It is a gorgeous, sunny day. I'm looking down into the village, enjoying the beauty of a small town on a winter's day. Each house has at least one chimney, with white smoke curling out and above the white peaked roofs. It curls out in thick streams, then the stream widens as the smoke thins out, before it finally disappears completely in the clear air. The mountains are very blue today. Mount Mansfield rises high above the others, light blue against the white sky. ~ My journal, February 10, 1983
Old letters and journals are a wonderful enhancer of memory recall, I find. I used them in my first two memoirs, but for the book I have in mind to write next, I will be relying more heavily on letters and journals than in my first two books. For one thing, I will be writing about a longer time frame. And I am at the age where my memory recall is not as sharp as it used to be.
Soon after my mother died, nearly nine years ago, I sorted out all the letters I'd kept from her over the twenty-five years between the time I left my community the final time, to when Mem died. I also have copies of the letters I'd sent her for at least half of those years. I've organized these letters in order by date, so when reading through them, it is like reading a dialog between the two of us that lasted for twenty-five years. I recently read them in a matter of four days. I remembered many of the things that were in those letters, but I would not have been able to place them in time, had I not archived the letters the way I did.
Now I am reading through my journals in the early years after I left my community in 1980. There was part of an entry that took me by surprise, dated January 17, 1983. This was just over two years after I left and about six months after David's and my wedding. Here is what surprised me:
Last week David and I received a disturbing letter from my mother. She said how glad she was that we visited, and how grateful she was what we did for them, including putting in a new window. Then she went on to say how much she liked David. She didn't stop there. She said how much she'd like for us to buy a piece of property from them and live there, and go to their church. I assume she means the offer would stand, should we join the Amish. The disturbing part is that Mem got her hopes up so far. Okay, it is tempting. So there, now I said it!
It wouldn't be as romantic as it sounds. First off, I would be foolish to open myself to the hurt and humiliation I felt in that community so often. And besides, it isn't Vermont. It is a whole different world. One that I want to love from a distance. This is where my heart is, and therefore also my home.
The surprise for me in reading this is the admission that I was tempted. I don't remember ever feeling tempted to return to my community, once I left and married David. Perhaps it was a fleeting temptation, but then again, I cannot help imagining what our lives would have been like, had we done that. David and I have always agreed that his personality would have fit into an Amish community much better than my own. But the fact that he didn't grow up Amish would have been such a huge adjustment for both of us. And then I have to also wonder if our boys would have stayed or left. For that matter, would David and I still be Amish?
I know that getting into "what-if" scenarios can be fruitless. But in this case, it served as a reminder of how grateful I am that David and I took the road we did.
I had to correct another thing in my memory. I have been telling people that I became an accidental writer because I wanted my story told. But now, as I read my journals, I realize that I have been an aspiring writer from the day I gained my freedom. In my home community, becoming a writer was unheard of for women. Sure, I could have become a "scribe" for The Budget, a weekly newsletter by and for Amish and Mennonites, but I thought that was something you did when you got old.
So as soon as I was "allowed" to, I imagined myself a writer. And I practiced it, by writing journals and vignettes of my Amish life. Now I am so glad I did. I find old letters and journals are like memories on paper — a real treasure trove a this point in my life.
For you journal writers out there, do you still write by hand in a real journal? Or has the advent of computers, blogging, Facebook, and other social media changed the way you track and record your memories?