Storytime: Diamonds in the Rough—1800s Memories of Minnie Carter
A very long time ago, my great-grandmother Minnie Carter Boston shared for posterity some of her memories of life growing up in rural Arkansas in the late 1800s, in the piney woods and rolling hills. Her daughter-in-law (and my grandmother) Gypsy Damaris Petty Boston transcribed the memories while they lived in Shreveport, Louisiana.
Arkansas is part of an eroded lamproite volcanic pipe, which has caused diamonds to rise to the surface. I don’t understand all the geological processes, but there really are diamonds to be found on the ground in Arkansas. There is even a mining field called Crater of Diamonds that is open to the public, where you can go with your shovel, bucket and screen kit and hunt for diamonds under the hot, hot sun. You keep what you find!
The story goes that when Minnie was growing up, they regularly encountered the rough uncut stones in their yard, and never knew that they were playing with precious gemstones. So many people in the region were poor farmers and loggers—oh, the irony! How different their lives would have been had they recognized the diamonds in the rough (and knew where to trade them!).
Minnie Carter printed up her memories in a little book and called it I Played With Diamonds. In the forward, she dedicates it to her grandchildren:
“This booklet has especially been written for you. You have the story of my childhood days in the first ten years of my life.”
You won’t find this collection of family stories, childhood adventures, descriptions of country life or particular people on any library shelf (that I am aware of), but there are a few dozen copies out there. I have one, and to me, it is as precious as any diamond.
Within it are essays with colorful titles such as “Bath Facilities,” “Hog Killing Time,” “An Ash Hopper and How to Make Soap,” and “My First and Last Dip of Snuff.” The book is delightful, sweet, entertaining, and shows the great warmth and love her family. It’s also a marvelous snapshot of a time before industrialization, telephones, television, and Internet. It seems so very long ago.
Here is the opening of the book, narrated by New Orleans schoolteacher Catherine Golden. It is a description of the house that Minnie grew up in… it sets the scene for the stories that will follow, about the family, friends and neighbors of little Minnie Carter. The second segment is “My First Shopping Trip,” in which Minnie must trade an old hen to afford a birthday present.
I hope you enjoy this booklet, which I will share in segments over time.
P.S. Consider writing a memoir for your future grandchildren, by documenting the experiences of your childhood!