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.
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!
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