Friday, October 24, 2008
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.