Sharpe shares grandmother’s story by publishing her diaries

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Heather Sharpe wanted to share her grandmother’s story.
Isla Smith lived in Wyoming and was, in later life, a writer in the 1970s. She penned three books, A Small Town Affair, The Country Town and A Country Parish – which celebrated the centennial of Wyoming Baptist Church.
But it wasn’t Mills published works that interested Sharpe – it was the diaries her grandmother kept when she was 17 and worked as a domestic in Sarnia.
One Christmas, after reading through them, Sharpe decided to pass them along to family members. She typed the diaries out and gave them as a gift.
Then she wanted to share them with a wider audience. Sharpe, who works in the Lambton County library system, first displayed the diaries publicly in Grand Bend, along with her grandmother’s original works. And she found people were interested in Smith’s story.
Sharpe says one woman who took time to read the diaries told her “I feel like your grandmother and I are friends.
“When the stranger said they were great, I thought maybe we have something here.” So she started working.
Sharpe didn’t want to change much; “She was a funny sarcastic woman. That comes through in the diaries… I left the diaries true to her voice; it was important to me that people know she was hilarious.”
A Dollar a Day – a reference to Smith’s wage at the time – tells the story of 17-year-old Isla who was forced to quit school and start working as a domestic. “She had scarlet fever and she couldn’t continue,” says Sharpe.
Isla had to learn to care for young children, keep a house, cook and bake along the way.
It also tells of her social outings, including dating two young men at the same time, and Isla’s desire to be married.
And Sharpe learned of her grandmother’s urge to learn. “She was going to go to normal school, which I believe was a school for people who wanted to be teachers,” says Sharpe. “In the diary she says ‘I’m going to go to night school because I want to learn more’, and she said it often.
“She really had an urge to study more and get an education and do more with it.”
Smith did marry and have children, living in Wyoming. She continued working as a domestic, including at Fairbank House where she was the cook. And, she spent time writing her books and was quite successful.
“She did all the marketing herself and she has it all over the United States and Canada and of course there was no Google; it was all snail mail.”
Sharpe says she’s learned a lot about her grandmother putting A Dollar a Day together.
“She was lonely (at the time of the diaries),” she says adding it was an eye-opener to view her grandmother as a young woman. “She was just a girl then… and she was brave.”
Sharpe also learned she struggled. “She thought she was homely. She says often she doesn’t feel pretty enough or says ‘I will never be good enough.’ That was something I never saw in her. She was very strong and very persistent.”
A Dollar A Day is available on line at Amazon. Sharpe will be at the Arts and Craft Show at Wyoming Legion Saturday.

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