My mom has been going through a lot of her old boxes lately, unearthing some amazing treasures. She’s been sorting the items that were in and old metal box my grandmother (her mother) used to own. Inside of it was letters, old confirmation photos, and info on my uncle’s burial. There are so many questions I wish I could ask my grandparents about our family history. My mom and I are especially curious when it comes to my great-grandfather, who died very young – we think he was only about 25 or 26.
When he died, my great-grandmother was only 24 years old, with two very small children (my grandmother was only six months old). He was one of those subjects no one ever spoke about, so all information about him had to be pieced together. We do know that he was in the army, where he was gassed as part of his training, and we think he died of complications from gas exposure. My great-grandma had a picture of the two of them on their wedding day hanging in her room, and I was always struck by how handsome he was. Still, he was always a mysterious figure, because even as a small child I understood that the man in the picture was not someone we ever talked about.
This week, my mom discovered a small notebook that had belonged to my great-grandfather.
It has a lot of random doodles, math problems, and addresses, but a few pages in he’d started treating it like a journal instead of just an address book. It’s from 1920, when he was courting my great-grandmother. He pined hard for her.
I scanned the pages of the journal so my mom and I could blow up the writing and transcribe what he said. Some highlights:
~”Tonight Aug. 9 1920 I am in a strange frame of mind. It seems that since I have read my diary I am back again where I was two years ago. I feel a bit lonesome, perhaps it is because I am stranded or maybe because the only girl I really love is away.”
~”Tis but like the candle burns brightly for a time, then it will flicker and die out, but me along life’s pathway I shall struggle with a vision of her fair face before me to guide me to higher ideals. If it should be that I fail to win her, indeed my heart will be heavily laden, but I shall smile thru.”
~”I have dreamed of her not in passion but in purity and beauty. ”
~” Like a cool breeze upon the desert sands or the cool ministerings of mother’s gentle hands upon the feverish brow of her child, such is the effect she has on me. ”
~”To Him above I say this prayer may the Great God on High guide this pure maid along the straight and narrow road to both earthly and heavenly happiness. May every day of her life be lighted up by the eternal fires of heavenly love. In the name of our Heavenly Father may there not be one blemish or spot upon her soul. If it is thy will that she is not for me, it is my prayer that whoever may win her shall be true, kind, and loyal hearted, and never cause her one moment of bitterness. May her life be one round of sunshiny days. My love for her is inseparable from my soul. Tis but fifteen minutes and we shall have the new day. God bless you Mary.”
He also wrote about his dream to become a writer, and the things he hoped he could buy for my great-grandmother if she married him (like a parlour house). He has some pages of prose as well.
And this large sea called
waves and storms of trouble
seem to engulf us today hit
on the morrow there is sure
to come calm and quiet
the sun in all its magnificent glory will shine
upon the new day dispelling
the sharp pangs of bitter remembrances
leaving only faint memories
of the storm
A lot of the pages are incredibly faded, and I had to use special software to darken the writing so it could be read. The journal itself isn’t very big, only about three inches wide and five inches tall. Still, my great-grandfather filled every page.
It’s amazing to have this piece of family history that’s almost 100 years old, and to be able to hold in my hands something that he once poured his heart into. I still have so many questions, but if this is all we get, this isn’t too shabby. It makes me happy to know that while the time he and my great-grandmother had together was short, it was bursting with love.