Keturah's Fast and My Unexpected Road Trip

Great Grandma Keturah’s diaries, the ones I once traversed the Puget Sound for, recently made a trip in a large Rubbermaid container, each book wrapped cautiously in tissue paper. They travelled in the back of my blue Subaru, and sitting beneath Keturah’s Rubbermaid was my own, another blue box - full of my diaries.
I sat in the driver's seat.
My woven basket in the passenger seat.
Santa Fe, with a surprised look in her eyes, in the rear view mirror.
My precious cargo and I head east.

These books of Keturah’s – encapsulating her life from 1945 to 1987 - are generally quite tedious to read. Their contents are mostly records of the names of visitors, notes on the baking of bread and pies, butchering pigs, farm chores, and more visitors.

Dinner menus are listed day after day: chicken dinner, offelkuchen, milk pies, coffee cake, egg sandwiches, and infinite amounts of coffee.

With a handful of poignant, glimmering exceptions, there is a hardly a deep thought within the pages. On the day of the Hiroshima bombings, she cans 100 quarts of corn, and a week later scrawls in the margin: “Japan asking for peace…”

But as I packed the car for travel I couldn't ignore Keturah's world. 1972 to be exact. Because in that year an unexpected event amidst Keturah's daily grind unfurls. On January 30th her husband Fred, who she affectionately refers to as Pop, dies suddenly while sitting in his living room chair. And everything, with a great heaving gasp, shifts. Three months after his death she has to move from the farm she loves dearly and into the local retirement center, The Villa. I was reminded, especially as I prepared for that unexpected road trip, that indeed life does not always unfurl how we expect.

My own unfurling is about departure, not death. Thankfully, I have no concept of how Keturah felt in 1972, losing someone after 38 years of marriage. But an unexpected shift  – I can relate to that. You see Santa Fe was to be home, but it has ultimately become a stop on the map. So I picked up my life in the desert, my pots and pans, my Rubbermaids full of our diaries, I considered my options, and headed east for Charleston, South Carolina where my sister Sarah and her sweet family reside. Across 7 states and nearly 2000 miles I drove in the blue subaru to what is now my new home in Charleston. 

Somewhere in eastern New Mexico

Starting out from Santa Fe, as the desolate roads and big dry skies of eastern New Mexico stretched out before me, Keturah’s 1972 was somehow soothing. A reminder of the normalcy that is change.

After Fred’s death, Keturah does not speak of an intentional fast. She does not even elude to it, but in her entries she immediately stops providing her dinner menus. No more talk of pie or bread or coffee. Perhaps it presumptuous, but to me Keturah is fasting - a kind of ritualistic pause so as to mark the importance of her pain.

Keturah also appears to have gone back to previous entries, ones before Pop’s death, and add recollections. Often in a different color ink, one that seems to carry the hue of a grief.

January 6, in blue: ... We went to the villa this afternoon to see Aunt Mamie.
In black: This was last time Pop saw Aunt Mamie. 

January 26One of those mornings when there is much to do and hard to decide which to do, that would be worthwhile…. I did get some pies made – apple, milk, and blueberry. Pop likes the milk pie best so do I.
Scrawled in the margin: These are cold days.

January 29Today I really worked, cleaned, changed our bedding, put bedroom curtains up. I did not take time to do much cooking. We sat down at 9 o’clock this morning to rest a bit and listened to a good talk over Newton station by Ella Mae Miller.

Then her handwriting turns tight, letters pressed against one another:
... The little girls brot some big icicles over to show us and Pop went to the door to see them too. Again our supper was egg sandwiches. Pop went to bed not feeling good even earlier in the evening had terrible pains too I called Cora to tell her we would not come tomorrow but she pleaded so Pop reluctantly concented. After a late bath I finally got to bed he was waiting for me. Little did I think it would be our last night together.

In the margin, underlined severely in black ink:
Pop’s last day with us.

What would I go back and add to my diaries about Santa Fe?
Ate green chiles at La Choza for the last time.
Last time to bake with Willem. We made challah and I made an apple tart. 
These were such sunny, windy days. The moths came up from the ground and the cicadas buzzed, and I baked bread for the first and last time in this home.

Last meal eaten with Willem and the CloudCliff crew

We cannot coerce clocks. They rebel against our every effort, and as much as we try and seduce them, their lean towards movement is relentless. We ask: Could the pain pause please? Could we go back please? Keturah’s retro-entries and presumed fast, to me, are her attempted coercions.  

Keturah’s grief takes its own time. For weeks, she speaks almost solely of her visitors and the weather. February 9th to February 26th, most of her pages sit as blank and desolate as west Texas. Sometimes the day of the week is scrawled, lonely on the page. 

February 14: Monday
February 18: Saturday

But the clocks, like cars, do move forward. The tick-tock of hands around their circular bodice resound with a particular hope. Even in the midst of the most profound grief, a woman may find a bright color, a big sky, a burst of flavor. I see Keturah’s flash of hope, and thus a hint of my own, in her day with Cora on March 6 in which she lists her dinner menu for the first time since Pop died on that Sunday in January.

March 6, 1972: Cora comes for a visit, Keturah goes on a drive with her friend and later writes:
Came home eat supper together, Cora’s stuffed peppers, smoked turkey sandwiches. Strawberry shortcake and coffee…


  1. oh, katie. tears in my eyes as a read your poignant, heartfelt words. thank you for sharing these moments. i hope you find a little slice of peace in your new home. keep writing!

    1. Thanks for your sweet words Katrina... so lovely to hear from you and I'm so glad you stop in here to read... A reader adds so much to a word. Thanks for your addition. :)

  2. Judy (Dreier) YoungJune 20, 2012 at 6:27 AM

    WOW...just how I remember grandma Tura! As you know the Dreier's are great at baking and EATING and Grandma paved the way for rest of us! Please keep sharing bits from her diaries. Brings back all the wonderful memories I have growing up on the farm so close to her!

    1. Judy, I'll definitely keep sharing! Thanks for reading... I'm so glad it brings back good memories for you... they make me wish I could have been on that farm. Happy baking!

  3. Beautiful, Katie.

    Also: Have I ever told you I always think of you as queen of the road trip?

    1. Thanks Elise... Means a lot. I'm glad to be getting grounded so I can get back to pig-related endeavors. :) Umm and I'm totally flattered you consider me a road trip queen! Behind the wheel does feel oddly homey. Ha!

  4. This is really beautiful, Katie. I've been thinking about you....Ellen

    1. Thanks Ellen... for your kind words and for reading my words. :)

  5. Cried when I read this. If the distance between us was only Halstead to Hesston, I'd be to your door with stuffed peppers and strawberry shortcake. I love you, KBB.

    1. Oh dearest Jo, What I'd give to eat a stuffed pepper with you. I'd even live in Halstead for a short time if it meant I could do that! Thanks for your comment love... Call you soon.

  6. This is a beautiful post, Katie. Just beautiful.

  7. I hope you tell us about milk pie someday.