One of my relatives, a history and genealogy buff, loaned me a diary to read one day. To me, this diary was pretty amazing. It chronicled the life of a Shenandoah Valley man I’ll call Levi.
Levi kept his diary for over 40 years. Much of his diary concerns ordinary things, such as the weather, church news, and other matters pertaining to rural life. Levi was a smart and handy guy — he repaired musical instruments, clocks, sewing machines and even people on occasion.
During his life, Levi witnessed Confederate and Union troops pass through the Valley as well as the aftermath of the Civil War. The Shenandoah Valley was the “breadbasket of the Confederacy,” so it was important strategically because it kept Confederate soldiers supplied with food. The Valley saw several battles fought up and down its length between Confederate and Union soldiers.
The fun thing about this diary is that it contains some unexpected surprises mixed in with the everyday events. I remember one story about how Levi met Chang and Eng Bunker and talked with them. Chang and Eng Bunker were two famous conjoined twins who were born in Siam (now Thailand), came to America, and eventually settled in North Carolina. (The phrase “Siamese twins” is attributed to these two twins.) Chang and Eng appeared in theaters and concert halls while touring in the U.S., which is how Levi got to meet them.
I bet Chang, Eng and Levi had a lot in common. All three knew about farming and living in rural areas. In fact, some of Chang and Eng’s descendants still live in North Carolina today.
Levi also put modern-day marathoners to shame. In one entry, he describes a 60-mile round trip to get to Harrisonburg, Virginia. He walked almost all of the way there and back — quite a feat, even by current standards. I was impressed and not too surprised that Levi talked about having to rest for a couple of days afterward. (If Levi had had a bicycle, I bet he would have given Lance Armstrong a run for his money in the Tour de France!)
By his account, Levi led a long and productive life. It’s a strange thing — when I go to visit that area of the Shenandoah Valley, I look at the same mountains Levi saw every day and wonder if Levi ever imagined his diary would survive so long past his life. I think he’d be pleased to know that readers from this era are still interested in what he said.