Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Grandma's Diaries

At home I have metal box that contains a lifetime of memories…that of my grandmother.  Capitola Friddle Tannahill Shearer was a writer.  She wrote for her the local paper reporting on news from Elk City, ID as well as editorials about local issues.  She also kept a diary for most of her life.  These diaries are a precious window into my grandmother’s mind.  I knew her as a child and young adult…but when she died when I was 18 years old – the opportunity to get to know her better was lost.

When we cleaned out my grandparents’ house after their deaths, we brought the diaries home and left them down in storage I the basement.  I don’t think that my mother was ready to look at them.  I didn’t really understand her attitude at the time – I didn’t understand how difficult it was to lose one’s mother…I now understand that feeling all too well.  I can remember my brother and I thumbing through the diaries looking at the entries when we were born.  It was neat to read about her excitement at a new grandchild, but the diary that was probably the saddest to read was kept upstairs in my mother’s keeping.

My grandmother lost her first husband in 1947.  Richard had gone out hunting with a friend and when the friend’s gun had jammed he had sat down to work on it.  It went off and killed Richard who was half way up the hill.  My mother remember going to the movies the night before he died….that was in Grandma’s diary.  On the day of his death…my grandmother wrote simply “My darling Richard!”  The next day she wrote about making the plans for his funeral and choosing his coffin.  The ennui of the difficult plans of a funeral for a loved one.  Then there was nothing for three months in the diary. 

In another diary she wrote about my mother’s health problems but also another significant event in the area.  The Mt. St Helens volcano erupted on May 18, 1980 – but that was actually the end of a long process.  We had almost daily reports of the dome of the crater building and of Harry Truman on the news refusing to leave his home.  Grandma reported all of this in her diary.  It was fun to read the events that led up to the eruption as well as the small family details like an Easter dinner or visit with her brother.  I was about 13 years old when Mt St Helen’s erupted and vividly remember what happened like anyone else who was in the path of the eruption’s ash cloud.  Somehow I had forgotten how we watched the evening news every night to see what had happened that day.  Grandma also wrote about the difficulties that my mother had gone through when she had to have an emergency hysterectomy.  Although she didn’t write about her worry…it was there.  In a way, it made me look at the events through someone else’s eyes.
Grandma Cappy at her table with her cat "Putty Cat"

In my mind, I can still see my grandmother sitting at the table in her home at Elk City writing in her diary or working on her articles for the newspaper.  The small table sat at the window so she could look outside.  In my mind’s eye, I can remember the view of the Elk City township spread out before her.  I wish I had grabbed that table when I had the chance.