It was a good week for my autobiography.
I made steady progress on re-writing the first four chapters. The time was about ten to one editing over writing. The most difficult challenge is getting the narrative right so it is honest and understandable. I located key documents I’d forgotten. I also created one empty banker’s box. That last part is particularly rewarding for a retiree with too much stuff.
There was a file with old resumes in it, including a Statement of Personal History (DD Form 398) I completed in 1982 or 1983. It includes every job I held and every address I had from birth. That will be useful in creating a time line. A quick glance revealed a number of inaccuracies. I know more now about my life than I did when I was living it, which seems normal.
Importantly, I located the family history documents Mother provided about my paternal line. It is a set of genealogy forms with a lot of information completed. This makes the process easier. Like with every documentation, there are some mistakes and omissions. I can fill in the blanks if I choose. I debate whether to tamper with the originals and have thus far mostly left them as is.
In 1983, we made a long automobile trip from Iowa City to Saint Louis; Evansville, Indiana; Wise County, Virginia; and then to Philadelphia to visit friends and relatives. It was a sort of second wedding trip after our first one to Chicago in December 1982. I located my journal entries from the trip, in which I recorded the interaction with my Uncle Gene when he traveled from Florida to Wise County to be with us. He explained his family life in and around Glamorgan, Virginia where he and Father were born. The journal will help. I may quote most of it directly as it tells the story as well as anything I could write now.
Uncle Gene also took us to some of the home places, including a parcel of land described as “lying and being in Wise County, Virginia on the waters of Guests River in the Rocky Fork section of the Gladewell Magisterial District.” This property, called Rocky Fork by family, goes way back. We explored it during the visit.
I spent considerable time thinking about the 1920s and 1930s this week. I’m reading a book called Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore. It recounts the history of use of the element radium in manufacturing consumer goods, and the impact of radioactivity on workers. The radium girls literally glowed from toxic radium contamination.
Part of the Radium Girls narrative presents the history of The Radium Dial Company, founded in 1917 in Ottawa, LaSalle County, Illinois. It supported what became the Western Clock Company in 1919, featuring the Westclox brand. Radium Dial Company made watch dials painted by hand with radium so they would glow in the dark. The Westclox manufacturing plant was in Peru, LaSalle County, Illinois.
In the book there are two references to Starved Rock, which is where my maternal grandmother worked when she arrived in LaSalle County from Minnesota about 1925. It was a place for group outings for the radium girls and others. I hadn’t considered the broader context of LaSalle County in my autobiography, but now I am. Reading this book was a breakthrough.
As Moore points out, not everyone had automobiles at that time. Likewise, there was radio but no television. People mainly got news from each other, and from newspapers. For a historian, newspapers make it relatively easy to follow coverage of major stories like the one of the court cases of the radium girls.
This led me to think about how I gather news.
We need news, especially during the coronavirus pandemic, yet always. First priority is news about key family members, which is mostly sourced from networks of family and friends. After that, we seek news about what could impact our daily lives. How we gather news changed since the 1920s and during my lifetime. It will likely continue to change.
Our family tuned the television to watch the Huntley-Brinkley Report for news during my formative years. With theme music from the second movement of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, it had a weighty feel. News stories were told in direct, clear language. It catered to what passed for adults back then. It went off the air the summer after I graduated high school.
We subscribed to local Davenport newspapers, the Times-Democrat and the Catholic Messenger. In eighth grade we had a project to read and clip newspaper articles into a scrapbook. I got an A on the project. I was a paperboy who delivered the Times-Democrat in our neighborhood yet hardly read it except for a school project.
In graduate school we watched KWWL-TV news when we had a chance. They had opened a news bureau in Cedar Rapids which featured a recent college graduate, Liz Mathis. Mathis is currently running for Congress. I can’t recall when I stopped watching television news. It was long ago.
Today the day begins reading newspapers. I subscribe to online editions of the Washington Post, Cedar Rapids Gazette, Iowa City Press Citizen, and Solon Economist. Each of them informs me from a different part of the community. I’m a member of Practical Farmers of Iowa, the Arms Control Association, and the Climate Reality Project. Each of these sources provides specialized news. I subscribe to the governor’s press releases, to the county supervisors and public health news releases, and to a number of political office holder newsletters, including people who represent me in the Iowa legislature and the Congress. Lastly, I follow news reporters on Twitter. One exercises caution in picking them. I read their biographies and some of their work before following. There are a lot of great people writing relevant news stories about contemporary society if one is lucky enough to find them.
I had a good writing week and felt like sharing. Thanks for reading.
2 replies on “Writer’s Week #1”
I really enjoyed Radium Girls. So well researched and written. The first I heard of these incidents was when my granddaughter appeared in a high school play based on the story. Made it all seem so real and gripping, especially when she died!
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I appreciated that line: “I know more now about my life than I did when I was living it…”
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