After nearly three decades of on and off again preparation, we are ready to finally tackle the behemoth that is John MacDonald’s journal. His son, Robert (Bob) MacDonald, tried and failed several times to get the journal published. His efforts to put the journal into a publication-ready state were incomplete and faltering, despite years of work. The reasons become quickly evident – John’s writing is difficult to decipher and contains run on paragraphs, mangled grammar, and jarring changes of verb tense, sometimes within a single sentence.
So why do it? Why release this journal into the wild? Because it contains imagery and stories that cry out to be heard, especially in these times. Gifted with superior recall (hyperthymesia), John allows the voices and actions of the Great Depression and its aftermath to come through with a vibrancy much like Orwell’s Down in Out in Paris and London.
The journal consists of two 6 x 9.5” ring notebooks, containing closely written entries in a cramped, spidery hand. Many of the entries are in pencil, thankfully free from smudges. They are undated, but careful reading indicates the events occur between 1934 and 1944. It begins with John’s departure from New York and ends with his ride to a Veteran’s Administration home at Old Point Comfort in Hampton, VA. In between, he travels the rails and, later, uses the “Hi-ways” to hitchhike throughout the U.S. He is a vagabond, and happy to be one, although many of his stories are grim. John MacDonald died in a VA Home in Tucson, Arizona, on March 7th, 1953. The home of record on his death certificate was that of his wife and children, although he hadn’t lived there in over twenty years. The last recorded encounter with his family is contained in Bob MacDonald’s introduction to the journal, which I will include in the next blog post.