A few years ago I went through a period of time where I was working one and a half days a week for a newspaper in York, SC, designing their weekly newspaper. Every Monday night I would spend the night at my grandmother’s in Lake Wylie, as her house was closer to the newspaper office and it was a great excuse to spend quality time together. We would spend our time talking in the evenings, both of us tired from a long day, me from working and her from gardening or yoga or laundry. On Tuesday mornings we’d watch Good Morning America over coffee and English Muffins and the morning newspaper.
I realized something during that time. Although I had known this woman for almost 30 years, there were still things about her I didn’t know. I didn’t know about the times she and my grandfather would take their pontoon boat up to the Red Fez Club, get blitzed with their friends, then boat back home. I didn’t know about all the times she and my grandfather moved for his job before he finally joined the Navy, and that the only reason he joined the Navy was because the draft was coming and he didn’t want to be in the Army. How is it I can know someone my entire life and still not know everything about her?
Of course, the writer in me came out quickly – “We have got to write these down, Mia!” I finally told her. And she agreed.
Working on her memoirs has been sporatic. Sometimes she doesn’t feel up to it, and other times I’m typing or writing so fast and I still can’t keep up. Our approach is two-pronged. She thinks memoirs means “biography,” so she spends her time writing the basics. Where she was born, where she grew up, where she went to high school and college. That stuff is important, of course, but what I really want are the stories. Our best days are when she’s just talking to me, Melissa the granddaughter, not Melissa the biographer, and I’m able to write down every word.
The picture at the top of this post is a book cover design I was playing around with. That is her handwriting in the background. The title and fonts are working ones, of course, but I know I and every member of my family will know that handwriting at a glance – we’ve been reading it our whole lives, in birthday cards and letters to summer camp and post-it notes in her kitchen and calendar items reminding her of grandchildren’s and great-grandchildren’s birthdays.
Last night we worked on the memoirs until 11 p.m. when she finally had to go to bed. We will work on them again on Friday. I was trying to balance my time against a client deadline, which begins on Friday, and I was wondering if I should put them off until next week. But next week I’ll be in DC, so that leaves the week after. And then it hit me – I’m on deadline with Mia, too. I just don’t know what that deadline is.
So Friday night, I’ll be exactly where I’m supposed to be, listening and recording her stories until she decides she doesn’t want to talk any longer and it’s time to eat her nightly ice cream and go to bed.