Sunday, April 11, 2010

Who Was Lila Minkler?

I don't really know.

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.)

Lila pushed on and she has become my friend. I think of us as contemporaries and women who understand one another. When I open her book, I talk to her and call her by her name. I tuck my own special things in with hers and trust them to her for safe keeping. No worries. I'm not deluded (any more than usual) and don't think Lila actually lives in her book. But she left this so we would know her. I'm taking the time to do just that.

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 will lay the pages out to you in the same order they come in the book. I plan to scan or photograph each page and then rewrite what has been collected so that it is easily readable and I'll credit the author when names appear (sometimes they don't.). Many pages have multiple clippings and I will only feature one clipping per post so it isn't too overwhelming and is more meaningful. I have no idea how many there are (a lot) or how long it will take. Since I don't really have to write creatively myself, it won't be labor intensive. When I have nothing to say on my main blog (which has rarely stopped me from writing), then I'll post here and let Lila speak.

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.


© Copyright 2010


  1. This is something right up my alley and I will be following.

  2. I'm in! I love family history and hearing about the hard times, fascinates me.

    What a treasure you have in your hands - it will be great to map out this ladies life and times through the journal. Can you mom shed some light on any questions you will have along the way? Other relatives still alive?

    Will put you on my blog list so any new posts pop up.

    Cheers - Joolz

  3. Can't wait!! I think this sounds wonderful! Love you!!! Janine XO

  4. I definitely want to get to know Lila!

  5. I'm hooked. What a remarkable legacy Lila left you. This is so mystical--the thread of blood relation and the connection that is there, even if you have not met. Fascinating...C

  6. I'm on board. She sounds like my kind of woman. Too much of our personal history has been lost.

    My daughter has been cleaning up her grandmother and father's pictures and writings. He recently passed away and had lived in his mother's home. They never threw anything away.
    What a mind boggling find.

    Blessings, keep it coming I will read and comment no doubt.

    B.J.Brooks (Robinson)

  7. What a great idea! She sounds like a wonderful woman and I can't wait to meet her!

  8. What an AMAZING treasure you have. I appreciate the opportunity allowing us to peek in.

  9. I'll be following this blog too. In my opinion you seem to have a similar face and neck to Lila, a strong family resemblance.

  10. I personally love this exact sort of thing. I found an old book of a Great Aunt's of mine and she wrote little notes in it. I knew her, but realize I really didn't KNOW her when I stumbled through the pages.

    Am excited to follow along!

  11. I believe this will be quite interesting and a great idea you have stumbled on. Thanks for inviting us to learn along with you.

  12. The more I look at that picture the more I see myself. I'm gonna photoshop my face in and if it works, I'll show you!

  13. ...and away we will go! Can't wait!

  14. ps- you really do resemble your ggma!

  15. Very cool, I am so loving this project!

  16. I have a book from my grandmother that sounds just like your great-grandmother's book. So now you have inspired me to take my book down from the top shelf in my closet, dust it off and take a look-see! I knew my grandmother when I was a little girl, but I don't think I ever really "knew" her! This will be a good way to finally get to know her!

    So, I'll be following, Robynn!

  17. I think she looks like you, or you look like her!