The Power of Writing: Thoughts on Grandma’s Book

I have not been in the mood for blogging or reading blogs lately, mostly because it’s been an emotional month (I suppose I could say year) for me so far.

Purple for grandchildren; pink for the great-grandchildren

Among other things, my grandma passed away peacefully on January 1, 2011 at age 87. She is survived by five children (one other passed away as an infant), 26 grandchildren, and 49 great-grandchildren. In the past six months, she had visited all of her children, from Washington, D.C., for her youngest grandchild’s baptism, to Chicago at Thanksgiving (my mother’s house, where I got to visit with her), to Utah, where she lost consciousness a few days after enjoying a happy Christmas holiday with another of her daughters and her family.

In short, she’s been busy right up to the end. I don’t think I’d want to go any other way, myself.

My emotions, then, have been torn. I miss my grandma, but since I believe in life after this one, I have been comforted by the fact that she is now with her husband of 60 years, who died eight years ago, and her infant daughter, who she never met in this life.

All of this leads to my comments on the power of the written word. About ten years ago, my grandma, who has been an avid genealogist her entire life, wrote her life story, complete with details about her ancestors and stories she’d heard from her parents and grandparents when she was young. Her book is two hundred pages long, and the best part is that it is written in her distinct voice.

My family has added to the confusion by coming up with different versions of some of the stories that I tell. Keep in mind that these are my memories. If you have a different idea of how things happened, I really don’t want to hear about it. Don’t rain on my parade. Don’t do your picking in my presence. As you know, I am a very tender, sensitive soul who can’t handle anything but praise, adulation, and enthusiasm. Write your own book in rebuttal, but not while I’m still around to read it.

It’s a good thing I finished this when I did because by next month my memory may be so bad that I will have to read the book to find out who I am.

Reading my grandmother’s book shortly after she died has given me a new appreciation for the power of the written word. She writes in the beginning,

It’s often said that you can’t take it with you. This just isn’t true. If you die without recording your memories, you are going to take them with you.

Her book, then, is her way of leaving her memories with the rest of us. And she has quite a story to tell!

Grandma and Grandpa's WWII wedding

She writes the stories she remembers her grandmother and grandfather telling, making these ancestors come alive for me. (I’m particularly fascinated by James Simmons, who immigrated from England and searched for his wife, who had come two years earlier to New York City. He never found her. He paid a detective for the rest of his life, trying to track her down.) She writes about growing up in Chicago during the Great Depression. She tells of her mid-war wedding to her Navy-man high school sweetheart. (He came home on leave on Monday; they were married on Thursday.) She gives her account of their three years of serious health problems. (Everyone in the family had a turn to be ill, including a broken back, a broken arm, a broken leg, a broken collarbone, encephalitis, life-threatening blood clotting, and a baby who died hours after birth.) She tells stories about her children and their distinct personalities. (My mother and her friend, at age three, played for hours in the coal pile in the basement! I wish I had a picture.) She mentions her grandchildren and the memories she has with them.

Reading her story brought her back to me. Her words, written in her sarcastic voice (as quoted above), captured the woman that I love and revere.

Her book is not published in hard cover; it’s printed and copied for her children and grandchildren. You can’t find it in a bookstore or a library. It doesn’t have an ISBN. In fact, I doubt any one outside of the family will care to read the stories (fun as they are). Grandma wrote this book for us, and I’m so glad she did. There is a power in the written word, and reading Grandma’s stories is like sitting and listening to her all over again. I hear her voice.

All this to say, go write your personal history! You don’t have to be a writer. You don’t have to be anyone other than yourself. Write your memories, write the stories you remember you family telling you of your predecessors. Write! Someone will appreciate reading your story, I promise.

I think it’s also worth noting that my grandma was a huge fan of her Kindle. When she was at my mom’s house in November, she was busy downloading the next book in Nora Robert’s Bride Quartet.

May we form an unbroken circle around the throne of glory. –Grandma’s trademark phrase

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  1. Rebecca, I am so sorry to hear about the loss of your grandmother. How wonderful, though, that she has left her memories behind. I am thinking of you and your family.

  2. I agree whole heartedly about the writing down of stories. I have complied all four of my grandparent’s life stories. (I interviewed them on tapes, and then wrote it all up in story form.) The one set died just months after I was done. The other set is now dwindling quickly. It makes me feel just a little better that we have their stories down on paper (plus all those tapes I have of their voices… sheesh, I should do something with them!) I need to start making our parents do it now!

