I never knew my great grandmother. But looking through her commonplace book, I know I would have admired her. And she probably would have been puzzled by, but tolerant of my my wide-eyed enthusiasm for doing things the hard way. I can almost hear her saying ,”For pity’s sake, just use your microwave”!
What is a commonplace book anyway?
It was your great grandma’s Pinterest; a scrap book of notes, ideas and clippings related to the interests and every day life of it’s keeper. I was lucky enough to stumble on two of my Great Grandma Eliza’s in my mom’s basement, and Mom was nice enough to let me have them. They are full of frugal recipes, garden tips, measurements (did you know 15 lbs are in a peck?), home remedies, and housekeeping tips. You know, mom stuff. My kind of stuff.
Grandma Eliza was born in 1897, and she married in 1912. Her commonplace books appear to have been started in the the early 1900’s. The earliest date noted in either book is 1915, but entries don’t appear to be chronological. I suspect she “filled up” the pages, and then came back later to add more in leftover spaces. It even looks as though her daughter, my Grandma Dolly (given name Hazel, my youngest is her namesake) added a note or two. One is mostly handwritten in a record book, and the other is mostly cut and pasted into what appears to have been a school notebook. You can see bits of History and Math peeking out from between the pasted-in articles. I love that.
Her recipes and tips reflect the thrift of the day, and the articles she clipped feature women making do and rising above. One clipped article features a Mrs. HG who found herself widowed and without an income on “the shady side of fifty years”. But she did have the family home free and clear. She sold a piece of jewelry and purchased three tables and twelve chairs, which she used to convert her front parlor into a dining room. She offered a luncheon of baked beans, green salad, bread, and her neighbor’s fruit preserves for fifty cents, and having such a low overhead was able to support herself nicely thereafter. Such an inspiration! I love that even so many years ago, my great-grandmother was interested in many of the same things I am today; frugality, good food, and creating a warm home.
Aside from giving a glimpse at the sort of things Grandma Eliza was interested in, her commonplace books offer useful information. Okay, I admit I’m not likely to need directions for maintaining a kerosene cookstove, and honestly, I’m not keen on tasting calves brains with potato balls. But you can bet I’ve tried her method for cleaning and seasoning cast iron with great success! And my girls, who have been learning about proper tea etiquette, will be very interested in the article she clipped on Table Service In The Home.
I’m inspired to start keeping a commonplace book of my own. Yes, I know my great grandchildren will probably be able to look back on my facebook, pinterest and even this blog if they are interested, but how much more valuable to have a book to hold in their hands, leaf through, and use as a resource for “old timey” wisdom?
Oh and as a side note, as I was putting my girls to bed this evening, the two year old asked “Mom, where’s my notebook?” Yes, she actually speaks that well, and her notebook was jumbled in her covers. All three of my daughters adore notebooks and journals. My husband is a serial note-booker, so I always figured they got it from him, but now I realize that they may have come by some of those tendencies on my side as well!
How about you? Do you keep a “commonplace book”?
Special thanks to my mother and cousins for filling me in in dates and details of Grandma Eliza’s life, and for the wedding photo. I would love to hear from any of you who have more stories to share!