Spunk


A couple of years ago I found a book of diaries written by a Kansas woman, and being a Kansas woman, I took to it immediately. I love stories of life on the plains, and found this collection extremely compelling. In the book, Plains Woman, we join Martha Farnsworth in her teenage years—full of life, flirty, she has a string of beaus and the typical problems with parents who don't understand. Her own mother died when she was only three-years-old, leaving her to be raised by a passive father and strict, uncaring step-mother. All the typical stuff that you'd find today really, but what isn't typical is the spunk in her writing. You really feel, despite the faded years of time, that we are hearing from a real, live teen-ager, with real problems, and real feelings.

As she grows older, the spunk is replaced by sadness and determination as we read about the death of her sister, moves, and lost beaus. Finally we see her getting married and a whole new chapter of life unfolds, but it is a depressing one. Her husband is an alcoholic, he's mean, unsteady, and physically sick. Martha becomes no more than a caged animal, and her diary becomes her only outlet—we readers are her saving grace. A child carried through wagon travels is born and Martha is elated. For six months we read of her delight—being a mother is a great joy to her and a elation rises from the pages so contagious that we ourselves are full of joy for her infant gift. When the baby dies, and Martha is left again to the gallows of her enslaving marriage, devastation leadens the pages—how can she possibly take one more day with this sorrow, with a man who treats her like a cornered animal? The answer is two things: her belief in God, and that undercurrent of spunk just waiting to return.

The diaries extend through many more decades—Martha was gifted with the ability to recount her daily happenings with a clarity missing from most of the journals I've read. She is honest, candid, optimistic, hopeful. I really enjoyed this book. One thing I found interesting was her psychic ability. She doesn't give it much attention, just records it as a fact: dreams that tell the future; feelings which come to be true. I also found her descriptions of early 1900's Topeka to be quite fascinating. As well as her determination in all things life, such as learning to roller skate and swim competitively in her later years, much later than any other woman or man would think of trying.

You can read some of the entries at this site, though you may have trouble loading the pages. Good luck, and enjoy! http://www.kansasmemory.org/item/212795


Comments

  1. All pioneering women seemed to face awful hardships. I don't remember hearing of any that didn't. Went with the job!

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  2. Very true! But what I found interesting was the honesty she portrayed. Many women back then held a very controlled manner, and were trained to be reserved with their feelings and actions. So, yes, her experiences weren't out of the ordinary, but her responses were. I was very surprised by how candid she was.

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  3. I love historical books and diaries. Thanks for posting this.
    Ann

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  4. Amy I bet when she wrote in her diary she would never have guessed it would become a book. Totally fascinating! I have kept diaries for the past 20 years.Something I've just got into the habit of doing I think when we go from here we will leave them hidden somewhere in the house!

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  5. Ann- You're welcome!

    molly- I bet she didn't either! Good for you for keeping a diary . . . I've done it on or off, and definitely wouldn't want others delving into mine. Blogging is a bit like journaling, though with more structure and less revealed secrets. I love the idea of leaving them in the house. Someone will have a great find one of these days!

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  6. I'll tell my mom about this book. She's a Nebraska woman and would love reading it.

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  7. Well, for my part, I'm just glad to have commented without making a schoolboy joke about the word, 'spunk'. Nice post, Amy.

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  8. Karen- I hope she likes it!

    Tom- Thanks Tom, and you're right! Spunk is a weird word but I didn't notice until you said that : )~. Oh well, I'll just leave it.

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