
“I’ve never come across a single emotion expressed in the many, many that I’ve read,” he said. “And there is very limited contact revealed with the outside world. You do see mentions of local happenings that would send ripples through a whole county: barn fires, wagons being struck by trains, the floodwaters along a creek so high the doctor couldn’t get his buggy through to treat a sick baby and the family had to muddle along without him. You can sometimes read emotional content into the dramas, but nowhere does it explicitly say, “I was terrified,” or “I was crying.”
Read the whole article here.
It made me think of the times when I have kept a diary, most recently last year when I took a pilgrimage to Ireland with other members of my parish to follow in the footsteps of St. Patrick and St. Bridget. Each page is scribbles of what I saw or did that day, and includes at least one anecdote about a person, event or legend associated with the place. Rereading my diary, I found the anecdotes usually captured the mood of the day or the character of the place better than any guide book.
What is unique about your diary?