Monday, April 6, 2009

My Mother's Journals

My mother left her journals behind. I have read them. The first time I found them I was cleaning out her cabin after she had gone to live in a nursing home. Alzheimer's disease had gotten the best of her and the safe keeping of last resort had arrived. It had become time for her to live with twenty-four hour supervision. Mama's cabin was tucked under the tall pines and tulip trees on the side of Track Rock Gap in the North Georgia Mountains. It had been her beloved safe haven for eleven years. Built by my brothers hands and contracting to her exacting specifications and stuffed with the memoirs, photos, albums, books, letters and writings collected in her ninety years.
The heavy oak desk in her bedroom held all sorts of treasure. I knew by the heft of the drawers as I tugged them open that nothing inside would be insignificant. I also knew this as I had been peaking into them all my life. An inveterate snoop I was not looking for surprises, I was just having to take another look. So when her slim diary dating from 1994 slipped out from behind a stack of greeting cards it did take my breath away.
I crawled into Mama's bed to read it. Mama's bed was so comforting. The old Hudson Bay blanket still smelled of moth balls and damp. Her sheets of soft well worn flannel felt smooth against my bare toes. And the heavy weight of her Autumn Leave quilt as I pulled it high up to my chin helped to settle the pounding beat of my heart as I opened her diary. There had never been a question that I would read it. Why would she have written it if not to share? I sensed that it was what she had meant for me to do.
Most of the entry's where brief notes of the day. "Went to the library, met Chip for lunch and talked about the girls". "Walked the side of Track Rock Road and picked the first violets of the year". "Rained today worked on notes for writing group". Little snippets of a life lived with an earnest desire to get things done, not waste time, be productive. Here and there as the days went by Mama would open her heart and write an entry longer than most. Usually prompted by a concern for family that brought forth a memory of her own trials with her personnel life.
All my snooping and delving into things none of my business my whole life long did not prepare me for her candid accounts of her own personnel feelings written in honest simplicity.
Mama sprang from the pages of that note book not the Mama I knew, but the woman she was and had been. The young woman who fell in love in 1939 to a man she could not "in that day and age" marry. The wife who traveled to England in 1976 with her beloved husband to visit his birth place and "discover their roots and history." The mother who grieved the loss of her first born son and fought with gripping bouts of depression to find her place left in life. Her feelings for her own mother's black periods of despair. The grandmother so proud to write the accomplishments of her many grandchildren and to pray and plead for their success and survival in a harsh world.
Amidst the words on those pages came to life a woman just like me, only so much more accomplished. Mama's brave and hard working spirit and love of God and faith in a promising future for her clan. I am glad she wrote her diaries and I was inspired to write my own. I haven't done much of that as day to day my life seems so mundane. Yet when I look back on what she shared of her days it was the day to day the trivial that intrigued and gave shape to the random remembrances and heart wrenching stories she told. So everyday and normal. A woman growing and living her life in her eighties. Her last decade of life lived independently, widowed after a fifty year marriage and for the first time able to spend her days as she wished.
Mama started each day over coffee, a nourishing breakfast and a scripture reading. Many of her days where ended with a small note in her diary. Together saved with her letters and books the diaries keep her with me. They remind me that even the incidental is important. Just reading that on a Tuesday "it rained and Tom cat took shelter on the front porch", gives me back my mother in her fullness.
She reminds me that it is important to pray.