In my last blog post, “Floyd and Lala Banister: Daily Diaries,” I shared my collection of diaries that Floyd and Lala Banister kept over the course of three and a half decades. The diaries record bits and pieces of their everyday life. At first glance, the diaries are sparse in details, short on content, and at times, redundant. Many entries contain just a few words; none exceed several phrases. However, reading through even one diary in its entirety shows not only what Floyd and Lala did every day, but also who and what was important to them.
My personal memories of Floyd and Lala from my childhood are of two little, quiet, old people that lived in a tiny house on a farm next to my grandparents. With a little time and effort, reading the diaries has helped me understand just who Floyd and Lala were far beyond my personal knowledge of them.
Learning how to pull information out of different record types and crafting a story to share is one of the many unique but rewarding challenges of the family historian. My goal for today? To share with you the story of Floyd and Lala Banister based primarily on their 1945 daily diary, followed by ideas for future research. Be sure to read the entire 5 part series of blog posts on this topic!
Here’s what I learned.
In 1945, Floyd and Lala Banister were living in rural Springport, Michigan, as they had for many years. Floyd turned 52 that year; Lala turned 48. They lived with their two sons, Gerald, who turned 26, and James (Jim), who turned 16.
Floyd and Lala lived a quiet life in the country. With the help of Mr. Dingee, Floyd farmed their land. He also worked in the shipping department at Hayes Industrial, Inc., in Albion, Michigan. Lala kept house and gardened. They worked and spent time together as a family and frequently visited with extended family, including their siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Friends and neighbors worked together when emergencies arose and when times were tough. They had fun with their friends and family, going to shows and the county fair together. They shared rides with neighbors to Eaton Rapids and Jackson to run errands. Despite the distance between properties in a rural area, the Banisters seemed to be part of a true community with their neighbors. Floyd and Lala were also interested in newsworthy events in the local area and around the world. They did not write about their feelings, per se, but simply recording these events in the diary shows that they prioritized staying informed on the news.
Floyd and Lala: Chores, Work, and Money
Like many people in that time period, Floyd and Lala’s work and chores fit their gender roles.
Lala spent most of her time working around the house. The 1945 diary states a variation of “Lala washed” no less than 19 times! Most of these entries pertain to laundry but also include washing the walls, woodwork, and kitchen ceiling. In February, Lala wrote, “I washed. Very tired.”
Lala also gardened and canned a variety of foods. She planted 100 strawberry plants for her Uncle Art in Jackson. She also planted and dug potatoes and grew blackberries. Lala canned meat, 26 quarts of peaches, and 19 quarts of tomato juice. She earned a little extra money by selling eggs and at least 58 quarts of blackberries at 30 cents per quart.
Floyd, on the other hand, worked on the farm, fixed the house, and did chores as needed. The diary records a much larger variety of tasks for Floyd than for Lala, probably because the tasks needed to keep the farm running efficiently and the house in repair just simply includes a wider variety compared to the housework and gardening.
Regardless, having never lived on a farm or had to “fix” things like Floyd, it is hard for me to imagine knowing how to do all the things he did! Reading the diary gives the impression that Floyd was a bit of a jack-of-all-trades.
Floyd “fixed” the calf ropes, the hen house door, and the front door hinges; with the help of Mr. Dingee, he fixed the combine and corn planter.
He tore the porch down, finished siding the west side of the house, and put a new chain on the tractor for his brother Charlie. In the garden and on the farm, he planted potatoes and cultivated popcorn, late potatoes, squash, and pumpkins. He also cut logs, drew corn and dumped oats, frequently, and typically with the help of family and neighbors.
Outside the home and farm, Floyd worked at Hayes Industries, carefully noting the hours he worked there in the diary. In December, Floyd recorded that he worked 9 hours and “did” 1550 pieces.
In August, Floyd was temporarily laid off from his job at Hayes. He kept busy during his unemployment time, however; there was always plenty to do around the house and farm. In the entries between August 10 and October 23, when he was called back to work in the shipping department at Hayes, Floyd recorded the following activities: put lime in the field by the red barn, baled 57 bales of oat straw, drew manure with the horses, milked the cows, helped his brother Charlie with chores, cut weeds around the barn, combined the early oats, dumped oats, cut and drew hay, did carpentry work on the porch, cleaned the seed wheat, cleaned the barn, cut brush, painted the porch and part of the toilet, built a chicken feeder and wash bench, cleaned the hen house, painted the house, built an electric fence, put glass cloth on the windows of the “little shop,” put benches in the barn, moved part of the lumber pile, dug 18 bushels of potatoes, and hunted up calves (on his neighbor Alvin Anderson’s property).
In September, Floyd drove to Jackson with Lala and their neighbors William and Belva Gillett to file for unemployment insurance. Money was surely tight during his unemployment, but Floyd did what he could to earn extra money. Over several days in September he worked at least 25 hours helping Mr. Harshey with his beans. He earned $12.50.
Floyd’s activities during his unemployment shows that he was not the type to waste time; rather, he stayed busy and productive. He had a wide variety of skills and put them to good use to manage the upkeep of his home and farm. When he had the chance to take odd jobs, he did it.
Despite all of their hard work, reading the 1945 diary indicates that money was probably tight for Floyd and Lala and that they lived frugally in order to have money when they needed it.
For example, in January, Lala noted that she bought a new coat. She said, “It’s the first new one for me in 17 or 18 years.” When she turned 48 that August, Floyd gave her a Pyrex pie dish and her mother-in-law, Mother B, gave her a flower for her coat. Was it the same coat?
Shortly after buying her new coat, when she was still just 47 years old, Lala had her last tooth pulled and an impression taken for new teeth. She received her “new teeth” on February 27 and paid $85 for them (equal to over $1200 today). What a blessing, and undoubtedly a large expense, that must have been to buy much needed dentures!
In the diary, Floyd notes exchanges and trades with others. There seemed to be a spirit of cooperation and trust amongst the neighbors, friends, and acquaintances that Floyd and Lala knew. For example, on March 28, Floyd wrote, “Ira Ball came over & borrowed $10.00 and 16 bu of Oats for seed. Said he would pay it back in 4 to 6 weeks.” In August, he noted, “Mr. Dingee finished mothers oats, he paid me back oats he borrowed.”
Floyd also recorded information about bills due and payments made in his diary. “I got a letter from Mr. Churchill he said he would settle for 455.00 note & mortgage,” he wrote on April 30. A few days later, he added, “I sent a check for $75.00 to Mr. Roy Churchill in part payment of woods.” Just three months later, Floyd was laid off from his job at Hayes Industries for two months. Even with unemployment insurance, it would probably be a stretch to make mortgage payments. He does not mention this debt during the rest of 1945.
(Continued in 1945 Banister Daily Diary Part 2: Gerald and Jim)