FAIRFIELD — Sixty years ago, the late Ruth Chidsey Bates Lewis boarded the train in Pomona and set out on a cross-country trek. She was 58 and traveled alone, leaving her husband at home.
She kept a travelogue in numerous pocket-size, spiral-bound memo pads. She also snapped photos and wrote basic information on the back. Her last journal entry was on June 27, 1954, about five weeks into the trip.
Her granddaughter, Fairfield resident Bonnie DiMichele, read the copious notes, pored over the pictures and, inspired, penned the book, “In Grandma’s Shoes.”
DiMichele said her grandmother saved $1 a day for one year to cover the cost of the jaunt. She was able to do this because her children were grown and had moved out.
Her travel expenditures are logged in the notes, including $158.25 for her train fare. Lewis came home with $19.54 in her pocket.
The memories, the travel diaries indicated, were priceless to Lewis. She saw her hometown of Stony Creek, Conn., reunited with old friends and saw many sites from her childhood. The detailed notes offered DiMichele fresh insights into her grandmother.
“I knew my grandma as a very private person and so I am wondering why she made the list of clothing she was washing and hanging on the line,” DiMichele wrote in the book. “I found this bit of information a charming piece of irrelevant nonsense, but she must have written it because she didn’t want someone to think she was being lazy.”
The diaries were Lewis’ chance to relive that trip, DiMichele said.
“I can’t believe my grandfather let her go,” she said.
DiMichele said that she remembers her grandfather as gruff and dependent upon his wife.
Lewis’ earlier life was tough, living through the Depression. Her younger brother died from appendicitis when he was 10. Lewis’ daughter also died from appendicitis.
When her children were younger, Lewis worked in a cannery sorting fruit. When her shift was over, she brought home the bad fruit and stayed up late into the night cutting and canning so her five children would have something to eat, DiMichele wrote in her book.
DiMichele’s “journey” allowed her to learn more about her father’s side of the family – leading her back several generations. She visited Stony Creek twice to find out more about her paternal grandmother’s early life. The diaries gave DiMichele a feel for what she would experience when she arrived in her grandmother’s hometown. The visits were the inspiration for the poems and the song “Stony Creek,” included in the book.
“It’s such a great line,” she said of her lineage.
DiMichele has placed the book on Ancestry.com for other family members to discover. More information about it can be found at www.bonniedimichele.com.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.