I've been feeling a little melancholy this week. I've been thinking a lot about my grandpa and feeling his absence. I wish I could call and say hello...hear him say that he's "fit as a fiddle". I am wishing I could have seen him one last time. Maybe this melancholy is because of Father's Day, when I would have called him, when I pause to be thankful for the men who provided stability and assurance in my life. Maybe it's just the permanence of his absence settling on me that is making me feel a little misty. Or maybe it's my choice of reading material.
After my grandpa died, we moved Grams into a smaller apartment. When we were cleaning the old apartment my mom came across a stack of books, piled in a closet. "OH MY!," she exclaimed. "Mom's journals!" The pile of books with Year Book proclaimed in gold lettering on each dated mostly from the late 60s and 70s. This was a revelation to me; I had not known that for most of her adult life my grandma kept these diaries. All those years, seeing them so frequently, spending countless nights at their house...yet I had never seen these numerous leather-bound books before.
It has been interesting reading.
She wrote very dispassionately. These diaries are not a compilation of her thoughts, dreams or heart-aches. She wrote, instead, of her day. Every day. For years. The activities of the family members; what chores or activities she performed each day; where she walked; who she wrote letters to or received letters from; who visited. The picture that emerged of my grandma's life is drawn in bold lines, a black and white sketch, the color and depth of emotions are not brushed into the portrait.
She did write of her worries -occasionally- usually involving one of her children. Dean seems to be working too hard, making himself sick; Roger is having problems at school; Judy is having tremendous headaches. These statements seemed to be written out of helplessness to do much, and my grandma didn't like being helpless.
Her own activities were recorded. She baked bread three times a week for 50 years. Never learning to drive, she walked everywhere she needed to go - and often bummed rides home. "Walked to the library, got a ride home from Flossie." Everything she needed was in reach. She could walk uptown and have breakfast, buy a shirt, shop for a washing machine, stop at the grocery store on the way home. The small town had all she needed. Her journals portray a way of life that -in just a few short decades - has largely slipped away. Now we drive everywhere, Main Street no longer has a department store or appliance store and precious few places for dining and gathering, either. It seems that life was spent, rather than consumed. And she seemed content.
My grandpa worked two jobs with an occasional third job, too. He worked hard. But so did my grandma. She scrubbed, cooked, ironed piles of clothes - her own family's and others'- and washed using her old wringer washing machine, then hung the clothes outside to dry. She took us grandkids to give my mom a break. She baked cookies or pies or cakes, every day. She mended clothes. She played with us grandkids. She allowed herself an indulgence - after lunch she sat down and watched her "program". Every day. For years.
Her greatest joys were found in the simplest pleasures - a picnic, a phone call or card received in the mail, a card game with friends, a visit to family members on a farm, a snowball fight. She loved a country drive and a stop for ice cream on the way home.
The most striking thing that emerged as I read several years' worth of her daily activities was the fact that she did something for someone else every single day of her life. Baking bread, making meals, cleaning a house, writing letters. Cleaning the church linen, visiting invalid nuns, helping at the nursing home. Every day. For years. She took meals to one family daily for more than six months. She looked in on another elderly lady and visited with her, cleaned her house, weeded her flower beds. She cared for an elderly and senile aunt who became nasty and spiteful toward my grandma, yet Grams continued and wrote that "Aunt Elsie didn't know what she was doing." Grams recognized the needs of the person behind the facade. It upset her, yet she gave her all. She was involved in her community and in her church. She cared for the people around her. It was a part of her day. Every day. For years.
Her fulfillment came from helping others and caring for her family. Every day. She spent her energies, she invested herself. She cared. She had a servant's heart. She did all these things despite regular pain and fatigue. She often wrote that her "hip hurt something awful", yet she cooked and delivered meals. She frequently said she was "so tired", yet she scrubbed the floors and organzined meetings for the Altar Society.
These are the things my grandma recorded - daily life, as it was. I'm glad she did. I see her now, at nearly 95 being cared for, her investments yielding a return. Yet I wonder if she looks around and wishes she were helping rather than being helped. It was, after all, her way of life. Every day. For years.
copyright 205 Valerie Schneider