Recently I saw a life in boxes. In a basement, covered in dust and cobwebs, a variety of papers recorded the mundane daily activities of a woman long gone. I was cleaning out the basement of my husband’s childhood home as we prepare to make it our home. My mother-in-law will be moving into the attached apartment. It reminds me of the Amish culture, the eldest son taking over the main house and the parents moving into a smaller attached one. I always loved the idea of that, and there is something warm and romantic about moving our children into the home their grandfather and great-grandfather built with their own hands.

My husband’s parents had moved his grandmother in with them in that very house, as she got older, and that is the life I have gotten a view into recently. She kept all of her receipts and invoices: receipts from payments made to utility companies, notes from doctors, logs of household expenses. . .I ran across papers from 1929. Most I threw out, but I kept a few things I thought my husband and children may like that had some sentimentality attached. As I went through these things, I wondered to myself, “Is this the sum of a life? Can all the things we do be reduced to papers in a box?”

I ran across a couple of her diaries from the 60’s. I thought my kids would enjoy learning more about the great-grandmother they never met. I read them first, to make sure they were kid-friendly, and because I was curious. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed. I guess I expected to hear her heart being poured out; to hear the innermost thoughts of a housewife of the 50’s and 60’s; to see what it was really like to live back then. This is what I found instead, “August 5, 1965, Very nice day, quite warm. Did some cleaning upstairs, ate dinner then went to town and got some groceries and paid some bills, stopped at Marvis’.” And another, “July 11th, Monday, Finished my dress. Did the mopping and cleaned up for prayer meeting.”

But, as I continued reading the day after day mundane tasks of a wife, I began to see it as less of a ledger of chores, and more of a list of accomplishments. I related to her. Often, my day could be written just as hers, “Went to town, got some groceries, paid some bills. . .” Or, “Did the mopping and cleaned up for company.” It’s good to recount what we managed to accomplish today; especially when we find ourselves going to bed with the list of things we didn’t get done swirling in our heads and adding to tomorrow’s list. I found myself inspired. She was a very productive lady who even made time for prayer groups and visiting friends.

As I thought of all these things, I came to the conclusion that just because a day, then a week, then a month, and so on can be summed up by a record of tasks and chores accomplished, doesn’t mean it is lacking in inspiration or contentment, but rather it is an honorable example of productivity and sacrifice. I have even been thinking of getting my own journals to fill out with my lists of daily accomplishments. Maybe someday I’ll inspire future generations. If nothing else, I can look back and be content with what I am able to accomplish instead of focusing on what I don’t. 

Cyndy Payne

I am a homeschooling mom of four from Northern Michigan.