My grandmother’s scrapbook is a compendium – gathering and weaving together recipes, menus, home remedies, commonplace wisdom, and encyclopedic knowledge. Its topics are personal to her – she chose what to paste in or write; they are of their time – many clippings from the Boston Globe in the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s; and they are universal – relevant to me (any reader) now for their common sense, balanced diets, and ageless truths about health, spirit, and fortitude.
She called it “Fran’s Scrapbook” and she kept it on a table in the living room so her children could look at it along with the photo album of family and friends. Together they document her years as a wife and mother; they evoke a place – New England, and a culture – America, during three particular decades. Decades that carried her and the rest of the world from horses and buggies through a daunting Depression and then a sobering second world war.
Sometime after 1912 she bought the scrapbook – or was given it as a gift. She was young, in her early twenties, and just married, settling into life with Leon Plaisted on his parent’s farm, called Lyon Hill, just southeast of Sanford, Maine.
From the Globe she cut out recipes and menu plans; letters about budgeting and home remedies for people and houses; advice columns on etiquette, marriage, parenting, faith, women’s work, human behavior, success, fitness, and aging. Sometimes she jotted a favorite aphorism, biblical passage, or words of wisdom. It was her internet of information; her bookmarked pages of favorite topics. The letters from readers to fellow readers with pseudonyms, or “noms,” were her blogger’s dialogue, her way to know how others like her thought about things – good character, food preparation, parenting, household problems.
On the alphabetized pages she created index lists to guide her to later pastings:
On Page E/F:
Exercises for Health p 150
Eggs p 52
Never-fail Fudge p 45
Floors p 97
Power of Faith p 115
On Page K/L:
Laxative p. 91
Lemons p. 122
The Right Way of Living p. 124
It’s hard to imagine when she had time to cut and paste. Maybe it was occasional and in a surprise moment of rest. There seem to be fewer clippings from the 1920s, when her three children were young. The bulk come from the 1930s, after the family has moved to town and Frances has fewer farm chores, but is still running the house while the children are in school and then college. Articles from the 1930s are sometimes on the same pages as articles from the 1920s – as if Fran had pasted sparingly on pages, then started over and filled in blank spaces with later articles.
The diet and fitness regimens seem still relevant to a contemporary reader. But, next to them are recipes for lard, suet, and spam or household remedies using creosote, turpentine, and sulfur, which we would now see as hazardous, not healing. Not much about the news here – except advice about how to economize and nurture self-determination during the 1930s – when so many were out of work, including Leon, for a bit. And no personal notes, except for one day when, beneath a newspaper clipping, “Doctor’s Diet that Took Off 150 Pounds,” Frances wrote in ink: “Dorothy F. Plaisted received her golden eaglet 1934.” That’s my mom, the Girl Scout, a freshman at Keene State Teacher’s College that year.