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Minnie's Diary #35: The Storms of Life


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“There are few who can not be cheerful

While the sky is sunshiny and blue;

But he’s grander by half

Who’s still able to laugh

When the storms of life drench him through."

— “Sayings and Doings,” Farm Journal,

Wilmer Atkinson Company, Philadelphia, Pa., January 1905, p. 37



Sunday, September 4 - Maggie over and had a good time. Perm came over.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904

Maggie Arseneaux LePage didn’t so much walk as waddle into the kitchen, holding her belly as she sat down carefully on a chair. It wasn’t something you’d talk about in mixed company, but everyone could see she would soon give birth. Sadly, her expectant mother’s face had lost all its joy when her husband, Hector, had died in an accident at the Pewabic Mine in July.


Soon after, on August 9, Maggie’s youngest sister, Josephine, died of pregnancy-related infection. Maggie’s spirit sank into a dark and seemingly bottomless pit.


“The doctor told me I needed to get some rest and time away, or I’d be in a grave right next to Hector,” Maggie said. “I couldn’t bear the heartache any more.”

“And your son?” Minnie asked.


“Louis is with my sister, Katie. I needed to get away. I need to get healthy for this one,” she said, caressing her belly. “I can’t afford the Grand Hotel on Mackinac, so Hermansville has been my respite and retreat. I’m so grateful to your parents and all the families in the Society of Foresters who have supported me.”

“I’m so glad you stopped by,” Minnie said. “Let’s have some fun and forget all your troubles.”


Maggie struggled to find joy amid her sorrow. After losing her mother at age 13, Maggie had been called on to mother her younger sisters and brothers. The youngest were Josephine and Louise — both younger than 3 when their mother died. Their father married again a year later, but Maggie still cared for her sisters. To them, she had been a second mother.


When Perm Paquin stopped by the Gamache farm, the young women spent the afternoon playing three-handed cribbage and telling stories. Maggie even laughed a time or two.

“Laugh all you can. Laughing shakes up the system, makes the blood circulate, wakes up the lungs, starts digestion, warms the feet, kindles the brain to quicker work, relaxes the nervous system; in a word, does you good all over.”

— Farm Journal, Wilmer Atkinson Company, Philadelphia, Pa., February 1904, p. 70.



Field Work


Monday, September 5 - Worked in the field.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904

“Labor Day was duly celebrated in this town by everyone having anything to do putting in their best licks doing it. Of course, there were some who did not work, but that was natural to them.”

-- “Purely Personal Paragraphs,” Menominee County Journal,

Stephenson, Mich., Sept. 10, 1904, p. 1

Labor Day had been a federal holiday since 1894, but that didn’t mean the good people of Hermansville could take the day off. Minnie’s brothers, Edmund and Willie, had left early that morning for their regular 10-hour shift at the Wisconsin Land & Lumber Company sawmill.

“A day for more work, that’s what Labor Day is around here,” Edmund said with a frown and a sigh.

Of course, life on the farm never knows a true holiday. There’s milking to be done, animals to feed, a barn to clean. Minnie and her youngest brother, Freddie, rose before dawn to help Ma and Pa with the chores. After breakfast, they left Ma in the kitchen and headed off to the fields to harvest more grain.

“Threshing time coming up,” Pa said. “Looks like the thresher will be at the Paquins and Dubeys this week, and maybe make it to our farm next week.”


School Days No More

Tuesday, September 6 - Rained all day.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904

“When the hunting farmer is hastening with his farm work

and rain prevents further progress, let him say:

‘It is no use to grumble and complain;

It’s just as cheap and easy to rejoice.

If God sorts out the weather and sends rain,

Why, rains our choice.’”

-- Farm Journal, Wilmer Atkinson Company, Philadelphia, Pa.,

Vol. XXVIII, No. 9, September 1904.


For the first time in years, the Gamache family didn’t send any children off to school on this day. At 14, Freddie had finished lessons in the one-room school down the road and wouldn’t be attending 9th and 10th grade in Hermansville. He was staying home to help on the farm, and work in the woods this winter.

“I’ve heard the state school superintendents want to require schooling until age 16,” Minnie said. “You should be in school for two more years, Freddie.”


“He doesn’t need no more school,” Pa said. “He can read and write just fine, and do math. Good enough for us farmers and lumberjacks. Right, Fred?”

Oui, Papa,” said Freddie, rolling his eyes at Minnie when Pa wasn’t looking.


“Now, let’s get out to the machine shed and make sure everything is ready for threshing next week,” said Pa. “It might be raining, but there’s still work to do.”

“Miss Florence O’Donnell left Monday for Hermansville, where she will teach school.”

— “Purely Personal Paragraphs,” MCJ, Sept. 10, 1904, p. 1


-- Traverse City Record Eagle, Traverse City, Mich., May 6, 1904, p. 1

“The movement started at Marquette against the vertical writing system in the public schools is having a noticeable effect all over the upper peninsula and the good old slant letter will soon again be in style.”

— The Evening Record, Traverse City, Michigan, August 30, 1904


Wednesday, September 7 - Rained again. Went to Hville. Maggie came up with me.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904


Minnie enjoyed a second straight day with a break from fieldwork. She offered to go to Hermansville to do some shopping in the company store.

