Hats off to Hattie

I’m still not sure why I have these papers. They were sent to me from a lady in Menard County with no explanation so I assumed she thought I’d be interested. Turns out, I was. The book is large and spiral bound, containing 184 pages of the diary written by a lady named Hattie, spanning the years 1929 to 1951. When people write diaries they often leave out the most vital things, like who in the heck they were. Reading Hattie’s diary I’ve had to sift for the facts …

I know that she lived on a farm at least five miles from any town, she had a husband who seemed to rule the roost, not allowing her to own or drive a car. She was an extremely religious woman and seldom had but a few pennies to her name. That’s a pretty slim biography and I thought that perhaps I’d skim the book then politely return it to its owner, but somehow I got sucked into the story of Hattie.

An entry from 1931: “I got dressed for church and Sunday School today in hopes that someone would stop by a take me but no one came.” Again and again I read similar entries from this lady so eager to attend church services but apparently the church was too distant to make the walk. She often talks about the five-mile walks to town so I know that the lady had a strong constitution.

From 1929: “Oh, how I wish Mr. _______ (her husband) would allow me to buy a car. I’ve helped pay for cars for so many others and I so wish I could attend worship more regularly.”

From the winter of 1930: “Such a storm I had never seen. I put the old Indian blanket over the north window to keep the snow from blowing in then only to find that the snow was pouring in the west window. I stuck bits of paper around the cracks then found that water was streaming in from the south wall and quickly gathered up rugs to stop the flow.” When winter hits us in the Jacksonville area we turn the thermostat up a notch. Not Hattie: “Coal is so very precious and I made my way through the drifts to gather what I could to tend our humble fire.” Hattie was in her seventies when she wrote this. “But the rocks and clinkers had so fouled the stove that it barely put out any heat. It will be spring before I have enough egg money to pay for a new stove.” Many nights she simply let the fire go out and wrapped herself in every available blanket. Somewhere in the 1930s she stopped mentioning her husband. There’s no mention of whether he died, moved away or she simply strangled the lazy chauvinist in his sleep.

Summers were equally trying. From 1928: “The drought will not relent. I have gathered a few meager pears from the orchard and have been content to live upon them until the Lord deems bring us water. Many of the local pastures are burnt up and the corn is nothing but scrubs.” Sleeping in the summer brought its own problems. “It was so hot last evening that I slept in my underthings on the porch. The bugs were bothersome but I’d been left no choice. There is just no air and when the wind does blow it’s a hot south wind.”

I was amazed to read the distance that Hattie traveled, riding along regularly with others to Pekin, Springfield and Jacksonville. However, it didn’t take much rain to stop the progress of a car on rural roads in the 1930s. “Mr. Logdson could barely make out tracks in the muddy road and we rode from Petersburg to Tallulah sliding along in one long ditch. I prayed fervently that the Great Provider would bring us there safely and as always, He was faithful.” On one occasion Hattie and her traveling companions had to completely abandon their vehicle one night coming home from church in Athens. “It was no use since the car was firmly mired in the mud. We made our fitful way, straining to search for the lights of the next farmhouse to find our way home. But God was faithful.”

Hattie often complained of her “heart hurting,” putting her to bed with a fever with days on end, unattended by anyone. One entry said, “Around midnight I was taken by such a chill and thirst that I prayed God would send someone to fetch me water but I had to settle for the cooling hand of the Great Physician.”

She died in 1956 at age 82 and her lifetime she accomplished many astounding things like the building of several churches, but the part of Hattie’s story that spoke to me was of the pure grit she showed in simply surviving, staying alive, even thriving. As I sit here in my easy chair and complain about a bit of ice on the roads or the fact that the Schwan’s man was out of my favorite ice cream I’m a bit ashamed. Hattie was tougher.

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