The Diary

Young Matthew Kelsay stared gloomily out the window at the drifts of deepening snow, and listened to the icy wind moan like an ill-bearing minstrel. “Can’t go out and play,” he grumbled to himself. “Maybe I should have gone with Mom and Dad to the genealogy library like they wanted me to.” But he thought there wouldn’t have been anything to do at the library except thumb through a bunch of old dusty books, trying to find the name of someone who was born one year and died another. Uuchhh! How boring, he thought with disgust.

Turning away from the misted glass, Matthew stared bleakly across the room at the stairway. “Nothing to do inside, either,” he murmured. Then his eyes suddenly brightened. Jumping off the sofa, he sprinted up the steep stairs.

The boy hadn’t explored the attic for a long time. The last time he had been up there, he had played an innocent prank on Methuselah, their old tomcat, who sometimes slept there on a dusty featherbed. Now to a very bored eleven-year-old who had nothing better to do, it seemed like a good place to escape a humdrum afternoon.

Matthew squeezed inside, waded through the piles of clutter, and posed clownishly before a cracked mirror with one of his father’s old hats piled on his head. Then he saw something reflected in the mirror that distracted him—an old chest caught in a shaft of wintry light that slivered through a tattered curtain covering the single attic window.

Plopping himself down beside the big box, Matthew creaked open the lid. A warm, musty-sweet smell floated out like a trapped ghost set free. He reached in and pulled out a pair of old boots—boots Matthew was sure must have walked a thousand miles! Next he discovered a faded photograph of a white-haired man with a Moses-like beard and a dusty smile. On the lower corner was written—Josiah Kelsay 1905.

“It’s Great-Grandpa,” whispered the boy. Tucked next to the photograph was a little worn red book. Matthew picked it up and opened it carefully so as not to tear the pages, and the scent that emanated from it tingled him. “Must be Great Grandpa’s diary,” breathed Matthew with awe and reverence. He turned to the inside cover and read: “The diary of ten-year-old Josiah Kelsay, recorded as he crossed the plains with a party of wagons on their way to the Great Salt Lake Valley in the spring of eighteen hundred and forty-nine.” Matthew looked up, his eyes big and round. “Wow! Methuselah, 1849!”

Matthew gingerly fingered a few pages into the little book, stopped, and began to read aloud: “March 18. Our Conestoga left without Ma’s piano. There just wasn’t any room, and the oxen were put upon enough as it was. Baby Jess nearly took a joyful fit when a butterfly lit on her cradle in the back of the wagon.”

The boy turned a few more pages. “March 29. Saw some Indians not too far from our camp today. Brother Ezekiel said they were Crows. They didn’t look as though they meant us any harm, but Ma took on fearful and then became prayerful. Pa tried to comfort Ma and told her not to worry because God would see to it that all of us got to the valley in one piece.”

Digging into the diary a little deeper, Matthew read: “April 3. It rained some today. Old Sister Weber died this morning. Found me a real arrowhead in the skull of a dead coyote. Brother Beacon’s boy said he’d give me his gold watch for it but I’d rather keep the arrowhead. Baby Jess has taken to coughing something fierce.”

More pages were turned. “April 19. We only made about a mile today. Pa took time out to bury Baby Jess. Didn’t see Pa cry but he put his arms round Ma in the holdingest kind of way. Then he walked off somewhere by himself for the rest of the day. Once I thought I heard someone crying off aways. Maybe it was just the wind coming down off the butte.”

“April 20. Brother Ezekiel shot a wild pig that came into a place where Sister Gunnerson was digging some Indian Soapweed. The pig was acting crazy and bubbling at the jaws like he had a devil in him. And before it was killed it horned a place across Ma’s leg—just a scratch but there’s some folks looking unusually mournful. Pa and Nephi Cole administered to Ma. Flora Clanton found some berries and said she’s going to work up something special for the one that sings the loudest tonight at the camp sing.”

Matthew fingered ahead. “May 2. They had to tie Ma down in the wagon today.”

“May 3. Ma died this morning. Just before the end she told us good-bye. I think I heard her tell me to be strong and to praise God.”

On another page Matthew read: “May 4. Cold all day—colder than ever before. We found some little wild flowers to put on Ma’s grave.”

Matthew rubbed his arms, looked up at the snow falling against the little attic window, then he flipped the page. “May 6. We’ve been trying to catch up with the rest of the wagons. Pa told me to try to stop looking so stretchy-faced over Ma being gone. He says we’ll all get to the valley, only we’ll have to take Ma and Baby Jess with us in our hearts. He said they’ll live forever because things eternal never die. And maybe it’s so.”

Matthew turned one more page. “May 7. The wind is most howly and wild today, guess that’s why Pa’s been holding me tighter than I can ever remember.”

Matthew closed the book respectfully, wiped a tear from his cheek, and stared at the diary a long, proud moment. Looking at old books isn’t so boring after all, he decided. And it certainly isn’t dumb.

“You know what, Methuselah?” he said to his sleeping cat. “The next time Mom and Dad ask me to go to the genealogy library, maybe I’ll go with them to see if there are some other diaries that will be as interesting as Great-Grandpa’s.” The old tom’s paws twitched in undisturbed sleep. Matthew laughed. He was thinking that if Methusalah ever tried to find out about his ancestors, he would have to rely on dreams!

[photos] Photos by Jed Clark; artifacts courtesy of Church Historical Department