Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"I have come to the conclsion that History is not history; it is legend or just literature." (William E. Paulson, "Orrick as I Remember" 1975.

Once again today I found myself spinning wildly down a rabbit hole in search of some real pioneer stories. It started with my great-grandmother Julia Dudgeon's ledger.

Julie Dudgeon was a writer. As the Secretary for the "Ladies of Hope and Comfort," she documented not only meeting notes, but who was visiting whom, who'd just had a new baby or bought a new hat. She wrote in charcoal pencil the date, where the purchase was made and the price she paid somewhere on every piece of furniture she bought. And she kept a ledger to the penney of everything she and my great-grandfather bought and sold.

The front cover of the ledger reads "1896 to 1896," but the last entry is dated 1952. On the first page they sold a hog for $7.35, chickens and eggs for $6.00 and bought tobacco ($.10), curtains ($2.35), a dress ($.35), life insurance ($15.00),shoes ($1.00),an ax handle ($.15), harness tools ($.30) and whiskey ($.23) along with dried peaches, salt, stamps, nails, and bleuing. About every 6th entry was for more tobacco and with each entry, the pressure of the pencil heavier. Several were underlined. My guess is that grandma Julie didn't care for grandpa's smoking.

What's wonderful about this book is that the more I read, the more I felt like I was on an archeological dig, unearthing ancient shards of their daily lives. The stories that I've heard are of Thurman Dudgeon, the "Watermelon King." The truth is that they made 80% of their income selling chickens, eggs, a pig now and then, potatoes and vegetables from the garden. There's a $.15 entry for "advertising." Raise your hand (those of you with corporate jobs) if you've remembered to include advertising and marketing in this year's departmental budget. Smart businessfolk.

In 1902, they bought a cow ($20.00), a colt ($30.00), sewing machine ($10.00), $.20 for a haircut, more tobacco, $1.00 for the Orrick Times, sold hogs ($35.20), bought shoes ($2.00) and sold a skunk for $.45.

The last entry in the ledger reads "The flood came...stopped our bookkeeping."


The flood was in July of 1951; Grandpa Dudgeon died of prostrate cancer the previous November. My mother and uncles have all told me that grandma lost the farm in the flood. The house still stands and so I assume they mean crops, livestock, furniture... her way of life.

On the back cover of the journal, she wrote: "Laura [her sister] took her three litle children moved down in the Rine Island Saturday evening Mar 2, 1929. I am praying God to send them some help."

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