For a small historical society, our collection is fairly large and while our fantastic volunteers and myself have recorded our collections, I do not always get to read through everything as well as I would like. Two small and unassuming diaries have sat in their box, wrapped in tissue paper on our shelves since 1988 (longer than I have been alive) and although I have seen them before, this week I was particularly drawn to them for whatever reason and decided to pull them down and give them a read and I am very glad I did.
They belonged to Mary Elvira Fleckenstein who was born in Sardine Valley, California on September 18th, 1875, which was near Truckee. Her parents were John and Emmaline Fleckenstein, early California pioneers who had come to the area in the 1850s by ox team, John by himself to gold mine and Emmaline with her family to settle in Prairie City. Mary was the oldest of 7 kids, her siblings were named George, Albert (Abe or Ab), Lilly (Lil), John (Johnnie), Alice Pearl Fleckenstein Trenton and William, who died as a baby. Her parents ran a hotel in Sardine Valley but eventually sold it to buy a dairy business at Salmon Falls.
In the 1890s, Mary began teaching. Throughout her teaching career she worked at Nye, Nimbus, Blue Ravine, Orangevale, Folsom Grammar, Negro Hill, and Mormon Island. She was a successful teacher and in high demand throughout her career, she was eventually able to be a landowner, purchasing the 160 acres of property in Salmon Falls the family dairy was on and her own home at 605 Wool Street in her later years.
Mary never wed but did have a long-term relationship with Arch Dallas Gray until his death on October 15th, 1945. Gray was related to Folsom's Pelton family through his mother and his father, Dallas Gray used to co-own the Gray-Wing Mining Company with J.R. Burnham and James B. Wing. Mary and Arch knew each other since at least 1904, when they both lived at Blue Ravine.
Mary passed away at the age of 94 on January 15th, 1969, which is my birthday minus the year, of course.
Looking at someone’s life like this is sometimes typical, cut and pasted together from little bits of information written on the backs of photographs and picked up from various newspapers, census records and extended family histories. It is how we build a biography on someone’s life and tie a neat bow around it to put it back on the shelf for later, but it is not really someone’s story.
Mary, as she writes in her diaries, comes alive in a way other people’s words could never convey because they humanize her. The first diary takes place from 1939 to 1943 and the second from 1959 to 1963. They are fractured in that the information I want to know is unavailable, such as her thoughts as a young teacher striking out alone away from her family to her meeting of and later grieving of Arch but that information may never be available to us so I will have to be satisfied with the years we do have. I think it is important to note that the incomplete history we have of her life is very common, especially when it comes to the average person in Folsom, but the information we do have about her is in no way less important than those with fuller stories.
Instead of writing more about Mary in my own words, I would like to share some of her writing with you to enjoy. Unfortunately, we do not have any pictures of her or Arch to put faces to the words.