College students often complain about teachers asking them to write. "When will I ever use this?" they ask.
My ancestors, Laura and Josiah Perry, lived at Perry Crossing now Pony Express. They were neighbors of Dolly Burge. I know this because Dolly was a writer. Other historical and genealogical archives are not as lucid as Dolly's diary. I know much because she chose to write.
Dolly turned to writing to wrestle with her faith, document her fears and emerge triumphant with the joys of everyday life in 1800s Newton and Morgan counties.
On Feb. 6, 1848, a Sabbath evening, Dolly has "been thinking for some time past that I would every day put down the incidents thereof thought -- feelings ... in other words keep a regular journal."
While questioning the value of her daily life Dolly concludes, "Of what trifles are life composed and yet when called to render an account of them will they then be as trifling and unimportant to us as they now seem to be?"
We know today that Dolly Burge's work is anything but trifling.
Dolly makes entries in her diary until Sept. 28, 1879, sharing unprecedented glimpses of personal survival and soul searching at a time when few regional writers did so, especially women.
She wrote my family into her wartime diary several times. Using the diary as a guide, my great aunt, Beverly Heard Perry, went with me 17 years ago to hunt for family headstones under the clump of trees at Pony Express.
My maternal grandfather ran a 500-acre farm. He had one wooden leg compliments of a gunshot wound and a personality as big as the outdoors. I've never seen anything he wrote. I doubt he had time to do so. He probably would have found it a serious waste of time. He died when I was 5 and my 100-year-old grandmother, his widow, keeps him alive through oral tradition today.
His first five grandchildren were boys. He would put us in the back of his truck and take us far out into a field. He'd call the cows, whose heads were larger than our young bodies at the time. Like opposing armies they surrounded the truck. We panicked. We shouted. He held us close at just the right moment then erupted with hearty laughter. We loved him.
He knew with each visit we had forgotten about his wooden leg, so he would have us take a hard swing at his real leg over and over. "Harder!" I can hear him now, "Harder!"
Then, "Hit the other one just as hard," he'd shout. We did so as our knuckles cracked against the wood.
He smelled like Juicy Fruit gum. And although he, like Dolly Burge, died long ago I write the trickster with the boisterous laugh who smelled like Juicy Fruit into abundance 43 years later.
Writing brings to life the characters of the past; we know them better. F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, "You don't write because you want to say something; you write because you've got something to say."
Dolly Burge had something to say, and we are better for it.
Jeff Meadors represents District 1 on the Newton County Board of Education. He may be reached at Jeffrey.firstname.lastname@example.org.