First published on PaperLanternWriters.com in March 2020
Everyone knows that the written word is powerful. A wide variety of examples exist that prove it. As an author of historical fiction, I have found primary sources to be the most powerful written word in research. One of my most precious possessions is a journal begun by my grandmother in an old composition book in 1926. It’s only a page and a half, ending mid-sentence, but it gives a real glimpse into her life. I’ve chosen excerpts here to comment on, but if you want to read the whole thing, go to Grandma’s Journal. In her own words:
“Ever since my teens I have felt I would someday write a book. I have never read a great book by a woman. Perhaps there are some, not novels but real stories of a soul, but so far I have never had the good fortune to enjoy one. One reason is that women have small souls. Their sphere of life is such, with the petty details to fret and worry them, that is it hard for them to think in a large way or even think at all.”
Women have small souls? I think what she is saying here is that women have so much on their plate with children, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and being a wife that they don’t have time for themselves. That is certainly true today, too.
“My mother…has a cold nature. I felt for many years that she did not love me. Being a sensitive child it widened a gulf that we have never been able to bridge. I hope someday we will be in time. I know she loves me and is proud of me and my children. But when I see her we converse as acquaintances. Would that we could meet as friends.”
I don’t know if Grandma ever had that friendship with her mother, but this passage rent my soul. I, too, felt a gulf between my mother and I. We never had a conversation as friends, either. This gave me such a connection to my grandmother that I grieve she passed away when I was still young. We might have been great friends as adults.
“I always felt if I found a man as good as my father I would marry him. I was fortunate to meet and marry a man with a far finer intellect and at least able to express a far finer soul. We should not judge the metal of a being’s soul by the facility with which he can express it.”
So her husband is smarter than her father and expresses himself more easily. Her father, then, must have been reticent. Grandma’s son, my father, was also a smart man, also quiet. One of my regrets in life is that I spent so much time resenting my mother that I never sat down in serious conversation with my father.
“I had few girl friends, only two real chums after I attended public school, and they are still friends. Since then very few intimate associates. I used to long to be popular. I realize I have…”
After explaining her lonely childhood, Grandma ends her abortive journal with this passage. My heart bleeds. What did she realize? I also had few close friends and longed to be popular, but I was too shy.
Grandma was the one who told me stories about the women in my family as I was growing up. My husband says I look like her (see comparison photos below). I remember Grandma as stiff and old, always dressed in black. Having this precious bit of her written words allows me to connect with the person inside. All the more reason for me to keep writing!