still at home: 1958-1963  work & days: a lifetime journal project

 

photo by Reiner

 
 
 
 
 
 
 


Section introduction

Still at home includes the journals written between January 1958, when I was twelve and in grade 7, and September 1963, when I was eighteen and leaving for college.

I should say something about the euphoria in many of these entries. Some of it seems and probably was false; the true remnant is relief at leaving the oppression and helplessness of childhood. Nobody except my mother was interested in me when I was a child, but as an adolescent girl I was intoxicated to discover that suddenly just about any man could be made to be interested in me. I had real - though ambiguous - sexual power, and this power rightly interested me a lot. At the same time, at school, two male teachers were sponsoring me in ways that brought me other kinds of attention too. By the end of high school I was honored and welcomed in my community in ways I never had been as a child. So the Still at home period was a steadily rising arc, and learning to guide that arc now seems to me to be what these entries mainly are about.

Edit notes

Everyone I know who kept adolescent journals has either destroyed or lost them. The adolescent period is intensely interesting to the new person undergoing it, but its events and changes are too common and their expression too unformed to be interesting to most adult readers. I don't like boring readers or demonstrating so unequivocally that I wasn't a prodigy, and the temptation to edit has been strong. I have resisted it because in this project I'm as interested in formal change and continuity as in emotional and intellectual change and continuity. If I transcribe accurately, it will be possible to watch someone begin to write in an isolated community in northern Alberta, and then to track stylistic changes over nearly fifty years. On the smaller scale of the Still at home section, accurate transcription can demonstrate what maturation means, grammatically. If I retain spelling mistakes it's possible to see exactly where this writer learns to spell difference. If I transcribe the twelve year old's ellipses and exclamation marks, punctuation can be used to track the comings and goings, and then the gradual disappearance, of a particular written persona.

The originals of the Still at home years are in small lined exercise books or on looseleaf sheets collected into volumes by string tied through 3-ring binder holes. The originals' organization into books was usually accidental; I have set volume breaks where I think I can see significant shifts.

Beginning in March 1959 I sometimes interpolate entries from a 5-year diary because they give more of a sense of daily event.

Place

[Still to be written]

People

[Still to be written]

Religion

Religion comes up in these journals (for the last time in Still at home) in a sometimes embarrassing way.

My family attended a small Mennonite Brethern church that belonged to a larger synod of North American Mennonite Brethern churches. The church itself was a small plain building out in the country, on a hill two miles south of La Glace.

There are various kinds of Mennonite. Our kind looked and dressed like any of the other farm families, but forbade smoking, drinking, dancing, and movies. Mennonite Brethern doctrine included pacifism, hellfire, 'getting saved', and adult baptism by immersion.

All the members of the La Glace MB church were either first- or second-generation immigrants who had come to La Glace as refugees from the Russian revolution and its aftermath. When I was a child our little church carried on many of the traditions of church life in Siberia. Men and women entered the church by different doors - women, girls and very small boys on the right, men and older boys on the left - and sat on opposite sides of the the aisle. Services included public prayer, in which any church member who felt moved would pray aloud while everyone stood shifting and shuffling around them. Hymns and sermons at Sunday morning services were usually in German, although at evening services we would use the little red Moodie songbook with its rousing hymns in the English evangelical tradition.

By the time of the earliest journals, most of the founding generation, including my grandparents on both sides, had moved to BC, leaving the farms and the church to their kids - young adults who had arrived from Russia as children and had gone to school in English. This younger generation gradually dropped most of the Russian customs and the use of German. They felt doctrinally compatible with Baptist and Alliance churches, and they shifted the feel of the church toward those more mainstream denominations. By the time I went away to university in 1963 men and women could actually sit in the same pew. This younger generation - to give them credit - also de-emphasized the hellfire aspects of evangelical belief in favor of Christian love.

As I remember it, the best thing about this very particular little church was its congregational singing. Our young parents had sung in the choir together before they married each other and became parents, so they were trained sight-readers and glorious part-singers. Our church was famous among our Norwegian neighbours, Lutherans and Pentecostals, for its music.

Although they were admired as workers, the men of the church were scorned for their pacifism through WWII, and distrusted for their strictness about tobacco and drink. At school there were fewer Mennonite kids than Norwegian. We weren't popular. The Dutch Reform group was small, too, but they weren't thought priggish.