Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Sympathy for Jennifer Hudson and her family

When you read this story, you won’t wonder why I’ve been remembering the fall of ’02.

I was teaching, as I did for years. A young woman missed the first class, but showed up for the second – not unusual in community college extension programs. As with each student, I asked her to tell us why she was taking the class and what she hoped to accomplish. She was, she explained, working in a beauty shop; the owner was interested in leaving the business and she was trying to decide if she could and should buy the operation from him.

It was probably the third class, her second evening with us, when we got to a unit on time management and personal discipline. She commanded the floor: “I know I am responsible for making my own success. We all are. And I am going to make something important out of my life. I owe that to myself and to my family.”

Teaching entrepreneurship, it was my responsibility to be encouraging, but also realistic. I studied this face which defied conventional beauty: a large back-sloping forehead and prominent mouth framed a small well-molded nose and dark, elegant almond eyes. Something confident and determined showed in her unusual but pretty face.

“Yes,” I said, “I believe you will.”

The next week she was not in class. I asked Steven, her classmate and friend, if he'd talked to her in the intervening week.

“Disney's holding auditions in the city. I think she was going to go try-out,” he offered.

Knowing only that she had experience in a beauty shop, I am sure I looked puzzled.

“Oh, you haven’t heard her sing. That girl has an amazing voice,” he explained.

In the coming weeks, I left messages for her, updates on assignments and adjustments in the class schedule, hoping she would return. Of course, she never did.

It was not until January, ‘07 that I saw her again. I’d seen that confidence and determination for myself. But in a Miami, FL movie theater, I watched Jennifer Hudson demonstrate what Steven had told me but I’d only half believed: that girl has an amazing voice!

Friday, October 24, 2008

Grandma’s Diaries

The words march across the pages in varying colors of ink, in a penmanship unremarkable for either beauty or clarity. For each day, over a period of sixteen years, she recorded about five handwritten lines summarizing her key memories of that day: sometimes the weather, activities, sometimes meals eaten, friends visited or called, games of canasta or bridge, shots, colds, flues. Mostly ordinary, occasionally not quite ordinary and sometimes utterly intriguing. Sometimes the intrigue is in what I – her granddaughter – know is missing; sometimes the intrigue is in what is said but never delved.

As I read, I try to discern whether she wrote each evening or each morning or in some less routine pattern that nevertheless creates the image of a daily habit. I tend to believe it was the last – that she filled in her days as she found spare moments.


She filled her days.

November 15 (The year is 1948, but she has not yet begun to note the year.) “Housework & to town to get caught up on shopping brot home supplies & got supper Bot sheets for Olive & some for us plus some duds for grand children. Letters to the kids.”

November 12 “1950 Sun. To S.S. & church. Took my turn at opening exercises. Napped & tried to get rested for another week’s work.”

We ‘grand children’ always knew about grandma keeping a diary. She used to give me those little books of blank pages when I was a girl; now I don’t know if she thought diary keeping was our special bond or if all of my cousins got diaries as gifts. I’ll have to ask those cousins sometime.

May 14 “1951 Mon. Handwashing, cleaning up house Helped Forbes set out plants & bulbs We called Paul about coming home for the summer. Hot bath & to bed exhausted.”

But I must have been the one most engaged, because at her death I was the only one who asked for the diaries. My uncle, her youngest and dearest, hesitated. My father told me: “Paul will read the diaries first. Maybe then you can have them; maybe not.”

No doubt her discretion even in her private records accounts for my having the records at all. When a week-long spousal disruption is reduced to “Less said, sooner healed.” we know we are not in the era of ‘letting it all hang out.’

In my 59th year, sorting out old, old photos, I got her diaries out to locate the date of one event. And did the V-8 head bang as I realized she started this practice in her 59th year. So I read, day by day, what my grandmother did on the day corresponding to this day in my life.

May 6 “1950 Sat. To Beauty Shop. To town in evening Carrol and Olive here a few minutes. Got black bag. Car in garage.”

May 7 “1950 Sun. To S.S. and Church. Man in charge of rural churches preached. To farm in P.M. took C & O & Semper.”

For me, of course, Carrol and Olive and Semper have meaning: great Uncle and Aunt and the red cocker spaniel dog, Semper Fidelis.

June 15 “1952 Sun. 101* To church children day. Had program in basement. Took drive in late p.m. to Bedford & to see country around Gran(unreadable) & N.M. & Northeast of Clarinda. To Hotel for dinner. J.E. sour – too much intelligensia (sic) there.”

Ah, now there’s a bit.

Maybe my Uncle got tired of reading … or perhaps he decided I could handle the idea that my grandparents weren’t perfect. I’ll never know because an automobile accident took Paul in the early 90s.

May 7 “Fri 1954 Cold, below freezing again last nite. JE late to farm waiting on phone call, feeling very cocky after telling me off. Planted first of the Glads, 2 doz from Tidy House Products. To bed early.”

January 26 “Wed 1955 JE in a ‘towering rage’ cussed & fumed etc. Doesn’t like the way we live (neither do I but more sense than to cuss about it). Snowing & very cold. Ate humble pie in interests of peace.”

April 7 “Sun 1963 Admired Chandalier Bill installed, just beautiful! Late breakfast. Visiting then to Coachman’s Inn for dinner. All left for homes – Felt we had a wonderful visit. Merle pulled tooth for Diane. Gave Ed a card & $5.00 To our church for evening lenten services. Almes preached on John.”


My twenty-five-year-old son reads over a half dozen entries and concludes: “She had a boring life.” Perhaps it helps to be the age she was, for what I see isn’t boredom. I see comfort in the peace of pattern and familiarity. That, giving healthy ballast against moments here and there of pain and confusion, dissatisfaction. Life.

A House Divided?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Starting Out All Over Again

This first post is an experiment. I am simply learning how to use the blog I am setting up.