I have the diaries …
This is the first of a series of grandfather articles. No worries. When I finish these, there will be a Grandma article or two.
Some years ago, Diane found my grandfather’s diaries tucked on a shelf under the stairs in the basement of my parents’ home. The wrinkled, dusty covers of black fading to gray chronicled the years from 1938 to 1941 in recessed gold numbers. Thought lost or not thought of at all, they had not been opened for years, perhaps from the day he died in 1952.
As we were rummaging, Diane stopped, “Look at these.” I was surprised when she handed them to me.
Until that day, I had thought little of his background. The diaries gave me the incentive to search. In Italian and with poor handwriting, nonetheless, there were parts I understood. Most of what he wrote was of his day’s wages, never more than a dollar. He wrote of births and deaths. In one graphic entry of December 1939, he wrote, “I believe there will be another world war.” Imagine. He wrote it two years before the United States entered the war.
For the first time, I began to think of where in Italy he was from, why he emigrated, what he did in Italy, how he was prescient about the war. I was surprised to learn that though he was literate of the Italian language, fifty percent of the immigrants were not. Imagine coming to America unable to read or write your own language and now having to learn a new one. How did he cope with the new language?
How did he read a document, a bill, learn complex words, and express himself when he wanted something … directions, bank statements, citizenship papers? How did he keep an appointment or ask for a promotion? Was he offered one? How might he know?
How did he handle the indignity of his new illiteracy?
What did he do when people made fun of his dress? His accent?
Finding those diaries make me think. What do you keep when your parents pass away? What do you keep of your grandparents that your parents kept? And now, as we begin to think of downsizing, it gives me pause. What do we take? Leave behind? To whom? What does it matter?
In my early years I enjoyed being around my grandfather, watching him work in his garden, building a shed, planting his vegetables, tending his fruit trees, burying the fig tree for the winter.
Since I have had his diaries, I have wanted to know more of this gentle, quiet, hard-working family man. I would like to see his face again, to look into his caring eyes and ask him some questions.
When I give presentations, I show pictures of those diaries along with a picture of his passport. They are stark reminders of his path from Italy to American citizenship through education and hard work. And I delight in the nostalgia I rekindle in my audiences.
Grandpa’s diaries fit nicely in my drawer.