February 9, 2020: The Keeper of the Books
That is the nickname some in my family have given me. An old picture book from the 1920s found among a great-aunt’s things; an old mechanical engineering textbook that used to belong to my father-in-law; an old cookbook of my great-grandmother’s with stained pages and hand written notes.
These are just some of the books that are now on my shelves. The reality is that people periodically need to go through their things and clear out what is no longer useful or needed. As much as I hate to admit it, that applies to books as well. While throwing away books seems unacceptable, donating books is a worthy option. There are some books though, that hold a deeper meaning and parting with them is nearly impossible. It seems when family members face this dilemma, they reach out to me. The Keeper of the Books.
So when my aunt was struggling with what to do with my grandmother’s old journals, naturally she thought of me. My grandmother was a prolific writer who loved exchanging long, newsy hand-written letters on pretty stationery, and wrote in a journal every single night. I don’t know if she had journals as a child. If so, we don’t have those. But we do have the journals she had as an adult. I have vivid memories of visiting with her as an adult, and at the end of the evening, her routine was always to pour herself a glass of wine, and write in her journal before going to bed.
The box of journals arrived last month. They are all hard cover and have dates emblazed on their covers. Clearly designed to function as a calendar/diary, they have dates printed at the top of each page. A page per day. But my Nana was apparently too frugal for that. She used each book for 5 years instead of one. Each page was divided into 5 sections, with the year hand written into each block. So the January 1st page for example, has entries for Jan 1st in 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, and 1962. She purposefully used a different color ink for each page’s entry for easy differentiation.
Each entry is a clear summary of her day. Who visited or called; what tasks and chores she completed; what the weather was like. No long reflections or deeply held thoughts. Just the facts. Sometimes an admission of a feeling (ie. “we are all worried”), but no more. Skimming through them was so fun. I first found the date when I was born. “Nancy had her baby. A girl. So adorable. She needs her rest so we did not stay at hospital long.” Then I started just skimming and reading.
The journals were very informative. They were a glimpse into my Nana’s day-to-day existence. The mundane and the extraordinary, existing side by side in the summary of her days. Who stopped by for coffee. When she did the spring cleaning of windows and bedding. Who was sick.
Naturally, I tried to find specific dates that correlated with important events to see how she recorded them. When my grandfather died. When JFK was shot. I was close to my Nana, both when growing up and as an adult. We shared a love of reading, writing, and cooking. In spite of that, I feel I am getting to know her a little better through these journal entries.
Of course I have not gone through them all yet. That will take time. It is easy to lose myself in these journal. To sit down and think I will just look at a few pages and then realize an hour has passed. But I have time. After all, I am The Keeper of the Books.