Wisdom from a 1928 newlywed


The below is an abridged version of an article found on marthareedjohnson.com. — editor

Most of the self help and professional development books which now fill book store shelves are written with story and personal narrative in order to grab the attention of the reader. But is their advice anything new? I think not. And after a recent discovery of a journal entry written by my newly-wed grandmother in 1928, I now have proof.

So I’ll let you decide if the wisdom of 1928 still holds true. Please remember when reading my grandmother’s words that in 1928 people wrote sentences, paragraphs and complete thoughts. They did not text, tweet or post status updates.

“… I have not been given $50,000, or even 50 cents. But I have been given that which many, myself included, would value greatly in excess of any amount of dollars and cents. Namely: good health, the true love of an honest man, a whole family who truly loves me, a comfortable though not luxurious home, freedom from debt, a steady though modest income and the privilege of investing these gifts to the best or worst of my ability.

It is my aim to invest them so that they will pay the largest possible dividends to us all. I want to make the donors of these gifts glad and proud that they bestowed them upon me. They must pay increasing dividends in comfort and happiness to me and all those surrounding me. I am bound to be responsible for our welfare and independence for an indefinite period of time. I would even like to leave to those who survive me a bit of an inheritance. Perhaps a bit of wisdom purchased with experience, a philosophy containing much of faith in God, an understanding of the true value of the things that go to make up true and lasting happiness, a belief that I have been successful and that they too, can be successful even though their material resources are no greater than mine. If I keep intact the principle of these gifts and live happily and comfortably from the dividends they yield, who can say that I have not been successful or that the world is not better for my having been here?

First, then, I must consider health, for on it the very existence of the other gifts depend. If I am well and strong, I have a better chance of being happy, and if I am happy I will radiate happiness to those I love and to all those with whom I come in contact. I will have the energy necessary to keep our home attractive. I will have an active mind capable of managing the small income and possibly be able to add to it occasionally. Health will certainly help to keep us out of debt.

Next, but to me not less important, is to keep the love of this honest man and to continue loving him as I do now. Time must not dull the joy of it. For I do not want a lukewarm affection or just a dutiful but indifferent loyalty. Our love for each other must become deeper and stronger, more and more companiable. Quieter, probably, but just as keen and beautiful. I must remember the unimportance of the little things that are apt to annoy me and also remember that I have just as many little irritating ways about me that will be just as hard for him to stand as he has that may be hard for me. I must keep in mind that in all the big, really important things he is my ideal of true manhood and the man whom I chose to love, cherish and make happy for my whole lifetime. I am going to try not to infringe too much upon his own personal liberty, make him feel like my willing companion rather than like an unwilling prisoner. I am going to give him credit for having just as much common sense as I flatter myself into believing that I have. I shall give him enough attention, but not too much. I want to keep unnecessary worries away from him, make him comfortable, proud of himself, his family, his home; make all his burdens as light as possible without depriving him of his share of the responsibility. We must progress together along the same road, not on widely separated ones as so many do. We must accomplish much together.

And with those others whom I love and who love me I must use just as much thought and tact. For this gift is also very essential to happiness for us all. With our dear mothers especially we must exercise much care, patience and wisdom. To them we must remember that we are still children, and they like to feel that we still need them and surely we do. They have accumulated much wisdom which will, if we let it, avail us a great deal. We think ourselves very wise and efficient, but we have much to learn and if we learn willingly from them it will be a source of great satisfaction to them. We must also let them have just enough work to keep them occupied for no one is happy idle.

Then there is the dear home that I have put so much into and love so much. One of the hardest things for me to do will be not to put too much of my time and money into it. Freedom from debt I am sure may be classed a great asset in starting a new adventure. And if it’s humanly possible we shall not have debt, which will do much to preserve our youth, comfort and save much worry.”

— Esther Ferguson, 1928

I did not know my grandma Esther. She died when I was very small. I know she was a storyteller and a painter, and now I know she was wise beyond her years. After reading her words to my son, I know her wisdom still speaks to the new generation born into our high-tech world.

Martha Reed Johnson is a professional storyteller and member of the Story Spinners, which meet in Laurinburg.

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