Thankful for 100 years of family words

Like so many Americans on Thanksgiving Day, I am grateful for a loving family and the ability to take for granted the basics of food, clothing and shelter; for having a warm bed to sleep in; for living without fear.

But on this day of “giving thanks” I’m also grateful for possessing something tangible that few people in the world have now or have ever had or ever will have, especially not this generation.

A tiny portion of my trove of family words and photos.

Today’s world of communication comprises ephemeral texts, instant messaging, and Snapchat: quick, and gone in a flash.

I’m grateful for something that money can’t buy: the handwritten, inner thoughts of my parents, grandparents, and other relatives here and  from Europe. My mother started a diary in 1927, when she was ten years old–and kept at it most of her life. My Dad wrote a diary from ages 18-21 and again in the 1950s.

Frank Ebner Gartz, standing 2nd from left, with B-17 in Amendola Air Base, Italy, 1945

I have 300 letters to and from an uncle I never met, but feel I know so well, because I can read  his words, feel his emotions, his worries, rally around his successes, and empathize with the feelings pouring from his young heart, which he wrote more than seventy years ago as he trained to be a World War II navigator.

I can be whisked back in time, like Scrooge in Dickens’s story, “A Christmas Carol.” But I don’t just observe the scene – I’m in the heads of the loved ones who wrote letters or confessed to their diaries decades – even a century–ago.

Anna Quindlen wrote a January 22, 2007, Newsweek magazine essay, “Write for Your Life,”   The following excerpted paragraph says so much:

Words on paper confer a kind of immortality. Wouldn’t all of us love to have a journal, a memoir, a letter, from those we have loved and lost? Shouldn’t all of us leave a bit of that behind?

Quindlen’s words reinforce just how lucky I am; lucky enough not to have just one journal or one letter, but hundreds of journal entries and hundreds of  letters; plus documents, photos, and diplomas (like my maternal grandmother’s diploma from a Viennese dressmaking school, her Arbeitsbuch (a kind of resume),  and her teacher’s recommendation). You can read about it at the post, “A Pockmarked Resume.”

These long-hidden letters and diaries inspired me to write my memoir, Redlined, though only a miniscule portion of what I found, primarily my mother’s diary entries related to the racial changes in our community, ended up in my book.

We also have Mom’s favorite recipes, which she typed and collected in a three-ring binder. She made three carbon copies (!) so each of us kids could have our own copy. To celebrate the day, I’ll share here a Thanksgiving punch recipe from her collection, saved since 1969. I’ll include more recipes in future posts.

Have any of you ever come across a letter or diary or some tangible writing from a loved one, now gone, that brings that person back to you? Does that person’s voice whisper in your ear? Is he or she beside you again? Do you hear that special voice coming through their words?

Please share if you do– or share whatever you feel grateful for on this day of Thanksgiving. Whatever it is, I wish you and your family a loving grateful day.

 

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