Charles Edward Dickinson was my great grandfather, and his diary of pencilled entries for the year 1868 is a fascinating account of personal daily activity. [This PDF file is a sample.]
January 1st, seventeen-year-old Charles was on two-week vacation from his college preparatory studies ["The Academy"] at Washington University in St. Louis. Evidently he got room and board from his uncle and aunt [his family was in Dubuque] in exchange for well-documented manual labor [coal shovelling, painting, carpet beating . . . ].
Charles walked everywhere. January 18th: "I walked both ways [about 54 or 55 blocks] to save 10 cts as I am practicing economy." His walks often took him to the Mississippi River to see riverboats depart.
On foot, Charles paid attention to weather. St. Louis had its share of inclement weather, so I was struck by the frequent phrase "the weather was very pleasant," a motif of appreciation.
The first major crisis occurs February 12th: “I had the tooth ache very bad." February 13th: "Had my tooth drawn by Uncle Wm. I never suffered so much pain in my life." A telling entry about his uncle four days later, February 17th: "had a long talk with Uncle Wm. in regard to my duties being performed with greater alacrity."
Charles Edward was sincerely religious. Besides Sunday church sermons, mid-week prayer meetings in the evening were routine. He also taught Sunday School at Biddle Mission, apparently near the church.
His religious outlook also expressed developing social consciousness. From April 12th: "A minister spoke on behalf of the Freedmen this morning & collected subscriptions of money or clothing." His anti-alcohol stance informs the May 16th entry: "Rec'd news of A.J.'s nonimpeachment. A Million Dollars went from St. L. given by the liquor dealers for his non-conviction."
On May 4th, his uncle assesses Charles' future: "I am not well fitted to be a druggist & I have not been brought up to be precise enough . . . the Grocery business would suit me."
As the spring term wound down, Charles appeared to count the days until he was free to go home.
Sadly, the pencilled entries dribbled to a stop by the end of May. June 1st: "Mother died at 8 Oclock this evening." He wrote those words in indelible black ink twice, as if to confirm his shock.
I understand Charles Edward stayed in Dubuque, working in the family hotel. Travellers in the hotel lobby might have impressed him with railroad adventure, for Charles Edward went onto become a locomotive engineer, as did son Charles Oliver, my granddad.
Image credit: Dickinson family archival photo
Read Charlie Dickinson's story collection [and feel free to share with a friend] The Cat at Light's End, as an ebook in these downloadable formats:
.epub (most other readers)
.pdf (for PCs)
Also, a flash fiction, "Ylena Thinks Nyet," is at Cigale Literary Magazine.
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