Sunday, October 05, 2014

Reading Diaries

As part of some of the writing I have been doing, my research (real research) has included reading my grandmother's diaries that I have available. I never knew my father's mother since she died about 7 months before I was born. Her diaries don't give me much information about her. In fact, most days what she has to say is quite normal. She usually writes about what time she got up, who she might have visited, who she wrote a letter to or who sent her one. Very seldom does the entry exceed three sentences. She is so good and short comments that she used the same book for 1944 and 1945.

But the years that I have diaries for are significant years: 1940, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1945.

World War II.

My dad was in that war. He went to training in Georgia where he met and married my mother, spent a year in Europe, was involved in the Battle of the Bulge and came home with his "war bride." Bits and pieces of family history as well as the world of the 1940s are there. In all those years she and others often went to "the show," which is the movies, of course. Only one is mentioned by name: Gone With the Wind. She talks about every family member going to see it and whether they liked it. (They all did.) Once in a while she comments about listening to FDR or baseball or football games on the radio. She mentions going to "the schoolhouse" to get her ration books along with the comings and goings of different family members.

The first time I read through these it was with a kind of detached interest. Then her words began to transport me back those 70+ years in a house that I knew intimately- it was my grandfather's house that had been in the family for around 60 years when my brother and I sold it in the early 70s. I know what the view is from the front window and what what the rooms contained. One of them was mine when I was home from college.

Then I could begin to sense the emotions in these brief comments. She was often lonesome and feeling poorly. At first it sounds like she is a sickly person, unable to do much. Then you read more closely- she is taking care of things. She does cooking and baking, painting and wallpapering. She goes downtown (about 8 blocks) and works in the yard. She visits friends to play cards, plays bingo and notes how many games she won, goes to the "democrat meeting" and "the club."

I realized that she was, as she said, lonesome, but she was not helpless. She was clearly a strong and independent woman. She had little choice at that point. Her husband, my grandfather, one year younger than her, was still working on the railroad and often away from home. He was in his mid- to late 60s, just like her. None of her three children were home most of the 40s and she was sick, although I haven't been able to find out what her issues were.

I can imagine her wandering around that big house on Allegheny St., keeping busy, wondering what was happening to her much-loved children. She was constantly writing letters and getting them. I have a hunch she probably also sat there by the big front window watching the people who walked by, knowing most, if not all of them, by name.

This is a whole new set of eyes for me to be seeing. I think I understand her daughter, my aunt who became my brother's and my guardian when our parents became ill and then died. And, perhaps if I can look a little more deeply, I will probably see more about myself as well.

As we get further into this year we will be having the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge of WW II. I am reading about it and trying to decipher what it might have been like for my dad, a medic, to be in that horrific time. Putting this all together is exciting for one who never knew my parents as an adult. As I reach my late 60s, well past the age either of my parents, these are interesting things to be learning.

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