“I need some sugar and cinnamon and a few other things for the threshing crews,” Ma said, dictating a short list to Minnie.

The Gamache family grew or made most of what they needed on the farm. What little more they needed could be purchased in town and put on their account, with the expenses deducted from the boys’ pay at the end of the month.

Minnie stopped in two of the company-owned rental houses. First to visit her cousin, Minnie Raiche, and then to congratulate Mamie Lavigne, who was recently engaged to marry Alfred Beaudry. At the Lavigne house, she found herself in the middle of a debate over vertical vs. slanted writing styles.


“Marquette and Stephenson have abolished vertical handwriting. I imagine Hermansville schools will be next.”


“Why, children have been taught the vertical style for 10 years now,” Minnie said. “Why would anyone want to go backward?”


“Do you remember those handwriting exercises we had to do?” Mamie asked.


“Oh yes,” Minnie said, laughing. She held her hand to her cheek, reciting, “Beautiful was the night, Ray.


That glorious day, Florence.”


“Glorious indeed! What about, ‘The timely dew of sleep, Fred.’ ”

The American System of Vertical Writing, American Book Co., via Google Books

Minnie burst out in laughter.


“I couldn’t help wondering why the boys were having so much fun at night,” Minnie said with a wink. “Why the return to slanted style?”

“They say that businesses prefer the slanted style,” Mamie said.


“Some people just don’t like change,” said Flora Lavigne, Mamie’s mother. “They don’t like losing control or being left behind. That’s why people cling to the old ways, or want to return to them.”


Minnie thought about Mrs. Lavigne’s statement for a moment. About how Pope Pius X had banned modern music and women’s voices from the Catholic Mass. About how some didn’t want to see women playing baseball, working in a business or — God forbid — having the vote. About those who opposed the new automobiles because they were noisy, dirty and scared the horses.


“But you can’t turn back progress,” Minnie said. “No matter how much you try.”


Exactement,” said Mrs. Lavigne.

“Vertical writing must go, as far as the Marquette schools are concerned. The school board has formally passed a resolution to that effect. A number of people outside the board members were in attendance, and the sentiments expressed were strongly against the vertical hand.”

— Ironwood Times, Ironwood, Michigan, September 10, 1904


“The Board of Education of Stephenson township at its meeting last Saturday, passed a resolution abolishing the teaching of vertical writing in the township schools. The old slants, or spencerian writing will now be taught.”

-- Menominee County Journal, Stephenson, Mich., Sept. 10, 1904, p. 8


“Curiously enough, opposition to advance in educational matters comes, as a rule, not from educators, but from the laymen who, under our American system of management, have ultimate control. It is safe to say that most of the opposition in such matters as that of vertical writing comes from those outsiders. They suppose it to be an unjustifiable innovation, and most of them would be mightily surprised to find that in the handwriting of all times and by all people the vertical line has prevailed. From the time when writing was executed with chisel and mallet the characters have been straight up and down.”

— “Progress in Man’s Handwriting Told in Museums and Libraries,”

The Indianapolis Journal, May 22, 1904

Back to the Fields


Thursday, September 8 - Worked in the field.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904

“I’m grateful that Maggie is here to help,” Ma said. “We have cucumbers and beets to pickle today.”


Minnie looked with sympathy at Maggie, who was holding her aching back and looking down at her swollen ankles.

“Don’t work her too hard, Ma. She came here to rest, you know.”


Oui, oui. I know”

Minnie followed Pa and Freddie into the fields for yet another day, worrying about her friend and hoping she would get through her pregnancy safely.




Tomatoes, Apples and Good Times

Friday, September 9 - Worked in the field. Mary Mauchaud came over. Maggie went to Leon Raiche.
Saturday, September 10 - Went to Mr. Paquin to go for Maggie and had a fine time.
Sunday, September 11 - Had Mass and went to Mr. Galarno and went to Lena’s place. Had a fine time.
Monday, September 12 - Picked our tomatoes and went to Mrs. Galarno for apples.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904

“Indications point to a fair apple crop in all parts of the state this fall. The apples are said to be of a better quality than last year, showing up clear and with few worms.”

— The Evening Record, Traverse City, Mich., September 8, 1904, p. 5

Apple pie, berry pie, and more apple pie. Pickled cucumbers. Pickled beets. Potatoes to peel, boil and mash. Fresh tomatoes, bursting with flavor from the summer sun.


Threshing time had arrived.


Minnie helped her mother peel and core the apples and slice them for pie. When one job was done, they moved on to the next.


“Baked chicken for the main course?” Minnie asked.

“Chicken tomorrow and roast pork the day after,” Ma said.


In Ma’s kitchen, you’d best be careful, or you might upset a pot of boiling water or upend a crock of sliced cucumbers, soaking in pickling salt. No one would outdo her table when it came time to feed the threshing crews.


“Minnie, fetch me the mustard seed, cloves, nutmeg and cayenne pepper,” Ma said. “I’m going to make a tomato relish with some of those beautiful tomatoes you picked.”

