Thursday, April 11, 2013

The gift of memories

I got a gift awhile back.
It was a nice, leather-bound book about the size of a paperback novel. My name is printed on the front in gold letters. The pages inside are of high-quality, creamy-white paper, thinly lined to encourage neat, straight handwriting. Along with my name, the cover contains a single word, embossed right in the center.
You would think a journal would be a perfect gift for someone like me. After all, I have been a writer of one sort or another for all of my adult life. First, I was an advertising agency copywriter, one of those people, like Darrin Stephens on "Bewitched" and those guys on "Mad Men," who spends his days coming up with bright new ways to say "new and improved" and "better than ever" regarding a wide, wide range of interesting and not-so-interesting products and services.
Later, after a bout with cancer forced me to abandon the long hours and frequent travel that went along with that job, I got a golden chance at another career of sorts, as a newspaper sportswriter. I cherished the opportunity to share my love of and interest in the games we play, along with the chance to write about the kids who work so hard at them, and the coaches who dedicate their time for little more than the love of those kids and those games.
Later, I became a columnist, too. I could, I discovered, write on just about anything that struck my fancy. So I have, talking about everything from kids and family, to travel and fun and memories and life itself. Eventually, I've gotten to see my words in a couple of newspapers and even a monthly magazine. I even have an online blog where I publish work from time to time.
It has been, no kidding, a dream come true.
But the journal I got was an entirely different matter.
As excited and grateful as I was to receive it, I found myself a little overawed by the thing. The pages were pure and pristine. Certainly, the words I wrote on them would be required to be important. They would need to be meaningful. They would have to be just right.
So I waited. And as I often do, I prayed for inspiration.
I waited some more, and as I did, I thought about other journals I've read and heard about. I thought about the fine accounts of great deeds and exciting lives I've read during a life that has often found me literally buried in the books I love. And I admit, I began to feel intimidated by the task set before me by that handsome, absolutely blank little book I received.
Then I thought of my mother.
She was, like most other moms, nobody especially important outside of the realm of her immediate family. She was a good, faithful, loving wife. She was a interested, nurturing, funny, altogether wonderful mom. She cooked and cleaned and laughed and scolded and loved and remembered.
She remembered, especially, because she wrote it all down. No, she did not record her thoughts and dreams in a handsome little leather-bound book like mine. Instead, she wrote--every single day--in a series of yearly book-style calendars, just like the ones some banks and insurance agents still give away around the first of every year.  It was a habit she got from her mother, who also wrote down every little thing.
The things she wrote were not magnificent or of worldly importance. In some eyes, they would seem mundane, in fact. Her prose was not flowery and elegant. It was, rather, almost like a personal shorthand made up with sentence fragments and single-word entries that told the story of the life she led. But as I write this on Tuesday, the 35th anniversary of her death, I am still absolutely enthralled by those simple things she had to say.
I don't suppose I would have been wise enough to keep those diaries she wrote in, but happily, luckily, my sister was. And so, I got to read an entry like this, written just a few months before mom died.
"Nice day.
Dad to work, home for lunch.
John and Megan over for supper.
While it might not mean much to many, to me it said that it was a good day for mom, who suffered greatly from the heart condition that would soon end her life. She, like me, responded well to sunny days, you see. The words she wrote told me that dad, who was retired by then, was spending the day subbing for another pharmacist, which he enjoyed, but had time to come home at noon, which made them both happy in ways only known within the bounds of the quiet love story they shared. And it even told me she was feeling well enough that day to invite my wife and I over for my favorite meal.
It was wonderful to read. And I can still taste that meatloaf.
It was equally heartbreaking in the months that followed to see her daily accounts gradually grow fainter and fewer until, just like she did, they gently faded away.
And so, these many years later, mom, once again, gave me the answer.
For while journals are meant to record thoughts, memories and accomplishments for the writer, they are, in another way, especially meant for the ones who will read them again someday.
Mom's stories told about days and nights and a life she loved.
When I read them, I know she loved us. I know she loved me.
If someday my children and grandchildren read my words and receive the same gift, it will be enough.
It will be just right.

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