Reading the Minutes

Fresh Ribbon

I’ve been more than a little busy. So much so that only today have I given a closer look to some of my junk shop purchases from the recent Fordyce, Arkansas side trip.

I found this day book in the only downtown shop with a closed front door. Down here, that means air conditioning, although once inside we found that the AC had in fact just quit and the nice woman who owns the shop was frantically making calls. Since she only had the one fan by the cash register, a closed door, and 103 degrees of south Arkansas sunshine baking us like a pie in there, we speed-shopped.

I found the day book sitting on some old magazines, flipped through the empty pages, and figured a half-dozen delightful uses for it. Not bad for two dollars. Steph found something that wasn’t overpriced, so we quickly paid for everything and ran for the functioning AC of the car.

To be truthful, I was so excited about the two typewriters I’d bought earlier in the week that I didn’t check the rest of my bounty until today. The day book is actually not empty. There are a few pages here and there scribbled in and there’s the faintest hint of a name and purpose on the inside cover. What I’d bought were some hastily-written minutes from the local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, circa 1940. Clearly, this secretary-recorder was temporarily filling in for someone else. There’s a hesitancy and lack of detail. It was also (gasp) written in pencil.

Now, I don’t know much about the DAR in other parts of the country, but down here in Arkansas it has a rich legacy of unofficial (and occasionally, quite official) racism. Only women from the best families belonged to the DAR, women who married well and whose important husbands sometimes jaunted out late at night in white sheets.

I know this because my great-grandmother Minnie Mae was a card-carrying member. She was The Doctor’s Wife in a small town called Stamps back when logging and oil were the rage. It was also in the same time and town where Maya Angelou knew how the caged bird sang. Although my grandfather did spend more than a few late nights out, I suspect he was mainly attending medical emergencies or the pool hall. I don’t know. Luther went to his Great Reward before I was born. I knew Minnie Mae. She was something else.

I doubt Minnie Mae ever met the doodling secretary-recorder from Fordyce, even though it’s only an hour away. She was a controlling woman with a fine house and six sets of china who preferred to do her own hostessing, thank you. They might have met at one of those DAR state get-togethers in Little Rock, though. It’s likely some of these women took out the good jewelry and made the train trip.

What all this means is that I have an open invitation to membership. So does my daughter, and if she only bears sons then we’ll be the end of it. The DAR has had seventy years to change since this day book, but I suspect the ladies aren’t ready for the likes of either one of us. The Daughters of the American Revolution will have to work their genealogies and give out those scholarships and whatnot without our help. Not that they’d let us in, legacy or not. Out of the 46 chapters still active in Arkansas, every member listed has “Mrs.” in front of her name.

(Eleanor Roosevelt’s letter of resignation to the DAR. Click on the picture for more.)

Again, maybe it’s a Southern Thing. Maybe I’m dead wrong and the DAR’s become all progressive and inclusive and politically correct. Maybe.

Not bad, buying a bit of Southern feminine history for a couple of bucks. Maybe I’ll use the empty pages to write in a few “minutes” of my own.

17 thoughts on “Reading the Minutes

  1. You're not supposed to do minutes in pencil? Uh-oh.When we started an Art Club at my school, my teacher forced me into being the \”scribe\” cuz \”SCRIBES DON'T TALK!!\” and I do too much of that. All our minutes, notes, everything…pencil. So unproffesional, I'm supposing.

  2. Minnie Mae and Luther. That is awesome. In other news, I've never before heard of the DAR, most likely because my ancestors probably came over on a prison ship.

  3. I used to be a scribe, too, Julia. Same reason. I also took terrible notes on purpose so they wouldn't ask me again. Now, I would NEVER tell YOU to do such a thing…but…Mike, I'm sure plenty of my family came over as con men and scalawags who likely stole money from your family on the prison ship. My guess is that Minnie Mae wrote her own history. It's a shame all those records burned up in (ahem) a tragic fire.

  4. Oh, my, my, my….First of all, this post reminds me of a story: I was gabbing with an old friend & was trying to recall the first name of a stern grade school teacher we'd had. \”So, what was Mrs. Dibona's first name anyway?\” I asked. \”'Misses,'\” my friend replied.Having grown up in Weymouth, Massachusetts, which was founded in 1622, two years after that bastion of pilgrimhood, Plymouth (or Plimoth, as it was actually spelled), and having lived down the street from the birthplace of perhaps an early model for the DAR, Abigail Adams, I recall the DAR as a way for snooty Yankee Wasps to lord their lineage all over us first- and second-generation Americans, who were related to people who spoke English as a 2nd language or whose last names ended in vowels. Never mind if you were the 'wrong' color!!! I mean, heaven preserve us!I think you're probably right about what they're like these days, Monda. And I don't have a prayer in hell of being qualified to join, so I can say whatever I want about the DAR. But I'll let them speak for themselves. This is from the website for the Massachusetts chapter: \”DAR Membership Requirements: Any woman 18 years of age, who descended from a man or woman of unfailing loyalty and aid to the cause of American Independence (1775-1783) is eligible. A prospective member must be able to prove her lineage back to an ancestor who served the American cause during the American Revolution. The Chapter Registrar is prepared to provide advice and assistance in this endeavor, if needed.\”Well, that lets me out. My ancestors were Vikings, beer-makers, and crazy Celts.

  5. I guess we'll have to form our own sorority, Kathi. You can be the Hospitality Hostess (all that Viking, Celt, and beer business qualifies you perfectly) and I'll keep the minutes. In pen.I've already got a day book on the ready. We can invite women and men of any creed or complexion and we'll all drink margaritas out of fingerbowls. Minnie Mae left me plenty of those.

  6. What an interesting post! Something I don't know about you, but should, is this: have you written any books? I think I would like to read one if you have. (Your Silent Type submission is technically here, btw, the post office left me a little orange card to indicate as much. Apparently they couldn't cram the overnight envelope in my cheap-seats PO box and thus I'll grab it Monday).

  7. Strikethru – I'm glad the submission made it in time. My itinerant-teaching schedule has been breathtaking this summer. My first long piece of fiction was written during this year's NaNo – my experiment in trying to sustain a story for more than a few thousand words. I'm a poet, not a prose gal. We're poetry-types aren't wired for plot. You'll find that out when you read the submission I've labeled \”flash\” but is more likely a prose poem. The slam-bam NaNoWriMo process was a perfect fit for my gnat-like attention span, so I actually came out with something worth the rewrite. We'll see.

  8. Well. I should, you know. Not to the D.A.R. necessarily, but maybe to some other group. The N.A.A.C.P. might have an historical repository in Little Rock. Or the state chapter of N.O.W. I'm kidding. Kind of. It does belong somewhere other than my file cabinet, though.

  9. This collection is phenomenal, and exactly where the minutes belong.In addition to giving my little day book an appropriate home, the site also provides links to free, historical classroom posters and lesson plans dealing with civil rights and suffrage. I'm passing along this info to our teachers in the Great Bear Writing Project today.Thank you, CStanford!

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