In summer of 2013, I found my grandmother’s diary. She had been dead for 25 years. I didn’t know her as a grownup. Honestly, I didn’t know her as a child. But, quite by accident, I had in my lap 16 years of her life. She wrote down something every single day, I imagine, for most of her 93 years. I don’t know what happened to the other years, but I know exactly what she did from 1961 to 1977.
The four notebooks are much like I remember her: no drama or fluff. She noted getting her hair fixed every week and underlined days she got a permanent. She bought my sisters matching dresses on both girls' birthdays every year. She enjoyed day trips with Daddy King to deliver church furnishings. She baked for sick folks and grieved folks.
I’m not going to tell you her name, because a lady’s name should only be printed in the newspaper twice, you know, but I’ll tell you some of her words. The first entry, in neat handwriting, records the death of her younger brother.
Wed. Feb. 1, 1961. Robert passed away at 3:30 o’clock pm.
In gentle grief, she noted his birthday and day of his death every following year and what his age would have been. In gentle joy, she recorded my birth.
Mon. May 31, 1965. We fried a chicken and carried it over to Borlands for dinner. The funeral was at 2 o’clock at Baptist church and we all went. Lanell started having labor pains and she went to the General Hospital at 3 o’clock and Celeste came at 9 o’clock. Maxine, Buddy, and I were with Phil. Angie and Starla came and spent the night.
(Shout out to Mrs. Beasley, who wrote me a letter and mailed it to the Dothan Eagle to forward to me. She was the labor and delivery nurse who told Daddy that he had a third girl. Bless his heart. And bless yours, Mrs. Beasley, for your thoughtfulness to ensure I know this cherished detail of my story.)
The ins and outs of most of her days are boring, because most days are boring. But the entirety is a love song.
Sun. July 16, 1972. We went to Sunday school and church. Our summer revival started. We ate dinner at Pat’s.
Mon. July 17, 1972. We got 5 dozen ears of corn and shucked and silked them and went to church.
Tues. July 18, 1972. Dorothy and I shelled 2 hampers of peas all day and put in freezer and went back to church. We picked figs.
Wed. July 19, 1972. We bagged 5 bags of peas, 9 bags of corn and five jars of figs. Richard and Bernice came by and brought tomatoes. We will go to church.
Thurs. July 20, 1972. Charles carried me to get my hair fixed. Betty and I went to a stork shower in Dothan. There were 20 present.
Fri. July 21, 1972. I shelled peas, silked 2 dozen ears of corn and had 5 bags. Made 5 jars of figs. We are going back to church.
Sat. July 22, 1972. Today is Charles and my 55th wedding anniversary. We rode down to Dothan and Betty shopped.
Sun. July 23, 1972. All the children came to church and brought dinner to our surprise. Betty gave me a pink chrysanthemum and Charles a white one. We wore them to church.
She stopped recording for no apparent reason.
Sun. April 3, 1977. Charles went with Betty and me to Montgomery and met Lillian and Eunice for dinner. We shopped. I bought 2 dresses and a pair of shoes.
Her son and my daddy, Phil, died on April 5, 1978, one year and two days after her diary ends. I wonder how her even-tempered words could have attempted that nightmare day.
I took the diary home the night of its discovery, with promises to type it and give copies to each of her six grandchildren and one beloved niece. I worked on it off and on for almost five years. I shared many days with Facebook friends. I never shared anything I thought would embarrass her, other than she would have hated the existence of social media and that I shared it at all. At least the woman who died in 1989 wouldn’t have liked me sharing her life. I hope she wouldn’t mind now, 30 years after her death, especially knowing the reverence her family feels toward her efforts and the delight she’s brought many. As evidenced by her own handwriting, she lived to look after others.
Celeste King Conner encourages folks to record a few words to leave behind. Share some of your words with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.