Monday, December 6, 2010

"I'm a shoebox novelist"

After the death of my grandfather, my family structure was shaken. Though we'd operated independently, we were much like a federation of families: each nuclear family managing and enforcing its own legislation though falling under the umbrella of family jurisdiction created and enforced by eldest generation. Each of the four nuclear families shared their own, unique partnership with my grandparents, and though we were spread apart geographically and our interests and passions were diverse, we were all bound by not only blood, but our conjoined dependency of the wisdom and central grounds fortified by Grandma and Grandpa.

Death sometimes creates blessings: I joined together with all of my cousins, ages 19 to 32, for the first time since I was 11 years old. Though each of us had a varied treasured memory or image of our grandfather, all of us were equally shattered by his sudden departure. After we all once again crossed the United States to return to our respective homes in New Jersey, New York, Michigan, California, Hawaii, Pennsylvania and Ohio- the memory of our grandfather tethered us all together, more closely than ever before.

In addition to bonding with my cousins, seeing second cousins, uncles, great aunts, and the like for the first time in years, I found myself finally making the concerted effort to connect with my Grandma and learn more about her childhood.

I called her after work today to see how she was doing. Woefully she managed to carry a chipper conversation, though often lamenting that she still found herself waiting for his call- to say he was just running late and would be home soon.

As we talked about her childhood, the aspirations she'd held, I realized how very much of her is in me. Excluding the past 15 years, she'd diligently kept a diary where she recorded"the important" joys and concerns of her years with hope of one day using the stacks of notebooks toward inspiration of writing her own book. After the death of her mother many years ago, she'd been tasked with the responsibility of sorting through her childhood home and the piles of clutter within it. In the attic, she'd found a collection of old letters her mother had stored since her maiden years. Exhausted with the overwhelming amount of invaluable items congesting all the rooms, my grandma chucked the letters and decided she'd also spare her own family the trouble of ever debating over what to do with her personal diaries, and later shredded the pages of memories, feelings and ideas that had accumulated with her years...

Though I'm disappointed that the most valuable relics I could ever hope to inherit were destroyed for fear they'd be viewed as clutter and junk, I revel in the realization that my dreams of becoming a writer and getting published are in my blood. My grandma had even fancied herself a "shoebox novelist", too bashful to pursue a publisher, and instead collected handfuls of stories always started and never finished. Though I never felt I totally took my grandparents for granted, I don't believe I ever really took advantage of their history, their own dreams and how much of them is in me.

While it's hard to accept that I won't have the opportunity to really indulge in my grandfather's stories, I've ever more determined and excited to spend additional time and place phone calls to my grandma. Though spawned from unfortunate circumstances, my relationship with my cousins and grandma have both been strengthened.

As the comfort of the reality of your childhood is dissolved, sometimes, even in the bleakest of moments and within the darkest of shadows, sunlight and blessings creep in through unexpected ways.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

Our grandparents are treasure chests full of memories. This entry has really made me think about all of the stories I have heard over the years from my grandparents. My Grandma seems to have a story for everything. Each time she tells me one, her eyes seem to light up as though she is looking through a window into her past. As she tells the story, I try and see her as she was in that specific time and place. With each memory she shares with me, I find myself filling in the missing pages of her life's story.

Although our memories fade over time, it seems as though the ones that matter never leave us. I'm sure your Grandma can recall the "important" memories that she wrote about in her diaries, as if they happened yesterday. I look forward to one day reading the stories you write about your grandparents.

"Memory... is the diary that we all carry about with us."
-Oscar Wilde