I’ve never wondered where my passion and talent for writing comes from; I’ve always known it’s all thanks to my dad. He has taught me more than anyone else about writing and is my favorite writer and author to this day. I’ve never stopped to think about where his talent and passion for the art comes from, though. It never occurred to me that it could be a family trait that extends beyond his and my generations, that it could be something that was passed down to him just as he passed it down to me. And then it hit me earlier this week, my dad’s gift for words, phrases and storytelling that has become my gift for stories and words came from his mom, my grandma.
My Grandma Flower – Nell – was an extraordinary woman. She passed away just a week ago and, so, it’s still very hard to write about her in the past tense – was – it feels so final. She was extraordinary, though. A Kentucky-born beauty, with deep blue eyes and black hair that remained unmarred by grey well into her golden years, she was a big sister, a high school cheerleader, a home-ec teacher, a baker, a wife, mother and grandmother and she was – of course she was – a writer.
She and I were always close. I was her first grandchild and a granddaughter to boot. She had given birth to two daughters once upon a time, but neither lived longer than a few years, one less than a few days. She went on to raise three healthy boys (did I mention that she was the oldest of six, and one of only two girls in that bunch?). I always thought she was grateful to finally have another woman in the family when my dad married my mom and then overjoyed when their first child was a girl. I remember her telling me about how she would bring me to her home economics class when I was a baby, where the teenage girls would dote on me and practice changing my diapers.
When I was in high school and college I became obsessed with learning more about her childhood and teenage years. I asked her to tell me about what life was like during World War II, and, so, she wrote me letters about that time. She wrote to me about how the rations on gas impacted her dating life at the time and how they celebrated in the streets on V-J Day.
When I moved to Colorado we kept in touch through emails, most of which covered the mundane basics of day-to-day life – weather, shopping trips, family dinners – it was easy and familiar. She told me once that she never cared so much about spelling and grammar as she did when she wrote emails to my dad or myself.
We emailed less and less after my grandpa passed away suddenly in 2012, her will to write, her will to live, seemed to disappear once he was gone.
I was recently sorting through boxes of my things – old books and photos – in my parents’ basement and realized I couldn’t find the letters she wrote me in college and that saddened me. When I got the call last week that she had passed, it panicked me.
And then, when I got to my parents house a couple days after that call, my mom told me that they had found letters addressed to me in her things. They were the rough drafts of those letters. And that wasn’t all. They had found stacks of spiral bound notebooks, her journals, which she had written in daily, without fail, for the last three decades. And my dad and his brothers had already agreed that the journals should go to me, because if anyone is ever going to write her story it should be me.
The last journal entry she ever wrote was on February 10, 2012. My grandpa passed away on February 11, 2012. She truly did lose her will to write after he was gone and, so, now it is up to me to pick up where she left off. Not only to fill in the rest of the story, but to tell the whole thing. To make sure her life, and her legacy, are remembered. She was my biggest fan and, as I now know, the reason I’m driven to write. I hope I can write her story in a way that would make her proud.