Saturday, May 10, 2008


The past couple of weekends, while I've been writing and studying until I dropped, my mom, aunts, and cousins have been sorting through items at my grandmother's house. I wish I could have been a part of the process, because the things they've found have truly been amazing. They found several diaries that no one even knew my grandmother kept! These go back as far as her teenage years, when she writes of dates she went on, years before she married my grandfather at 29. Apparently she kept these diaries off and on throughout the years, and I think they've found one from every decade through the nineties. After reading a few passages, my oldest aunt stated how she doesn't like reading diaries of people who are still alive and would like to wait until our grandmother is gone before these are read anymore. Everyone agreed.

I've kept prayer journals off and one through the past several years, and I've kept a travel journal of places I've traveled to since I graduated college, which I intend to give to my daughter when she turns 18 or 21. And then there's this blog, an online diary. Will someone find these journals in my home when I'm 80 and in a nursing home, or will Google maintain these blogs sites and we can email our grandchildren links? One of my classmates has kept a diary since she was 14, and she writes exactly one page, no more no less, every single day. I feel like were I to start a diary like that, I'd soon lose interest in a couple of months. If my grandchildren want to learn about this season of my life, they can piece together photographs, travel journals, and blog entries, and it will tell them something. But what kind of picture am I painting of myself?

Also, my cousin and I used to play all sorts of creative games together at my grandmother's house. One of our favorites was to make "robots" out of the bedposts, which consists of drawing, coloring, cutting, and taping clothing, eyes, and mouths onto the bedposts to design different "robots." When we were done, we always stashed the materials under the dresser, and sure enough, when my cousin looked, they were all still there! She told me she'll get them laminated so we can save them.

My mom's main interest in this endeavor was saving old pictures. She's collected most of the pictures found in the house, and has bought a scanner/photo printer and has begun scanning them. Since I've been home, I've been looking through these photos. There are pictures of my mother when she was 2 weeks old, her and her sisters as children, as long-legged, long-haired teenagers, but the pictures of the most interest to me are before my mother and aunts were born. There are many pictures of my grandmother before she had children, when she was my age, posing dramatically with her college girlfriends, wearing dark lipstick, cat-eyed glasses, rarely smiling, always looking serious, but something about the poses and the other girls expressions tells me that these were just a few college girls goofing off for the camera, much like my friends and I do now. There are my grandmother's brothers, who I never knew, and their charming, carefree attitudes ooze from the photographs. Uncle Waymon, the womanizer, gives a smarmy smile while wearing a bowtie and holding a cigarette toward the camera, trying to pose like a movie star or something. You look at this picture, and you can't help but hear him saying, "Hey doll, got a light?" My mother held this picture next to my grandfather's serious portrait in his Corps uniform, and said, "Isn't it interesting that a woman who came from this family married this man?"

And then there's my grandfather, who died when my mom was 12. I love hearing stories about him, but I feel like he'll always be a mystery to me. It seems like every year another piece of the puzzle is added. High school math teacher turned principal. Amputee from an accident working in Illinois, who survived when a nun prayed for him all night long. A&M Corps member. Musician. Husband. Brother. Father. But I still don't know how to describe him. My mother describes him as hard-working and honorable, "a man of character." Those are great things, but they tell me nothing about his personality, what he was like to be around, what he was like as a husband or father. I found a photo of him that I love. He's canoing on a lake in 1950, one year after him and my grandmother married, a couple of years before my aunt was born. He's in the shadowy right hand side of the photo, gazing out into the water, light streaming from the upper left hand corner of the photo, and mossy trees in the background. My mom scanned this for me and found one of my grandmother, posing on a big tree stump in a forest, who's setting matches the forested lake setting of my grandfather's picture. Somehow, these pictures capture how I conceptualize each of these grandparents. My grandmother is posed for the camera, and her body takes the center of this clear, crisp photograph. My grandfather, however, was just captured by the lens, clouded by light and shadows. My memories of my grandmother will always be as clear as this photograph, but my ideas of my grandfather are sketched together through other's memories, clouded by light and shadows.


if walled in climb up said...

Good post.

I can really relate to only knowing your grandfather through light and shadows. I did have the opportunity to know my Grandpa Jim until I was about 10, but it was a once or twice a year type thing. My Grandma Pat, too. I remember their faces but feel so far from them sometimes. It almost feels like I never met them because I never knew them as an adult. But I do wish you had had the opportunity to meet your grandpa. Maybe someday...

Until then, isn't it fascinating and fun to imagine who they were, what they loved, and what meant something to them through photographs and diaries?! It's so romantic to imagine who someone must have been. That's fantastic you're saving all those personal things and that your mom is scanning all those photos.

Also, my mom is really into genealogy lately. It has been amazing to hear details of family members I never even knew I had. Like my great-great-grandfather was from London! In this country we live in today with so few traditions handed down through the years, it is somehow comforting to know where my great-great-grandfather is from, and to know how much I connected with people from that land!

if walled in climb up said...

I agree that a tattoo might be more meaningful in a certain chapter of one's life, but just because it doesn't hold as intense or the same meaning later doesn't mean it was useless or that you won't still want it.

Haha, I think girls are really worried about stretch marks with tattoos. It would be interesting to ask a tattoo artist if it's really an issue or not.

I think the flame dove could be good on your foot or ankle. You wouldn't be able to see it as much on your hip or shoulder, but it would look good there, too. : ) I'm glad you like it so much! I almost forget what it looks like--you'll have to show it to me again when I'm in town. I can't wait to see you!

martha's dad said...

One of the saddest things in life is that we really never get to know our ancestors, at least not the same way we get to know our peers. My grandpa passed away when I was thirteen. He was a WW I veteran and a rural mail carrier in Topeka. I went fishing with him a few times when I was little, but we lived far away and I never really knew him except through the stories my father has told me. I wish I'd had the chance to know him better. By the way, I was in the Corps at A&M (class of '78, and Martha's brother was in the Fightin' Texas Aggie Band, class of '05)

Martha Elaine Belden said...

i love this post, kelly. i can't believe i didn't comment on it... b/c i read it a few days ago.

i can't tell you how much i regret the fact that i didn't keep journals when i was younger. i long for memories of my childhood... even if they're bad memories. but i was rebellious and b/c my mom and grandmother TOLD me to keep diaries/journals... i refused.

now i regret it so much it hurts sometimes. and maybe that's weird... but i'm serious.