Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Discipline & Genetics

I am clearly a master of discipline. Not only did I not finish the SOLC challenge (8 days shy--feel the burn), but it's now taken me over TWO MONTHS to return to my poor abandoned blog. SIGH SIGH.

Anyway, onward and upward!

What spurred a glorious return? Cleaning my room, of course. (Procrastination from one task can be relieved by procrastinating from another. It's a fail-safe method.)

In cleaning my room, I cam across a little wooden box that floats around among my belongings, which I stumble upon every few months. And each time, I sit down and page through its contents to find and read a couple of selections. I found this box among my grandmother's jewelry shortly after her death, and it contains letters, cards, and poems from my grandfather, dating from their late courtship to early marriage.

This little treasure is particularly noteworthy (blogworthy, in fact) because my grandmother--and, I believe, my grandfather, though I never knew him--was a far cry from emotional or sentimental. She felt strongly about people and things, but rarely expressed herself outside of intellectual and (mostly, hehe) rational discussion. So it's strange and powerful to peer quietly into this layer of herself that she exposed to no one but her husband, and vice versa. (I often wonder where the other half of the correspondence is...) From what I've read thus far, he was equally surprised:

"Say then, my beloved,
'We are lucky that we love'
--that two such as we can
admit even briefly to something
irrational and inexplicable
that we have at last found
--or made--something much bigger
and better than we could ever hope for

When I first found the box, I sat down to read through everything, but that didn't happen. I don't remember why, but I probably got caught up with one piece in particular. But I think I prefer the way I've taken to reading these letters and poems--just two or three at a time, every once in a while. Sometimes I reread things I've already read, sometimes (like finding the piece above today), they're new.

Aside from the general romanticism, I love that I share this thing--this love of writing, and this love of intimate correspondence--with relations two generations away, one of whom I never met. Aside from some academic papers, I don't think my grandfather ever published anything, but he wrote beautifully and poetically, not out of an ivory tower but out of a heart that, perhaps, couldn't find a means of relaying such emotions in speech or action. Something else we have in common: no one could accuse me of being unemotional, but I can be much more transparent in writing than in person. (Why do you suppose I have this nifty blog?)

It's strange to have such a narrow but deep knowledge of someone. My grandfather died two years before I was born, and there is a good deal I don't know about him. My grandmother rarely talked about him--when she did, it was anecdotal and brief--and my father spoke of him even less. Some of what I know points to a man who was far from love letters and poetry, but this is the picture I have of him in this box. This is what has lasted: words of love and humor to his wife, a photograph of him laughing in the Cape Cod sunshine, a poem about the moon. This is not the whole man, but it is one that has survived now, thirty years after his death. Like the versions of my own father, it is not the only one--everyone who knew him has their own version, pieces of memories and scraps of stories--but this is mine. A fraction of an angle at best, but it is what I have, and what my children will know of him. When all is said and done, I don't think he'll mind that.

1 comment:

  1. Well quoted and well said. As I think I've told you, while I do remember Grampa and have D.O.D.'s copy of one of the enlarged Cape Cod photos of which you wrote, one of my images of him is not a still photograph but just a tiny video clip, of him peeking around the corner of the doorway into the Old Living Room when we had just arrived for a visit. Gramma had come to pick us up from Hartford, I think, and that and his face are the only things I remember. I'd have to ask Mom when that was. And speaking of asking, the letters might provide a good opportunity to ask some questions and see what more you can learn from Andy and Jayne when you're at the Cape next month.