She died shortly before I was born - a few months actually - and all I have of her are pictures and stories. Her face in the photo belies a genuine mirth around the corners of her eyes and mouth. She had exquisitely lovely skin and I can only surmise she is in her 50's in this photo. (She would pass away in her sixties.) I note the curly hair and see the wave in my own and the curl in my daughter's. What else do we share, I wonder? A few years ago, her grand daughter, my aunt Sandy, gave me a book she had retained for many years. It was filled with clippings, photos, and notes Lila had kept through several decades, starting in the late 1800's. It gave me a chance to know my great grandmother in a way I never imagined.
People were frugal back then and the book was a multi-printed cast off of census records, printed in 1873. I have reason to believe it may have been started by her mother and passed down. I don't know my great-great-grandmother's name but I am on the hunt. Pages have been removed which someone presumably wanted to keep, and then it was covered in a light red oil cloth. The collection was started by pasting newspaper and magazine clippings over the pages. There are poems, inspirational writings, newsworthy stories of the day including the kidnapping of the Lindberg baby and the assassination of President McKinley; surprising photos; jotted notes. There is even a heart breaking letter from my great grandfather, Ferdinand, that speaks to how difficult her life must have been with him and the legacy he built into our family through his distance and self focus. He was a very hard man, by all accounts, but he was nothing if not also a gifted writer. (A full transcript of that letter will be published here.)
So, I suppose this is a blog about not only my great grandmother but my friend, Lila. By all accounts she was a lady. She came downstairs each morning fully outfitted in the dress of her day, brooch included. As I sit here typing in my sloppy t-shirt and work-out pants, I can't help but think Lila would be appalled. However, there's another part of me that thinks the younger Lila would have gladly thrown off the fetters and welcomed the freedom I enjoy. (This proves I don't really know her at all. Maybe the older Lila would be the one to arch free, shake herself loose, and have her say, as well as her breath. Her daughter, my grandmother, never wore any under garments in her everyday life and only covered her vitals to go to church. I was very grateful she went to church, if only for the respite it afforded us!)
It's very obvious Lila loved words. She thought inspirational writing shaped lives. She not only kept the book of writings I will chronicle but she papered the outhouse with them. Any child needing to visit the facilities could sit and ponder life on the outhouse walls. She knew how to preach to a captive audience. She and Ferdinand raised a writer (my grandmother, though her writing leaned toward vitriol when not eloquently poetic)...who raised a writer (my aunt)....who became aunt to two writers: my sister and me.
Each blog post here will contain the words of one of the clippings and possibly some family history - good and evil. Pages and photos fade so this is, if nothing else, a preservation project. But it's really about giving a voice to a woman, a man, and writers past. I certainly agree with much that Lila has kept and yet would love to ask her about other writings she valued that I might question. She obviously had strong political opinions and I wonder if, with her very dominating and opinionated husband, this was how she shared or voiced them. She was also a woman with Christian faith which is an often seen narrative thread.
I hope you can join me for occasional readings. Don't feel obligated to comment on yet ONE MORE BLOG. I will not be offended in the least. But if you WANT to comment, then I'd love to hear your thoughts about Lila's Project.
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