    Still, it’s hard when they go. It sounds like your grandma had a wonderful life. 🙂

    1. Suey, I’m so glad you were able to do that project! How special that you could pull that together. And yes, my grandma had a wonderful life — it was hard, but she lived it with a smile!

  3. So sorry to hear about your grandmother’s passing, but it sounds like she left behind a wonderful legacy. I love that she took the time to write down her stories so that the rest of you can treasure them for years to come even though she’s no longer with you.

  4. I can tell I would have loved your grandmother had I known her. I love her “voice.” We just attended the funeral a few days ago of my husband’s grandmother who died at age 90, and this very much reminded me of the things that were shared about her. What an amazing generation!

  5. I’m sorry for your loss, Rebecca *hugs* I think it’s amazing that your grandmother wrote down her memories for her family to enjoy. I never really knew any of my grandmothers (one passed away before I was born, the other when I was 4), but I would have loved to have the opportunity to see history through the eyes of an ancestor of mine, and of someone who I loved.

    1. Thanks, Nymeth! I LOVED having a book full of her memories and stories. I think everyone should go write one! Seriously.

      I didn’t know either of my father’s parents (one died when I was 2) and so I can relate. I wish I knew them, and I wish I had their memories written down.

  6. I’m sorry for your loss. Sounds like you have a treasure in her book. When I was in my late teens, I had my Grandmother write down our family tree in a letter. She died a short time later. I still have it. I’m so glad I asked!

  7. I’m so sorry for your loss. Thanks for sharing some of her life and her positive impact on so many.

    In addition to your encouragement of people to write their personal history, I would add help relatives or friends write theirs as well. My father had several daily devotional books he wrote notes in code during World War II (since you weren’t supposed to mention your movements). All the kids bought him a PC on which he hunted and pecked for a couple of years until he translated everything and printed his “Odyssey”. As you say, we appreciate and treasure hearing his ‘voice’ in it.

  8. I am so sorry for your loss. But I think its wonderful that you have her words and voice to refer to. What a precious gift she left for all of you. *hug*

  9. I’m so sorry about your grandmother. I know you miss her, but my did she leave you something to cherish. I’m so glad you shared this with us. It really speaks to the importance of recording one’s memories so our loved ones can have something to help them ease the pain of when we’re gone and something to remember us by. Thank you, Rebecca.

    1. Michelle @ The True Book Addict, it really is important to record one’s memories. I hope this post inspires someone to do so — or to start asking their grandma or whomever the questions that they want the answers to!

  10. I’m so sorry to hear about your grandma. But what a wonderful woman she clearly was! I love the fact that she wrote down her life story for you all – you must have learned so much about her you didn’t know. And now you can have her voice with you always – alongside the genes you’ve inherited and the subtle alchemy to the soul that comes from knowing and loving an amazing person.

  11. Oh, Rebecca, I’m so sorry for your loss. *hug* But how wonderful that your grandmother left behind such an amazing record of her life. When my great-grandmother died, I was furious with myself for not asking more questions and writing down every answer and every word she said.

  12. Rebecca, I’m very sorry to hear about your grandma’s passing. Her book is an amazing and extraordinary gift — how wonderful to have that lasting legacy of your family, through which your grandmother shines so strongly. Thank you for sharing the story of your grandmother and her book with us.

  13. So sorry to hear about your grandmother’s passing, Rebecca. My grandma wrote down her own life story (actually, it’s a three book saga that ends with her and my grandfather’s retirement to California) and know first hand how much of a joy a book like your grandmother’s is for family members. And how lucky Raisin is to have a great-grandmother who wrote down her life story so he too can read about her when he is old enough!

  14. Oh Rebecca, I am so sorry about your grandma. She sounds like a magnificent woman. What a beautiful gift her book is for the family.

  15. Rebecca, I was just perusing your blog looking for a good recommendation for our next book club when I came upon this post. It’s beautiful. Thanks for putting a little bit of Grandma out into the world wide web. And thank you for the picture of the wreath. I wanted a better picture of it, and yours is beautiful.

    1. Thank you, Nancy. I was struck by how powerful reading Grandma’s words was so close on the heals of her passing. Just like hearing her voice.

      As for book club books, my book club ALL loved The Housekeeper and the Professor (Yoko Ogawa). Also The Thirteenth Tale (Diane Setterfield) was a pretty successful one. I don’t read tons of modern fiction for the book club scene, but you can always browse my “by century” archives to see my thoughts on those “newer” books.

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