In 1950, at the age of 90, my grandfather sat down at his old typewriter to write his memoirs. He had lived with us for about 20 years by now, and I was in my first year of surgical residency at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. I made it home about every other weekend, and he would be in his second-floor room pecking away on the portable typewriter, using only two fingers. I had no idea that he was writing his life story.
When he died eight years later, his legacy to me was his trusty old typewriter and, you guessed it, his 132-page manuscript detailing his life. He never had it published, and as far as I know, he never tried. In my heart, I believe he wrote it for me.
Grandpa was born in 1860, six months before the Civil War began. He grew up on a farm in Dakota Territory, attended Dakota Agriculture College (later South Dakota State) at Brookings, and was ordained into the Methodist Church with his theology degree from Northwestern University. Grandpa preached for 49 years, and when he retired, his bishop said, “J.B. Dibble was the greatest preacher the Dakota Conference had ever produced.” Maybe bishops say that about every preacher who retired, but I don’t think so. The Rev. James Birney (J.B.) Dibble was an orator in the pulpit.
I read my grandfather’s manuscript and was in awe. It was riveting to read about him losing an eye after being hit with a wood chip at age 6, deciding as a teenager not to homestead but to go to college and “make something” of himself, meeting his future wife, his first car, and much more.
After reading his life story, I put it away, where it stayed for the next 50 years. I pulled it out about 10 years ago and read it again, and I decided that everyone in the extended Dibble family, as well as some close friends, should have the chance to read it. So, I spent several months “cleaning up” the manuscript. Some of the paragraphs were one and two pages long. There were also misspelled words, typos, archaic words, sentences that ran together, words capitalized that didn’t need to be, and unexplained abbreviations and acronyms. In addition, the original manuscript was typed on both sides of the paper, with the side, top and bottom margins set between one-quarter and one-half-inch wide. I resisted the urge to edit the manuscript, and only corrected obvious typos. If my grandfather was consistent in his misspellings, I left them. I did add some additional paragraphs to break up long and unwieldy text, and I added proper punctuation so it would be easier to read.
I self-published my grandfather’s memoirs and distributed a copy to family and friends. The response was overwhelming, and it made me so glad I’d done what I had with the treasured gift my grandfather left me.
Eau Claire, Wisconsin
Read more heirloom stories in Keepsakes Passed Down Through Generations.