“Tomatoes are indispensable for meat relishes. Ripe tomatoes, peeled and chopped and mixed with chopped onions and red peppers, boiled one hour in seasoned vinegar, make a well liked sauce for winter use. If ketchup is made, strain the tomato, which has been cooked fine, and add spices and vinegar in the proportion of two tablespoonfuls of cloves, cinnamon, whole mustard seed, two nutmegs, salt, one-half tablespoonful of cayenne pepper and one pint of vinegar to one peck of tomatoes. Cook until thick.”

— “A Tomato Chapter,” The Evening Record, Traverse City, Mich., September 10, 1904, p. 10


Tuesday, September 13 - Rained all day and went to Hville.

— Minnie Gamache Diary, Hermansville, Michigan, 1904

After all their work on Monday, rain dashed plans for threshing. Minnie and Maggie went to Hermansville to visit friends and pick up a few more things from the store.

Maggie said goodbye to everyone who had supported her in the last month. She would be going home tomorrow, her heart filled with the love of these French Canadian “cousins” who took care of their own.


“I truly appreciate your kindness, Minnie,” Maggie said. “I’ll carry every kind word in my heart forever. On those dark days, they’ll shine a light to guide me through the storm.”

“You are welcome any time,” Minnie replied. “You know you’re part of our family, now.”


Notes & Further Reading


Note to Readers: Minnie's Diary is part history and part fiction, based on notes written in a 1904 daybook by Minnie Gamache. While my great-grandmother's diary entries and the news clippings are real, the rest comes from my imagination and research into life in Hermansville, a company-owned lumber town in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. For more about Minnie and her family, read this introductory page elsewhere on this website.


Local History Event Friday & Saturday: The Upper Peninsula Digital Network (UPLINK) will host a two-day event at the Menominee County Library in Stephenson, Michigan, on Friday and Saturday. At 11 a.m. on Friday, I’ll be talking about Minnie’s Diary and the importance of preserving local history. UPLINK is a collaborative, regional digital preservation network that shares historic digital records on their website. UPLINK is inviting local community members to digitize their family memorabilia, letters, photographs, and cassette audio recordings to be included in this treasure trove of U.P. history. Event staff will also be available to digitally record community members’ stories and memories of life in the Upper Peninsula. The event is made possible with a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council (MHC). Bring your family photos, diaries and unique records to be scanned and digitized so future generations can access our history. Hope to see you there!


Handwriting: Did you ever think about how handwriting gives away your age? It turns out that schools have used different methods to teach handwriting over the generations. In 1904, controversy erupted over the switch from the ornate "Spencerian" or "slanted" writing style to the newer "vertical" writing method. (Click on the links to see samples of each.) I think Minnie's handwriting reflects the vertical writing style. The payroll records of the Wisconsin Land company & Lumber Co. (below) seem to use the slanted style. What do you think?


Wisconsin Land & Lumber Co. Payroll Records, 1904

Characters: Maggie Arseneaux LePage appeared previously in July, when a Hermansville crowd traveled to Vulcan, apparently in connection with her husband's death. Maggie grew up in Vulcan and her parents must have had strong connections to the French Canadian community in Hermansville. Minnie's maternal aunt also married an Arseneaux (Arseneault) in Champion, Michigan. Maggie gave birth to her second son, Hector Laury LePage Jr., on September 23, 1904. In 1907, she married her sister Katie's brother-in-law, Joseph Moore, which whom she had a daughter and a son.


Other new characters include Mary Mauchaud and Mrs. and Mrs. Galarno. Mary may have been the wife of Fred Mauchaud, who was a machinist in Florence, Wisconsin, in the 1905 Wisconsin census. She also may have been Mary Michoud, wife of Edward Michoud, a 37-year-old farmer in Nadeau, Michigan, in the 1900 census. Perhaps one of these men owned a threshing machine? Also in the 1900 census, I found a Frederick (Frank) and Alphonsine Galarneau on a farm in nearby Spalding, Michigan. Perhaps they owned an apple orchard? I couldn't find any Galarnos or Galarneaus in Hermansville records.


Labor Day: Monday, September 5, was Labor Day, a federal holiday in 1904. I reviewed the payroll records for the Wisconsin Land & Lumber Co. and found few workers had the day off. Some were not at work, and they weren't paid for the day. Based on those records and the Labor Day report above from Stephenson in the Menominee County Journal, I suspect that many U.P. businesses didn't celebrate the holiday. The Journal reported that the Stephenson military band did play a concert in the village of Carney on Labor Day evening, however.


Compulsory Education: It wasn't until 1905 that Michigan started requiring students to stay in school until age 16. Even then, it allowed some exceptions for students who lived a certain distance from school or who were needed to work. Later census records show that Fred Gamache and other local residents stopped attending school after eighth grade, the top grade in the one-room country schoolhouses.


Threshing Time: I'll write more about threshing time in the next blog post. You can see in Minnie's diary all the preparation that went into it, such as gathering apples or working in the fields to gather grain into shocks. Also, I was a little surprised that Minnie worked so much time in the fields, instead of helping her mother with cooking and canning. Today a single combine does all the work and there's no need for a big threshing crew dinner.



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