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Every once in a while I come across a chance to own a piece of history. Nothing so spectacular as a handwritten note from Ben Franklin, or a scrap of the original Bill of Rights, but an original document penned by an Iowa farmer in the early 19th century.  His diary  is a one-way conversation with a bit of this country’s past. The words, however, move me in ways no history book ever has. Here are some excerpts from Josuah Penn’s life:

January 2, 1886 – “Took the sleigh into town today to fetch Rev. Gill. Mother is poorly.  The snow is piled so high that we almost didn’t make it back. Reverend is spending the night, possibly mother’s last.”

January 4 –  “Many turned out for the funeral today. The ground was cold and I wept on the inside so others would not see my pain as J.K. and Moss helped me prepare the frozen ground. Mother was beloved. It was good to my heart to see so many turn out on this dark cold afternoon. She is with the Lord, she is at peace at last.”

April 18, 1886 – “The rain! It runs in rivers down the roof shingles and floods the yard, overflowing the duck pond. The wagon wheels are dragged down with  mud until they stop solid and refuse to move anymore. Daniel and I have tried in vain to move them with the aid of the mules, but no good. We will try tomorrow.

August 10, 1886 –  “A new life! Another boy! I cannot express my joy at this wonder of beauty and sweetness! Hannah is well and resting after her long ordeal and my precious new son will be named Elijah, for her father. A parting and a new beginning within the span of half a year. The miracle of life brought full circle.”

On August 10 2011 , baby Elijah would be celebrating his  125th birthday. Yet as I read the joyful announcement of his son’s birth, the span of time melts and I am drawn into the celebration of a new life.  Words have power and when written down, they endure.  Joshua Penn is long gone, but his diary whispers his story to those willing to take the time to listen.

 

 

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