Tuesday, March 18, 2014

legacy



I don't think of myself as a writer. Just as calling myself an artist somehow implies being good or getting paid, it's difficult to call myself "writer".  Yet, I easily call myself a pedestrian. Walking, writing, making art - these activities are how I spend a chunk of my day, so I guess I'm a writer. I write, therefore, I am?

My mother, Amy, wrote daily. Her mother, Charlotte, wrote daily. It was only a matter of time until I figured it out. Writing is getting easier now that I'm practicing steadily. It's helping untie the knots in my brain.

My grandmother wrote letters to family and friends in long hand, on stationery peppered with flowers or birds or little snippets of psalms or proverbs. I know because I often supplied the stationery as her birthday or Christmas gift. She kept an active correspondence with dozens of people. Her letters were cheerful and full of her observations about the natural world around her; the birds she identified and counted, squirrels playing in the trees, stray kittens she fed, mountains and valleys she passed through. My mother or I came up in her rotation at least once every two-three weeks, so there was always a new letter to read. We'd read them to each other when they arrived.

She also passed on the family news. She had 10 siblings, so there were lots of family members to pass on news about. In fact, the family news was so important, there was an official family letter that moved through the family once a month, making the complete round every year. Each family elder gathered the news and letters from their clan, added photos and kid artwork into their section of the notebook and mailed it on to the next elder in line.  We use email now, and the letter goes through one family member who acts as both reporter and distribution system (Thanks Becky!!). 

My grandmother also wrote travel articles. She and my grandfather lived in a travel trailer from the late '60s through the early '90s. I can't remember how many articles (if any) were ever published or by which magazines, but she always had two or three in the works at any given time. She had a huge folder of maps, magazines, guidebooks and pamphlets that she was always using for research.

She wrote biographies about her ancestors, too. She published three volumes of family genealogy that she wrote during the years they traveled, doing their research in city halls, graveyards and by seeking out the living. She used the genealogy project as her excuse to travel. 

My mother wrote every day, too, but not letters so much as journals. She kept detailed daily entires on everything she observed around her. Nature was a favorite topic, but hers was a restless soul and she often wrote about imagined persecutions and ill health. My sister and I both tried to read some of her journals after she passed away, but they were too raw and painful for us.

When she was feeling optimistic, my mother wrote about birds and insects. She was a keen observer and always interested in the comings and goings of birds and bugs. She took several magazines on ornithology and entomology and had shelves of weighty tomes, along with file cabinets full of articles she'd saved. She wrote article after article on behavior, anatomy and taxonomy, but was very rarely satisfied enough with her writing to submit the finished pieces for publication. Well, maybe because they were never finished in her mind.

One of the hallmarks of my mother's scientific writing was that she delighted in coming up with article titles. She'd tell me the titles that she had dreamed up and tell me a little bit about what she would write about. I think I even remember seeing a list she'd been keeping of all her ideas. The reason I was remembering this the other day was that it hit me when I looked at my 1womanwalking drafts folder. There were 21 drafts in progress and another 40 or so topics on a list. Here I am, just writing down titles. I have hundreds of bookmarks in my browser on references I want to use. Guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Gram and Mom, thanks for all you wrote.


Charlotte and Amy, birding, sometime in the 1960's.