My grandmother, on my mother’s side, kept journals and diaries. My mother has them now, twenty or so in number, tucked in a basket in her living room.
Most of them are filled with simple, daily accounts: what she and my grandfather ate for lunch, what the weather was doing outside of their front window, what was on television. Every now and then a glittering tidbit of something different breaks through the repetitive words –
9-22-95: “Connie came by and brought the girls.” or
11-2-96: “Worked the polls today.” or
12-16-94: “It is still snowing, Bobby came by to help Bob shovel the walk.”
The interjections are uncommon, but they are enough to jolt a bit of memory out of the fog that the years have created. I remember that in the winter of 1994 it snowed for two weeks straight in Dayton, that we were stuck inside for most of that time. I remember that my grandmother volunteered as a poll worker as many election cycles as she was able. I remember all the evenings that my sister and I spent in our grandparent’s living room, listening to my grandfather, drinking Pepsi from the brown refrigerator, that was covered in what I always thought of as hundreds of magnets. I loved looking at those magnets, and I loved finding the ones that we had given our grandparents as small gifts. There’s the little brown teddy bear poking out of a tiny present, and there’s the little tag that reads World’s Best Grandma.
I believe I was in the third grade or so, when I was sick with strep throat and missed the school book fair. Since I was in childhood as I am today (preoccupied with reading and with books), this was a huge letdown. My mother, understanding my need to acquire new reading material, stopped by the school after work and picked up a few books for me. One of which was Joan Blos’ 1980 Newbery winner A Gathering of Days. The book is told in diary form, in the voice of a thirteen year old girl named Catherine living in 1830’s New England. Many of the passages, especially in the beginning of the book, are simple entries describing Catherine’s daily tasks or the weather. The men might go out to get maple syrup. Catherine might be helping her mother with laundry. The events that make up the climactic moments of the book are peppered in and sometimes build slowly. It is a great piece of historical fiction, and when I think of reading the book I can feel again the way I felt the day my mother brought the book to me: a scratchy throat, a fuzzy stomach, a dog curled up on my cold, small feet.
We must hold our written words dear, and we must continue to write the mundane and the daily. The loads of laundry and UPS deliveries that normally and dully break up our days will one day be the history lessons of our granddaughters. The rainstorms that push us onto our couches to watch House Hunters might one day be studied by anthropology students. Our every-day ephemera will be like clay vessels, holding indigo ink.