On writing again (because of my 18-year-old grandpa)
I’ve always kept things.
Notes that were passed to me in 5th grade, the lined notebook paper folded into origami-like shapes. Birthday and report cards, movie and plane tickets. Maybe it’s a genetic thing, because my family has kept things too. A sweet 50th anniversary message on a Western Union telegram from 1942. My mom’s to-do list before my parents’ wedding. And something I recently found, 54 yellowed pages of a diary from 1921, written by my 18-year-old grandpa.
Tuesday, Feb. 1, 1921
I had a date with Mary Sturm tonight. We went to the tabernacle and had a little scrap afterwards. Fights help along in love affairs you know, so I don’t mind very much. She did make me mad but I guess that was because she wasn’t feeling well.
My grandpa died when I was 13. Because he was so quiet, I’m not sure what he thought of his three granddaughters. We would put on “shows” for he and my grandma, taking turns singing “I Think We’re Alone Now” by Tiffany and Ritchie Valens’s “La Bamba” into an unplugged microphone. He’s been gone for 20 years. In that time many of the moments I spent with him are lost, and I’m not left with much. I remember his big, square-ish, plastic-framed glasses and his uniform of slacks and a cotton polo shirt. I remember him observing everything, only speaking when necessary. I remember he liked Andes chocolate mints and solitaire. In my memory, he is always old. But somehow his diary from 1921, with his neat lines of careful cursive, feels alive to me, like the things he wrote about are happening right now in some alternate universe as I read.
Monday, Feb. 7, 1921
Mary explained herself to my satisfaction today and all is well. We arranged for a date tonight and I had it. Tonight is really the first time she has let me know that she likes me a little. You can always tell you know.
I’m glad he took the time to write down some of the daily occurrences in his life (“Tuesday, March 22, 1921: I got a new fountain pen today”), even if only for a few months almost 100 years ago. Because if not, I never would have known that on New Year’s Day in 1921 there was a dance, where he “looked on, but did not dance”. That before he married his wife and my grandma, Mary, there was another Mary. That he said things like “I had a peach of a time.” That he, like his granddaughter 80 years later, was the assistant editor of the yearbook.
I write every day. Social media posts. Advertising copy. Texts and emails. But I haven’t really written in a long time.
Write down the little goings-on of your life, even if they seem trivial to you now. It may mean something to someone one day.
Recommended reading: Famous Writers on the Creative Benefits of Keeping a Diary